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.

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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…)

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…

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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…)

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…)