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non-blues comping
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Wailing ptarmigan
35 posts
Apr 10, 2023
5:52 AM
Hi all,
I'm looking to branch out a bit and learn how to accompany music other than blues or 1-4-5 based music.
Currently I can follow changes and come up with something for most blues tunes, but once I get into the pop/rock/folk genre I'm very limited and usually can find a lick or two that works, but only after a lot of trial and error using 1st, 2nd and 3rd position.

I've tried looking at guitar tabs to figure out key and chords, which helps a bit, but anything I come up with is still way behind what I could come up with over a blues tune. bOviously Mickey Raphael is the king of this kind of playing, but here are a few nice examples:

This song by John Wort Hannon has some very nice playing from about 3:00 :

This one from Jackie Green has some nice builds around 2:20 onwards:

Understood this is not the blues genre, but has anyone else tried to emulate this kind of playing or could direct me to a resource?

Thanks and happy harping.
268 posts
Apr 15, 2023
9:29 AM
The major pentatonic scale works over a lot of the music you are talking about. When I listen to Mickey with Willie he seems to use the major pentatonic much if not most of the time. Of course there are exceptions. The mixolydian could be good too, just adding in the flat 7th (2” and 5 draw).
209 posts
Apr 17, 2023
8:20 AM
While harp is most often associated with the blues and 2nd position playing, I personally believe it's good to widen out in your tastes. Since most of the time I play alone, my accompaniment in my studio is my music computer with well over 17,000 songs of almost every genre. I use a different approach for each one and a wide variety of harps, major and minor, high and low register...even found a few tunes where the High G is the best choice. Never fall into the trap of thinking you have to emulate any particular player, past or present. Find your own path, experiment with various genres and even different tunings but, above all, have fun!
2346 posts
Apr 19, 2023
7:33 AM
Major pentatonic scale is very useful in this music, though you can choose to leave that scale when it sounds right.

Better to limit yourself to a scale and intentionally make exceptions for effect than to always play everything.

Yes, listen to Mickey Raphael, but you should certainly check out Charlie McCoy as a primary source of riffs in this style of harmonica.

Todd Parrott is very knowledgeable in playing and teaching this style, so one of his workshops could help. I think Todd still gives individual lessons, too. He is a masterful player and a member of this forum.

There are a lot of Americana players out there who play more than just blues styles. Finding and listening to this kind of material as you have been doing is a great start.

Lessons, workshops, listening, and tabs can all be productive. [EDIT: I personally prefer listening rather than tab use, though tabs sometimes are helpful.] It is good to listen to various players playing what you find interesting. Then work learn selected riffs and techniques they use that you enjoy hearing.

You will gradually incorporate their approaches into who YOU are as a player and when improvising you will play the notes that serve the song.

Have fun!!!

EDIT: A couple ideas I use...

In second position I have found that playing harmony to the melody is often easier to play than duplicating the melody itself. This is useful in making reference to the melody during a solo.

Harmony playing may also be used tastefully (and quietly!) with a willing vocalist if there is not a second singer already singing harmony.

Another useful technique when comping is quiet octave playing. You can sustain octaves for texture or you can play short fill riffs at the changes.

If there is a hook, explore doubling your harp with the other instrument(s) or playing harmony to the hook.

Doug S.

Last Edited by dougharps on Apr 19, 2023 8:02 AM

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