Big River Harp – Step by Step

Step by Step starter set iStarter Set for Blues Harp by Steve Baker

As regular visitors to the Surgery will know, we hold immense respect for the work Steve Baker does in harmonica education and as a consultant to Hohner harmonicas. Having proudly hosted Steve at our Harpin’ By The Sea Festival in 2013, we recently stumbled upon his Step by Step module for blues harp beginners. Ever curious, we duly purchased a copy so we could take a good look under the hood. Here’s what we found. (more…)

Yolonda’s Genius by Carol Fenner

Yolanda's Genius 2Yolonda’s Genius – Carol Fenner

The Doc discovered this excellent read while researching harmonica stories for the 12-15 year olds he teaches around the County. It would make an excellent Christmas or birthday present for girls or boys in this age bracket. It’s also a fun read for adults!

Yolonda is smart, tough, and big for her age. Back in Chicago where she used to live, everyone knew better than to mess with her or her little brother, Andrew. Andrew doesn’t talk very much and he can’t read, but he can create unbelievable music on the old harmonica his father left him.

Carol Fenner paints a great picture of US School life, building her story on modern Afro-American culture, including Double-Dutch rope jumping and the annual Chicago Blues Festival. There’s even a cameo featuring  BB King. Fenner also addresses issues of family life, bullying, drugs and special needs learning, with the magic of harmonica music providing the all-important central thread. True genius rearranges old material in a way never seen before. Find out where Andrew’s genius takes him.

Yolonda’s Genius is published by Simon & Schuster (ISBN 0-689-82172-7). Buy at Amazon UK or Amazon US

Au Clair De La Douzième Position (Shedding Light On 12th Position)

365 Tunes For The Four Hole Harmonica Au Clair de la Lune, mon ami Pierrot

Today Otis the Harp Surgery’s postman dropped off a delivery from those lovely people at Amazon.co.uk; Pat Missin’s handsome new manual, The Ultimate Miniature Harmonica Tunebook. And as he trudged round the duck pond, amidst the late snow and expectant quacks, Otis was whistling a familiar French folk tune.

Listen to

‘Pour l’amour de Dieu’, the Good Doctor sympathised as he gingerly opened the Surgery’s front door, ‘come inside and warm yourself before you freeze your assets’. ‘Don’t mind if I do’, replied Otis pausing from his musical méandre, ‘Get that kettle on. Mine’s a Julie Andrews’.  (more…)

Journeyman’s Road by Adam Gussow, pt 2

Journeyman's RoadIgnoring the politics of blues music is like ignoring the crocodile swimming in your Coco Pops. Elwood the Apprentice looks at Gussow’s essays on how to position yourself within the blues tradition.

He was wearing a pink tuxedo and patent leather shoes. He towered over me… Suddenly he was quivering with anger, his finger in my face. You don’t know me. You don’t know anything about me. You don’t know where I’ve been.– Whose Blues?, Adam Gussow.

Note: This is a long post, so I’m going to reward those who read to the bottom by revealing the identity of the man in the pink tuxedo who challenges Adam Gussow backstage in the late 1990s. (more…)

Journeyman’s Road by Adam Gussow (Part 1)

Elwood the Apprentice seeks wisdom in the holy scriptures (of blues harmonica)

[UPDATE: Part 2 of the review is now live.]

Well, as I was saying – it’s the end of a Gussow era but not the end of the Gussow era. There’ll be no more free YouTube lessons, but there’s more Gussow wisdom to be harvested for the apprentice blues player – assuming you’ve not yet read Journeyman’s Road: Modern Blues Lives from Faulkner’s Mississippi to Post-9/11 New York.

“In the skilled blue-collar trades,” writes Gussow, “a journeyman is a way station and job category: no longer an apprentice, not yet a master.”

