Dirty-South Blues Harp forum: wail on! > Learn a song note for note -which one?
Learn a song note for note -which one?
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44 posts
Mar 22, 2019
5:23 PM
In your opinion, what song should every aspiring harp player learn note for note? Choose just one!
338 posts
Mar 23, 2019
6:33 AM
When I was starting to learn to play harmonica I chose to learn note for note the classic blues harmonica instrumental....


Last Edited by Jaybird on Mar 23, 2019 11:06 PM
302 posts
Mar 23, 2019
6:44 AM
Its great practice to learn a song or solo note for note. There is a great program for that called "Slowdowner". It slows the song down without changing the pitch.

Last Edited by Pluto on Mar 23, 2019 6:45 AM
47 posts
Mar 23, 2019
7:53 AM
Walters Boogie.
The bends will be tough in the beginning but you will learn the structure of a 12 bar blues. I use bits and pieces of it all over the place!
204 posts
Mar 23, 2019
9:08 AM
Little Walter, Roller coaster ride. If you spend the time to learn this tune,then you`ll be blowing like a jazz horn man...
2649 posts
Mar 23, 2019
9:12 AM
Love Me Do--it's by the Beatles, Paul McCartney's old back up band.
Hey, at least it's cross harp, don't shoot me Blues Stranglers.
I do suggest playing the solo on a solo tuned harp, chromatic entry level.
937 posts
Mar 23, 2019
11:16 AM
A proper box shuffle.
47 posts
Mar 23, 2019
2:49 PM
I definitely agree with a Walter Horton Song. So much to borrow from his songs that are at the root of the blues. What he did with the basics still blows me away.
John M G
297 posts
Mar 23, 2019
5:06 PM
Carey Bell's version of "last Night"
The Iceman
3798 posts
Mar 24, 2019
4:57 AM
In teaching, I use Jerry Portnoy's "Blues in a Dream" a lot. The important thing is to just choose one yourself and go for it. Everyone will suggest a different one, so just toss a stone and wherever it lands, start there - metaphorically speaking, of course.
The Iceman
45 posts
Mar 24, 2019
3:44 PM
Thanks all. I just about have SBII, "Help Me" in the bag. My first go around doing the note for note thing. I can already hear it seeping into my improvising (which is the whole point for me). Looking for my next challenge so I figured I should poll the masses. Keep'em comin'!
425 posts
Mar 24, 2019
4:17 PM
Different songs for different purposes---For learning old school chicago blues or for learning overblows etc

Do u want to play for other harp players or for general audience.

Id pick "Whammer Jammer" for turning heads in general
but there are a lot of other songs that are better to learn technique.
The problem with whammer Jammer is getting a band to play it and or to have them play it at the right speed with the breaks and stops etc
backing tracks not very good and hard to find

u said only one so thats my pick

Last Edited by snowman on Mar 24, 2019 4:19 PM
828 posts
Mar 24, 2019
5:04 PM
Learn the one that will make you $$$$$
“Happy Birthday “
Chris L
186 posts
Mar 24, 2019
5:38 PM
These long LW and Magic Dick instrumentals are GREAT to learn right through, but for one to follow right on the heels of Help Me, Butterfield's Born in Chicago is short, sweet and contains a few nice phrases to woodshed!
522 posts
Mar 25, 2019
6:10 AM
Crossroad Blues

Most everyone knows it, so the melody is likely already in your head.

It's also great (in technique development terms) for working in bends at a higher speed, making them sound natural and unforced
The Blind Doughboy Music Factory

Backwoods luthier specializing in resonator guitars
5858 posts
Mar 26, 2019
7:17 PM
Hard to argue with Iceman’s observation/advice.
I’ve studied lots of songs note for note. Some of the most beneficial have not been long instrumentals.
For instance, copying Mr Downchild really helped me develop that Sonny Boy 2 triplet which he plays repetitively in his solo.
Playing Bright Lights Big City was very helpful in developing my skills with blow bends
Telephone Blues really helped me get down with 3rd position blues scale because Smith’s solo is so focussed on the scale
I spent a few hours connected with Mark Hummel, working on Downchild and Rocket 88. One thing Mark said about studying these songs was about striving to get it really note for note but also capturing the details. Not for the sake of playing that song as a perfect copy of the original, but for developing technique and understanding.

