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…)

Learn How (Not) To Play Harmonica

Hey Negrita’s harmonica player teaches our Apprentice a lesson about tasteful playing

Some time back I got my hands on this acoustic single, “Burn The Whole Place Down” by the British country blues band Hey Negrita, which features my friend Will “Captain Bliss” Greener on harmonica. I’ve mentioned Captain Bliss once or twice here, as his approach to harmonica has taught me a great deal – without really showing me too many riffs and licks, if you catch my meaning.

Perhaps you already see why I thought it was worth consideration. First of all, it’s just a damned catchy song. But I believe there also are (at least) two lessons to be learned in their approach to this performance, and in Will’s contribution to it.


Orange Blossom Special – Charlie McCoy [..with tab]


When I heard Charlie’s recording of Orange Blossom Special for the first time, I was utterly stunned at the speed and accuracy of his technique – it is both jaw busting and jaw dropping. In fact it ranks right at the top of the “I’ll never play like that” top 40.

How do you unravel something so fast and complex? First you need to establish the key Charlie’s playing in. Clearly he starts in the key of C and an F harp in second position seems to do the trick. Initially that is. Until the tune takes a twist. Suddenly, as the melody ascends, modulating the same country lick four times, your F harp no longer does the business. Frustration sets in until the tune recommences its cycle and for a brief period you’re safe again.

So what devilry enables Charlie to reproduce this lightning bluegrass fiddle part on a tin biscuit? Is it some closely guarded Nashville technique? Could it be a particular playing position or a crazy tuning? Only one thing to do in such circumstances. Call international rescue. (more…)