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Dirty-South Blues Harp forum: wail on! > *official BEGINNERS-ONLY thread*
*official BEGINNERS-ONLY thread*
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4408 posts
Nov 29, 2013
10:24 AM
At the request of a member who will no doubt make himself known, I'm starting a forum thread dedicated to conversation between beginners.

The subject line means what it says. This thread is NOT a place where experienced players are invited, or allowed, to weigh in. We do that everywhere else on this forum. We offer advice promiscuously, aggressively, with well-formed and sometimes cranky opinions.

The beginners-only thread is for beginners only. The only imaginable exception to this is if a beginner-participant specifically invites non-beginners to weigh in--by name, or as a cohort--on a particular subject.

Here you go, beginners! Have a go.
75 posts
Nov 29, 2013
12:03 PM
Let me inaugurate this thread with a question about Adam's lesson on the two-hole shake, or 'warbles' as he calls them. There are two lessons actually and they contain loads of useful information about how, when and where to use them.

The difficult bit is how to actually do them. Adam says that this is one of the 101 techniques, but personally I've found it very difficult to do. The thing is that to sound good they have to be locked to the beat. Otherwise they just sound messy, especially at the end of the phrase.

Also, you'll hear that Adam not only does the warbles in rhythm, but adds a pulse as well.

I've tried starting slowly, with a metronome, but there's always a point over a certain speed where it all goes out of sync.

I'm interested in sharing notes with other beginners who find this easy or difficult or especially those who have overcome the difficulties and are happily warbling away!

24 posts
Nov 29, 2013
12:56 PM
First, thanks to Adam and the use who suggested this thread. Good idea.

My difficulty is in controlling warbles. I mean that I might have trouble containing the shake to the correct holes. For instance, I will intend on doing a 4-5 draw shake but I might end up going over into the 5-6 or the 3-4. My solution thus far has been to do the warble slow. If I speed up too much too quickly, it tends to go out of control and sound like a hot mess.

At the end of the above video, Adam shares a short riff, with a shake at the end. I like to use warbles more sparingly. I've been thinking in terms of riff based solos. My recent revelation is that, since the 4 draw corresponds to the V, I will play the 4-5 draw shake during the V and then hit the 4-5 blow shake during the following IV. This sounds pretty good, because I'm saving the warble for just two bars out of the 12.

This goes along with the idea of using variety in solos.
76 posts
Nov 29, 2013
1:15 PM
Mirco thanks. It was my request to Adam, and many thanks to him for setting it up. I thought it would be good to get some talk going between us beginners, particularly around the many lessons that he has out there - free and paid for.

I hear you about the control, I think this is a difficult technique to do convincingly. I do a lot of comping and it seems like long shakes are a necessary item. My workaround so far has been to play them much slower - as you say. So I play 1/8th note triplets. But I've never heard that on a recording.

Or insert breaks to resync the rhythm. Feels like faking it though.

Adam mentions that he uses shakes more sparingly than in the lesson in his own playing.

Last Edited by MindTheGap on Nov 29, 2013 1:19 PM
96 posts
Nov 30, 2013
3:27 AM
Some folk learn faster than others, i'm in the 'others' section, 5 yrs and never never felt confident, Mr Gusso has it all for free, but practice makes perfection, and only a few get to an ok kind of degree, good blog tho!
190 posts
Nov 30, 2013
4:13 AM
Great concept. Will watch to see if its popularity keeps pace with the capability of a single thread to keep subjects manageable.

Last Edited by SmokeJS on Nov 30, 2013 4:13 AM
77 posts
Nov 30, 2013
5:25 AM
SmokeJS - thanks. You make a good point, and we agreed to try a single thread first, as it's low-effort to start up. Plus, being on the main forum it's will be seen by a lot of people. If it takes off - or in fact if it doesn't - then there is the option of a separate forum, on the same site of course. Like the Blues Talk or Blues Jams.

Fact: Adam's site and videos have huge numbers of hits there surely must be beginners out there wanting to share ideas. Or are there??

