3rd Position Blues Harp – An Introduction

Harp Pic 2Anon they move, In perfect phalanx to the Dorian mode, Of flutes and recorders. Paradise Lost (Milton)

When we first pick up a diatonic harp, we’re on a mission from God. Nothing, but nothing’s going to get in our way. In short order we buy some cheap shades and a big old hat, then we embark on a crusade to capture that sound. You know the one. It fits in your pocket and goes da DAH da da.

Listen to

We raid the wardrobe, car glove compartment and every drawer for loose change, and then plunder the sofa. Then we invest our accumulated swag in a used copy of Play Like Walter in Ten Minutes, while bidding on ebay for a second hand entry level harp with a fancy name like Sonny Boy’s Special or Blues Howler. (more…)

Whammer Jammer […with tab]

J. Geils Band - Full HouseYou gonna get it all down, get it all night, get it all right, get it out of sight and get it down baby?

Here’s the top entry in our ‘I wanna play like that’ hit list. Originally recorded on the J.Geils Band studio album The Morning After in 1971, Whammer Jammer reappeared a year later on the classic live album Full House. It is a power harping beast of the highest order.

Like the lunar landing, or the fall of the Berlin Wall, every power harp fan can remember when and where they were first Whammered! So, it’s time to reminisce a little, do some research and then, with the help of modern technology, deconstruct the song for you. Key of A major ten hole diatonics harps at the ready..
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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…

Listen to

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Harmonica Lessons Available Online

The Good Doctor’s making house calls

We hope you’re staying safe and keeping well. While we’re isolating and enjoying some extra down time , what better opportunity could there be to grow your harp skills and elevate your playing. Don’t put it off any longer!

While regular live lessons may be on hold, this isn’t stopping us from enjoying harmonica learning at the Harp Surgery. Indeed, the Good Doctor is ready and waiting to coach you over internet right now! To book your online session, go to our Contact page and get in touch. We look forward to hearing from you very soon. 

Misty – Jerry Portnoy [..with tab]

On my own, would I wander through this wonderland alone.. Misty (Johnny Burke)

In 1995, Jerry Portnoy recorded his landmark harmonica album Home Run Hitter with The Streamliners. The record’s producer was Kim Wilson of The Fabulous Thunderbirds, while Duke Robillard contributed guitar and vocals to the project. The result is a collection of songs that bounce, groove and swing like a beast.

Listen to

For harmonica players, the album provides many rewarding avenues for exploration. This is partly owing to the diverse rhythms and styles Jerry uses, but more importantly because of his unerring attention to detail. The title track Home Run Hitter for example, is one of the finest examples of first position blues harping you’ll ever hear. If this position is new to you, or you just need to brush it up a bit, grab an E harp and play along.

In Misty (the 1954 jazz standard written by pianist Erroll Garner, adopted by Johnny Mathis with lyrics by Johnny Burke), Jerry demonstrates his ability to hit and hold those awkward cross-harp bends that would leave most of us audibly exposed. Add in the exciting transition from ballad to swing time at the midway point, and we have two and half minutes’ worth of sublime jazz. (more…)

Why Are Draw 2 And Blow 3 The Same?

Every truly cultured music student knows

Find your 10 hole C diatonic harmonica and blow hole 3. You’re playing G natural. Now draw hole 2. You’re also playing G natural. So why do we have duplicated notes on our instrument?

Well before we get all technical, for beginners it’s a great way to check that your 2 draw is true and not partially bent when you’re playing. When starting out, 2 draw can be hard to master. It can help to blow 3 and see if you are in pitch by comparing it with your 2 draw. If you’re experiencing problems, check out this helpful post ‘Why is 2 draw so difficult?. Now back to our two note conundrum. No it’s not a mistake, and yes, it does seem strange.

To solve the apparent mystery, let’s first consider blow 3. Our blow notes are arranged uniformly in terms of pitch. If we blow them in sequence from hole 1 to 4, we’ll hear the C major arpeggio. The same goes for holes 4 to 7, and 7 to 10 respectively. It’s the same result in three different octaves, each one higher in pitch than the previous, rather like a piano keyboard. (more…)