I thought it might be time for another of these threads where we share what we are currently working on with Harmonica.
I’ve been working the bending exercises from Jerry Portnoy’s Masterclass CD. I’ll probably keep that up for another week or 2. I’ve been at it for a couple weeks and believe I’m getting some improvement.
Today I revisited some scale and movement exercises involving the full length of the harp. I worked on these for about 3 weeks, 6 months ago. Coming back to it today I found I was better at them than when I stopped that block of work. I think that’s interesting, that my brain has not only retained the information but somehow refined it in the meantime.
I'm working on getting clean single notes. The first few tunes had notes played in holes 4, 5, and 6 with breath changes. As I progress through the tunes, there are notes played in holes 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 with jumps such as hole 7 to hole 5. I've noticed that as I slide from higher to lower notes, I have a tendency to move out slightly causing me to lose a good lip seal and air leakage. I have to work on that as it makes my 4 blow and draw sound terrible. I'm also working on breathing through the harp instead of blowing and sucking.
The tune I'm working on now is Wildwood Flower on both harp and banjo. ---------- Jeff B
Rick Estrin's Nine Below Zero on Sonic Junction. Also playing Adam's Sonny terry thing because I love it. Still haven't got it down though, but focused practice seems to help my playing in general. BronzeWailer's YouTube
A few minutes each practice on scales, bends, vibrato, the basics. Then I’ve been working on learning solo, unaccompanied songs such as “one way out”, an oldie by Eddie Burns. Want to build a list of those. Then a lot of noodling, esp on the upper end of the harp. Admit to not being as organized as that might sound. ---------- Phil Pennington
‘3rd position’ minor blues scale from draw 1 up to draw 8
1 2’’ 2(or +3) 3’’’ 3” +4 4 5 +6 6’ 6 +7 8
And back down. I think I tend to use 3 blow more than 2 draw.
Can extend this with 9 +9 10 +10 also as those notes are all in the scale, but there is one missing note, which is the equivalent of the 3''' and the 6' and should be between the +9 and the 10. I think that would be an over draw on the 9. I don’t have that arrow in my quiver and I'm not too bothered atm. There's almost a full octave's worth of minor pentatonic there
But at the moment I'm just doing the 1 - 8 - 1 part
I also have a 'bass line' exercise which I used when learning to follow the standard blues changes over 12 bars in 2nd position. I've just adapted it to 3rd position. Haven’t tried using it with a track yet but that’s the next step.
Those are the actual 'practice' drills I'm doing for 3rd.
Writing about that has led me to think of some other things I want to say about 3rd position and improvising in general, but maybe a separate post
Mostly trying to get topside of my chromatic, I paid a lot of money for it and seeing it sitting on the shelf winds me up. One thing that interests me is the relation of harmonicas to a keyboard, diatonic's that is. 4 blow on my C harp is the C above middle C on the keyboard but where would I find 4 blow on my D or g etc, I've tried by playing them but my ear isn't good enough.
Hi, Knight66, If the 4 blow on your C is the C above middle C, the 4 blow on your D will be the D above that C. The 4 blow on a standard G is the G below that C If you find that G, the 1st G above middle C, you can track the 4 blow on every standard harp from that point up to the F sharp, over that octave. Another way to see it, and the way I remember, is that 1 blow on a C Harp is C4, aka Middle C. So the 1 blow on each of the standard range of harps goes from G3 (G below middle C) to F#4 (F# above middle C) On a C harp you have 4 C notes, C4 - C7. So that’s the range of the piano we are working in, generally. Of course, Low F is virtually a standard key these days and ‘standard’ F# is quite rare.
