Hello fellow harp acolytes & amateurs. As 2019 closes out I’ve been thinking about how & how much my music journey progressed in 2019. And hoping y’all will share yours as well...
First off I have to admit that 2019 started slow because I didn’t put enough structured time into the harp in 2018 due to a really fantastic part-time consultancy I lucked into - only worked 50 hours a month but combine those hours with getting ready and commuting and it ate into harp time. Plus my employer has a fiscal year ending in January which meant I almost doubled my hours in and neglected the harp completely in January 2019.
Nevertheless, I decided to attend a famous harmonica jam camp in February because it was just a couple hours up the coast from me in Ventura. I’m sure some of y’all have been to one of these. I’d gone 5 years ago in Clarksdale when I literally didn’t know which end of the harp to stick in my mouth, and it was great fun. Funky hotel. But Ventura was a very mixed bag IMO. The Ventura hotel was not conducive to camper interaction with each other or the coaches. And it was oversubscribed - I guess all businesses looked to maximise revenue in 2019. And there wasn’t much of an agenda. (All that said, any time you can get with the great coaches is brilliant - they are amazing).
I quickly realised that it was up to me to decide what I wanted to get out of my time there and work hard to make sure I got it. My goal was to get over my shocking performance anxiety, and to learn one cool new song from scratch. So here’s what I learned: https://youtu.be/f3w1VOcqe2k.
Like I said, the camp was oversubscribed and there were so many campers that the show on the last day seemed like a day at Woodstock. I went last and by that time the crowd had become tired & inattentive - that’s why I got everyone to come around me and participate. My song might not sound great, but it was great fun. Thanks to TJ & Hash!
After the camp I proceeded to muddle along between inspired periods and plateau periods. Learned some blues songs from purchase videos. Joined David Barrett’s site and rarely logged on. The same old shit, mostly. And worked my consultancy. But at least I always carried a harp around and stuck it in my mouth frequently.
Then a revelation came along. Actually, two of them. One was the Ken Burns Country Music Series on PBS. The other was the film Yesterday, about the English musician who discovered he was the only person who knew the Beatles songs. And that’s the common theme between the two revelations - songs! In major pentatonic. Country songs & Beatles songs. Songs ya know by heart and are fun to play in 2nd position, which has made me get much much better at breath control & bending. Especially -3”. Consequently I’ve been improving much more and feeling much better about my playing.
I know this is a Blues Harp forum, but I’m now a huge proponent of learning lots of different types of songs and becoming a musician who plays the harmonica in many genres. Not just a blues harp player.
Looks like the consultancy will end after January 2020. I see it as an opportunity to have the time to really get in some practice, and use Barrett’s site, with the goal of taking my Pignose Hog 20 into Laguna Village and doing some busking next summer. So if you’re on holiday there and see a harp player, please stop by and say Hello. And if you’ve got a harp with ya we can have some fun! Adios and happy new year. 2020 is hindsight !!
Last Edited by Sundancer on Jan 01, 2020 9:39 PM
Great post, Sundancer. I hope others will post too. You know, that video really encouraged me to get over the hump and put the song into our set. In a way, I found the vocal was the part which was requiring the most attention. I think that is often true with Sonny Boy. I visited his grave in 2018. We probably discussed this when I saw you a few weeks later. It’s still vivid for me, those moments walking down to the grave and then just standing there looking around and being part of the world. Before I left, I played the intro to Mr Downchild.
2019 for me in summary was about learning more songs, getting gradually more involved with chromatic and coming to terms to some extent with my own performance anxiety in so far as I had to step up and accept the role of fronting the band and consider what that really involves.
I’m not that good at it, but I think better than I was.
Basically, the more I do it, the better it is. Same goes for the band; the more we perform the better we perform. But we don’t perform often enough.
I’ve also learned more about harp repairs, especially chromatics.
However, I’ve had to understand that I just don’t have time for everything and everything involves a cost. Repairing harps is the thing I’ve decided to let go of in 2020. The cost is too great and it’s leading to general anxiety and performance in other areas suffers from lack of attention.
2019 was good to me in most ways including music. Retirement allowed us to make several road trips to festivals, concerts and night clubs. I got to meet some fantastic musicians and get some tips to improve my playing and appreciation of the craft. Playing by ear has taken over and decades of reading notation seem like a different lifetime. I wired a few more songs this year and also learned from several more that I just worked on. A lot of drills and exercises were helpful during 2019, so were numerous suggestions and ideas that were shared by folks at this form. Thank you.