Well, there you have it. This delightful patchwork of essays, scatter shot and rapid-fire in their wisdom, chronicles Gussow’s journey to becoming a master – and he’s crammed in every titbit of wisdom accrued along the way. It’s like a little street manual on how to graduate from your apprenticeship and start the sometimes weary trudge towards mastery. There are threads on blues culture, threads on jam session etiquette and ‘sitting in’, threads on blues history and blues future. And the result is a palimpsest which, when held up to the light, might just give us new ways to understand ourselves. (more…)

Harmonica For Dummies (ISBN 978-0-470-33729-5) – Part 1

Harmonica For DummiesI like it, I love it, I want some more of it..

Don’t just sit there, check out our Music Store and order a copy now. You’d be stark staring mad not to. This is a phenomenal piece of work. It is THE comprehensive tutorial book we’ve all been sitting around hoping someone, some day might eventually drop in our laps. You probably know the basics – and Winslow reviews these in his clear and engaging way – but what about that scary stuff beyond blow bending, octaving, tongue blocking and first, second or third positional playing?

For too long now we’ve been led, often erroneously, from entry level into the realms of intermediate playing and then abandoned like a McDonalds wrapper in the car park of life. Anything else has to be begged, borrowed or stolen from resources on YouTube or from pros who suffer extreme poverty of time. So we tend to give up and our development is curtailed. For ever. Alternatively the available information is so horribly technical that a nice cup of tea with Otis, or a comfy chair and re-run of Friends is infinitely more compelling. (more…)

Harmonicas, Harps And Heavy Breathers (ISBN 0-8154-1020-4)

The evolution of the people’s instrument

I first picked up a copy of this excellent book by Kim Field shortly after the updated edition was published by Cooper Square Press in 2000. At that time I was only interested in the blues, which meant half the content went unread. But this is a goldmine I keep coming back to. As my appreciation of all things harmonica matures, so Kim Field’s work garners greater relevance.

It should be stressed that the emphasis of Kim Field’s research is on the North American harmonica heritage, although the UK’s Tommy Reilly is awarded five pages in the Classical Music chapter and there is brief mention of the burgeoining British bands of the 1960s in the Rock and Roll chapter. Nonetheless, Field’s work combines the best aspects of a good read and a very handy reference resource.

There are twelve chapters in all, plus an intriguing epilogue and afterword. In the opening chapter, Field charts an ancient journey from the South East Asian roots of the free reed instrument family to the harmonica’s eventual landfall in the USA.

The first Hohner instruments to reach the United States may have been sent to some relatives of Matthias Hohner who had emigrated to Chicago. Hohner signed his first export agreements with buyers in the United States in 1862, and the firm began introducing harmonicas named after popular Americam musical heroes, including the Marine Band (a bow to John Philip Sousa’s celebrated aggregation) and the Caruso. (more…)

Blues Harp From Scratch (ISBN 0-7119-4706-6)

Can you recommend a good book for learning blues harp?

I am often asked this question and the answer is yes. One I often prescribe is Blues Harp from Scratch by Mick Kinsella, published by Wise Publications. I remember its first incarnation, Play Blues Harp In 60 Minutes, which I picked up at a Johnny Mars master class in Brighton a few years ago. It was a pocket size manual and CD which, although brief and not error free, was actually very easy to get along with. It was well structured, concise and free from inaccuracy. Of course you could never really learn blues harp in one hour, that takes years rather than minutes, however this was a great little entry guide.

The revised and extended A4 version is great. As you would expect, it introduces you to the C major scale and breathing exercises straight away, before tackling Oh Susanna and Amazing Grace in first position. With the basics familiarised, Mr Kinsella moves into cross harp using the basic, bend-free, blues scale 2D 3D 4B 4D 5D 6B with more exercises. Two lovely blues tunes follow, Easy Street and Trouble Free Blues, both of which educate the newcomer in the art of chord changes and promote technique building such as glottal stops, short runs and repeated blues licks across holes 1 and 2. The tunes can be challenging at first, but they help to build important foundation skills. (more…)