Got My Mojo working Kim Wilson version & I've got no right to try & play it or sound like him but what the hell. Simple sounding except the solo but hard as hell (at least for me)I havent even got through the first 12 bars yet & it's been a few weeks I've found out my motivation to practice is in playing songs, or parts that have cool riffs in them. I'll run through some scales and bending ex. but working on tunes keeps me going. Lou
and in line with that, today i have been trying to cop the sax solo from J B Lenoir's "Mama talk To your Daughter" i think i got it, but it was quite hard to find the key. i believe the recording is probably in C but its about 50 cents flat which puts it fairly squarely between B and C. i couldn't get anything to sound right. eventually i shifted the pitch to 50 cents sharp of A and used a D harp, because i think i'll sing it in A. an alternative would to sing in C and use a LowF
i guess i spent a few hours on this today. Over the last couple or 3 years ive had to learn to play a lot of songs. i reckon i've learned more songs in the last 3 years than i did in the previous 15.
so i suppose thast the bigger picture of what ive been working on the last 3 years. using every aid i can find to pick up songs quickly.
sometimes with the amazing slow downer software and sometimes just playing a CD and learning one phrase/lick at a time.
wherever i can find a video lesson on something i want to learn, i'll try that too. i'll take as much help as i can get. if theres a transcription, i'll consider that.
i do believe i think i'm fairly good at at picking up new songs, thanks to having done so much of it. so thats a thing. that might be the most success ive had and i didn't even realise that was the bigger picture. i was just thinking about the individual songs.
when i was playing snooker we used to have a little saying when we noticed someone watching the scoreboard "focus on the game and the score will take care of itself".
My creativity hasn't improved that much though. thats why i am trying to really emphasise different approaches to practice
this sax part, well, have a listen. i'm not sure exactly why it works but it does. if you want to play along i recommend a F harp
im also not sure whether i'll use it. maybe though. its cool to be able to play but i'll have to hear how it sounds with the band
Lou, what I meant was, I share that same “working on tunes keeps me going” thing. I’ll do the scales, bends, etc., partly out of duty and knowing they’re vital practice, but then lose all sense of time working on a few bars of some great solo. SB, creativity is a challenge I haven’t met. When you discover the secret, please post it here. In the meantime I do a lot of noodling to backing tracks in my head, looking for new (to me, anyway) sounds. Your posts in this beginners’ forum are excellent.
I'm continuing with getting clean single notes using the pucker method. I haven't tried tongue blocking yet. I can play Michael Row The Boat Ashore and Wildwood Flower and I'm starting to add some hand tremolo to these tunes. Now that I have the Wildwood Flower tab memorized, I'll start playing along with the lesson track to work on timing.
I'm using the Harmonica Primer by To Wolf right now as that book/DVD is what I started with. I recently purchased Harmonica For Dummies and Blues Harmonica For Dummies, both by Winslow Yerxa. I'm thinking about switching to one of those to continue learning. Any guidance on which one to use is appreciated.
I have one of them on my kindle but can’t say I’ve made much use of it. That’s more about the kindle than the book. I don’t find electronic format very useful for reference books. Both books have a great reputation. I think it probably comes down to your aspirations as a player. If you’re not really sure, go with ‘Harmonica’. If you know you are mainly keen to play blues on harp, go with ‘blues harmonica’. ‘Harmonica for dummies’ was the first book I believe. I think ‘blues harmonica for dummies’ was a response to market demand for a book really focused on that style as a significant number of players are motivated primarily by a desire to play blues.
i came to my woodshed tonight to work on a harp, but started playing that sax solo on repeat, found my jam tracks and tried it with every track i could find in A. It works ok over many, particularly the rhumba tracks. searching through the jam tracks reminded me of Just Your Fool, so i played that a couple times then i saw Walking By Myself, which is a number ive just brought back from the discard pile. i had learned the solos some time ago , but i know theres always more to learn from listening to Horton so i did that tonight. i think a lot of the power of that solo he plays comes from double-stops, and his distinctive use of the 6 draw. also the intro to the song is something i finally nailed tonight. i moved to the chromatic and cracked on with some of that scale practice and then octave splits for a few minutes, before playing through fast large one on repeat for 10 minutes or so. i have some work to do with the song. tonight i realised the tongue flutter is much easier if your playing quietly and the tongue needs touch the comb barely at all. i may need to turn my amp up so i can play more quietly.