There was some memorable times spent working on skills during 2019, for example: When I blocked off all the holes except for the blues scale and played nothing but those notes for weeks, lip to tongue block drills, machine gun patterns at holes 8-10, bend patterns, split bends, warble bends, bent vibrato, overblow #6 repetitive and sustained, circular breathing, and a relentless pursuit of a particular vibrato passage by Curtis Salgado. I spent a lot of hours on each of these during 2019, until I was nearly Psycho, that’s when it starts getting good.
I’ve always been a designer, maker and fixer of things around me. Some great 2019 times were spent improving harmonicas, creating various harmonica mutes, experimenting with combs and cover plates, and working on other ideas.
I like Sundancer’s memorable camp performance and Supebee’s grave site visit. My most memorable moments have been playing on various hikes and camping trips this past year and before during or after a good day of fishing. There was a memorable Thanksgiving trip working on harps with my brother and playing harmonica at the family shindig. I’m not a performer but I did have a memorable public encounter just a few weeks ago.
My wife and I were visiting a small town for some Christmas shopping. She was shopping and I was moseying outside with our Yellow Lab “Tugg”. We were near the town center Christmas tree in front of an old movie theater. It was after hours and the song “Last Christmas” was playing over some type of outdoor sound system. I’d been playing this song a lot lately mostly due to the rendition that Boris posted on Youtube. I had the key with me so I started playing along and improvising.
Part way into the song the theater lobby lights clicked on and a crowd of youngsters abruptly filed out. I just kept playing. My wife has made jokes about people offering me food or money when I play like this. I notice that the small crowd was being escorted by a few adults. After a short pause the crowd headed my way. By the time they made their way to me the song was ending. There were smiles and some clapping. I noticed name tags on the youngsters and looks of responsibility on the faces of the adults. I introduced myself and learned this was a group of mentally challenged students who just finished a private showing at the movies. Some of youngsters asked me about my harmonica then the subject quickly switched to the happy Yellow Lab that I had next to me. “Tugg” stole the show.
I started my harp learning journey I guess about March of 2019 as that is when I made my first post here on MBH. I haven't progressed as fast as I had hoped and got into a musical slump for a few months towards the end of the year, on both harp and banjo. During 2019, I did listen to quite a bit of harp music. I read completely through Harmonica For Dummies, Blues Harmonica For Dummies, and learned a few tunes in 1st position, single notes from the Harmonica Primer. I'm working on adding vibrato to those tunes now. I've pulled out of my slump and for 2020 will have more focused practice playing sessions. My current project is to finish learning the banjo part of Wilwood Flower, Scruggs style, as I ca play that on harp, so I can create a video playing the tune on both instruments.
No matter how it turns out for this anti gifted musician, I enjoy the learning and playing music. ---------- Jeff B
This is a great thread. The ‘grown-up’ page is interesting, but I get tons of helpful stuff here on the Beginner Page. Anyway, the year had its ups and downs. The music downs were few, and mostly involved being one’s own worst critic. My wife reminds me of that. Among the ups, in no particular order were: .. we were walking back to the boat in across the main square in Kingston, Ontario, and I had to sit down because my hip was killing me (since replaced). A great guitar player was playing at one end, so I pulled out my pocket A harp just to see if I had the key. He saw that and called me up. It was good. .. at the last gig of our small upstate NY band, at Densmore Church, a person I like and respect told me I sounded much more confident this year. .. had a great porch jam on the bridge of our boat...me, Hutch the guitar player, and Ray the banjo player. We drew a bit of a crowd (maybe a large handful) of people with their beers and booze. Like SB, a main focus has been learning songs. As I’ve mentioned here, tho, I’ve had to back off the loud, amped jams. The songs I’ve studying are mostly acoustic, unaccompanied solos, chugging, porch jamming, eg, ‘goin back home’ (Little Roger), ‘one way out’ (Eddie Burns), slow blues. I have a goal this summer of Harping down town, mixing practice with these songs. I’m figuring that doing so, besides being fun, will help me get past some performance anxiety. There have been some plateaus that have been hard to get past. I have little discipline when it comes to focused practice. But I worked out some scale exercises and spent a lot of time on the upper end of the harp. Because a lot of what I play is first position Americana stuff that has helped a lot. Started lessons again and intend to stick to them. They will impose some order on this addled brain. I love this music and wish I had started 50-60 years ago. But didn’t, so it feels like sort of a race - get good before.... I’m at the point where I can hold my own at a jam, at Densmore, on the waterfront near our boat, in the parking lot while my wife shops. I keep an A harp in my pocket always and pull it out when the opportunity arises. As I progress, what constitutes an opportunity has broadened, so it’s out a lot more. Dchurch, nice story about the kids. A happy yellow lab would steal the show from any of the top twenty listed on the grown-up page. Sundancer, the most consistent bits advice I’ve gotten about building harp skills is listen to a LOT of blues, learn songs, carry a harp, and don’t limit myself to blues. SuperBee, just don’t let go of writing the thoughtful posts. Pickn5, it’s a journey, the learning and playing music. Thanks for the thread, Sundancer.