SteamrollinStan - Could be you are being hard on yourself! A trait shared by all really good musicians I think. But we haven't defined 'Beginner'. It's for you to categorise yourself. Just to say, I don't think it's mapped to Adam's categories (Beginner, Intermediate etc.) or length of service.

Myself, I've been learning for a couple of years, I practice at home along to records etc. and I play with a group I set up specifically so I could play harp with other musicians! I don't play gigs for money and probably never will, and so comparing with the standard of music and concerns of the majority of writers on the main forum I'm squarely a beginner and likely to remain so for the foreseeable future.

Last Edited by MindTheGap on Nov 30, 2013 5:44 AM
191 posts
Nov 30, 2013
7:35 AM
MindTheGap, my attempts to improve my playing so I can play with others (no greater aspirations) has had 4 main areas of focus.
1) Collecting written and internet learning materials. Done.
2) Getting in person professional instruction. Done. Just recently started and will continue.
3) Getting Skype instruction so can learn from many teachers. Not done as will work with my teacher first for some time.
4) Playing blues with other musicians in a live situation. Not done. I've made some connections through advertising but none have yet panned out.
So I'm wondering how you made 4) work for you? Did you start from scratch like me or did you already know people? How long did it take you to find a core group of interested musicians? Any advice would be most appreciated. Thanks!

Last Edited by SmokeJS on Dec 01, 2013 11:38 AM
78 posts
Nov 30, 2013
9:23 AM
SmokeJS - I started from scratch because I didn't know any local musicians who were into blues. Our town has a music trust that has a remit for community music, and they provide cheap rehearsal space and some web advertising. I made up some advertising flyers and walked them round the local shops. After a couple of months I gathered enough people, six I think, to get started. I arranged a few favourite numbers (you can guess the keys), worked out a start date and we got down to playing.

Now we have a dozen or so, but not that many at each session. We play our set list and I add a new number every so often to keep it fresh.

The job of work now is around adding new songs, and continued advertising to keep it stable by replacing those who drop out for whatever reason. That hasn't happened yet, but it's normal for these things.

I think I was lucky as it seemed like pushing on an open door. It might just as easily have been a trouble to get started, but then I'd have probably just have to put more effort in. As they say: nothing ventured, nothing gained.

I have to say that it's been great, this instrument is made to be played in company. But also I think you'll get some of that from your 'live' teacher.

If you are thinking of starting something, I'm more than happy to share detailed info - e.g. our songbook, template for flyers etc. I also setup a WordPress website (the free one) to share session dates, links to videos etc.
25 posts
Nov 30, 2013
11:36 AM
The most valuable thing, for me, was to learn some basic music theory. Learning the notes that correspond to each of the chords in the 12 bar blues, and what holes they go with on the harmonica. This has enabled me to comp on pretty much anything with some degree of confidence.

I know a few instrumentals, that I've learned through David Barrett's website. But I haven't learned any blues standards yet, so MindTheGap is ahead of me there. I'm pretty much restricted to comping because of this. Strong bending is the hurdle I need to overcome. I can get good bends on my own, but not reliably in a musical context. I'll get there.

SmokeJS, I think you could benefit from finding a blues jam. If you're lucky, there's one close enough that you can consistently go.
Rick Davis
2737 posts
Nov 30, 2013
1:25 PM

Learn from the best. This is a blues harp seminar for beginners and newer players, taught by renowned player and teacher Ronnie Shellist. It will be at Ziggies in Denver next Sunday, Dec 8, at 4pm. The price is only $20 for Mile High Blues Society members, and $30 for non-members. This is the best way to move your skills to the next level.

You can pay at the door or sign up at the MHBS website:

-Little Rick Davis
The Blues Harp Amps Blog
The Mile High Blues Society

Last Edited by Rick Davis on Nov 30, 2013 1:27 PM
192 posts
Dec 01, 2013
7:20 AM
re: warbling
Fun video from Adam. My technique is fairly sloppy but I'm working on it by 1) shaking my head rather than my hands 2) using mostly a tongue blocked embouchure and 3) daily practice using a metronome to move from 4-5 draw, 4-5 blow, 3-4 draw then up or down to the root.

