More Beatles Harmonica [..with tab]

Beatles harpTo the toppermost of the poppermost

Further to our harmonica study of Love Me Do, we should now take a further look at John Lennon’s harmonica recordings with the Beatles.

Not including the harmonica quartet on Sergeant Pepper’s For The Benefit Of Mr.Kite, we have identified at least a dozen Beatles tracks that feature harmonica. To be brutal, most of these are either ‘minor’ pieces from the band’s catalogue or else examples of Lennon’s harmonica work in its unaccomplished state. Rocky Racoon or Little Child for instance have particularly ‘unsophisticated’ harmonica parts. On I’ll Get You, the harmonica is badly out of tune.

What quickly becomes apparent is that John Lennon’s melodic use of the Chromatic harmonica was probably more comfortable than his diatonic work. With the Chromatic he could skilfully sidestep the need for reed bending on the short harp, which was not something he had yet mastered in the early 1960’s. We’ve chosen to help you nail three tunes where John Lennon’s harp lines feature most strongly..

I Should Have Known Better

This is the perfect number for getting any group of beginners blowing and drawing a C diatonic for the first time. Harp teachers and workshop leaders take note. It’s in C major using straight harp, so grab your C diatonic and get ready.

In 1964 the Beatles met Bob Dylan for the first time. It was a meeting that inspired a whole new level of songwriting for the band. I Should Have Known Better was an early result and the last Beatles song to feature harmonica in its opening bars. The history books also tell us it took Lennon three attempts to get the whole thing right. On the second attempt he dissolved into hysterics over his own harmonica playing. Here’s the tab for the basic lick.

2D-3D-4D   2D-3D-4D

3B-4B-5B   3D-4D-5D   3B-4B-5B

2D-3D-4D   2D-3D-4D

Note that Lennon tends to hold the harmonica with his right hand for the first line and uses the ‘toothbrush’ technique to achieve a trilled chord. Review the full track to see how often this phrase is repeated.

Please Please Me

This was the Beatles’ first number one and again the harmonica provides a famous signature to the intro. Pat Missin has analysed the harmonica used on the track and concludes that it must have been an E major Chromatic. You can play the same riff using straight harp on an E major diatonic from 7B, but it will be an octave higher than the recording. Dropping down an octave to 4B on the same diatonic necessites a direct bend on 3D” to complete the riff which is not what we hear on the original recording either, but there are grounds to suggest Lennon may have used an Echo Vamper diatonic with its lower diatonic octave.

For good measure however, here is the tab for a contemporary E major diatonic..

7B   7D   6D   6B

6D..6B   5B

And for an E major chromatic (I’m using a Hohner CX12)

8B   8D   7D   7B

7D..7B   6B

From Me To You

According to legend, this hit was written on the Helen Shapiro tour bus (the Beatles were a support act) on the way to sunny Shrewsbury. The result is a third example of a harmonica riff providing the memorable signature to a pop song. It only appears in three short bursts, but it is instantly recognisable.

As with Please Please Me, the harp used may not be as obvious as you’d imagine. The song is played in C major, but using a contemporary 10 hole C diatonic from 4B would again necessitate a direct draw bend on 3D” to complete the phrase. Pat Missin’s conclusion is that an Echo Vamper with it’s extended lower octave may have been used from 7B; or else perhaps rather more likely a C major Chromatic.

Venerable as I may be, I don’t possess an Echo Vamper so I’m going to open the tab firstly with a Lee Oskar Melody Maker labelled in G (remembering that G is the cross-harp key stamped on what is actually a C major instrument). This allows you to play the main riff on a diatonic instrument without that awkward 3D” bend. Then for a C Chromatic where again I’m using a Hohner CX12.

Lee Oskar Melody Maker in G

Opening riff..

4B   4D   5B

4D   4B   4D   4D   3B (Repeat)

Middle section

4B   4D   5B

4D   4B   4D   4D   3B

4B   4D   5B

4D   4B   6D   6D   6B

End section

4D   4B

4D   4B

4D   4B

4B   4D   5B

4D   4B   4D   4D   3B

 

C Major Chromatic (Hohner CX12)

Opening riff..

5B   5D   6B

5D   5B   5D   5D   3D (Repeat)

Middle section

5B   5D   6B

5D   5B   5D    5D   3D

5B   5D   6B

5D   5B   7D   7D   7B

End section

5D   5B

5D   5B

5D   5B

5B   5D   6B

5D   5B   5D   5D   3D

32 thoughts on “More Beatles Harmonica [..with tab]

  • April 21, 2010 at 2:14 am
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    The harmonica on these early hits served to accentuate the Beatles as being something new and distinctive. Please Please Me was only the third song they ever recorded (excluding the early Hamburg stuff and demos).. it started out life as a kind of doomy Roy Orbison rip-off, until Uncle George Martin decided they should speed it up, bang in the harmony vocals and, at the session, double up Harrison’s guitar riff on harp. “Congratulations, gentlemen, you’ve just made your first number one’, he said over the talkback once the song was complete .. and indeed they had.

