WHAT LEVEL ARE YOU?
(a guide for blues harmonica players)

 

If you are a BEGINNER searching for lessons, please click THIS LINK to be taken to the "Harmonica Blues Lessons for Beginners" page

 

To make the best use of the lessons I'm offering for sale in the Store, you'll need to make a frank appraisal of where you actually stand as a player.  These are rough guides based on my twenty years as a blues harp teacher.  When you've finished this self-assessment, I encourage you to visit the Store and check out the video lessons and tabs I've created for each skill-level.  Here's the link for that

www.modernbluesharmonica.com/blues_harp_lessons.html:

 

BEGINNER:
You are taking your first steps on the instrument.  You have a hard time making clear single notes.  You’re not sure how far to move your mouth up and down the harp in order to get the next hole.  You’d be happy to master simple melodies; “Oh Suzanna” is where you’re at, but you’re not very good at it.  You’re not very good at keeping the beat with your foot while you play, either.  When you play chords, they sound sour, mushy, wheezy, and you’re not sure what musicians mean by “groove.”  You feel as though there’s a lot of music in you, but you simply can’t get your mouth, your hands, and the harp to behave in a way that lets it out.  You have no idea how to bend a note to get that bluesy sound you hear on the CDs.   The 12-bar blues pattern is a mystery to you--although you'd  probably recognize a 12-bar blues  as  a blues, if somebody played one for you.  NOTE:  If you're a beginner, you may want to skip immediately to my quick-start guide on the following page:  www.modernbluesharmonica.com/beginning_harmonica.html

ADVANCED BEGINNER:
You’re beginning to get the basics down.  You’re able to play your way through simple melodies, such as “Oh Suzanna,” without too much trouble.  You’re slowly getting a handle on that up/down, in/out coordination-thing required to play simple melodies.  You’re sometimes able to keep a pretty good beat with your foot while you play, but your foot loses its way when you play complicated melodies.  You’ve got some kind of “jam” that you play when you pick up the harp, some repeated rhythmic chord-thing, but you lose the groove when you push it too hard.  And, importantly, you’ve got some bending-action going on the 4 draw.  You can’t do much with the 3 and 2 draw, though.  If you’re able to bend them at all, they don’t sound very bluesy.  (You would benefit greatly from my three sequential lessons on BENDING.)  If asked to improvise your way through a 12-bar blues, you’d make some passable wailing sounds, but you’d run out of ideas pretty quickly and you’d lose your way within the 12-bar changes.  You don’t really understand which notes you’re supposed to play over which chords.

INTERMEDIATE:
You are able to bend the 4, 3, and 2 draw without much trouble.  The 4 and 2 sound pretty good; the 3 isn’t as bluesy as it should be because you don’t yet have the control to consistently hit the “blue third,” a ½-step bend.  You’ve probably tried tongue-blocking but you’re not very good at it.  Simple melodies are easy for you.  You’ve spent some time jamming along with 12-bar changes—either CDs or jam tracks or, if you’re lucky, the guitar-playing of a friend.  You may even have gotten up at a jam session, or sat in with a local band.  You have some very basic harmonic knowledge:  you know, for example, that the 2 draw is the root of the I chord, and that the 4 draw is a good note to play on over the V chord.  But you’re still finding your way through the 12-bar changes and you need some guidance about which notes/holes work best over which chords.  When asked to improvise over 12-bar blues changes for two or three choruses, you run out of ideas.  Your playing definitely sounds “bluesy” to your friends and fellow players, but you’re beginning to realize just how much you don't know about blues harmonica.  You occasionally still have trouble getting clean, strong single notes, although moving from hole to hole now seems quite natural to you.  You can keep the beat fairly well and you may even have a chord pattern—chugging, a train song—that really drives.  You’re not sure what “swing” is, as a rhythmic concept, or how to work it into your playing.

ADVANCED INTERMEDIATE:
You’ve mastered all the basics and quite a bit more than that.  You’re able to bend holes 1, 2, 3, 4, and 6 draw; you may even realize that Little Walter bends the 5 draw down a ¼-tone on “Juke.”  You can probably bend holes 8 and 9 blow on the low harps (G, A) and may even be able to bend the 10 blow.  You know how to warble; how to chug; how to glissando.  You know how to tongue-block and have no trouble using that technique in your improvisations.  Improvising over 12-bar changes seems natural to you, and you do pretty well when confronted with other related blues, country, and gospel progressions—songs such as “Key to the Highway,” “I Got a Woman,” “This Little Light of Mine.”  You’ve almost surely played at jam sessions; you may even be playing in a band.  Still, you know your repertoire is lacking in some areas and you’re looking to broaden it.  As a player, you have real strengths but you’ve also got weaknesses.  When soloing, you tend always to rely on the same two or three power-moves or comfort zones.  And you tend to play too much; you’re not very good at leaving space.  You’ve got a pretty good sense of which notes work over which chords—playing cross-harp, at least—but you know your playing would strengthen if you had a little more harmonic knowledge.  (When jazz guys talk about “thirteenth chords,” you can’t instantly name the intervals that make up that chord.)  You’ve heard of overblowing, you may even be able to overblow a note or two, but you haven’t worked this technique into your playing.  You’re much more comfortable playing 2nd position (cross harp) than you are playing 1st and 3rd position.  Above all, you know there are some tonal, harmonic, and rhythmic subtleties that distinguish the playing of truly advanced players from what you’re doing.  And you want what they’ve got.  

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....and harmonicas, of course!  Please click the icon below; it's the model I've been playing for more than 30 years:

Hohner 1896 Marine Band Harmonica Pro Pack

 

 

 

 

 

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ADAM GUSSOW is an official endorser for HOHNER HARMONICAS

 

 

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