Last Edited by SmokeJS on Dec 01, 2013 9:15 AM
79 posts
Dec 01, 2013
10:54 AM
Mirco - I agree that going to a blues jam would be a lot easier than setting up your own thing, but I think that's a big step for lots of people - going straight from playing along to records to playing in a jam. Certainly is for me. I might think about it next year. Oxharp has kindly clued me in on a few in my area.

If you can confidently comp then that sounds like a big advantage. I think that learning theory is good, but I just like the theory side anyway. Knowing some standards must be good too, although there are a lot to pick from!

Re comping and David Barrett, is it this series that you've been using? (this is a link to the first of several articles)

Last Edited by MindTheGap on Dec 01, 2013 10:55 AM
80 posts
Dec 01, 2013
11:02 AM
SmokeJS - Re warbling. Daily practice with a metronome, good idea, I will try. What I found was for learning other patterns e.g. scales or a difficult bit of a tune is that if I play them super-slow but to a beat, over and over, for several days - not continuously :) - then magically I can play them at speed. But warbles - no! I'm hoping one fine day it will click.

Last Edited by MindTheGap on Dec 01, 2013 11:03 AM
81 posts
Dec 01, 2013
11:06 AM
SmokeJS - Re Teacher. I'd be interested to hear how you got on with your lesson. I've just recently made a trip to see a real teacher, but it can't be a regular thing because of the distance.
29 posts
Dec 01, 2013
11:26 AM
Hey great thread! I am about to get started on step number 2 (seeking professional instruction) in SmokeJS's 4-Step Beginner Harmonica Plan. I hope to have a lesson under my belt within the next couple of weeks. When I do, I'll be back here to report my experience!
193 posts
Dec 01, 2013
11:37 AM
Re: teacher
Had 3 weelkly lessons and planning for another this week.

My goal with this teacher, who is a pro teacher, pro player and recording artist, but also has a day job, is to acquire application techniques and be a critical voice. Also, listening to him play up close can be very revealing. Information about music theory and basic harp techniques are readily available elsewhere so that's not the focus.

Will then take a month or so off before repeating the pattern. I believe I'll need the time off to give me the opportunity to work on the teacher's suggestions and recommendations. Right now that's accurate bending and using the blue notes more.
82 posts
Dec 02, 2013
4:52 AM
Re Bends

Mirco, when I saw my teacher recently he mentioned an interesting thing: he had mapped out which of his students found particular bends on different harps easy/difficult. I'm simplifying a bit, but apparently some students found everything easier on higher harps, some on lower.

Personally, I started on a C, then I bought a Bb to follow Adam's lessons and that was easier, and when I got on a A-harp it seemed like a natural home as everything was much, much easier. So I'm a 'lower harp' student it seems. What do you find?

Last Edited by MindTheGap on Dec 02, 2013 4:53 AM
194 posts
Dec 02, 2013
10:30 AM
Re: Bends

My experience has been that a C harp is overall easiest to bend for both draw bends and blow bends. Just moving up to a D harp and everything changes regarding bending though perhaps a bit subtely. Going to a F is more other worldly as the reeds get rather finicky. Going to lower harps has changes as well but I find them not as drastic until reaching G. My low F is more like a weights workout when bending is attempted!

Last Edited by SmokeJS on Dec 02, 2013 10:32 AM
26 posts
Dec 02, 2013
4:23 PM
@MindtheGap: It certainly is quite a big jump, playing on your own to a blues jam. I failed pretty spectacularly the first several times, and I still fail on a regular basis. I think that, in order to perform live, a person needs to be comfortable with the inevitable failure. As Robin Williams (I think) put it, to be a successful comedian, you must first learn to bomb onstage.

I’ve seen those articles by David Barrett. Actually, I’m subscribing to his website, bluesharmonica.com. It costs $17 a month. It’s a great deal, because his curriculum is pretty comprehensive. You’ll learn songs, playing solo, accompaniment, music theory, everything. You can record and send it to him for feedback, too. It’s a good deal. (Sometimes, Adam’s videos are too challenging.)

As far as finding a teacher, some teachers are willing to do video lessons. I sometimes do lessons with Michael Rubin, of Texas. He’s one of Adam’s recommended teachers.

