Last week I was approached by one of the leading music instructional publications--a book company--asking if I was potentially interested in writing an instructional guide for beginners and intermediates.
My reply was that I had long had a harmonica instructional book in the back of my mind as something that made sense for me to do, but that it wouldn't be a conventional book and might well be unlike anything else the company had put out. I specifically referenced Tony Glover's BLUES HARP. And I wrote the following:
"The only book I'd be interested in working on would be the book people expect from me, which would mix memoir, anecdote, history lesson, and philosophy along with any more prosaic instructional content. I just don't have any fire in the belly for something other than that, or at least I can't find any right now. It just seems obvious to me that the way to work is to somehow convert or leverage what I've done on YouTube into book form, rather than sitting down and starting from scratch."
Today he wrote back, very friendly, to say he had a more conventional instructional guide in mind and would be looking for another author. Very friendly, but that's where the dialogue went.
My forthcoming book, "Whose Blues? Facing Up to Race and the Future of the Music," began life as transcriptions of nine of my "Blues Talk" videos--although they were rewritten and supplemented in such a way that their original source is almost unrecognizable. But that way of creating a book isn't as outlandish as it sounds.
So here's my question: If I'm right about the idea that there is a book, a blues harmonica instructional guide, buried somewhere in my 13 years' worth of videos, which videos would you start with?
I'm imagining a notably non-standard book, more of a "here are some things you should think about" guide rather than a book with songs and tabs. I might, I suppose, start with what's on the lesson-plan page:
The videos that came immediately to mind were my three-video set of early "crossroads" videos, along with "respect the blues."
But I'd be interested in hearing from those of you who have learned useful things from my YouTube videos. If you had to pick three to five, over the years, that really made a difference in YOUR playing, what would they be?
I will copy and paste whatever emerges in this thread into a file and will hang onto it. This summer is already spoken for, but I sometimes catch fire....
There’s depth and thoughtfulness in each of these. Not only “how to play slow blues“ and “juke joint“, but a good deal of why. I’ve spent hours on “slow blues”, note for note and riffing off of it. Re “are you too old”, I was kind of old when I started, older when I encountered this lesson, and just felt good when I listened to it. Wish I had started 50-50 years ago. Hope the fire gets lit. It would be a good book. Basic juke joint harp, 1 and 2 How to play slow blues — Mississippi Lesson Are you too old to start playing blues harmonica ---------- Phil Pennington
I'd avoid the standard instructional tab-and-exercise guide. David Barrett has already nailed this (and 'standard' isn't a criticism at all: he does it incredibly well. In fact, it's the wrong word - his stuff is way above the usual standard.)
Aside from the technical instruction, what I've taken from your videos is energy, enthusiasm and motivation, as well as a respect and healthy disrespect for the genre. The fire, I guess. I doubt I would've picked up a harp without them.
You had one beginner's video that was a kind of quick-fire boot camp, splicing warbles, chugs, tone, the 4 draw - the basic toolkit. That was a hell of a start and honestly, I don't think I've ever experienced such a motivating feeling of instant competence before (I'm sure, looking back, I wasn't competent at all, but hell, I felt it!)
In terms of tone, I guess what I'd want from a Gussow Guide is something unconventional (perhaps the odd tab, but more importantly the vivid simile, the emotional anecdotal), something playful (structurally splicing history, instruction, a particular song, a single technique), something conversational and intimate (the in-car vibe), a bit of severity (replicating the camera-slap), conspiratorial ('Nat Riddles told me...'), and aspirational (stuff that gets you playing competent blues instead of Happy Birthday or something like that).
I'm already imagining chapter headings:
So you bought a harp Don't hold it like that, son Good ears Can't do it? Make it an exercise Play with your feet Counting the 12 bar blues Know your groove etc.
In short, God yes - please do the book! It should come pre-weathered and the right size for a glovebox - a little fat harp bible. Can I pre-order? ---------- jodanchudan
Last Edited by jodanchudan on Jun 16, 2020 7:21 AM
The first harp video I ever watched was of a Gussow student playing “Floyd’s Hotel.” That brief example convinced me to buy the “Beginner’s Deluxe Package.” That course is so good I would base an instruction book heavily off its content.
