Don’t start me talking, I’ll tell you everything I know
Elwood reminded folks at the Harp Surgery it’s the anniversary of Sonny Boy II’s birthday this week. How about we tab out one of his monster tracks? he suggested. The Doc stroked his goatee and lifted his bowler down from the coat stand. No need to tab one number, young Elwood, we’ll do them ALL he replied. But how is that possible? quizzed Elwood.
The Doc raised a sagely eyebrow. Once you’ve mastered his trademark cross-harp licks and timing, my boy, you can tackle much of his material. Then it’s a case of studying the first position harp work, timing and tone. But always remember you will never sound exactly like the master, nor should you . Elwood started warming his favourite blues burger. So where do we begin? he asked. From the turn around, answered the Doc, it’s his signature lick. It goes like this…
Round about five
Having openly declared my personal shortcomings apropos studying Walter Minor, there’s no escaping his genius. And the guy continues to toss pebbles at the window of my blues garret. The latest wake up call was a request to decode the start of Sad Hours. The outcome? Unexpected exposure to an architectural masterpiece. I was left standing in my pyjamas, rubbing my eyes, wondering what hit me.
It’s a given that mastery of Little Walter’s diatonic dialect is an essential step in any blues harp player’s development. Ever contrary by nature, I therefore embarked on a love affair with Big Walter. Latterly however, I have come to accept my latent appreciation of Marion Walters Jacobs and to indulge in the occasional flirtation. Sad Hours certainly gets the blues fuse smouldering. It was Walter’s 1952 follow up to Juke and it made No.2 on the Billboard R&B Chart. (more…)
This is THE showcase blues harmonica number which every journeyman player needs to learn. It’s a catchy melody in its own right, but it is particularly attractive when played on the blues harp. And what makes it so important to a player’s development is that, while it incorporates the essential elements of a good harmonica boogie, it offers a concise blueprint for circuiting the 12 bar format without ignoring chord changes and clinging to special effects. In other words it promotes the art of blues musicianship – how and what to play over the I, IV and V chords.
There is no doubt that emulating Big Walter’s delivery demands a great deal of precision. You will need to master a range of techniques including tongue fluttering, octaving, puckering, tongue blocking, tongue slapping and accurate bending. All of which are sustained with excellent breath control. And above all else, you’ll have to nail that BIG tone. Take your time, pay attention to the technique and detail, and you can master this show stopper for yourself. (more…)
When learning to play individual notes for the first time, 2 draw (2D) is often the hardest reed to master. Harp Surgery frequently receives emails asking, is it me or is there something wrong with my harmonica? It may not be what you want to hear, but the short answer is, it’s not the harp. OK, point of order, we have had one occasion in the last twenty years when the instrument was at fault, but there have been a few blue moons since then.
2D is a long old reed, which swings through a big slot as we play it. Picture in your mind a spring diving board, fixed at one end and unfettered at the other. The reed and the diving board behave in the same way. Consider also, the fact that 2D shares a chamber with 2B, another long reed in another big old slot. These two reeds are in constant interaction, working as a pair. So we expend a lot of air when we work in hole 2 and it can feel like we’re running out of breath really quickly.
Add to this the flexibility of the reeds themselves. With a choice of one natural and two bent positions, 2D is very sensitive to changes in air pressure. When we try to play 2D for the first time, it sounds mangled or flat. Alternatively it won’t respond at all. At the same time we seem to be inflating really quickly.
Fear not, this is a common experience for beginners. So let’s look into things together and see if we can help you overcome an important hurdle. It’s a short process and we promise you it will be painless. Kim followed our advice and look what happened to her! (more…)
Thank you for joining my HarmonicaUK Zoom session on accessing and playing the top end of the diatonic harmonica. Thanks also to Jason Ricci for joining us live from New Orleans with some wonderful insights into playing solo harmonica.
If you’d like to learn more about specific aspects of diatonic playing, feel free to contact me for 1:1 tuition. Alternatively come and sit in on our free weekly Workshop Group where we can share your questions and make you feel welcome.
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