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Dirty-South Blues Harp forum: wail on! > An introduction to the harmonica
An introduction to the harmonica
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946 posts
Nov 07, 2020
7:51 PM
There is a local non-profit called The Blues Project:

In short, they teach blues to local junior high and high school kids. I've volunteered to help with harmonica: they don't have any harp players.

Hohner was kind enough to donate two sets of harps. I want to give a lecture on the harmonica. This won't be any instruction, I'll be trying to generate interest and turn some of the kids into harmonica players. Here's a rough plan to what I want to do:

1. History of the diatonic harmonica. Briefly mention other fixed reed instruments, but focus on the diatonic. I could use your help in this part!

2. Mechanics of the harmonica: How many notes are on a harmonica?
I'll start with a standard C harp layout. 20 reeds tuned to 19 different pitches. How it was designed for German oompa music, and I'll play some examples.

3. Adoption by black blues players. I'll speak to how they improvised on the instrument, and the use of bends. Then I'll put up a note diagram with the bends. NOW how many notes arena the harmonica

4. Different styles: I'll play examples: Deford Bailey, Sonny Terry, Little Walter, into blues rock, like Paul Butterfield, Magic Dick, etc.

5 Then I'll touch on overblows. NOW how many notes are on the harmonica? I could use some help on the history of overblows on the diatonic.

6. Finally, I'll give some tips on playing with harmonica players: basically warning them that most harp players have a little too much enthusiasm, and need to step back.

At the end, I'll offer some lessons to kids who are interested.

Any suggestions you guys have would be appreciated, and any history you can share is definitely needed! Don't make me be a pain in the rear to Winslow or Joe Filisko. :)
973 posts
Nov 08, 2020
5:46 AM
You have a solid plan already!

I would introduce some modern harmonica. Beatboxing might interest them if blues doesn't? Also the second performance of The Brothers Gage on AGT is worth checking out for young prospects. Maybe have them search for it on YT.

Get the youngsters involved, see how much they know about the instrument.

Kids now a day's get bored easily and loose focus unless it's on their cellphone.

Good luck!
2908 posts
Nov 08, 2020
6:11 AM
I wouldn’t muddy the waters with regard to overblows.
Be sure to emphasize the microtonal aspect of the harmonica in 2nd position. IMHO, this is its superpower.
947 posts
Nov 08, 2020
7:42 AM
Gnarly, I’m just mentioning overblows to show how such a simple instrument can have hidden mysteries. You don’t have hidden notes on a piano!

Another thing I will spend time on is the invention of second position, why it works, and the difference in sound between 1st and 2nd. I’ll play “When the Saints go Marching In” in both 1st and 2nd to show the difference in tone.
9 posts
Nov 08, 2020
9:02 AM
As I'm from Germany, I would like to say something for your history part. I don't know how much information you have, so I would like to stress the things which aren't mentioned often.

It's pretty unclear where the harmonica actually comes from. Some sources say it's Haida in Saxony, or somewhere else in central Germany, while others say it was around Vienna.
The harmonica appears in written documents first in the 1820s. According to some sources, for a long time Friedrich Buschmann (1805-1864) was considered the inventor of the harmonica. He looked for a tuning help for the piano and made something like a wooden cube with 15 reeds (blow only). Apparently, other people had this idea too.
Some sources say the instrument was already produced in larger quantities in the 1820s. Matthias Hohner, manufacturer from Trossingen, helped to distribute the instrument. He began with production in 1857 and shipped the first charge to America some years later.
And last but not least: the harmonica was officially named a musical instrument in 1947. Until then it was counted as a toy.

You said you want to play some examples in oompah style. I can help you with some German ones if you like (also tabs etc.), for there was a time when my harmonica song list was consisting only of folk songs, mostly German ones.

Good luck with your project! The plan sounds very interesting!

Last Edited by Troni on Nov 08, 2020 9:04 AM
10299 posts
Nov 08, 2020
9:50 AM
Get a mix of musicians to show samples of... Jason Ricci's Minor Jam, Little Walter, Bad News Brown, Jon Popper, Bob Dylan, James Cotton, Terry McMillan,...

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First Post- May 8, 2009
2909 posts
Nov 08, 2020
5:48 PM
Over blows are cool, but for a beginner, it will just confuse them.
Draw bends will sound very familiar to them.
Don’t mention alternate tunings LOL
1098 posts
Nov 09, 2020
2:19 PM
This sounds like a great program. Kudos for doing this. Is this only for music students? If not, you may not want to get too technical with the theory and focus on wowing them with the possibilities and sounds that our instrument can make. Examples of harpboxing along with some great high energy as well as gut-bucket blues, Celtic, country, rock, jazz, etc., would be great. A big selling point in my experience has been the portability of the harp, making finding practice time much easier. Good luck with this venture!

Last Edited by mr_so&so on Nov 09, 2020 2:24 PM

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