beginner forum: for novice and developing blues harp players > I don't like melodies on the harp
I don't like melodies on the harp
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1953 posts
Dec 14, 2016
9:30 AM
First up, I think Tomlin Leckie's blues harp lessons are excellent. Very clear, well produced, and good solid stuff. I wish he'd been doing them when I was first learning.

Which means I can say that his lesson on Silent Night illustrates why I don't like melodies on the diatonic. OK some melodies, ones that don't layout so well so you have to use hard bends on important notes.

Tomlin clearly has great control of his bends, and because of his clear playing style when teaching you can hear exactly what's going on, without it being obscured by extreme vibrato or wild tremolo or wah hand effects like some people do.

Be honest, if you didn't love the harp, what would you think of this melody on a C-harp?

In a nutshell: the diatonic harp that sounds so perfect for blues, sounds so weak for sweet melodies.

I could be wrong, convince me!

Last Edited by MindTheGap on Dec 14, 2016 9:32 AM
400 posts
Dec 14, 2016
11:10 AM
I agree, with the exception of a few who can nail a melody. Christelle being top of that list.
1954 posts
Dec 14, 2016
12:27 PM
Christelle is a fantastic musician, streets ahead of what I could ever achieve. But I need specifics - some melodies that sound 'right' musically on the harp. Rather than just 'correct', if you see what I mean.

Other than Amazing Grace :)

Last Edited by MindTheGap on Dec 14, 2016 12:28 PM
1055 posts
Dec 14, 2016
12:40 PM
That is an interestng statement in that the harmonica, specifically Richter Tuning, was invented to play melodies. If you play a melody on holes 1-4 then you must be able to bend precisely to hit the missing notes in the major scale. But if you play on holes 4-7, they are all there making the melodies easier. So count me as one who disagrees.
Tom Halchak
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1955 posts
Dec 14, 2016
2:53 PM
That's the notes from one major scale. There are some simple melodies that only use those notes, but not very many.

I know that most people here do like melodies on the harp, including the bends.

As you can probably tell, I'm looking for interesting counter examples and to promote passionate but good-natured defence rather than being told I'm wrong.

Last Edited by MindTheGap on Dec 14, 2016 3:03 PM
2000 posts
Dec 14, 2016
3:35 PM
I dont have much constructive to say. But im not one for melodies at all. I don't know exactly what it is about them on the harp that i dont like, as ive never really thought about it. But they just turn me off. More than that, i despise them.

Im totally with you in that regard MTG.

But the Christelle point is a very good one. But she does add effect. Both digital (via stompboxes) and her own (hand effects, vibrato, etc.) Not sure exactly what that means, just pointing it out. Lol.

Interested to see where this goes.
79 posts
Dec 14, 2016
11:05 PM
Well let’s face it even the best bent notes sound a bit funny. If we didn’t play harp it would be hard to appreciate how well a melody is played. But appreciation doesn’t mean you have to like it. I honestly don’t listen to Christelle’s music like I would listen to hours of blues. But I do like listening to that type of quality musicianship and it gets my full attention.

I like listening to melodies played well, it can be incredibly simple but played with such tone, finesse and feeling that I am completely won over.

I also like playing melody for the same reasons. I aspire to smooth moves and great tone. I think melodies force me to work at that. If I can play one note beautifully I have a chance at stringing something together that might sound half way decent.

I also have no objection (in fact often more appreciation) for folks creatively working with or disguising bends or lacking octaves, key changes…

But if it wasn’t for the appreciation of skills and creativity I’d honestly much rather listen to chromatic melodies played well on a chromatic harmonica.

“But I need specifics - some melodies that sound 'right' musically on the harp. Rather than just 'correct', if you see what I mean.”

Here are a few classic melodies that I think lay perfectly for the harp if they are treated with serious respect: Taps, America the Beautiful, Danny Boy, Shenandoah, Moon River, House of the Rising Sun, Desperado, He Ain't Heavy_ He's My Brother

You mentioned Amazing Grace, but I would also add The Old Rugged Cross and Rock of Ages as great harp melodies.

So I guess I agree to a point. I am much fussier about tone and quality transitions when I listen to simple melodic music. If it’s not there I don’t like listening to it either.

It's about time I got around to this.
1957 posts
Dec 15, 2016
12:01 AM
dchurch - nicely put, "appreciation doesn't mean you have to like it." Ta for the examples, I might make a list of 'acceptables'.

