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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Mud Ball Musings CD Review

Good afternoon gentlemen, let’s go for a blues on this mudball!

Regulars at the Harp Surgery will know how much we admire the harmonica style of Adam ‘Tidy’ Burney and The Brothers of Mothershovel. Newcomers fear not, you can catch up by reading our review from 2017 of their wonderful album Umcha, Umcha. In the meantime, hang onto your hats, he’s back!

Last month, amidst a nerve-wracking summer of Euro soccer, Otis the postman delivered an eagerly anticipated copy of Tidy’s new solo album, Mudball Musings. We duly closed the Surgery early, put the kettle on and gathered round the radiogram. The result? A feast for the ears, with an array of guest artists and supporting musicians, and of course harp playing of the highest magnitude. (more…)

Weekly Harmonica Workshops on Zoom

SPECIAL NOTICE

Owing to ongoing special projects we are taking an extended break from our workshop schedule until September 2021. 

Join our fun online harmonica community
Harp Surgery’s workshops are about connecting with other harp players, sharing music, learning songs, asking questions and developing key technical skills. We do blues of course, but we also explore a wide range of musical styles with a gentle splash of music theory. We’re here to offer up solutions to your specific developmental needs during our group sessions, but you can also book 1:1 coaching if you wish to fast track your learning.

Wednesdays 7.30pm-8.30pm (UK)

Zoom
Lesson ID: 914 617 7410
Password: 058464
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Attendee Feedback 
“You just helped me find my first overdraw!” – Azza, UK
“Thanks for a fantastic workshop.” – Mary Beth, US
“It has been a joy sharing in a harmonica experience with you.” – Maurice, US
“Your sessions are thoroughly inspiring and your style is welcoming and inclusive”.  – Ron, Canada
“They are great sessions.” – Roy, UK
“Thank you for sharing all of your expertise with such enthusiasm and humour. It is a wonderful opportunity for beginner and experienced harp players!” – Stan, Canada

Voluntary contributions
It does take time to prepare and organise each workshop, so if you enjoy the experience, a donation is always welcome. If you are able to contribute, copy paypal.me/harpsurgery into your browser and donate whatever you consider reasonable.

Some students ask if there’s a recommended amount. A suggested contribution would be £10.00 GBP / $15.00 USD / €12.00 EUR, but please note that friendships and recommendations are just as valuable. If times are difficult, we would far rather you joined in without obligation than not at all. (more…)

Introduction to Sonny Boy II Harmonica Technique

Rice MillerDon’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…

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The Little Walter Diary Ch.2 – Sad Hours

LogoRound 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.

Listen to

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…)

Big Walter’s Boogie – Walter Horton

Introduction

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.

Listen to

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…)