Fil, i'm trying to break old patterns but here you see i'm back to playing over memorised things, trying to polish techniques and hone listening skills.
one thing though, that sax solo in the clip i posted above has a few nice ideas. at first i was very taken with the fluid second phrase. i make it +3 3" 3 +4 4' 4 3 2 2"
but its the next phrase, the one he plays over the 5th measure, which i am really taken with.
i'm noticing i like that solo better on lower keyed harps. its a challenge to get a nice full horn-like tone from a D harp; for me at least. i as playing it on a A flat earlier today and liking it. anyway, trying out some more stuff i read recently, that practicing new stuff in the evening, sleeping on it and reviewing in the am leads to better retention, so now i'm off to bed
Woke up this morning... And I couldn’t remember that song I’d been working on. I kept getting pieces of the tune id been playing on chromatic. Dropped my wife at work and continued driving to my parking zone. Running through the song in my mind I found I could remember the sax fills behind the vocal verse and voila! Suddenly I had the opening phrase of the solo and the rest of the solo arrived with it. Parked the car, fished out an Ab Marine Band and played through the solo. Took it out to the street and started thinking about the fills, and adjusting for chord changes and then filling the space between the fills and I found I was playing the vocal melody much more ‘melodically’ than I’d been able before and in fact I just created a new solo, spontaneously. I mean a solo that hangs together. Saints be praised! I may never manage it again, or, maybe I will!. I quite like practice in the evening, last thing before bed. The morning session is a bit harder to manage, with pressure to get to work, but I can find a few minutes in the car after I park, and I have a 15 minute walk after that which is relatively unpeopled, and I just swallow my pride and play anyway. I’m more reluctant to sing while I walk. The harp sometimes draws comments or even conversation, but I think singing would create a different image. Playing while walking provides a natural timekeeping which can be beneficial too.
I was thinking about this the other day "What are you working on?".
I realize that I often lack focus and tend to practice techniques more than perfecting songs. I have been working a bit on "Things I Used to Do" with the bass harp. After reading this morning about Paul I am dedicated to getting that song down. I don't expect to play it like Paul but I plan to give it my best. This video is the one reason I was drawn to play the bass harmonica. Paul makes it look way easier than it is.
This copied from the main form page:
Sorry to read about Paul’s health. Thank you for the alert and support connection – here’s a link: Help Paul Oscher Here
Paul is my bass inspiration. I must have played this one a 100 times.
Nice! Did you see the new Suzuki bass chromatic? Fairly pricey but plays in both directions.
After last weekend I think I’m working on a set list for the gig-after-next. We’ve been practicing a scattered collection of songs for the last few months. We had a one-off gig with a guest vocalist who brought their own bag of songs, and we incorporated around a dozen of her songs into a two-set gig. It was a bit rough around the edges but ok. Once that was over, we settled into rehearsing some new numbers for the band and not all made it. It’s time-consuming learning new songs, so lots of the older songs languished in the meantime. We don’t have lots of gigs, especially through winter (Southern hemisphere), so the old songs just haven’t been played. Our drummer also plays bass in a different band, different style, and our guitarist has been with us only 9 months, also plays bass in a different band and is not well-schooled in the role of sole guitarist in a blues-quartet. Funnily enough, our bass player plays bass in another band too, but at least that’s a blues band. I’m the only member of the band who doesn’t play bass in another band. There must be a band name in that circumstance. Anyway, we played Sunday morning and it was quite patchy, some things really good but others really not. Complicating matters, I have to school a replacement guitarist for the gig on 26 July. The gig which I really want to be slick for is 6 August so I want to develop the set lists now and work on beginnings and endings for those songs over the remaining opportunities we have. That’s for the band. Personally I found I was struggling to ‘remember’ everything. We played about 6 new songs in 22, and a few others which are relatively new. I’m not quite good enough as an improvisational player yet. Or as a frontman really. I wasn’t relaxed, possibly due to all the new stuff, maybe because of the daytime scenario, maybe because it was an outdoor gig with the audience somewhat removed from the immediate area front of stage so the energy is really weird at those things I think. Anyway, I’ll be working on my chromatic soloing, all my soloing, all my vocals. It’s time to settle the list and polish it up. I’m not sure, maybe the next 3 gigs will be the last we ever do. If that’s the case, I’m not sure I’ll get another chance to play and sing these numbers so I really want to give it the best send off I can.