Killa - nicely put, "...more than that, I despise them" :) ha! If I weren't trying to be so chuffing even-handed, that's what I'd say!

Maybe an acid test is whether we choose to listen to particular music when a. studying or thinking about harp or b. for pure listening pleasure. After writing this polemic, I went and listened to some of my fav blues harp songs - they sound so right. And them some melodies...

I had some lessons with the amazing Todd Parrott, and he is very conscious of how a tune lays out against specific position/notes/holes on the harp. With their different qualities. That really does help.

Last Edited by MindTheGap on Dec 15, 2016 12:03 AM
111 posts
Dec 15, 2016
5:47 AM
I have not listened to his rendition
to think harmonicas are no good for melodies
well at 1st I thought it was a joke thread
I guess some people believe that
oh well
it's still not with out humor...
1960 posts
Dec 15, 2016
7:20 AM
I'm only saying what I like and don't like - it's not heresy! I've met people who say they don't like the sound of the harmonica at all.

There's quite a few postings I've read on the MF of people saying they get bored with the amped harp sound in songs, and prefer the more subtle acoustic sound.
2003 posts
Dec 15, 2016
9:21 AM
"Well let’s face it even the best bent notes sound a bit funny."
D church... i disagree with you on that one. I totally love the sound of a nailed 3 hole full step bend. There are others i love too, but that one especially. I will say that it may be due to the appreciation factor. Possibly if i did not play harp i would not like these notes. Who knows.

"There's quite a few postings I've read on the MF of people saying they get bored with the amped harp sound in songs, and prefer the more subtle acoustic sound."

Mtg .... I definitely understand that. Its not just ANY and All amped sound, but certain ones that i don't like. The super distorted, dry, solid state type distortion just instanly turns me off.

A good example of this sound is the harp on Muddy Waters - Hard Again. Not a fan.

James Cotton uses this quite a bit.

A good warm distortion that still allows for dynamic playing, that's what i like to hear. That or Straight acoustic.

I like the point about ... what we listen to when studying vs what we listen to for enjoyment.... Well put.

There are things that i appreciate, but would not necessarily listen to fir enjoyment.
1961 posts
Dec 15, 2016
10:02 AM
Killa, you've just done me an enormous favour by mentioning Muddy Waters Hard Again. Never listened to it much. But I put it on when I read your post and immediately love the harp sound on there, not least because it's an easier one to recreate than the some others. So it's a paradigm! Must listen to more James Cotton.

I can absolutely understand why you might not like it though. This is all about personal taste.

Last Edited by MindTheGap on Dec 15, 2016 10:02 AM
2004 posts
Dec 15, 2016
11:05 AM
Yea, its all in the ear of the listener.

I find my tastes change with my playing experience. So they can change quite rapidly at times. If I just hear something just the right way, all of a sudden i love/hate it.

The more i learn, the more My listening skills improve/grow/change. I have been told this before, but until recently hadn't really experienced it. Since moving into my nrw house in july, i have had tons more time to play harp. And have grown alot in that time as a result. Listening to my recordings, It seems im getting better every week. So my ear is growing with that, i think.

I do love james cotton. He doesnt always play that way. But one Albumn he does play with that specific distortion alot is ... cotton mouth man.

This type of distortion is basicalky the polar opposite to Little Walter. This type of distortion is very dry, very solid state and unwarm sounding, and very upfront in the mix. You almost feel as if the harp mix is right there with you ... like you can touch it.

Little Walters on the other hand is very heavy on the reverb, very distant .. in the back of the mix .. feels like it is very far away. And while it is a bit brash at certain times (to get that horn sound) .. it is also warm and wet all at the same time. Aswell as being very dynamic. Infact it is all these things BECAUSE it is very dynamic. Where as the other is very compressed an monotone, sort of.

Does that make sense? Or am i talking out my ...??

Anyways, walter jacobs did use many types in his recordings. I hate to use little walter as the standard for what is good. But all these things i have just been listening to this afternoon, (hard again, lw, etc.) so its a reference thats fresh in my mind. The little walter tracks im referencing are those found on the first few tracks of "His Best".

Its all subjective.

Last Edited by Killa_Hertz on Dec 15, 2016 11:10 AM
4360 posts
Dec 15, 2016
2:31 PM
Pretty much the same; I don't listen to harmonica to hear people playing melodies - mostly. I appreciate the brilliance and skill of Christelle. I've met her, taken a lesson from her. I like her. But I don't listen to her music much because it's just not my trip.