Certain harps are definitely easier to bend. I think bending is a matter of repetition. I’ve actually practiced bending ONLY in sessions of an hour or more. You might need 1000’s of reps before it sounds good. I’ve found key of G is really easy to bend. I think it makes sense, because a 2 bend on a G and a 2 bend on an A are different notes, so your tongue needs to be different.

Brand might make a difference, too. Someone told me Golden Melody is an easy harp to bend.

Last Edited by Mirco on Dec 02, 2013 4:24 PM
83 posts
Dec 02, 2013
11:48 PM
Mirco - Re: Jams

For those of us who have not been to a jam yet, could you explain how it all works?

That's a good point about failure - I guess it depends on how tolerant the people are. Must vary from place to place, what did you find?
195 posts
Dec 03, 2013
6:54 AM
Re: Skype
Mirco mentioned Michael Rubin as a teacher. He was on my list of potential teachers but then I finally found a great player within reasonable commuting distance. Wondering if there are issues with electronic communication that you've noticed? I think we're likely to notice some latency depending upon the quality of the equipment and connections at both ends. The sound can't be as good as being just a few feet away. And I woukd think not being able to see your overall posture from different angles would be some degree of issue. But I'm not sure how significant any of these items are?
27 posts
Dec 03, 2013
3:43 PM
Re: Jams

This is the way a blues jam will generally work. There is a house band. The house band will play a set. As jammers come in (with their harmonicas, but usually no mic needed), they will sign up on the sheet.

The jam host will rotate different people in and out as the night goes on. The new bandleader (the singer, but it could be a guitarist or a harmonica player for instrumentals) will pick the song. The vital information that the bandleader will share is the Key, the Groove (like "Slow Blues", "Shuffle", or "Rumba"), and where to start from (like "from the one" or "from the 5"). It's assumed that you will be playing a 12 bar blues unless you otherwise specify.

So, an example speech would be:
"Let's play a 12-bar shuffle in A, starting from the 1."

As a harp player, you'll need to bring a set of harps. You should start with the A, Bb, C, D, F, and G. That will get you through most common songs. If you are lacking a harp, let the bandleader know so they can plan accordingly.

At this point, I haven't learned any songs. When I get up, I just comp by playing notes from the chord (roots, thirds, and fifths). If I get the chance to solo, I play riff based solos. If you're not comfortable soloing, you just decline the solo. As Ronnie Shellist told me once, "sometimes, you need the courage to NOT play."

My goals at this point are to either learn some songs on harp (the blues standards) or learn to sing, so I won't be stucking just comping all the time. I'm not very experienced, so the jam host puts me on at the end of the night, when the crowd has thinned out. But folks are generally supportive.

And, when in doubt, you either hit a long draw on a safe note or a 4-5 shake. People will think that you're great.

Adam has some great videos on following the 12 bar blues. I think they're number 16-18 on YouTube.

Re: Skype

I have had no problems yet. I just met Michael for two lessons. The sound is sufficiently good. I think if you have a good teacher with a good ear, they can quickly pick up on your deficiencies and help you out.
28 posts
Dec 03, 2013
3:46 PM
Also, forgot to mention. If you are the bandleader on stage, it is your responsibility to
*count off to start the song
*signal band members when to solo (usually communicate this to them in V-IV of the previous 12 bars)
*signal the end of the song (usually signal this around the V-IV of the current 12 bars)
86 posts
Dec 04, 2013
12:50 PM
Micro - Re Jams

Thanks for the info. About how much playing time do you have on a typical night? If you do make a mistake, what kind of response do you get?
31 posts
Dec 04, 2013
4:30 PM
Hard to say a "typical" night. I've played harp in a performance setting five times. It's usually been two songs.

My immediate goals are to get comfortable on stage and aware of my place within the band. Make sure I'm heard, that I contribute, and I don't step on anyone else.