SB- Thanks for pointing out the Suzuki. I watched a few demo videos. It does look pretty cool, but my plate is currently pretty full. It looks like you really have your hands full. I hope it all works out well. Thinking about the possibly of those 3 final gigs must be tough but I admire your motivation.
While working on "Things That I Used To Do" I realized my Swan bass needed a tune up. I tore it down and did some reed work, adjusted gaps, embossed the slots, and tuned it. The bass is playing much better so I can further appreciate the time on this song.
---------- It's about time I got around to this.
Last Edited by dchurch on Jul 10, 2019 5:04 PM
A young guitarist I'd jammed with a couple of times asked me to play on a Jerry Garcia tribute show he's putting together.
In line with my policy of trying to punch above my weight and learn something, I said yes. He sent me a list of harp friendly songs they'll be playing: West LA fadeaway, Deep elem blues,Iko Iko,Little Red rooster, Trucking, New speedway boogie, Good lovin’, and Turn on your love light. Show's in about a month. BronzeWailer's YouTube
BronzeWailer, what’s your process for learning songs? Are you doing the lyrics as well? After figuring early that most all I had to do to get my part of a song down was nail the harp solos, it became obvious to me that I need the lyrics as well if only to cue up my part. Which leads to another question, maybe for SuperBee...do you have lyric sheets on stage or do you get the lyrics down solidly enough go without? Any good tricks for learning them? I have this inordinate fear of locking up, losing my place, and it’s happened a couple of times. BTW, BronzeW, that’s a great opportunity. Thanks. fil ---------- Phil Pennington
Hi Fil, I try to follow as best I can lick for lick songs I am going to lead and sing on. Otherwise I will jam along with the musician or the recorded track. I am doing the latter with the Grateful Dead stuff. First figuring out the key or what harp works best. I am not going to "memorize" them as such. In school our French teacher always emphasized "learning" over rote memorization when we had to do a presentation. This makes for smoother flow when you are up front.
I just jam along with bands when I am accompanying. When I was starting out I spent six months busking 2-3 times/week with a guy who had no set songs, improvised everything. This made me comfortable with improvising. It also improved my skills at picking up melody. I often play the melody with slight variations.
Then I hooked up with a guy who plays Delta blues, almost none of which is 12 bar. My harp teacher said just lock into the rhythm, because some of it was complex.
I used to sit in with a bluegrass band who had a regular gig down from where I used to busk. This was also a learning curve. If I couldn't get it, I just shut up.
They haven't asked me to sing in this show, although I know the guitarist likes my singing, but I think I have enough on my plate for now. It is a great opportunity. I always say yes (especially after reading the book Yes Man).
With regard to learning lyrics, I write them out by hand, and then remember a key word (first or last) from each line.
If I forget, I will repeat a verse or make something up.
Fil, the only notes I have are the set list which also has the keys noted.
I’ve always memorised the songs. I’ve done this a lot since I was a small child. I think this is quite common. I also try to ‘internalise’ the songs, by which I mean I try to put myself into the song so I have an emotional connection. I believe this helps a lot with memorisation and also with delivery.
My former co-frontman did not memorise the words and instead used an iPad with some sort of software that prompted him if he forgot the words. I understand the attraction of that but it’s not for me. In all fairness, he was working with a much bigger list of songs than me. He was maybe working from a list of 60 whereas I’m really choosing from around 35 tops.