Re hard again: I still remember the moment I realised what I was listening to. I hadn't really caught on to that being harmonica. Suddenly I realised it wasn't another guitar, it was a harp. I grabbed the case to see who was playing; JC. Ok. That was my first awareness of JC as a player.

One of the most fun things I've been playing on the harp recently is 'I want to be loved'. I use the version on that record as my template. C harp, first position, all low octave.really enjoyable to play and goes down well with audiences. Try it. Awesome solo example of simple and effective. Lots of energy without many notes.

Little Walter as the standard of what's good? I'm afraid that's my default position. I don't think I can do much about it. But it doesn't stop me appreciating Dennis Gruenling and Snooky Pryor and Carey Bell and Billy Branch. (You can do a few workshops with BB next year. 12 places available. Only a bit over $2000 for the week. I'd love to do that)
1962 posts
Dec 15, 2016
3:32 PM
I've also no problem with seeing LW as a gold standard! But I find myself liking all kinds of blues amped harp sound. Actual bona fide liking, rather than appreciating.

As a bonus, that JC style on Hard Again suits my own style and the equipment I have access too.

I wish I liked the harp for other things too. It's such a satisfying instrument in terms of price, portability, DIY, and aesthetics.

Last Edited by MindTheGap on Dec 15, 2016 3:35 PM
2006 posts
Dec 15, 2016
3:33 PM
We ll the only reason i say i hate to use LW as a reference standard for what is great ... is that , its just so generic. I think alot of people just automatically use him for everything without truly understanding why. Not that he is not deserving of it. Just that, its sort of played out. And also there are so many great ways of doing things that are not the way LW did them. I just didn't want it to come off like I was saying "Its no good because it wasnt LW's way. "
2007 posts
Dec 15, 2016
3:37 PM
Infact (I know I might be strung up for this.) But i think i much prefer the Dirty sound of Walter Horton over the Clean Well Organized sound of Little Walter.

LW is fantastic and Im absolutely in Awe of his skills. His fluid playing.

But still .... theres just something about the dirty Horton sound that just does it for me.
4361 posts
Dec 15, 2016
6:36 PM
I like little Walter's harmonic inventiveness.
Take the last chorus of Juke for instance. Or his solo in my babe.
Recently I saw someone, Dave Myers perhaps, write about how LW had stuff he wouldn't record because he didn't want people to be able to copy him. That's an indication of the environment he was operating in. He needed to protect his status. Every one was trying to cop his stuff.
I think Horton is highly regarded for his sound. I've heard him lauded many times as the best in that regard. Cotton often praised for his sheer power. I could hardly believe my emotional reaction to seeing Cotton play live a couple years ago. I really did not expect how I was gonna feel about that
1963 posts
Dec 15, 2016
11:06 PM
Could be it's the similarity to electric guitar that I like. That version of I want to be Loved does sound great. That's a brilliant 1st position song to have in the arsenal, thanks for pointing it out. In a sense, he is playing a melody - I know it's accompaniment rather than the tune itself, but it's hummable, whistle-able single notes rather than the usual blues-harp-schtick.

I suppose it's fair enough that having discovered the diatonic harp, people will want to apply it to all kinds of music. That's human nature. I don't think it's a sin to have an opinion about where it works and where it doesn't. Maybe it is a sin on MBH.

Same with the ukulele - and I know what love people have for that instrument. Something aesthetically satisfying about the uke, the whole package. And I've really tried hard to like the sound it makes too, but to no avail.

If melodies on diatonic sound good to you, you're a fortunate person IMO because the harp really is 'an orchestra in your pocket'. Chords, rhythms, single notes, it's all there.

Last Edited by MindTheGap on Dec 16, 2016 1:44 AM
2010 posts
Dec 16, 2016
7:59 AM
Bee that's a very interesting about LW. In that light he actually makes alot more sense. In that time of recording they were taking all the Black artists hit songs and rerecording them with white artists. I know that doesn't exactly apply to harmonica, but there was alot of stealing going on.

See that's what I mean. Just a little bit of information like that can Make you hear something a whole new way.

Your point Ties right in with this MTG.
" I know it's accompaniment rather than the tune itself, but it's hummable, whistle-able single notes rather than the usual blues-harp-schtick."

I think perhaps the reason i dont listen to as much LW is because he is hard to repeat. Theres not a ton of LW snippets or licks you can steal that will apply to other places. In his accompaniment sure, but not his solo stuff. So if im studying (which i normally am) i ding tend to listen to LW. For pleasurable listening factor, hes incredible.