Harp players are unique, though, in that the average audience member doesn't know the difference between someone who's been playing 10 months vs. 10 years. The audience is way more familiar with guitar players, and keyboard players, and drummers... because they are unfamiliar with harp, we really have the opportunity to wow them.
30 posts
Dec 06, 2013
6:53 AM
Re: Teacher

I have a lesson set up for a week from yesterday with a very great local professional. On the phone, he told me to come with questions and ideas about where I am hoping to go with this instrument. I know that I am the only one who can supply this stuff, but is there anything I should be sure to pick his brain about that I might not think of?

197 posts
Dec 06, 2013
8:04 AM
Re: Teacher

For me it was indicating I was more interested in application than information. Music theory is not an issue for me as I played blues and jazz guitar for many years before a wrist injury forced me to look for another instrument. So I, mistakenly, spent my first year learning the harp from a theory point of view. I needed a teacher who could get me sounding like a harp blues player.

We dd some playing and it was soon obvious I could get some solos going but overall they were too light in nature to be gut bucket blues. So I'm working hard on my bending to really attack the blue notes.

We also discussed weaknesses such as vibrato and 5 hole draw octaves. We'll work on those as they come up down the road but I've got a short daily practice routine for each to build strength.

Last Edited by SmokeJS on Dec 06, 2013 10:47 AM
87 posts
Dec 06, 2013
9:23 AM
TBird Re: Teacher

I went for a lesson specifically about acoustic tone. This forum has made me paranoid about tone, probably a good thing. And it's the aspect you can't really test without being in the room with your teacher. I'm going to write up a piece about what I found at some point.

So you might ask about that?

SmokeJS: how do you find the harp vs the guitar!? Where have all my notes gone :-)
198 posts
Dec 06, 2013
10:55 AM
Re Teacher

The harp feels less than natural to me even after more than a year of playing. My struggles with 3 hole draw bends is a big part of that. But they're finally getting a bit better though there's no free lunch. To get the bends more accurate I've gone back to lip blocking knowing that needs to be good before tongue blocked bends even have a chance. But the silver lining is I'm also getting more comfortable with both embouchures.
31 posts
Dec 07, 2013
3:14 PM
Re: Teacher

Cool. Thanks. I was thinking along those lines. I definitely want to talk tone, especially because I think this guy has great tone. I also love his amplified sound, but don't play amplified (yet…) So I'd like to stick with a discussion of acoustic stuff. That's where it all starts anyway right? ;) I'm also hoping we are able to cover some general pointers on playing well with a band, like in a jam setting, or really with any other musicians in any situation. I'm great at playing alone in my apartment, but beyond that… yikes!

While we're on the topic, I thought this video was fitting:

…and I think the fact that I don't know how to embed a video proves that I truly am a beginner!
3583 posts
Dec 07, 2013
4:11 PM
Allow me.

Last Edited by tookatooka on Dec 07, 2013 4:11 PM
2482 posts
Dec 07, 2013
4:47 PM
a great interview.......it should inspire anybody wanting to play blues harp....just don't tell them to teach me to play like jr wells
40 posts
Dec 07, 2013
9:32 PM
Actually played out twice this past Thursday. Once at a faculty talent show at my high school, and then later that night at my usual jam. I'm starting to feel more comfortable onstage and I'm feeling confident enough that I don't feel obligated to play constantly. Just when I think I can contribute.

If you are worried about playing at a jam, then just go and watch. Meet the band and make friends with them. I feel fortunate that some of the local musicians have taken me under their wing and help me out.
32 posts
Dec 08, 2013
9:38 AM
Thanks Tooka. ;)
88 posts
Dec 08, 2013
12:06 PM
Re Teacher: That's a great story. Myself I'd be looking for a bit more from a teacher :-) I guess that if you have a big talent, then all you might need is some inspiration in whatever form it comes!
89 posts
Dec 08, 2013
12:08 PM
Mirco Re: Jams

Yes, that's what I'll probably do. Go along to listen first and check out the lie of the land. Glad to hear you are getting more confident.
21 posts
Dec 09, 2013
10:01 AM
I find consistent bending a challenge as well, especially from one key to the next, my G harp is my most difficult. I also struggle to hold some of the bends and can't seem to find the steps in the bends (1/2, whole, etc.)

