1st Position Blues Harp – An Introduction (Part 1)

Harps and Guitar 1A guide to straight blues harping

No force, however great, can stretch a cord, however fine, into a horizontal line which is accurately straight. Elementary Treatise On Mechanics (William Whewell)

The classic blues harmonica journey starts with a crusade to the Holy Shrine of cross harp. Whereupon, straight harp (normally in the guise of Oh Susannah) is swiftly abandoned. Drunk on the glories of success, and soon lavishly equipped with assault amplifiers and bullet microphones, the crusade continues.

New techniques are won – including tongue blocking, vibrato, blow bends and third position blues – before a dark specter looms like a cloud on the horizon; the ghost of first position past. It’s been neglected for too long and now it’s broken our serenity, and it’s raining torment. Here’s how to make amends…

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Mitt Gamon Interview – Part 1

Strawberrieds and Cream iIt was a humid summer’s day. Beyond the duck pond, the Rear Admiral’s mower muttered to itself and occasionally spat stones at his prizewinning parade of pink floribunda. Next to the Tickled Trout, a canopy of elder flowers floated in the warm breeze, while hover flies patrolled the cow parsley below, pretending to be bees. In the harp surgery kitchen, the Good Doctor was preparing cordials and halving strawberries for afternoon tea. He flourished sugar across the fruit from a shallow silver spoon. ‘How many songbirds fly to and fro, in an English country ga-ar… what the?’ A manilla envelope boomeranged through the window, clipped his ear and skidded to a halt on the kitchen table. The sugar spoon fell to the floor.

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Norton Buffalo Navigates Four Key Changes

Norton & BonnieDo not pass GO
Greasy Rob, Otis the mailman, Stomping Stu and the Doc were deeply engrossed in a Friday night game of Monopoly. A pot of Rington’s Tea steamed away beside Otis, the evening’s banker and custodian of a premium biscuit assortment. Otis had hotels on the green home straight, Rob had all four railway stations, and the Doc had a strong collection of reds and pinks.

Stu, meanwhile, was on skid row. “I’d have more luck playing Bonopoly’, he grumbled. ‘What on earth is that?’, quizzed the Doc. ‘Same as Monopoly, but the streets have no name,’ replied Stu, preparing to mortgage his Water Works. (more…)

Hohner PentaHarp

The harp beginner’s and guitarist’s new friend
The PentaHarp has finally reached the UK and we have been busy putting it through its paces. With an attractive electric blue ABS comb, the PentaHarp is essentially a special tuning in a Special 20 shell. An addition to Hohner’s Progressive Series, it comes in a sturdy flip-top box and is packaged in an eye catching outer carton featuring Nashville singer song-writer, Payton Taylor. The packaging explains:

The PentaHarp simplifies the harmonica by giving players easy access to one of the most useful scales in rock and blues music without the need for advanced techniques. The tonal layout is the Blues Scale, which is a Minor Pentatonic scale with the added ‘blue’ note. Create expressive melodies and solos quickly and easily, and never play a wrong note!(more…)

NEUMA Harmonica 10 Blues

Putting your money where your mouth is

For a budget conscious harmonica shopper, there is an ever increasing range of cheap harmonicas available online. By budget we mean under £25.00 GBP/$35.00 USD. While the price may be attractive, there’s one home truth that cannot be denied: buy cheap, buy twice. A clean cut web page, some impressive blurb and a few sharp images can make any harp look great, but don’t be fooled.

Read the reviews and remember you’re more interested in how the harp sounds and plays than how great it looks. We’d also advise against buying used harps and grandpa’s cast-offs. Unless they’re for your personal museum collection, or you’re adept at restoration projects, these are best avoided too. (more…)

1st Position Blues Harp – An Introduction (Part 4)

The Grand Canyon which yawns between the writer’s concept of what he wants to capture in words and what comes through is a cruel abyss.
— Fannie Hurst

Welcome to the final leg of our journey into 1st position blues technique. In previous posts we considered why 1st position blues can sometimes be left in the shadows. We also touched on building a general awareness of positional playing, how some positions are interchangeable, the Ionian Mode, the low end 1st position blues scale, and some low and high end 1st position signature licks.

As our versatility in 1st position grows, an inherent problem soon emerges; there’s not much on offer in the middle octave, so it’s difficult to connect holes 1 to 10 fluently using the blues scale. Consequently a common feature of 1st position blues involves jumping back and forth between the lower and upper ends of the harp.

In the middle register, the 1st position blues scale is buried in some uncomfortable overbends. For many players these are unachievable, which is why they’re left with such a meagre musical menu. Examples of licks played between holes 4B and 7B are few and far between, and the content is usually unsubstantial. Nonetheless, let’s see if we can shed some light on this time-worn enigma

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