  • April 22, 2010 at 6:38 pm
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    A couple of comments on the Beatles harmonica stuff.

    On “Please Please Me” you say “Pat Missin has analysed the harmonica used on the track and concludes that it must have been an E major Chromatic. ” Actually, it could have been either an E chrom, or an Echo Vamper in E. Impossible to be certain from the recording, but I suspect that an Echo Vamper in E might have been more readily obtainable in London back then than a Chromonica in E. However, impossible to be certain.

    Speaking of Echo Vampers, on “From Me To You” it could have been either a C chromatic or an Echo Vamper – not an Echo Super Vamper. The Echo Super Vamper was available in the standard range of keys from G to F#, so an Echo Super Vamper would have been an octave too high for this riff. The Echo Vamper was identical to the Marine Band 364 and was made in low C, which would fit this tune perfectly starting on 7 blow. As we know Lennon definitely had a chromatic in the key of C, then I suspect that this is what he used on this track, but again, it’s impossible to say with any certainty.

    For a couple of years now, I’ve been meaning to add audio clips and tablature to my Beatles harmonica page, but you’ve saved me the job! I’ll just add a link to your pages, if that’s OK.

  • April 22, 2010 at 7:14 pm
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    Mr Missin! Thanks for setting me straight on the Vamper/Super Vamper information, much appreciated. I’ll revise the text for accuracy. Meanwhile of course I’m more than happy for you to link up – it would be a great honour :O)

  • April 23, 2010 at 5:33 pm
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    I must admit I’ve never really understood why the bigger harp with more holes was just the plain old Echo Vamper, but the smaller harp with fewer holes was deemed to be “Super”.

  • July 6, 2010 at 2:21 am
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    There is also another song by the Beatles that uses a chord harmonica much the same as “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite” called “Fool on the Hill” off of “Magical Mystery Tour”. There is also a song off of Lennon’s 1971 solo album “Imagine” called “Oh Yoko” that has harp that sounds much like “Rocky Racoon”.

  • July 28, 2010 at 2:45 am
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    En el solo de guitarra de I SHOULD HAVE KNOWN BETTER NOW la armónica suena como el principio de la canción, pero antes de terminar el solo, la tonalidad cambia de DO (C) a RE (D) y se escucha a la armónica tocando las notas RE – FA# antes de cambiar a SOL7.

    ¿Como Lennon puede presionar RE – FA# con una armónica en C? ¿O graba estas notas con una armónica en D?

    Gracias.

  • July 28, 2010 at 5:25 pm
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    Using Google Translate: In the guitar solo I SHOULD HAVE KNOWN BETTER, the harmonica sounds like the beginning of the song, but before finishing the solo, the key changes to DO (C) RE (D) and is heard playing the RE notes (F#) before switching to SOL 7. How can Lennon press RE (F#) with a harmonica in C? Or did he record these notes with a harmonica in D?

    Thank you.

  • November 22, 2010 at 3:50 am
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    plese im interested in beatles songs just for my echo hohner in key C. could you give a link with that particular tabs? ???

  • November 23, 2010 at 9:02 pm
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    Hi Luis. I don’t have anything I can point you straight to. But if you search out a particular Beatles song title and harp tab on the net, I am sure you’ll find what you need.

  • May 12, 2011 at 4:24 am
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    thanks for the time you have spent on this web site it is excellent A+. I’ve been playing Harp for 40+ years and I am still learning. thanks again-Joe

  • May 26, 2011 at 9:56 am
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    Joe – thank you for visiting. Your comments are very welcome. Keep coming back. And do let us know if there is anything in particular you’d like us to cover.

  • July 11, 2011 at 4:22 am
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    I would like to know what harmonica John Lennon is playing in I’m a Loser?

  • July 11, 2011 at 9:35 am
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    Short answer – a C major diatonic blues harp in 2nd (Cross Harp) position. He’s playing along to the key of G major, focussing on draw notes. The harp sequences come in two 10 second hits at 1:15 and 2:10. The playing is quite crude, no single note playing, but folky style groups of notes, amongst which the melody is discernable. Lennon himself admitted this was him in his Dylan period. He ends each harp sequence on a low, rattling, draw 1 bend (D) which echoes the low G of the vocal line – an unusual excursion into baritone vocal register for a singer who usually hit the tenor range. The song was written in 1964 and appeared on the Beatles For Sale album. It was going to be released as a single, however I Feel Fine took its place.

  • October 7, 2011 at 4:07 am
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    Does anybody knows why Hohner didn’t manufacturing Echo Super Vampers anymore? People want to play Beatle songs and make them sound as original as possible. Crazy world. Thanks to Rickenbacker, Gretsch, Gibson an another trade marks which ones makes the dream still cross generations.

  • December 23, 2012 at 3:12 pm
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    jhon lennon was a great harp player ,singer and composer.genius

  • January 10, 2013 at 10:02 pm
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    OK….that all you had to say? If so, Allelujah bro!

  • July 8, 2013 at 9:47 pm
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    Would you please tab – There’s a Place? I think it is on a C Chromatic?
    Thank you.