This thread got me thinking and 2019 has indeed been a significant one in my harp/music journey. Been in the doldrums for a long time. Three main things happened in 2019:
Got started on tongue blocking. I had been putting it off as I was focusing on techniques to the severe detriment of other things like performance and improvisation. Watched an interview with Steve West Weston. Very matter of fact about the role of TB in amped harp. I'm starting to get it and love the new pallette of sounds it offers. Both amped and acoustic.
Started attending a regular Blues Jam. This is the big one. Been stuck behind performance anxiety for a long time. Too bloody loud of course but they are nice, supportive people playing at a professional standard, and I am learning lots. (Earplugs in).
Got more serious about bass guitar. Been tinkering with bass for a while with the idea that it will improve my theory and perspective while making me more useful in some situations. Enjoying it.
Musically 2019 has been good for us. I learned a fair amount of songs of a variety of genre. We had enough gigs to keep things interesting and motivating enough to make sure all our songs don't sound the same. Keeping things light hearted more people would enter the room instead of leaving the room when I play..always a good sign. Not so light hearted was a request to do just one song, but I rue the day I'll have/need to play it . the song "Amazing Grace" thing was it was my sister who asked me to play it graveside when her time comes. We are both older, but that kinda caught me off guard big time.
in the meantime we are working up some happy tunes.."feel good music" for an up coming gig this week at a senior place.
Well, for me it was so so year my technique, tone improved & I spent time working on it but I'm struggling with my timing especially on fast stuff I get behind or in front of the band way to often, it's odd because I play other instruments rhythm & lead and sing on a lot of the songs we do & I'm pretty good with my time on all that. I think part of my problem is I'm trying to play note for note stuff taken from some of the masters & I'm just flat out not near good enough yet. Anyway I need to get this sorted out this year so if anyone has suggestions on how to improve on timing let me know. Thanks Lou
Lou, to work on my timing, I use Audacity or VLC Media Player to slow down a lesson or music track, so I can play along. I've used them for banjo, but, haven't tried it with harp. You can also record with Audacity. Both programs are free to download. Just a beginner here, so take the advice for what you think its worth. ---------- Jeff B
Happy 2020 fellow harpers! The comments to my post about our musical journeys were interesting & thought provoking. Thanks.
Oddly enough, January 2020 has been as un-conducive to harmonica playing for me as was Jan 2019. Last year it was work. This year a medical issue sidelined me. On my last visit my dentist noticed a bump on the roof of my mouth. As I’ve had a melanoma (10 years ago) he suggested it was something I should get checked and removed ASAP because of my “history”. Which I did in early January.
The oral surgeon removed about 20% of my upper palate on the left side of my mouth. The good news was that the biopsy was negative - nothing malignant. It was an Angiofibroma, which has something to do with a blood vessel that burst. The bad news was that I had a very slow-healing open wound in my mouth. And it was painful. Much too painful to feel like putting a harp in my mouth. After about 4 weeks it started to feel Ok, and now 5 weeks later it’s 95% back to normal. After missing a whole month, I have just started practicing again this week. And it feels great!!
One additional benefit may be that the cavity in my upper mouth is quite a bit larger now - hopefully it’ll improve my tone. Adios.
Wow, Sundancer! I’m really glad it wasn’t related to the melanoma, but that’s a brutal way to find out. All the best for your recovery. Sounds like you are well on the way now. I was feeling a tad sorry for myself over a couple of extractions I had this month, but I’ll get over that now.
Very early days. I’m still going to the office every day. That may change but I’m feeling today that it’s probably less likely than I thought yesterday. We have 10 confirmed cases on the island but so far no evidence of transmission within the community ie all cases have arrived here having been infected elsewhere. 3 people have ‘recovered’. So this island has just enacted the toughest law in Australia concerning arrivals, which is that every arrival must undergo 2 weeks isolation. Of course that effectively shuts down out tourist industry, on which we have become quite dependent. That will shut off a major stream of income for my household, and along with my occasional gigs, looks like we are in for some belt-tightening and home-made bread ... if I could only find some flour!