I also like some of the stuff Jerry Portnoy does on Im Ready. Its very tied to the melody of the song. So i don't think its the simplistic nature of hard again that i don't really like, but simply that specific overdriven sound. I still listen to the record often, but we were on the subject (kindof) so i thought i would bring it up.

Btw, I have noticed that on Im Ready Horton does all the "blues shtick" songs and Portnoy does all the melody type songs. Why do you think this is?
112 posts
Dec 17, 2016
2:21 AM
Back to the "Silent Night" song.

Written in 1818 about 3 years before harps were invented.

Harps were invented to play melodies.

Silent Night one of the easiest songs to play. Hohner
included it in it's begginer how to play harmonica

Seems people have been playing Silent Night for just about 200 years now.

I don't know why people would struggle with the song.
I see the Tom version this year is better than last year.

near I can tell he's playing the song in the key of C..
he is using a C harp

He can play it beautiful by moving it up an octave, just as it is written in beginner books or tab.

No need to be tripping over the bends that he's trying to play in the lower octave.
He could just grab a lower harp and again play it beautifully in the mid part of the harp.

Another super simple holiday song is "Joy to the World"...written in 1719...

Super simple on harmonica
2011 posts
Dec 17, 2016
8:40 AM
I always thought the harp was invented ... or really the point behind the richter tuning was ... polka. No?
1965 posts
Dec 17, 2016
9:21 AM
I too read that the harp was invented to play simple tunes, with rhythm accompaniment, that used just the I and V chord. Yes, polkas and suchlike. And it is very good for that. Not all tunes are like that though. As you say, some do lay out well like Joy to the World. Or choosing a specific position for a tune.

Maybe the problem is slavishly trying to use 2nd position - because it does provide a lot of chromatic notes - to play every melody. I guess when people pick up a blues-harp they are encouraged to learn 2nd position first, and then, why not, for everything.

There are those solo-tuned harps that have more notes, good for more melodies. And Lee Oskar has his different tunings, good for specific styles e.g. harmonic or melodic minor-based tunes.

There was a website I saw which had a list of tunings, even specific to particular songs. I remember it had one for Miles Davis' 'So What'.

On the MF there's been a great vid of 'Uptown Funk' with a specific tuning.

Last Edited by MindTheGap on Dec 17, 2016 9:27 AM
1966 posts
Dec 17, 2016
9:31 AM
...question is Spderyak, do you like that version of Silent Night? It's totally subjective and if you do I'm not going to convince you otherwise! The point is that Tomlin has great technique and so that IS what it sounds like on a diatonic harp played in that position.

Other people might play with different expression or effects, echo and reverb etc. But that is the basic sound of it. Just like the Old Grey Whistle Test theme tune IS the classic sound of the 2'' draw bend.
115 posts
Dec 28, 2016
4:36 AM
to answer the question, No I don't like that version I think it kills the song.
I don't think he is playing 2nd position, I think he is playing 1st position only down an octave to low.

what is an Old grey whistle test theme ?

Last Edited by Spderyak on Dec 28, 2016 4:45 AM
89 posts
Dec 28, 2016
1:40 PM
"Old grey whistle test theme"

It's about time I got around to this.
90 posts
Dec 28, 2016
4:41 PM
I’m with you Spderyak. I’m not a fan of this rendition of Silent Night.

But, Tomlin clearly states that this is a “lesson” in C 1st position. I think the reason he is playing the lower octave is to intentionally incorporate the 3D bend. I think his intended audiences are intermediate students. So for that purpose I’d say good job.

But I agree with you this Silent Night it’s not as “beautiful” as it could be. He could have simply played on the higher octave, or momentarily moved to it... Don't get me wrong, I love hearing a good bend but not in this context.

I appreciate the fact that it can be done well but honestly if I didn’t know about diatonic harps my ear would tell me the guy obviously messed up or the instrument needs work. I understand that’s a personal point of view.

To me, bends are the expressive soul of the diatonic, but they don’t automatically sound great because they are played well.

From the original post by MindTheGap: “… Silent Night illustrates why I don't like melodies on the diatonic. OK some melodies, ones that don't layout so well so you have to use hard bends on important notes.”

It’s a legitimate point. IMO, it is about how the song lays out… It’s also about the interpretation of the song. For example if Tomlin would have played the melody with a slightly bluesy interpretation I would have enjoyed it more.

Christelle for example, not only has fantastic technical skills she also plays very creative interpretations of the melodies. Melodies sound good to me when I’m hearing expressive techniques including bent notes all coming together artistically.

