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beginner forum: for novice and developing blues harp players > 2 years in a band: getting anywhere?
2 years in a band: getting anywhere?
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5548 posts
Aug 11, 2018
8:45 PM
I’ve been ruminating recently on what I’m learning. I’ve been playing in this Chicago-style band for just on 2 years. That seems a good period of time to be able to review and see if I’ve improved, making progress, what needs more work, and most importantly what has led to any improvement there may have been.
i've learned a lot of songs. i just really dont know sometimes

Last Edited by SuperBee on Aug 14, 2018 5:40 AM
5551 posts
Aug 14, 2018
3:09 PM
Sometimes the goal seems to recede despite everything.
Maybe the best thing to remember is that not quitting is the first requirement for success.
241 posts
Aug 14, 2018
10:59 PM
Hey Super Bb! One other benefit of your band playing is the presence you seem to have when you play - even on the boardwalk of Laguna Beach. You only get that from learning how to win over an audience. I noticed the first time you played.
5553 posts
Aug 15, 2018
5:06 AM
Hey Sundancer! That is something which is less of a problem. I still get a lot of nervous energy on stage but its not like that sort of deer in the headlights debilitating fear. The first few gigs i played, in 2016, i was very shy on the stage.
We were talking about this tonight, the need to start some shows with an attention grabbing number against the propensity to deal poorly with complexity at the start of a gig. There is a lot going on right at the start; much of it is about getting the mix and stage sound sorted but there’s also the nerves. This next gig we decided to start with the simple but punchy Mannish Boy. Juke was a bad idea for an opener.

One thing I’ve learned through necessity is how to learn songs. I am much better at that than i used to be. It’s mainly focus, a fair bit of ear training and the use of all the resources. And learning how to break things into the right size chunks. Sometimes I’ve had to pick up the last couple of notes in a phrase and work backwards. Part of Mellow Down Easy I remember i just could not hear until i started to focus on the last couple of notes.

I think I’m a better vocalist all the time but sometimes i have doubts. Generally though i believe i keep getting better with vocals.

The thing of which I sometimes despair though is playing accompaniment. It seems I’ve been struggling with the same songs for 2 years. Elmore James and John Lee Hooker mainly

EJ is hard to generalise but sometimes a basic horn sort of thing seems to work. For JLH I’m finding better strategies all the time and it seems the simpler the better. A well-placed wail and well-timed chug is about it for several things. Avoiding the obvious 4-5 draw wail on the chord change and then using it instead to lead in the vocal

This is a big lesson I’m just getting sorted. For a long time I’ve known that being a full-time harp has potential to create ear fatigue and I’ve been concerned to make the harp always add to the song and not detract, but I’ve only just begun to catch on that it can be much easier than I’ve been making it.
I was trying to be contributing something in every part of the song, to make sure there was a ‘harp part’. But recently when we started playing the JLH Boom Boom I tried just laying out altogether through the vocal and only joining in during the instrumental break, and even then only hitting the ‘boom boom boom boom’ in the main. A very simple part while the guitar is doing some freestyle. This is good. Ive taken the same idea to This is Hip, which before i was playing some neat little riffs but they were kingd of competitive. So now I’m just using the harp in the way a backing vocalist might contribute to just a small part of the song but its significant.

I used to play walking blues like the butter field example but then the fellows were keen to play unlike butter, and they kept changing the approach. I think they have now settled on something and i inserted a riff which I subsequently realised is the mannish boy riff with slight phrasing changes, but its cool anyway because chord changes which allow me to modify. It’s quitye repetitive and fun.

I was fortunate to spend a few hours with Mark Hummel and studied Rocket 88 and Mr Downchild with him. I do believe that helped a lot with rocket 88. I have been rather pleased with how that goes.

