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…)

Harp The Herald Angels Sing!

Christmas VoucherChristmas Carols on the diatonic harmonica

In thanks to everyone who has tuned in to the Harp Surgery this year, we would like to share some seasonal music with you. So grab your harps (and maybe a friend with a harp) and let’s look at Silent Night, Jingle Bells and Angels From The Realms Of Glory.
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The Addams Family Theme [..with tab]


They’re creepy and they’re kooky

Get with it gang – it’s Halloween! As we can see, the Doc has been busy working on his ghoulish face painting skills. Meanwhile Elwood has been imitating a two-stroke chainsaw engine on a low F harp, while sporting a hockey mask and leather apron. Otis the postman has been demonstrating his Thriller routine to the Harp Surgery’s new cleaning lady, our Monica from up north, and showing us how he can swap his eyeballs over. For her part, Monica is dressed as Lily Munster. The Riverboat Captain rang to say he is counting his Cape Fear chest tattoos and watching Dead Of Night. Meanwhile…It’s close to midnight and something evil’s lurking in the dark.. (more…)

Love Me Do – The Beatles [..with tab]

Beatles HarmonicaI’ll always be true, so please, love me do

Much has been written about John Lennon’s harmonica playing with The Beatles. He started playing at a time in the 1960’s when American blues music was taking the UK by storm. Little Walter, Muddy Waters, Sonny Boy Williamson and Howlin Wolf all toured the UK. The Rolling Stones were stiff competition in the popularity stakes, with harmonica work by the multi-talented Brian Jones and many other UK R&B bands followed.

Listen to

Bruce Channel was also touring the UK on the back of his ‘Hey Baby’ hit (many will be more familiar with the 1990’s cover version, famous for its loutish Ooh-Aah chant). With him was Delbert McClinton, the harmonica player on the hit. Legend has it that Delbert McClinton taught John Lennon cross harp while Channel’s band was touring Merseyside. In a later interview however McClinton busts this myth.

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Little Bitty Pretty One (Rockin Robin) – Rod Piazza [..with tab]

Little bitty pretty one, come on and talk to me

Rod Piazza 2 ©FrankVigil.comIn a previous post we had the good fortune of reviewing Rod Piazza & The Mighty Flyers live in Las Vegas. It was a welcome treat as the Harp Surgery has always been a fan of his work. Little Bitty Pretty One (Rockin’ Robin) brought back happy memories of a time when this instrumental was a hot topic of conversation. It is not just a catchy tune; more importantly it includes a devilish switch between separate draw bends in hole 3 and the straight draw in hole 2. Something the Harp Surgery likes to call a wobble.

Wobbles can be executed in several departments of the harp. They are achieved by direct bending in one hole (this could be a draw bend or a blow bend), rolling into an adjacent hole and then returning to the original bent note or, as in this case, a second bent note in the original hole. Join us on our journey into rocking blues and all will be revealed. (more…)

Culture Club Harmonica II – Karma Chameleon [..with tab]

Karma Chameleon single coverIn Culture Club Harmonica part 1, we studied Judd Lander‘s harp playing on the band’s top 10 hit, Church Of The Poison Mind. Their follow up single, Karma Chameleon, went flying to the top of the charts worldwide, where it stayed for several weeks. To this day it remains a classic of 1980’s pop. Culture Club and Boy George had well and truly arrived.

To recap for a moment, Judd Lander is purported to have taken lessons from Sonny Boy II during his formative playing days in Liverpool. He subsequently relocated to London where he found studio session work and launched Charisma Records. His playing is not complex, relying as it does on cross harp blues sequences, but it is highly polished and instantly recognisable. Full of natural tone and excellent phrasing, Judd Lander gives his harp licks real ‘voice’ without resorting to digital trickery or overdriven tubes.

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The Sailor’s Hornpipe [..with tab]

Marine BandAll the nice girls love a sailor

As an island nation, a good deal of Britain’s military, economic and cultural tradition is drawn from its seafaring experience. So what better way to mark the romance of our heritage than a good old sea shanty?

A few years ago the Doc was chaperoning the West Sussex Youth Orchestra on their tour of Germany and Austria. As a finale to each concert, the orchestra chose to perform Sir Henry Wood’s wonderful Fantasia Of British Sea Songs, a fulcrum of the annual last night of the Proms. The prize number from the fantasia is the Sailor’s Hornpipe. ‘Tis music to stir the heart of any a true Brit; and as the revellers display the glorious eccentricities of their patriotic pride, you just can’t wait for that Mr.Toad car horn and a frenzied climax which, with every tin of spinach on the planet, even Popeye could not sustain. (more…)

Beefing Up Those Bends – 3 Draw Bends

‘Be lion-mettled, proud, and take no care who chafes, who frets, or where conspirers are’ Macbeth (Shakespeare)

Blow Your Harmonica, Son!Brace yourself and take a deep breath. It’s time to face everyone’s worst harmonica nightmare – the three witches. They’re the three hole draws to you and me. As you are no doubt aware, if we exclude the overdraws in hole 10, this is the hole that carries the most bends. And they’re the ones we secretly dread. They never sound as strong as other notes or bends across the harp (even in the hands of the masters) and they never quite do what you want them to. I’ve heard many players camouflaging the reed’s inherent imprecision with vibrato or else they just don’t go there. Like the inconvenient pattern swap across holes 6 and 7, subconsciously we wonder who designed such a frustrating tuning system in the first place.

The message from the Good Doctor is deal with it. Embrace the challenge and don’t shy away. OK, our ears can detect the tonal imperfections, but so what? No cracked eggs, no omelette. It may be the weak spot on the harp, but it’s also part of it’s character and charm. Make it yours. So let’s feel the fear and do it anyway. Follow me.. (more…)

Harmonica Warm-Ups and Workout

Simple practice routines to improve your tone, tempo and breathing.

Welcome to the Harp Surgery’s Physiotherapy Department. The Good Doctor is often asked about ways to warm up, develop breathing and keep all those important harping muscles in trim. Well ultimately everyone has their own regime. The Doc himself oscillates between a good glass of New World Merlot and Marathon runs. And we all suffer from poverty of time when it comes to practising, but no pump, no jump. On which note, we are proud to announce the addition of our Warm-ups and Workout page to the Harp Skills menu. We like to think of it as our harmonica gym.

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