@MindTheGap “…convince me!”
Hey, I took a shot at it. Here’s my idea of a pretty cool interpretation of Silent Night (bend and all). Maybe it will help convince you that it's not that you don't like melodies on the diatonic maybe you are just particular. :)

If you wouldn't bother to stop and listen to this guy's version of Silent Night then I give up, you have no soul and will likely burn in the fires of humbug HELL for all eternity!!! ;)

Happy Holidays,

It's about time I got around to this.
2052 posts
Dec 28, 2016
6:30 PM
Mtg .. I didnt know the Old Grey Whistle. ... i dig it.

DChurch ... im definitely going there, so that must be why Im not a huge fan of that one. 8^) It was good, but i think too high and a bit thin sounding. I think a slightly lower key and less trebble, more bass in the mix .... and it would have been much better. That's just my opinion.

What if you played it Tongue Block? Dirty it up and Slap the notes. Silent Night by Walter Horton? ... Lol.
91 posts
Dec 28, 2016
9:28 PM
Haha KHz, "It was good" Sounds like you would you at least "bother to stop and listen". So there may be hope for you yet;) But I'm with ya, I like the dirty blues renditions too.

I'll be hanging with Curtis Salgado for New Years at our little home town event hall. Maybe he will take a request "Silent Night - and dirty it up good bro"


It's about time I got around to this.
1990 posts
Dec 28, 2016
11:56 PM
Thanks dchurch, I agree about Tomlin's lesson, and I think that playing melodies with bends is a great way of getting them in tune. That version of Silent Night is very good, and that's what I'm talking about, he's using the harp layout carefully and so the notes sound sweet. Playing a sweet melody, you need the notes to sound sweet, seems obvious.

Spderyak you're right, I'm wrong, they are both playing in 1st position. As you say, an octave higher and it works much better. Now you point it out, it works even better as an exercise as you can play the tune first 'in tune' then try to replicate that with the bends lower down. Nice one.

Re the OGWT theme tune, that's the great Charlie McCoy, that is! For lots of people in the UK, of certain age, that is one of the few harmonica tunes they could hum.

Last Edited by MindTheGap on Dec 29, 2016 12:14 AM
2053 posts
Dec 29, 2016
12:10 PM
Hmm ... mtg haven't really dug into McCoy. Ofcourse ive heard his name a bunch, but .... that's about it. Perhaps it's time to dig into him.

D church ... i would totally so and listen. It was good, i was speaking critically. And in a perfect world, thats how i would like to hear it. But if i walked up on that dude playing in the park .... im sitting down and watching.

Re Salgado .... please do get him to play a dirty version. That would be fantastic ... lol. I saw Salado in delaware a few months back, he is great.
363 posts
Jan 08, 2017
5:39 PM
MTG . . . I'm late to this discussion, but to your original point, I'm a huge fan of melodies. I've transposed and learned about 40 or so tunes (transposing most to second position, some to first and third). The reason is two-fold.

First, they're all songs that I love (and since I don't really have a desire to play in public, playing these songs makes me happy when sitting here with the dogs). Second, and more technical, it's the one type of practice that has really made me focus hard on precise bending and breath control.

Just looking at my list I've got everything from Folsom Prison Blues, Chicken Shack and Whiter Shade of Pale to Brown Eyed Girl, Georgia and Proud Mary. Lots of CCR, gospel, folk tunes (Sloop John B is great fun).

My latest obsession is more in the blues realm (Adam's version of Street Beater . . . the Sanford and Son theme).

But I'd have to say melodies are what I most enjoy. It's very subjective on all of our parts (but I have to say, hearing Todd Parrott play did tilt me a bit in this direction. Man . . . hes just flawless).
2022 posts
Jan 08, 2017
11:38 PM
Hi Rontana - good to hear from you again.

I'm not saying what anyone else should or shouldn't like so if you like the melodies then that's great. I do agree that playing melodies is a good exercise, particularly in controlling bends. Clearly lots of MBH people do like them, judging by the videos posted. That said it's worth being aware of some objective, technical issues about melodies and how they turn out on the diatonic.

I've tried playing other peoples videos of melodies to my non-musician bits of the family, and their response is that they sound 'a bit off' generally. They've no interest in the technical skill required.

There's an interesting thread by Grey Owl on the MF, where he's playing a tune Oblivion. I think that is an example of a good rendition of a tune. When I mentioned I don't normally like melodies, he discussed the problem of the strong difference in timbre between bent and unbent notes, even if the pitch control is good. They stick out and give musical emphasis to particular notes where you don't necessarily want it.

