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Dirty-South Blues Harp forum: wail on! > Harmonica basic skills and techniques
Harmonica basic skills and techniques
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6 posts
Mar 06, 2022
5:02 AM
Hello fellow harp players!

Let me introduce myself: I'm Norlo, from Venezuela, now living in Córdoba, Argentina.

I'm 32 years old. I studied some jazz guitar and improv and now I want to play the harmonica. In fact, a toy harmonica was my first musical instrument.

I want to get serious about playing the harp. I know I'm a little bit older for starting with a new instrument but maybe my experience with jazz guitar could help.

My main goal with the harmonica is to learn how to play the 12-bar blues, some melodies and improvise some choruses. Maybe I'll get into complex chord changes later.

I asked a couple of questions on this forums before but never introduced myself properly and also I'm trying to share my background and experience so you can share your thougts.

My question:

What techniques and skills do you think a harmonica player needs to learn before playing a 12-bar blues in a real life situation (jam sessions, etc)?

I really want to play harmonica for people as I do with my guitar. Maybe share some videos in the future, etc...

I have been playing since november 2021. I'm a collector so I have 8 harmonicas now. I started learning with youtube videos and some Truefire courses. I learned to play single notes, scales, and even the draw 4 bend by watching and reading instructional videos and books. I got a private teacher recently and I try to practice 1 or 2 hours a day.

Maybe I can perform properly someday or I'm too old to learn? We'll see.

Thank you for reading and sorry for my bad english.
346 posts
Mar 06, 2022
7:42 AM
Nothing wrong with your English so don't apologize for it. :)

I'd say going all-out on what your teacher is telling you is probably the most important thing, otherwise why are you paying him/her? If you feel underserved, say something or get another teacher.

BTW, Annie Raines (Truefire) is a very good player and teacher and you are in good shape if you can master just her free lessons.

You are severely limited if you just have the 4-hole bend. Getting the other bends on the harp is pretty important.

Tongue blocking techniques like octave splits (The Juke riff requires a 3-6 split), flutter and corner-switching are important.

Always have a critical ear to your tone.

Knowing how to take your harps apart and adjusting the reed gaps to your playing style is an important skill.
756 posts
Mar 06, 2022
7:39 PM
I hope u don't get into the "tongue block" "Lip purse" debate. Learn both----

Down the road u will want to learn tongue slaps ---splits --etc-so u might as well learn "tongue block' as well etc

I didn't learn "tongue block" until years after pursing. To get good syncopated basslines etc u have to use tongue.

The way SRV plays syncopated backbeats on Pride n joy intro----can be accomplished cleaner and more precise using "tongue block" on the harmonica.

play Single note---lift tongue for back beat--then tongue back down----over n over---that boom-chuck-boom chuck.

Jerry portnoire has 3 cd instructional---I strongly recommend it.

Take david barret "levels of achievement" to help learn tongue block


Since yr a jazz guy--start memorizing the numbers on the harp.

In second pos all top blows are -starting at hole 1
4 6 1 4 6 1 4 6 1 4---these r are root notes of the IV chord----I chord----VI chord----so if u split holes 3456 blow with your tongue --yr playing blow 3 and 6 with tongue block on 45 blow---perfect for rhythm over I chord in blues--

for IV chord split 1234 blow-- tongue on holes 23 blow--now yr not intrusive when band goes to IV---

The bottom draw notes in second pos is
5 1 3 5 b7 2/9 then repeats 3 5 b7 2/9
so now on the turn from V //// IV//// I//// ////
u can tongue split blow 1-4 for IV chord then drop yr tongue and split 1-4 for V chord etc

more options when u tongue block

I do solo with rack a lot--but play harp in a 145 blues band with a sax player--the sax player was school taught---which is great----but know where trying to get him to realize, since blues is primarily 145 --then learn to hear when it goes to IV when it goes back to the I etc --- We have only 1 guitar and with him learning at least the root note of each chord in any key----together my harp and his sax can do horn lines to help guitar player have more to play over.

So I play the root note split of the I chord with sax guy---its a blast and the IV and V.
I haven't tried me playing the root and the sax on the third yet---I think horns do that ???

U have a ,lot going for u already u know to play a 3 minor over a minor chord etc---u know u can play over each chord certain notes etc------

Some harp players aren't aware how many bends hole 3 draw has in 2nd pos----a great tongue block ---backbeat practice is;

tongue block holes 1d 2d and play 3d then lift tongue for backbeat

then Tongue down block 1d 2d play 3draw b 1/2 step bend----

Then lift and draw for backbeat----

then back down and play 3draw bend full step etc

do all 3 draws and draw bends going down with back beats then go up
accomplishes 2 things learning all 3 bends on 3 draw descending and ascending and learning syncopation.

memorize the numbers in 1st 2nd and third pos and u will be way ahead of the game.

since u already understand numbers learn where the root notes are for I IIm III IIIm IV V etc
focus on 145 2 and 6

When I sit in- I ask what the chords are---they always give me a dirty look like " why -yr just a harp player" ? then I ask is there a quick change or IIm etc to let them know that I've applied the little theory I know from the guitar --to my harp playing

yr already way ahead of the game-

ps many blues pLayerS play primarily holes 1-6--never really getting a feel for the "ENTIRE HARP"
u don't just play 1 box on guitar or 1 octave- u move around---apply that to harp---BUT DONT OVERDUE HIGH END --JUST KNOW IT AND USE IT Appropriately


PS I sing n play "Rayando El Sol" by Mana In spanish I love mana peace out

Last Edited by snowman on Mar 06, 2022 7:48 PM

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