instructional videos, blues harp tabs, and recordings by ADAM GUSSOW, handcrafted in Oxford, Mississippi
THE MISSION: LEARN TO PLAY HARMONICA, IMPROVE YOUR GAME If you're reading these words, then you are almost certainly one of two things.
You may be a blues harmonica player looking to strengthen your command of the instrument. You'd like to deepen your tone; learn tongue-blocking, overblowing, and other advanced techniques. You'd like to add to your repertoire, so that you're not simply recycling the same old licks. You'd like somebody to help you decode what the masters of the blues harp--Sonny Boy Williamson, Little Walter, Junior Wells, Sonny Terry, Paul Butterfield--are really doing.
You can play some harp. But you'd like to transform yourself into a player.
Or perhaps you're a beginner in search of harmonica lessons. You're confused by the multitude of instructional materials currently on the market. You don't want somebody who talks over your head, but you don't want somebody who condescends to you, either. You don't want to waste your time. You're looking for guidance from a harp-playing professional--somebody who has traveled the road you're just setting out on, knows how it feels to be where you are, and wants to help you take the next step.
You can't play--yet. But you want to. You're supposed to be a blues harmonica player. You can't explain why. You just know.
Twenty-five years ago, at the age of 30, only three years after meeting my teacher, Nat Riddles, I was already beginning to achieve my dreams. Here's a Swatch watch ad I made in 1988 with my Harlem guitar-man, Sterling "Mr. Satan" Magee. I can help teach you how to play blues harp like this:
I'm a beginner! Take me to your beginner's welcome page NOW:
The rough edges are a part of my teaching philosophy. The more thorougly you rationalize a knowledge delivery system, the more likely you are to lose some of the grit, the funk, the wildness. By the same token, it takes a deep knowledge-base and the ability to communicate effectively to make music DOABLE; otherwise the blues harmonica "teacher" is just flapping his hands and jiving.
My teaching method plants itself at the intersection of soulful passion and myth-busting clarity, all of it grounded in my career as a working pro. I've played thousands of gigs and every major festival; blues DJs around the world play my stuff. Now I've brought it back home to Mississippi. I'm ready for you, if you're ready for me. The back-porch intimacy of my videos, combined with the precision of my hand-drawn tab sheets, will take you deep into the woods and out into a sunny clearing. Before you know it, you WILL be making those bluesy sounds on your harmonica.
I want to know why you're qualified to be my harmonica teacher. Take me to your biography page NOW:
THE STORE: BLUES HARMONICA LESSONS ONLINE, FOR IMMEDIATE DOWNLOAD The heart of this website is The Store. What you'll find there is a series of links to Tradebit.com, a filehosting site at which I've uploaded a series of blues harp lessons: instructional videos and tabs. Many of them are materials that I've worked up for my private harmonica students over the past 20 years. Some of them are original compositions designed to introduce basic techniques in a sequential way. Others are transcriptions of classic harp-based tunes such as Big Walter Horton's "Easy" and Paul Butterfield's "Born in Chicago."
The internet has changed the game. Online instruction is the future of blues harmonica--AND THE FUTURE IS HERE.
For a modest per-song fee, submitted through PayPal, you can download one of these lessons. Each is available as two parts: a QuickTime video ($5) and a PDF tab ($2). The video lessons run from 12 minutes (a few of the early ones) to as long as 45 minutes or more. The tabs are always shown on camera--one of my key teaching tools is to walk you through the tab, note by note--but the moderate compression level that makes for workable video downloads means that some details are in soft-focus, and many students will want a hard copy of the tab as well. You can purchase either the video or the tab or both, as you see fit.
I've been developing these materials for many years. They WORK. They will improve your playing in ways that those who think they know how good (or bad) you are will find startling. If you want proof, just hit the link for the Testimonials page below. You WILL learn to play harmonica here! If you've already got some game, you'll kick it up a notch, or two, or three.