But yo know, sometimes i hear a recording and i think wth? That’s not how it sounds when i play
5571 posts
Aug 30, 2018
12:12 AM
Another thing Hummel suggested is that I should bring songs which don’t have harp. This allows me to sing without an obligation to also play, effectively reducing the pressure to learn more harp parts (much more effort for me than singing) and also reduce the overall burden of harp sound for an audience. I definitely do feel the pressure to contribute something tasteful with the harp is rather inhibiting at times.
Anyway, it’s all gone tits up at the moment. It wasn’t only me inspired to reflect at this time. We’ve lost a major contributor who felt he wasn’t getting value on his investment and consequently decided to pull the pin. The others both indicated a desire to carry on, so at this point we are looking for a new member. This will provide an opportunity to change a chunk of repertoire, and could see maybe quite a few ‘no harp’ numbers if I become full time singer. Will hinge on finding the right guitarist though.
I’ve been very fortunate to get 2 years and around 30 gigs with this crew. I have learned a lot, but still a lot to learn.
5579 posts
Sep 16, 2018
8:49 PM
apart from anything else, the thing which seems to be on my mind is that despite learning lots of songs and taking numerous lessons, when it comes time to step away from a learned situation and 'wing it', i am still very much a novice.

so all my study of songs and solos, while quite gratifying on a personal level, has not been a lot of use when it comes to personal expression and creativity. in fact it may have been detrimental.

where it has been helpful is in my 'technical' skill on the harp. i can bend with good controlled expression and get a range of sounds i think are desirable. i have a fairly good range of tongue block techniques and can play on the high end quite well although my 10 blow bends are still a bit questionable.

so i have the tools. i think that is what playing note for note exercises will deliver.

but my improvisational skills are poor.

this makes sense to me, because i have not practiced improvisation. i have read about it but i have not practiced it.

i've been trying to do something about it by learning scales and playing patterns. Ive been learning quite a lot about scales and my mental model of the harp is much better than it used to be, but i'm not sure its helping at this point. it definitely seems to sharpen up my playing but i don't think its really addressing my glaring weakness.

i believe it is time to develop a new focus, but not quite sure which way to jump.

do i set out to learn the way Dave Barrett suggests? maybe i will. i have his 2 books: "accompaniment", and "improvisation".

this may seem silly as the response may be easily predictable, but i'm going to ask David
2574 posts
Sep 19, 2018
12:26 AM
If I understand you correctly, and someone has left your band, I'd reflect that this seems to be an endemic problem with musicians - you build something up and it's good and then someone simply decides to leave. Uuugh. Although it creates problems from short term commitments to effect on morale, in the longer run it can have the positive effect of forcing a change on you which you can be a good thing. As you seem to be someone who wants to progress, this really is an opportunity. Nil desperandum!

As for improvisation, I know what you mean. I've just started a jazz (drumming) course and there'll be some improv required and I currently have no idea how to approach it. But reading around, I keep coming across how famous musicians learnt to copy their favourite improvs note for note from records. So I think your approach of learning pieces must be a way in?

Last Edited by MindTheGap on Sep 19, 2018 12:27 AM
5583 posts
Sep 19, 2018
4:38 AM
Indeed, that is what has happened. I am endeavouring to look on it as an opportunity.
I wonder if we’ll change the name. Our bass player is keen to present a similar act to what we’ve been doing. I can go some of the way toward the darker side but I’m more inclined to little Walter and big Walter, and sonny boy Williamson for instance than the big signifying style of muddy waters or the preaching style of some others. I dunno if I can do John lee hooker for instance. Groovy as it is. Elmore James songs I can probably manage, from a psychological angle I mean.

Anyway, Barrett said I should study accompaniment and improvisation side by side. He said
I think it's a good idea to work on both accompaniment and improvising at the same time.
Accompaniment solidifies (and gives your tons of reps) your ability to play the notes of the chords. These are the notes most commonly used in accompaniment (not speaking of fills here, but when you're playing at the same time as the vocals and someone's solo). This is training your ear to play strong notes, whether you're doing accompaniment or soloing. So, do both, and keep studying cool licks and solos from great players, this IS how we eventually get our own voice (tons of influences).”

I do get it. He is right about accompaniment. If you take a structured approach playing chordal lines it is undoubtedly very educational.

But note he said “cool licks and solos”. I think the licks part is important. I take entire solos and then practice them in entirety. Must practice deconstruction and really exploring the pieces
2575 posts
Sep 19, 2018
4:59 AM
OK. I do think it's hard to see it as positive at the time. Even an amicable break up leaves you with a not-so-great feeling. The positive bit I think is that it allows you to change. I've found it's very difficult to make changes once the band has reached a steady state.

Barrett's advice seems sound. I built a rudimentary, workable improvising technique on the harp by doing something like that - taking phrases from all sources, learning them out of context and gluing them together at the time. It's not great, but it does work. I think the really iconic solos are much more creative, but me of the more bread-and-butter ones you hear on record do actually sound a bit like that. There's a deep well of stock phrases, but they do keep coming up.

