beginner forum: for novice and developing blues harp players > Beginner resource advice
Beginner resource advice
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1 post
Sep 27, 2017
12:44 PM

This is my first post, so my apologies if I am repeating some old threads.

I have just started the harmonica, on a whim as something I can play anywhere at anytime (as opposed to my trumpet, which I really cannot play over lunch at work or in the late evenings), but I am quickly falling in love with it despite the challenge.

I have a few questions:

How different are Blues Harmonica for Dummies (which my local library has and which I have been using) and Harmonica for Dummies? Is that worth considering or is there enough of an overlap that it is redundant?

As someone who reads music, I find notation much easier than tabs, so I really appreciate Yerxa's use of musical notation. However, I am having a hard time finding beginners'music online that is not in tabs. Thoughts? And for that matter, can anyone suggest other books that are geared to folks who read music?

Finally, I am not quite ready to make the leap to paid online lessons. I came across Mitch Grainger on Youtube. Has anyone worked through his videos who could comment?

Thank you so much for your advice.


267 posts
Sep 27, 2017
1:24 PM
There are lots of online/YouTube resources that are free and fit different learning styles. When I was beginning, I got a lot of help from videos by Lee Sankey.
17 posts
Sep 28, 2017
11:09 AM
I just started a couple weeks ago as well. So far I have been doing David Barretts online classes as well as using YouTube videos from Adam Gussow, Jason Ricci, Howard Levy, Will Wilde, Tomlin Leckie, and Ronnie Shellist. Tons of stuff out there for free on YouTube.
2367 posts
Sep 29, 2017
4:20 AM
Hello and welcome. You're right, on the web it's mostly tabs for diatonic harp players. I suppose because a lot of people learn harp by ear.

But most of the instruction books I've used do have both on the page. E.g. David Barrett's series. I'd recommend those.

Since you ask about video lessons, since you are here at MBH you should look at Adam's great videos. There's hundreds of free ones, and longer, more structured ones to purchase.
2 posts
Oct 07, 2017
4:49 PM
Thanks for the tips. I think I will look into Adam's and Dave's videos. I heard Adam is mostly a lip blocker? Is that the case? The pucker is working very well for me and I really struggle to even get my head around how I am supposed to lip block. Should I be doing both or is it okay to favor one method, at least initially?

Also, thoughts on Yerxa's other Dummies book?

Last Edited by Kayaker on Oct 07, 2017 4:59 PM
5017 posts
Oct 08, 2017
12:21 AM
Hi kayaker,
Adam is a lipper. Pursed, pucker, lip block; there may be some difference in what these terms describe but it’s basically the same in so far as it doesn’t involve putting the tongue on harp to create the single note.

Dave Barrett teaches tongue blocking. He teaches a lot else besides tongue block though.

In his books he is teaching concepts, at least in those I have.

I like adam Gussow’s ‘tradebit’ lessons. They were good for me, but I’ve met people who say they could never learn from adam because he talks too much. Maybe that’s the you tube stuff. The tradebit lessons are pretty down to earth.
3 posts
Oct 08, 2017
5:02 PM
Thanks SuperBee. That's really helpful.

It is Barrett that is the tongue blocker, then. I knew it was one of them--that's what I meant to say, not lip blocker :-)
1 post
Oct 08, 2017
6:27 PM
Hi kayaker,
I can relate to where you're coming from, having played saxophone before starting harmonica.
Dave Barrett's website is really good. He explains why he has his students lip block. No need summarizing all the past discussions about whether to tongue block or to lip block. I suspect, though, they you wouldn't find tongue blocking all that hard after a week or two. Tongue blocking might also help you develop a proper harmonica embouchure.
Both of Winslow Yerxa's books are great. I suggest you pick one for now and get the other one in the future.
5020 posts
Oct 10, 2017
7:44 PM
just for the sake of posting something, maybe i can say something about the question of whether or not its crucial to tongue block.
my own situation is that i tongue block by default. some players default to lipping, others seem to mix it up in some way. i can name some high profile players such as portnoy and shellist who say they primarily tongue block above hole 4 and lip 1 2 3, making a transition around hole 4.
David Barrett i believe defaults to tongue block all over the harp, by which i mean he obtains single notes with his tongue touching the harp. i'm not sure if he does this for hole 1. i believe Mark Hummel also plays this way and may tongue switch for hole 1, which means he normally has his tongue to the left of the hole he is playing (EG, plays hole 3 and has tongue over holes 1 and 2)but plays hole 1 with tongue over hole 2 and 3). The reason i think he plays this way is because he advised me to do that.

Dennis Gruenling is similiar but puckers hole 1 unless he has a good reason to switch it (getting quick alternations between 1 and 4 perhaps, or single note to octave split) and i think he said he sometimes puckers the 10 also. from what i have read Dennis say about his approach, i believe i am doing it very much the same with considerably less finesse.

there are any number of players who primarily pucker or lip block without using the tongue for single notes, but id say relatively few prominent players who don't use tongue to obtain effects

so i think it is 100% fine to play lipped and go for tongue block if it grabs your interest at a later point
151 posts
Oct 19, 2017
6:22 PM
Welcome Kayaker,

From another paddle swinging harp player. As a fellow sheet reader (horn). I understand your comfort with notation verses tab. I suspect you know that the diatonic harmonica is tuned to one key. If you use tab you will be able to play it as written using any key of harmonica. Notation does not have that significant advantage.

There are several versions of tab. They are all very similar and super simple to learn. IMO the biggest downside is that popular harmonica tab is worthless for sight reading a piece you have never heard before. And if you are a proficient sight reader that's a huge downside.

Another plus for tab is it is super easy to jot down a few bars, riffs... you don't even need to know the notes you are using.

So I guess I'm recommending you give tab a chance.

However, I have to confess I don't use any written form for harmonica (I honestly don't know what hole or note I'm on unless I stop and think about it). But, on my top 100 play list I write the title of the song, the position, and starting hole such as b2 or d3-- or b9+ (That's my version of tab).

I do a little whitewater, some kayak spin and fly fishing, and a bunch of ocean kayak surfing (Mini-Mako and Woody Waveski).

Coho fly fishing with a Lucky-13 on board :)

(Edited to fix a broken photobucket image link)

It's about time I got around to this.

Last Edited by dchurch on Oct 20, 2017 8:24 PM

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