Having purchased quite a few lessons from “the store” over the years, the other ones I found most helpful early on (in addition to the aforementioned BDP) were the bending lessons (starting with the 4, then the 3 and 2) and the blues scale lesson. While the instruction in the BDP got me going and kept me interested, the exercises in the bending lessons allowed me to feel like I was making real progress.
Heck, every so often I still do those exercises. They’re fun.
I would also integrate a number of the Q and A topics from the “Basic Blues Harmonica Questions” video series. Great stuff there.
Last, and probably toward the end of the book, I would throw in some tabs for simple riffs and songs. Keeping motivation is key in the early stages, and a few classic riffs did the trick for me. Being able to gauge your own forward motion is crucial.
I like your idea of writing in a conversational style – tossing in anecdotes, philosophy, and your trademark humor. Most people don’t really have the writing chops to pull that off, but for you it would be no problem (I’m saying that as a mostly retired writer, editor, and publisher who has a very critical eye).
You could easily crowdfund this project, and have enough followers that there’s zero down side to eliminating the middlemen and publishing it yourself (via something like Kindle/Createspace).
Adam, I don't know if you have ever seen Pete Seeger's book How To Play the 5 String Banjo. It may seem a little dated now and a bit folksier than the kind of thing you'd want to do, but he writes in a very chatty style with a lot of humour and digressions, much like you do in your videos, and very unlike most dry and boring music tutorial books. I like your mix of anecdotes, blues history and culture just as much as the music and if you can get this across onto the written page you're on to a winner.
Adam, you basically taught me how to play, but more importantly how to approach the harmonica and blues music while allowing me to find my own path. Your videos are always just the right amount of information to whet my palate but force me to think for myself and try to use the nugget in my own way. Its not a cut and dry, robotic "play this way", but an approach to using this instrument to become an extension of yourself and your emotions. A focus on having your own sound.
The video where you were walking around rows of port o pottys still burns in my memory- a goood groove to chew on.
Another that had me in fits for weeks was the video on the perfect 2 draw; working to perfect that 1 note transformed my sound.
Thanks for all of the hard work!
Last Edited by agarner on Jun 17, 2020 8:45 AM
Adam, I had some videos to recommend, but then found your lesson plan covered all of them. It looks like it will be a great resource.
You mention Tony Glover's Blues Harp book. That is also the book I started with, and the most important section to me turned out to be "Chapter 12 A Taste of Harp Styles" where it discussed the blues harp masters, gave recommended recordings, some keys of the cuts, and just enough tab to whet your appetite. At first I was lucky to match one note, but it got me started. I can tell from your lesson plan that your book will offer that to future players, as your videos do.
You mention that they didn't want the historical part, but I hope they let you add some history and insights on past and modern day players and styles.
Honestly, Adam, I would be more interested in the book you described to the publisher rather than another how-to book. You're an engaging memoirist, and you have already established a rich body of work that deals with the philosophical -socio/economic-spiritual conditions that are the basis of the blues and continue to underscore the form, and you've pioneered a discussion, an area of study, perhaps, why the blues remains crucial and very relevant in our current struggle for justice. You could be the one who continues the conversation Le Roi Jones (Amiri Baraka) outlined in his book "Blues People", where he discussed the conditions, culture of the blues , how it helped black people cope with their oppression through this kind of truth-telling, and how the blues was also a means to transcend that oppression. That would be a fascinating book to read; you have the chops of a world-class blues musician with feeling too boot, you have empathy and knowledge of the tradition, and you believe that the blues and art in general can make us better members of the human race. I would love to see you continue to combine those gifts and bring your insights to bear on what matters most. ---------- www.ted-burke.com
Adam - how about “the history of the blues (harmonica) in 20 songs”? Twenty chapters, each about a song - with the historical context of artist, region & social issue, etc. - sort of a combination of your lectures and paid videos.
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