I also would like to find a teacher in person. I live about 80 miles outside of Houston area (actually in the Beaumont/Port Arthur, TX) and can't seem to find one. Any suggestions on hunting one down?

Lastly, any ideas on finding other harp players in the area to play with?
33 posts
Dec 09, 2013
12:41 PM
Call me crazy, but you could try posting something in the "Community" section of your local Craigslist. I did that a while ago and one nice guy filled me in on a few of the professionals that work in my area. Even if you hear of someone who isn't a local but is playing a gig in your neck of the woods, It might be worth asking if they'd be willing to give a lesson while they're in town.
22 posts
Dec 09, 2013
1:45 PM
TBird - Thanks. I was also thinking about mentioning something @ the local music shops in the area about harp players to play with. I've already asked there about teachers, and there aren't any they know of (I can't even find any in Houston!).... I'd be just happy to have someone to compare notes with, see how I sound. So far, I've just played with my family here and there.
42 posts
Dec 09, 2013
3:36 PM
80 miles outsides of the Houston area. Adam recommends Sonny Boy Terry for people living in the Houston area. I know that 80 miles is a far drive (actually, 160 round trip), but the strength of Adam's recommendation would make me seriously consider this. A qualified teacher will greatly speed your progress.

I would contact Sonny Boy and see what's available.

Also, seriously consider taking lessons through Skype. Michael Rubin does this. David Barrett also runs a fantastic harp website, bluesharmonica.com, that costs $17 a month and is well worth it. Tons of videos that make it ALMOST like having a personal teacher and that lead you step by step towards harmonica mastery.
34 posts
Dec 09, 2013
6:57 PM
Re: Consistent Bending

When I was first learning to bend notes I sat down and tabbed out the first exercise Jason opens this lesson with and then very slowly learned to play through it. Someone looking to improve their bending skills might benefit greatly from doing the same. After watching the video again, it has struck me that this is something I need to get back to working on. I've been getting sloppy! …or should I say sloppier. ;)

Last Edited by TBird on Dec 09, 2013 6:59 PM
46 posts
Dec 09, 2013
10:28 PM

Agreed about the bending. It's all about practice. Exercises like Jason's are good because they teach bending in a context, not just as an isolated thing.

David Barrett has said that it takes the average student 2-3 years to become proficient at bending. So patience is the key...

A lot of repetition is necessary for bending. There have been days where I would sit for 30-45 minutes and just work on bends. This online tuner helps, if you don't own one. See how deep you can hit the notes:
92 posts
Dec 10, 2013
1:56 AM
Re: Harmonicas

I think it would be good to get some discussion going on harmonicas, which ones to buy etc. On the main forum there are opinions galore on which harps people like best but it's sometimes a bit difficult to make sense of. Are these differences a matter of taste, or is one instrument really better than another? If you pay enough is there some magic harp where all the bends are easy?

My experience is this. Before I decided to learn the harp more seriously, I bought a set of Hohner Bluesbands. Some of these didn't work at all (especially the high ones) which was a bit of a surprise, and the lower ones needed gapping to play. I had read the advice that 'if you can't play a note, then it's your technique not the harp' but that was not true in this case, it was the harps. I still have the case though.

I replaced them with Special 20s and Suzuki Harpmasters, which did work. But they all needed gapping to make them play evenly across the range.

Recently I had a lesson were I got to play a top-end custom harp, so now I know the difference first hand. Also I was recommended to try a Hohner Crossover as the next best thing to a custom harp.

Put simply, my conclusions are:
1. The cheap harmonicas don't work properly even with radical gapping and are not in tune. 2. The mid-range harps did work, but needed gapping to make them play evenly.
3. The Crossover was essentially right, right out of the box, no work required.
4. The custom harp I tried was not radically better for beginner's music than the Crossover, or a gapped SP20 - but it would have been set up to do special things that I expect an experienced player would notice, or specify, and make use of e.g. overblows.

Looking specifically at bending, once I got to the SP20 level, although there are some subtle differences in how easy it is to accurately bend notes on one harp or another, when it comes to it they all felt roughly the same.

I've ignored the aesthetics here. The Crossover is an attractive thing in itself. And I'm not talking about subtleties of tone, what comb I like etc. Just the big differences.

