Using Your Head (Or Your Hands)

hPut your hands on your head, Simple Simon says

It was the end of another busy week in the village. There’d been so much rain, the duck pond had swamped the High Street and a family of widgeon was floating past the Surgery’s kitchen window. Our Monica had finished mopping up the puddle by the kitchen door and it looked like there would be no way home for a while, short of borrowing the Good Doctor’s waders.

Time for a nice hot cup of Yorkshire Tea!’ the Good Doctor said cheerily, placing a couple of logs in the AGA and setting the kettle on the hob. ‘Now here’s something I’ve been meaning to ask you for a while,’ he continued, ‘head or hands?’.  Our Monica looked worried. ‘Do you mean heads or tails?‘ she replied cautiously. ‘No, no, when one plays a trill on one’s gob iron, should one move one’s head or one’s hands?’, the Doctor asked in earnest. ‘Doctor, I’m sure I don’t know what you mean,’ giggled Monica. ‘Hmmm, I’ve been weighing it all up..’, the Doctor replied, ‘here’s what I think..’ (more…)

Irish Harmonica – Garryowen

Eireann go Brach.. Happy St Patrick’s Day!

Virtually forgotten in the post-war revival of traditional Irish music, Celtic and folk harmonica has recently enjoyed a massive rise in popularity. This is largely down to the work of Brendan Power and Mick Kinsella, both of whom joined us at the UK Harmonica Festival in Bristol 2010. To celebrate St Patrick’s day, let’s investigate the Irish harmonica style a little further and learn a great tune called Garryowen.

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Brendan’s 1993 recording New Irish Harmonica ultimately led to his tenure in the Riverdance show, bringing him to the forefront of the Irish harmonica style. Meanwhile, native Irishman Mick Kinsella drew on compatriot Eddie Clarke as the major inspiration for his Celtic harping. Both are active on the Irish folk music scene today, as well as TV, Radio and Film. Did we recently hear Brendan on the soundtrack of the Leap Year movie? (more…)

Why is third position a minor key?

Flying Saucer 4Close encounters of the third kind
This question was asked by a student in our Harpin’ By The Sea beginners’ workshop; we had touched on positional playing as a way to extend the scope of the diatonic harmonica. And to be honest, it’s a fair question. Perhaps we accept the fact too easily, without asking or fully understanding the reason why. But we were a group of beginners. So we decided to explain the finer details after the workshop for those who were interested, rather than risk putting the majority off music for life. Here’s the result.

If you are unfamiliar with the concept of modes and positions, then I recommend you first check out the post entitled Modes (or visit Modes via the Theory menu at the top of the screen) and come back when you’re comfortable with everything. It’s quick and it won’t hurt! (more…)

Modes

Blues Remedy..The Dormouse had closed its eyes by this time, and was going off into a doze; but, on being pinched by the Hatter, it woke up again with a little shriek, and went on: “—that begins with an M.. (Alice In Wonderland – Lewis Carroll)

Why is it the slightest hint of the M word triggers narcolepsy in harmonica players? We smile wistfully, we nod politely, then we glaze over and let everything entering one ear pass straight out of the other. In fact the quicker, the better – we’ve enough trouble in our day already. Basically, talk of modes never, ever, makes sense and a visit to the dentist for a double root canal filling would be infinitely more pleasurable. Aren’t modes what jazzers do? We play blues, and blues comes from the heart right? Well, listen up and listen good – WRONG! Here’s how it all works.. (more…)

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.

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‘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…)

The Moothie

Happy St.Andrew’s Day

Cantie Saunt Dandie’s Day tae ye! Or if you’re a speaker of Scottish Gaelic, Beannachtai ne Feile Aindréas!

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We had considered running an article on how to play Amazing Grace, but discovered, to our surprise, this may not be the traditional Caledonian Air we’d imagined. We also thought about the Sky Boat Song, or Scotland The Brave, but harp tab for this is freely available on the interweb. So instead, we decided to post an introduction to the tradition of the Scottish mouth organ – or Moothie. And, as a small bonus, we’ve thrown in a neat little bagpipe trick we picked up from Joe Filisko..

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Why Is 2 Draw So Difficult?

ONE FROM THE ARCHIVES: Problems with draw 2 came up in a Harp Surgery lesson today, so we thought a revisit was overdue. Here’s our original post from five years ago with some important updates.

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Help, my harmonica is broken!

When learning to play individual notes for the first time, 2 draw is often the hardest reed to master. ‘Is it me or is there something wrong with my harmonica?‘ is normally the question that arises. The short answer is, it ain’t the harp!

2 draw is a long old reed moving through a big old slot. And with a choice of one clean and two bent draw notes (as well as an adjacent blow reed that facilitates the bends), the draw reed itself is pretty sensitive. As a beginner, we get the feeling that 2 draw refuses to co-operate. It also seems to empty our lungs much faster than all the other reeds.

Fear not. Let’s look into this together and overcome an important hurdle in every harmonica player’s development. It’s a short process and we promise you it’s all quite painless. (more…)

Country Harmonica – First Steps

I’m going up the country, baby do you wanna go?

So you’re a blues harp player and you’ve been asked to cover a country tune. Or perhaps the blues got you started on the harp, but now you want to try something different. Either way, where do you begin? You could try kicking off your shoes, rolling up your britches, wearing a big old cowpoke hat and wedging a tooth pick in your teeth. Not.

The answer is to start by mapping out the essential notes. We can look at technique and learn licks in future posts. But as a blues player, or any kind of player, the place to start is with the Country Scale. Let’s go.. (more…)

Amazing Grate – First Steps On Those High End Holes

How strange the sound

Young Malcolm called into the Harp Surgery today, hot on the heels of our Harpin’ By The Sea event. Having witnessed Will Greener’s performance of Amazing Grace, he was keen to revisit the tune from scratch.

Using a C major 10 hole diatonic, we knew that the tune can be played using 7B as the root. But while this avoids any nasty bends, it does sound rather shrill. Also, as a beginner, it demands a strong embouchure and some dexterity around a specific triplet of notes. (more…)

1st Position Blues Harp – An Introduction (Part 3)

A guide to straight blues harping

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 end 1st position signature riffs (links below).

One thing is certain; played well, the top register of the blues harp packs a mighty punch and it’s a crowd pleaser. Any blues harp player who likes to showboat will agree. John Popper of Blues Traveler rips it up with his quickfire high end licks. Sugar Blue blows us away in high altitude 3rd position, while Magic Dick blows the roof off with some soaring cross harp blow bends. A long list of stars knock us down every time with their death defying high wire antics. But it’s not only the fast stuff that delivers.

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