I agree about Todd Parrot. Thing is, as well as having superb technique, he is very careful to pick tune, position and tuning scheme so that the melody lays out well. That 'good' version of silent night above sounds right because he's chosen to play the different parts of the tune in the best places on the harp, rather than sticking slavishly to the tune. When working out some horn parts for my band, I made compromises by substituting strong alternative notes for unstable bent notes. I think that is part of the melody-harp-player's art. Another approach would be to have specifically-tuned harps for specific tunes. With instruments being so cheap, that sounds like a plan.

My observation is that a person can have fairly basic, good technique and sound basically right playing blues. That's because of happy accident of how the blues scale and blue notes lay out on the diatonic. In contrast, you have to have a much stronger technique for melodies to sound right, or take alternative actions. Of course, some melodies do lay out well and they are fine too. Some will always sound 'off' - at least to non-harp-player's ears.

Last Edited by MindTheGap on Jan 08, 2017 11:58 PM
1037 posts
Jan 13, 2017
6:48 AM
Years ago I listened to quite a bit of Harpoli. He was all over YouTube and I thought his productions were interesting and amusing. He seems to be quite a character.

BUT, listen to a few more of his songs and you will notice that he passes over or replaces bent notes (or he used to). I find that disconcerting. When I listen to a melody I expect a note for note rendition of the original.
2042 posts
Jan 14, 2017
11:07 AM
But that's the musical choice: good notes that don't quite replicate the well-known tune verbatim, or 'off' notes that do. Applause from other harp players, screwed-up faces from non-harp players.

Harp is great for songs that have been developed for harp - all those classic riffs we love sound, frankly, fabulous. Or for improvisation where no one is expecting particular melodies with an exact sequence of notes - no clams there. A non-harp audience will delight in what you can play, not be unsettled by what you can't.

But 'Yesterday' on a diatonic harp? - hmmm. Might as well be honest about it. I don't think it's anything to get cut up about, I wouldn't like Smoke On The Water played on a ukulele either. Cue YT vid of ukulele band with a rip-snorting version...

...ok tuba. Cue tuba video...

Last Edited by MindTheGap on Jan 14, 2017 11:14 AM
7 posts
Dec 27, 2017
11:11 AM
Reading this thread is kind of depressing to me. Melodies are the heart and soul of music. The melody of a song is what gives it its identity - it's reason for being. So what is the point of playing an instrument if you don't like hearing melodies played on it? Can you imagine a guitar player, or a violinist, or a pianist saying they don't like playing melodies?

To restore my faith, I think I'll go listen to Sonny Terry's version of "Bring it on Home to Me."

Last Edited by FastFourier on Dec 27, 2017 11:13 AM
2433 posts
Dec 27, 2017
12:57 PM
I disagree, obviously. For me, Rhythm is the heart and soul. I do like a good melody, of course, one to whistle. But I just don't think they sound very good on the diatonic harp on the whole. And some sound really awful. I get a lot of pleasure from playing the harp (and listening to it), without really playing many melodies as such - hardly any at all. It's all syncopated rhythms and harmonies, textures, expressive bent notes, throat vibrato.

In contrast, melodies sound fantastic on a violin. Or many other instruments.

One of my sons was playing me some electronic dance music yesterday, Daniel Avery's Drone Logic. Some of the songs are basically on one throbbing note, with wafting harmonies. Fabulous stuff. He saw him live, in a big warehouse with a light show - that's really gusty music. Better IMO than 'Over the Rainbow' squeezed out of a harp with slightly out of tune bent notes and round-the-campfire hand vibrato :)

But don't be depressed - prove me wrong!

Edit - just listening to Bring it on Home. Great track, but he hardly plays much of the melody wouldn't you say? More the first few notes, then some blues harp solos stuff.

Last Edited by MindTheGap on Dec 27, 2017 1:08 PM
8 posts
Dec 27, 2017
3:26 PM
@ MindTheGap As soon as I finished my post and listened to Bring it on Home, I realized it was a terrible example - you're right, he plays very little of the melody, and avoids the bent notes on the 3-hole draw. (How about Walter Horton's "Don't Get Around much Anymore"?)

I understand your point - some melodies are just not meant to be played on a diatonic harmonica. I was really just saying that I like to hear beautiful melodies played on any instrument, and hope that harp players will continue to do their part by occasionally playing melodic lines (along with the usual dazzling solos).