Ronnie Shellist pointed me at Clarke’s ‘Groove Time’ LP as a great source of licks. Any Clarke album probably, but that was the one he isolated for me.

Most recently ive been working hard at picking up Fast Large One on the chromatic. That’s 12 choruses and mixes up repetitive, tone intense structures with more melodic jazzy runs and scale based choruses. No button-work but some bending ands lots of timing. It was a fairly random choice of song; ive never heard anyone discuss it as a teaching piece, but ive found it very illustrative.
262 posts
Mar 27, 2019
8:55 AM
Pick a song that you really enjoy a lot - one that really moves you so you will stay motivated to learn it well.

I've found I made the most progress when picking songs to learn that I thought I would never be able to actually play note-for-note because they were too difficult for me. Push yourself!
238 posts
Mar 27, 2019
9:58 AM
Superbee and Iceman provided great advice.

One thing I'd add is think about where you're going to play these songs. The key to great blues harp recordings is often the backing guitar parts. If you have a band, can the guitar player learn the backing riffs so it's not just another generic 12-bar? If you're going to blues jams, learn a song that can work without the fills of Robert Lockwood Jr. and Luther Tucker so you're not disappointed. Learning note-for-note at the beginning helps build a strong base but pick songs that work for where you play so you're happy when you hear the playback.

2864 posts
Mar 27, 2019
4:13 PM
It doesn't really matter.

I am going to break with the conventional wisdom. If you are going to learn something note for note and you aren't going to sing, pick some tunes by an artist like Muddy Waters and learn the harp parts note for note. You'll learn a lot of the technical aspects and you'll also learn the parts of when a harp play should be silent. Discipline and dynamics are some of the hardest things for many players to learn.

The problem with learning an instrumental is that if you lose your way, you won't be able to find your way back by listening to what the band is doing because quite often, the band isn't likely to know the tune. If you're following a vocalist, it is far easier to get with them and follow. You can watch when they are going to the microphone and stop your harp playing.

Jimmy Reed is another good one. Simple stuff, yet hard to do. When you are learning, it is hard to keep time. The changes in most Jimmy Reed tunes are so telegraphed that even a deaf person could hear and feel them. Plus, his band was filled with human metronomes.

I see a lot of frustrated harp players that try to pull of Juke, Walter's Boogie, {insert your favorite instrumental here}. When the band gets lost or the harp player gets lost, the wheels fall off and the leave the stage sad and dejected.
46 posts
Mar 27, 2019
6:47 PM
Great responses. Thanks all!
2870 posts
Mar 27, 2019
8:27 PM
Those guys already did that (insert song), I do want to respect my heroes, but I want to take people on MY trip too.
Every one of the old guys has inspired me in some way and I cover a lot of them, but it's my way. They all did theirs the best it could be done in my opinion. I may want to put my take on their work but I have yet to carbon copy anyone.
Music and travel destroy prejudice.



281 posts
Apr 03, 2019
3:20 PM
The other night I watched the new show on Netflix called The Highwaymen, about the 2 Texas Rangers chasing Bonnie & Clyde back in the early 1930s. In one scene the Rangers went into a rough honky tonk in West Dallas (aka The Devil’s Front Porch) looking for a Barrow gang member. And in that bar, the acoustic band was playing St. Louis Blues. Made me smile to hear it.

It was a great song in the 1930s and it’s a great song in the 21st century - especially on the harmonica. And ya can play it by yourself as the one party piece we all need. Adam does a good paid lesson on it and Charley McCoy has a great version on Harpin’ the Blues - but I’m particularly fond of this ripper:


Last Edited by Sundancer on Apr 03, 2019 3:40 PM
John M G
299 posts
Apr 03, 2019
6:11 PM
Chose one you like. Work on it till you have it, then add another, then another then another then another!
207 posts
Apr 10, 2019
5:30 AM
Every thing is gonna be alright,Paul Butterfield, one of a few that were better than the original....I put more than a few hours on that tune...Free form solo, heavy riff[horn line]and lots of hot harp playing....50 yrs ago and it`s as hot now....

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