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…)
Deeply disturbed by my chance encounter with Barry Manilow outside Tiffany’s this afternoon, I was in serious need of rehabilitation. Mercifully the Copacabana was closed for staff training, so Biscuits and Blues it was to be my place of convalescence and, to my good fortune, harmonica wizard Jason Ricci would be there, weaving his harp hoodoo and performance mayhem.
To be brutally honest, I had actually never heard of Jason before, but he came highly recommended by Dave Barrett (Harmonica Master Class) and I intended to atone for my ignorance. Dave couldn’t make the gig, but Aki Kumar, one of his protoges, was at the bar nursing a beer. We made our acquaintances and Aki initiated my path to harmonica nirvana. Jason, he informed me, was originally from Maine, but currently works out of Nashville. His influences include Pat Ramsey and Johnny Winter, while his style includes fast flowing third position patterns, overblows and licks drawn from jazz, rock, samba and swing.
Jason took the stage playing through what looked like a Shure SM57 or Unidyne mic, into a 4×10 tweed 59 Bassman. The sound he created was at times reminiscent of Johnny Mars in full flight. Avant garde in urban blues terms, it is not your classic Chicago crunch, but a synthesised variant. The tone is specific and unfamiliar at first, it’s ‘in your face’, but you soon acclimatise to its punk compressions and focus on the artist.
Musically, Jason is as challenging as his adopted harp sound. He has planted his flag on the ramparts of Fort Radical. His persona is gloriously complex and countercultural. His energy is arresting. His playing is simply astonishing. If I had to credit specific harmonica players and bands for redefining the blues’ boundaries, Blues Traveler, Alabama 3, Little Axe, Lee Sankey, Lee Oskar and Sugar Blue readily come to mind. Jason Ricci vaults them all.
When students come to the Harp Surgery for tuition, we begin by setting clear goals. This process starts with a short diagnostic session to identify gaps in a student’s technical skills. It also involves a short playback, so that we can see and hear a student’s level of competency. This is done not as a cold critique of the student’s ability, but to establish exactly where the Harp Surgery can provide practical support and encouragement. In other words, we’re on your side every step of the way.
We can then consider particular pieces of music, styles and players we’d like to investigate. This gives us a healthy balance between exercises, theory and technique learning (foundation stuff), and repertoire (song learning and fun stuff).
For complete Beginners of course, we’re working from a blank sheet and we can build solid foundations from the outset. For others, we will need to address any bad habits, while exploring fresh territory to complete our Beginners Learning Path.
Once we have captured our regular bending skills, thereby adding twelve new notes to our palette, the Beginners Learning Path is complete, and we can embark on our Intermediate Learning Path.
Together we stand, divided we fall
In 2016, John Cook attended Hohner’s prestigious harmonica accreditation training programme at their headquarters in Trossingen, Germany. He was subsequently appointed a member of Hohner’s worldwide accredited Service team.
Today, John manages and operates an excellent harmonica repair and modification service from his base at East Coast Music in Hornchurch, UK.
In a very short space of time, John has become the go-to repair and modification engineer for Hohner harmonica owners, not only in the UK, but internationally.
Come on now people, let’s get on the ball
Periodically, John runs small harmonica repair workshops, and this autumn we joined him alongside a small band of harmonica repair enthusiasts. Covering a wide range of essential skills, from blueprinting new harmonicas out of the box, to standard maintenance procedures and fixes, the day was fully hands-on and well worth the effort.
We dismantled harps, we cleaned harps, we tuned reeds, we gapped reeds, we replaced reeds, we embossed slots, we chatted and we laughed. We even took our first steps in harmonica customisation; by which time we’d gathered a wealth of top tips and handy tools. Best of all, we came away knowing how to approach and solve a range of problems that lurk beneath the average diatonic cover plate.
Come on, come on, let’s work together
If you need help restoring or repairing a broken harmonica, you’ll find a link to John’s website below. But perhaps you’d like to meet John yourself and learn some helpful skills like sanding your harmonica comb and draw reed plate for greater air tightness, correctly gapping your reeds for improved response and, of course, tuning your own instrument confidently.
In which case, get along to the UK’s annual National Harmonica Festival, Harpin’ By The Sea harmonica festival, or to the Blues Weekend in Bucks, where John leads some wonderful drop-in sessions for diatonic and for chromatic players.
Alternatively, check out John’s website and book yourself in for a super Sunday of indulgence in the dark art of harmonica repairs and maintenance. You know it makes sense.
The Good Doctor, Greasy Rob from the garage and Barry the Landlord were enjoying some time out on the patio, shelling a mountain of fresh prawns and sipping ice-cold pilsner. Amidst occasional quacks from the village duck pond and the chirrup of sparrows in the privet hedge, they could detect the approaching whistle of Otis the postman, who was steadily making his rounds.
‘How do all!‘ Otis leaned over the Surgery gate, tugging the peak of his hat and holding out a letter for the Doc. ‘Thanks Otis old boy, have you time for some of our splendid seafood?’ the Doc enquired. ‘Sorry’, Otis replied, ‘I’m in a bit of a rush right now – an Otis rush you could say’. Otis was visibly pleasedwithhis impromptu blues pun.
‘Aaah!‘ said the Doc, ‘You Don’t Love Me!‘ Otis looked a little surprised.‘I wouldn’t go that far‘, he replied, straightening his cap. ‘No, no, no…the letter old boy! It’s from Tom Esposito. He wants to know how to play the riff for You Don’t Love Me by The Allman Brothers’. ‘Now we’re talking!‘ whooped Otis, as he pulled a Special 20 from his pocket, ‘I likes a drop of the AB’s.’
In a good country, virtues wouldn’t be necessary. Everybody could be quite ordinary. Mother CourageBertold Brecht
All you young people, now you listen to me
It was a chilly spring morning. Wood smoke whispered from the Harp Surgery chimney. Unshaven, the Doc stood admiring the laburnum, a steaming mug of Ringtons in one hand and a toasted tea cake in the other. He was listening to Rory McLeod’s Farewell Welfare and contemplating the day ahead when there was a knock on the Surgery’s back door.
Wiping warm butter from his chin, Doc turned down his Sonos and opened the top gable. ‘Morning saviour! A package for you from the dark side.’ It was Otis the mailman. ‘Really? Where’s that then?’, the Doc murmured blearily. ‘Croydon,’ Otis answered, reaching in for one of Monica’s warm buns.