I'm not actually depressed. But if I were, I would pick up a harmonica and start playing.

Last Edited by FastFourier on Dec 27, 2017 3:46 PM
363 posts
Dec 27, 2017
5:55 PM
Here's some beautiful melodic blues harp. "Trouble in Mind", Big Walter Horton and Carey Bell
Phil Pennington
5149 posts
Dec 27, 2017
6:22 PM
I love that one Fil.

49 posts
Dec 27, 2017
8:52 PM
My main interest is to play melodically o the harp, and that is what I've been pursuing.
Big Walter's solo version of Trouble in Mind made me take the harp a lot more seriously, and Roly Platt's Georgia is also great. Here they are:
2436 posts
Dec 27, 2017
11:59 PM
FastFourier - yes, that's it. Just a talking point really. I'd like it if I could play everything on the harp but have to be honest that some things were meant not to be. Like A Nightingale Sang in Berkley Square on the bagpipes.

Fil, thanks! Again, a great song and just the kind of thing I find inspiring, but it's hardly much of melody - more some wonderful blues-harp schtick no?

Pythonbeg, ditto with that version of trouble in mind. I grant that 'Georgia' is lovely, but it's a commonly played bluesy tune. And Mr Platt adds in loads of wonderful blues-harp embellishments that are totally in keeping with the style of the song. Even he can't disguise the odd sound of the 3'' when trying to play it as a proper melody note - even as a passing note as here.

If I play it to my wife (a non musician) she'd wince at that note and say oh what happened there? That's your acid test.

So when it's not Georgia, but a non-bluesy melody, how does it sound played straight without blues-harp embellishments?

Last Edited by MindTheGap on Dec 28, 2017 12:02 AM
2437 posts
Dec 28, 2017
1:35 AM
...I just remembered something from the film The Ipcress File. Michael Caine's character is at a 'meet' with a spy in a park, watching a military band. I'm paraphrasing but it goes something like,

"They're playing Mozart next"

"Tell me who wins!"
50 posts
Dec 28, 2017
3:14 AM
Fair point, but I would place the blame for this squarely at standard Richter tuning. The 3'' is usually the bend that ruins good melodic playing from what I've seen. If we had a 12 hole diatonic with solo tuning (or even a 10 hole solo tuned harp like the Seydel Orchestra) I imagine the output would be a lot better, especially if you half-valved it. Also curious to see how that 3'' bend sounds if you raise 3 blow by a half step. Would it make the timbre match the 2''?
364 posts
Dec 28, 2017
6:17 AM
MGT, that’s true, not a melody per se. I agree with you that the diatonic isn’t a great instrument for straight unadorned melodies, 3 draw bend or no 3 draw bend. A harmonica, piano, violin, or trumpet playing a straight unadorned, unembellished melody usually sounds to me like someone practicing. BWH adds texture, rhythmic interest, emotion, and some surprise to the melody, while keeping it instantly recognizable. So, melody vs derivation? Although, I can think of melodies for which no amount of melodic texture, rhythmic etc, would make them sound good on or suitable for harp. No argument there. “A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square” on pipes. That’s funny. But Vera Lynn? Exquisite.

Phil Pennington
Phil Pennington
432 posts
Dec 28, 2017
8:38 PM
Very interesting subject.
Back when i was regularly gigging i'd sometimes be approached by a guy who 'wanted to learn blues harp'.
(I hasten to add that it wasn't because i was such a good player or anything but mainly because i was the the first person playin' some harp that they saw as approachable;a pint did it^)
Anyway i used to say are you serious about this?
The answer was always a guarded i'd say well buy a m/band learn two 'tunes' on it and then come back to me and i'll show you what makes the difference between playing a ''tune' and playing the blues harp.
Only two people ever followed up on one of them is a 'recognisable' player.
Point i am trying to make is that by learning melodies, where every note has to be right, you learn a map of the
harmonica,breath control etc.
Too many people,imo, just want to learn Blues Harp ...without any fundamental work .
The guy who has gone on to greater things came back to me with
'When the Saints' and Amazing i demonstrated to him the difference in using second position on both tunes.(lightbulb!)
The point is i suppose that just learning some tunes can help you on the way to de blues harp.
Try playing When the Saints in first position on the bottom of the that is a bending exercise...
But yeah i am not to keen on ...back to the original thread title.
2438 posts
Dec 29, 2017
12:49 AM
Yes that makes a lot of sense, for learning to play rather than just wailing. And there are some tunes that lay out really well on the diatonic. These are our standards e.g. Amazing Grace, Georgia, Saints as you say.