I’m thankful to have a little productive food garden.
And just before this all became totally real, I committed to a Super64 so more chromatic focus on the agenda.
But mainly I think it’s time to review the set list. We’ll get some new material, revamp some older numbers. We’ve just played what I consider the 2 best gigs ever, and I am keen to build on that.
1 thing I want to say here is that there are certain songs which can really kick you up a level. I don’t know that it’s the particular songs or just the process of study, but I’ve studied a lot of songs and every now and then I’ve noticed a jump in competence following the process
Hello, 2019 I picked up the harmonica for the first time, other than when I got one when I was 12 and played it for a few minutes then. I thought I was going to learn guitar in 2019, I bought an electric one in Feb., after watching about 10 Delta Blues documentaries. I was struggling playing that guitar and around April I found one of Adam's videos and said, "I think I need a harmonica too." $10 bucks later I was messing around. In May, for my birthday, I took the family to a Northeast Ohio Blues Association harmonica Jam session with Wallace Coleman! In July I bought an acoustic guitar. But more struggling. I got a better acoustic for Christmas. But I kept finding my way back to that cheap harmonica and You Tube videos. Jan 2020 we created a room for Art, and Music and relaxing with no TV. I decided to upgrade to a $20 Easttop from China in Feb. Oh I should mention I picked up a few others at Flea Markets just for fun. Since the Easttop came in (from China yikes!). I've been practicing daily, and trying to learn as much as I can from Adam's, Ronnie's, Jason's, JP's, Tomlin's etc. Trying to improve daily. A goal for 2020 is to find a teacher that I can ask Qs in person close to me. Happy Harping everyone!
Last Edited by RKing1865 on Apr 17, 2020 10:01 AM
Hola! I’ve decided that with all the time I have in this zombie pandemic, it’s time to shit or get off the pot insofar as the harmonica is concerned. So I’ve signed up for David Barrett’s School of Blues. Gonna take a lesson with him every other week and work my way up his levels. Because of that I’ve investigated the bluesharmonica.com site much deeper and am in awe at the amount of great content. Did the first lesson this past weds and got my introduction to tongue blocking. Wow. Big difference from lip pursing, so I’m gonna have to learn to play the damned thing all over again. Fortunately David is just super chill & knowledgeable and smart. This is gonna be a fun, if initially frustrating, journey. Be safe out there in your ghost towns. Adios.
Last Edited by Sundancer on Apr 26, 2020 10:09 AM
Hi good luck with the lessons, you are sure to like them I would think. I'm always thinking the more you learn...the more versatile you become. I didn't have to unlearn anything, just added to what I already knew how to do. You might find much the same.
I did want to mention since learning T.blocking was new to me I realized that I was no better blocking my notes on the left side than the right side so I learned to do both. I think Dave B might refer to it as corner switching but I'm not sure. With the t. blocking I think folks are 1/2 way there if you can already do the split chords and rhythm tongue slaps etc things like that, and if not it's all great stuff to be learning. Good luck ..have some fun..
Last Edited by Spderyak on Apr 29, 2020 3:59 AM
Sundancer, how are you getting along with the lessons?
I'm making an effort to practice "regularly". I've been a member of Bluesharmonica.com for around 10 years and really have not made the most of it. I'm having another crack at getting into LOA 4 now. Have done much of it already but never managed to stay the distance. I know i can do it, but just have to put the work in. There are 2 study songs in LOA4. In fact, there are 3 available from which 2 must be submitted. One must be Gary's Blues. The other has to either be The strut, or Take It Easy Now. I already have a good recording of Gary's Blues, and I've submitted The Strut before as well, but i decided to go with Take It Easy, Now. The real challenge for me is in the accompaniment and improvisation sections. I'm trying to just keep plugging away at it.
Hey SuperBb - sorry for late response amigo! Everyday is Wednesday these days. I’m having a blast with David’s lessons - he’s challenging though. Especially when it’s all this new thing called tongue blocking!!!!! Slaps, pulls, dips, flutters, shakes. Wow!! I’ll email ya my Gary’s Blues that I finished last week. We’re not progressing linearly, so we’re back at L3 working now on Blues Creepin Over Me. Hope you’re in good health & spirits. Adios.