  • October 30, 2013 at 2:18 am
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    Where I can find the harmonica tab for I´m a Loser? Thanks in advance

  • November 30, 2013 at 2:29 pm
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    Omar – I’m frowning and growling at you, but with a friendly glint in my eye. My gut response is, ‘figure it out for yourself amigo, John Lennon had to!’. My second response is, ‘what exactly do you want to be tabbed; the harp parts are a mess…?’. It’s like giving someone a bucket of live eels and asking them to draw the contents for you. Ain’t gonna happen. And furthermore, what your ears tell you you’re hearing will probably be different to what I’m hearing, and the next guy. HOWEVER, as I’m such a nice man, I’m working on an explanation of what Lennon himself called his Bob Dylan phase; it may include a ‘guide tab’, so watch this space and tell all your friends!

  • July 4, 2014 at 7:20 pm
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    Blimey Dave, there are only four notes mate! C Chromatic mouth organ it is: 5D+ 6B 5D+ 5B+ [+ means with the shutter pressed in]. The first note is held for three crotchet beats (a dotted minim). The middle two notes are slurred quiver beats. The last note is two beats (minim), followed by a minim rest. So One-Two-Three, Four-and, One-two rest rest. Hope this helps ;O)

  • August 28, 2015 at 7:52 pm
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    In 1966 John Lennon donated a harmonica to the Red Cross charity shop in Upper St. Islington The shop put a price of £30 on it and it was bought by a friend of mine. The harmonica is a Larry Adler Professional 16 Chromatic C. Inside the case is a slip of paper which reads”Happy birthday John ” from “GH” THe instrument is a cherished possession and is not for sale but I thought you might find this interesting. Regards Eddie Archer

  • October 2, 2015 at 9:23 am
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    Great article. Surely From me To you tab for G harmonica is wrong? Opening riff should be 5d 6b 6d 6b 5d 6b 6b 4d.

    I’ve never played a C chromatic. Is it possible to get the low A (that ends the opening riff) on chromatic without having to bend?

  • October 3, 2015 at 11:53 am
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    Sorry wilf. Just realised that melody maker had different tuning to normal G

  • November 13, 2015 at 10:33 am
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    Thanks for this lovely anecdote Eddie. Does your friend still have it? GH being George Harrison?

  • January 18, 2016 at 2:09 pm
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    Hi Motrcycleboy. You’d be right if we were playing a regular 10 hole G diatonic harp. It’s Dorian Mode, or 3rd position. Perhaps I missed a trick here. But I also chose a G Lee Oskar MELODY MAKER in the example, just to be awkward! So the tuning’s different. The tab should be correct for a Melody Maker harp. I just checked your chromatic query too, and yes it is possible. Thanks for your valuable input.

  • January 20, 2016 at 6:01 pm
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    how does lennon get the f sharp at the end of the harmonica solo, on i should have known better, i suspect he uses a c diatonic backed up with a c chromatic

  • January 31, 2016 at 4:07 pm
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    Hi JC, which song are you referring to? I think they’ve all been analysed quite closely over the years and you can tell a great deal just from the tone of the harmonica track. Let me know the track you mean and I’ll gladly comment. Otherwise google it a bit and you’re sure to find the answer if it isn’t already here. Doc

  • June 5, 2016 at 10:09 pm
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    “In 1964 the Beatles met Bob Dylan for the first time. It was a meeting that inspired a whole new level of songwriting for the band. I Should Have Known Better was an early result and the last Beatles song to feature harmonica in its opening bars.”

    I Should Have Known Better was relesead in july and they met with Bob Dylan one month later. So, get your trivia Beatles facts straight.

  • September 25, 2016 at 2:04 pm
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    Uh oh, Beatles police. Hi Dimitri, I’ll do my best mate. Get your manners sorted too and we’ll be about even.

  • July 31, 2017 at 11:33 pm
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    Does anyone anywhere have the Harmonica Tab for Rocky Raccoon? I have looked but have found nothing. Any help would be truly appreciated!!!!

  • August 2, 2017 at 8:50 pm
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    I suspect the fact there’s no tab out there is because it’s just too tuff to tab. The harp is way back in the mix and it’s played in a busking style (mostly chords and chugs, rather than single notes that can be tabbed out readily). There are also other instruments that compete with the register of harp line later on, to the point that it’s difficult to differentiate one from the other. Whoever starts to tab out what they think is in the harp mix is almost certainly setting themselves up for counter comment and disagreement. My best advice is that it definitely played in 1st Position on a C harp at the upper mid end of the harp. You just have to busk along and try to emulate what you hear. I doubt anybody would risk stepping forward and telling you ‘no, no. no, it goes like this..’. If they do, they’ve started a circular debate and should be prepared to back up their claims with inalienable proof. For now I’ll suggest loosely chugging this chord pattern 5B-6B-7B 5D-6D-7D 5B-6B-7B 4D-5D-6D 4B-5B-5B 4D-5D-6D 5B-6B-7B. Take this and your C harp and start experimenting Scott. Good luck!

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