I bet you can improvise fine at the moment, I bet you are thinking of a higher plane!

Last Edited by MindTheGap on Sep 19, 2018 5:01 AM
5584 posts
Sep 19, 2018
3:45 PM
I’m ever-aspirational.

Yes, I have hope that we can tweak what we are doing. I felt we had just found a new level recently and were ready to build a following. The last 4 gigs have been very encouraging with really good audiences and we are coming into the warmer weather, time to put hands up for the summer festival events. So it’s disappointing from that angle.
But it is a chance to rebuild. The ex-member required quite a lot of special consideration in various, often practical, ways connected with their job and the distance they had to travel. They also contributed a lot in practical ways as well as setting a big chunk of the musical agenda.
It would be nice to work with someone a bit easier to get along with.
I think the sound of the band can’t help but change when the person responsible for 50% of repertoire leaves. But from my point of view it’s not necessarily a bad thing. But I was looking forward to doing more work over summer.
2576 posts
Sep 19, 2018
11:24 PM
I can see that's a shame, especially the timing. Yes of course, you're going into summer - whereas winter's coming here.

It's probably wrong to think that the better the musician the more troublesome they are in a band. I'm sure that can't be true, but that's what it feels like sometimes.
5585 posts
Sep 20, 2018
4:01 AM
i'm deleting some posts here which have links that didn't work. i hope thats alright. the posts with live links are below

Last Edited by SuperBee on Sep 20, 2018 6:11 AM
233 posts
Sep 20, 2018
4:40 AM
I tried the link but it brought me to google drive to access denied with out permission..so maybe it's just a setting that needs adjusting...then again it could just be on this laptop...
good luck either way.
Always liked James Cotton Rocket 88 nice tune.
5588 posts
Sep 20, 2018
4:47 AM
oh ok, thanks for the heads up. ive made some changes and reposted some working links below

Last Edited by SuperBee on Sep 20, 2018 6:13 AM
5591 posts
Sep 20, 2018
5:01 AM
i don't know if that works for anyone else but it doesnt seem to work for me. ok well i'll try again another time. its getting late here.
2577 posts
Sep 20, 2018
5:48 AM
They don't work for me, I think you can make the google drive ones available publicly by doing the 'share a link to the file' option. I switched to google drive a bit ago and it worked ok.

The MOV files start to download then stop.

Last Edited by MindTheGap on Sep 20, 2018 5:49 AM
5592 posts
Sep 20, 2018
5:53 AM
i made a copy i could share. this is have a good time

have a good time

Last Edited by SuperBee on Sep 20, 2018 6:14 AM
5593 posts
Sep 20, 2018
6:08 AM
so here is another link for Rocket 88 fwiw. maybe it will be available later.


Ive been practicing the version of Trouble in Mind from the Big Walter Horton with Carey Bell album tonight.

someone heard me in the street and said it was 'beautiful'. that was nice to hear. the recording is beautiful. im working on it. the vibrato is really something on the record. i figure its gotta be good exercise. very nice note choices by horton. there is one note he uses in the opening phrases which i have notated as 5 blow but i think he may be actually playing a bent 5 draw. not really a beginners tune thanks to all the bends but beautifully simple in some ways. sounds kind of perfect

Last Edited by SuperBee on Sep 20, 2018 6:15 AM
2578 posts
Sep 20, 2018
10:26 AM
Yes those links work now. I think they are great, even if the recording quality isn't as you like. Is that the remaining band then? I like your harp sound and your comping and phrasing is very solid to my ears. You can really hear the nice harp timbre, and the slaps/pulls come through well. Hope it all works out with the new line up.

Last Edited by MindTheGap on Sep 20, 2018 10:27 AM
5595 posts
Sep 20, 2018
2:21 PM
Thanks MTG. That’s a gig at end of August, after which the guitar player announced he was through.
I’d been happy for the start of our 3rd year with a very well-received gig: just 1 long set on a bill with 5 other acts. These clips were about 1045 pm I suppose so the audience were well-primed.
396 posts
Sep 20, 2018
6:35 PM
All of us are a work in progress, but I echo MTG’s comment.
Phil Pennington
5597 posts
Sep 21, 2018
4:41 AM
Thanks Fil,
All a work in progress is a good way to view it. I keep hoping there’ll be a big breakthrough but chipping away seems to be the way. Sometimes I get a small breakthrough.

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