I'm not giving advice, this is just my experience. I'd be interested in hearing yours.

Last Edited by MindTheGap on Dec 10, 2013 2:01 AM
23 posts
Dec 10, 2013
9:00 AM
Mirco- Thanks for the Sonny Boy Terry info. Houston is not too far & I have family there. I just went on his website and left him a VM.
TBird- Thx for the video

MindTheGap- On Harmonicas I've tried several in the SP20 price range and settled on the SP20.... Adam suggested once I try a Marine Band Deluxe, it is twice the cost of the SP20, but man, I love it. I haven't had to do any gapping to the ones I have and it has great volume. You can really make it talk with ease. When I buy a new harp I try to buy them. I may try a Hohner Crossover now since your post....
48 posts
Dec 10, 2013
6:35 PM

I bought the same set as MindtheGap. When I bought it, I knew the harps weren't going to be good. I like the case. The harps aren't all bad. They're good for chording, but they're weak for single notes and bends. There is a significant difference in the ability to bend on better harps.

I think I can safely say that anything under the $25-30 ranges is probably not up to snuff. I have been using Special 20's almost exclusively, and I've had no problems. Recently, I realized that maybe I should try out different harps. (BTW, is "SP20" the abbreviation for this?)

So I got some Hohner Blues Harps. They've got a wooden comb. It takes some getting used to, but they sound sweet.

I have heard from other players that the Golden Melody is easier to bend. I have never tried it.

I have never tried anything above the $30-$40 range.

What is "gapping", and should I be doing this? How do I know if gapping is needed?
49 posts
Dec 11, 2013
3:24 PM
Since we're talking about bending, how often and for how long do you practice bending? Do you think it's better to practice for a prolonged bending session (like 30 minutes to an hour), or is it better to practice bending for 5 minutes multiple times throughout the day?

I am really struggling with that 6 bend. The embouchure and tongue position change is SO subtle. I often go too far with it.
96 posts
Dec 11, 2013
11:21 PM
Re: Harmonicas

Mirco - Yes SP20 = Hohner Special 20. Re gapping, here is Adam's video on the subject (I won't embed this one as it slows this page loading with so many embedded objects)...


There's loads of advice on the rest of the forum about gapping, and IMO this is a really useful thing to know for a beginner. It was a surprise to me initially that you might need or want to do this, but I know now that it is routine.

I think that the sense of it is that some harps are fine out of the box, but you might buy one, even a good makes/model with a problem reed and the good news is that you can fix it. And also that you might adjust the reeds to suit your playing style. For instance I play gently, and I tend to close up the gaps a bit.

I used my cheap bluesbands to learn it, and I got all the lower harps (Bb down G) to work on all bends and some overblows too. With the SP20s, I tweak the gaps so the notes play more evenly across the instrument. I use a toothpick or cocktail stick, and Adam's slip of paper thing sometimes. It only takes a few minutes.

To answer your question - how to you know if you need to gap? That is a good question. I guess if you think that one note doesn't feel right e.g. it takes more force to get started or chokes off at volume, or feels airy that might be it. Then again it might be your technique - that's the dilemma for a beginner I think. What I did was play about with the gap to find out, me or the harp.

This is step one on a whole wonderful journey of customisation. For which I refer you to the professionals!

Last Edited by MindTheGap on Dec 11, 2013 11:29 PM
36 posts
Dec 12, 2013
8:04 AM
Nice explanation MindTheGap

Mirco - I don't practice bends as much as I should, but when I do, I like to find a lick or two that incorporate a particular bend I'd like to work on. I find that to be a rather engaging and rewarding way to practice. Not to say that I wouldn't benefit greatly from 30 minutes of dedicated bending practice... If only I could make myself do it!

I have my first face to face lesson this evening. Can't wait!
24 posts
Dec 12, 2013
8:32 AM
TBird - Let us know how the face to face lesson goes. I made a call and set up my first face to face lesson as well. Due to the distance I need to travel, & work, mine isn't until 12/21. I'm interested in hear about it, what your thoughts are, etc.

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