As phythonbeg points out, the note layout is an issue. I've seen a table of custom harp layouts (tunings?) for different classic songs. I guess the harp is so cheap that is a viable option.

For me the most interesting 'tunes' I suppose are the ones that were written or recorded specifically for the blues harp. Is Hoochie Coochie man a tune or a riff? How about Low Rider? Something you can whistle anyway, so it's more than a wail.

Last Edited by MindTheGap on Dec 29, 2017 12:56 AM
14 posts
Dec 29, 2017
2:15 AM
Wow, I have been looking for a bend workout for the 2 and 3 draw that sounded ultra cool. Found it! The Old Grey Whistle, sweet. Light bulb moment finally. Embouchure is real! Thanks for this thread.

(PS: Melodies, great when they are virtually bend-less. My .02)

(Edited for spelling)

Last Edited by mrjoeyman on Dec 29, 2017 2:16 AM
5153 posts
Dec 29, 2017
2:34 AM
You’ve reminded me of when I started playing. I mean, when I started playing repeatable tunes. Over the course of the first 15 years after I showed an interest in harp I just noodled on a sporadic basis, sometimes losing harps and forgetting about it for years at a time.
At some point about 20 years ago, I found a book and began to learn specific sequences of notes. At first it was mainly nursery rhymes, and a few other tunes. Saints was probably first, oh sussanah, clementine, you are my sunshine, London Bridge and so on.

I recall I wanted to play ‘waltzing Mathilda’ and then picked up some other ‘colonial folk songs’ like ‘the road to Gundagai’ and Botany Bay and Bound for South Australia. And some stuff which may be called ‘americana’; Dixie, yellow rose of Texas, the marines hymn and others. I have a book with a lot of that stuff. 10 years ago I was still playing all that; I’d added turkey in the straw and the British marching tune ‘pack up your troubles’ and I was learning to tongue block on that stuff. I think people call it vamping. By then I was was getting an ear for picking these tunes up. I was getting novelty songs like ‘Shaving Cream’ and tv themes like the Flinstones and I’d begun to get some bluesy things like the one way out riff which sounded a lot like room to move...
But my point is that although probably no one really wants to listen to anyone play that stuff, it is fun to play (and I’ve forgotten the cowboy songs like my Sweet Kentucky Home and red river valley) and I found that if I could whistle a tune I could soon learn to play it.
Sometimes I’d find a transcript and it would differ from my ‘ear-learned’ version. I’d try it and discover usually that it was better, so I was using my ears and also educating my ears.
I probably kept playing like that far too long but by 2010 I’d added a few popular blues covers and could tongue block fairly comfortably and began jamming and playing in bands and didn’t play much of that folksy harmonica tune stuff anymore.
Christelle got me started on ‘yesterday’. That’s a demanding beginners piece for accurate bends in holes 2 and 3. It doesn’t sound that great.
But I think there are some Spanish/Latin melodies that sound great on the harp, especially in that style I am gonna call ‘cowboy music’ because I dunno what it is properly named. I used to hear it in western movies, especially when the setting was closer to Mexico than Canada. I think I heard norton buffalo play one that was very pretty, but I can’t recall the name.
All that other stuff is probably not what anyone wants to listen to

I think if you are into Irish folk or really probably any folk music, the melodic possibilities of the harmonica are more fitting and pleasing.
For me it’s the force-fitted melodic stuff of pop tunes and show tunes which I think cross the line of sounding rather try hard
2439 posts
Dec 29, 2017
2:58 AM
I think I agree with all that. Melodies are fun to play and a good learning tool, but other people don't particularly want to hear them, well some of them.

Yes I think you've hit the nail: it's the pop tunes and show tunes - familiar, great tunes - that don't sound so good on harp. Then again, there's jazz-flavoured things which I think are OK e.g. Mack the Knife. I like that on harp, probably chromatic but nonetheless I think it would take the bend/overbends ok.

And +10 for OGWT!!! That was a big motive for me when I was learning to bend. It was a tune that everyone around knew, and they knew it on the harp.

There's probably rich pickings in folk music, as you say. I think Irish folk music has a similar concept of bent/blue notes - aren't they called 'long notes'? And Lee Oskar's standard tunings are good for eastern European folk styles I think.

Last Edited by MindTheGap on Dec 29, 2017 3:05 AM

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