The lessons are sorted into four levels in order of increasing difficulty: BEGINNER, ADVANCED BEGINNER, INTERMEDIATE, and ADVANCED INTERMEDIATE. If you're in doubt about where you fit in, take a look at the page marked "What level are you?" Many lessons are appropriate for students at several levels. They'll challenge the better player slightly less forcefully than the not-as-experienced player, but both students will have something to gain from them.
I'd like a complete list of your video lessons and blues harp tabs NOW. Here you go! Just download this searchable, hyperlinked Excel spreadsheet and you'll have all the songs, all the harp keys, all the players (including Little Walter, Big Walter Horton, Junior Wells, Paul Butterfield, James Cotton, and both Sonny Boy Williamsons) whose songs and solos I've painstakingly tabbed out:
A word about my tabs: Many years ago, when I got my first harmonica teaching gig at the Guitar Study Center in New York, I purchased a few of the commercially available instruction books. Most of them used standard harp tablature--numbered arrows pointing up and down--but none of them indicated, with even minimal precision, the duration of each note, not to mention the rhythmic emphases (syncopation or "swing") that made for real blues. A few of them offered this information in the form of actual musical notation instead of tablature, but like most harp players, I didn't read music. So I developed my own form of tablature from scratch.
My tabs give you numbers and arrows to indicate which hole you play and whether it's draw or blow, like standard harp tabs, but they also give you a precise rhythmic count underneath the arrows. As you'll see if you order one of my videos, I'm a stickler about counting time. If you can't count your way through a tab, you can't play the song with the precision and intensity it deserves. Modern Blues Harmonica is NOT about mush-mouth harp! No matter what level you are, I believe in treating you like a serious musician. Counting time accurately is part of what it means to be a musician. My tabs are designed to ground you in rhythmic fundamentals. Most of them are hand-drawn, but please don't confuse this handmade aspect with carelessness or lack of precision. I take pride in my work. You can find a few other accurate, precision-engineered harp transcriptions on the web--Glenn Weiser and David Barrett are both excellent--but I believe that my tabs offer a combination of accuracy, accessibility, and an attention to syncopation that makes them unique.
JOURNEYS AND GIFTS: HOW I WENT FROM A STONE-COLD NOVICE (AGE 16) TO WORKING PRO One thing I offer you here is a chance to find out more about the life journey that helped me make the most of my gifts. Please take a look at the pages marked "Satan and Adam" and "Adam's biography." They'll answer many of your questions in this direction. The pages marked "AG music for sale" and "AG books for sale" will offer you links to Tradebit and Amazon, where you can purchase the music I've made with Satan and Adam, Charlie Hilbert, and on my own, as well as the three blues-themed books I've written. The page marked "AG gigs" will tell you where you can catch me in action as a harmonica teacher and performer. In my daily life I'm an associate professor of English and Southern Studies at the University of Mississippi, where I teach courses on blues literature and culture and a range of other topics.
WELCOME! Welcome to the site! Please stay a while and look around.
OH, AND ONE MORE THING........
If you'd like to get a sense of my playing and teaching style before you go any further, please take ten minutes and watch my "North Mississippi Blues Harp Lesson" just below. Over the past five years it has proven to be one of the most popular videos I've uploaded to YouTube (and more recently to Vimeo). Many intermediate players have viewed the several harmonica solos I improvise here as a kind of graduation exercise and have uploaded videos in which they perform them. I keep it simple, deep, clear, and slow:
And if you'd like to get a sense of how I play when I throw down in a contemporary style, here's a video featuring my original composition, "Thunky Fing Rides Again." (The dancer is Kaleb Mitchell. Sterling "Mr. Satan" Magee is playing guitar. If you're curious about the Satan and Adam thing, check out our band page.)
Special thanks to Adam Marsh (a.k.a. Kyser Sosa) for the new Modern Blues Harmonica logo.
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MODERN BLUES HARMONICA - complete list of videos and tabs