Pencil Full Of Lead – Paolo Nutini

Sunny Side UpI got food in my belly, a license for my telly and nothing’s gonna bring me down!

We’ve only just caught on to this track, but you should have seen the shenanigans around the breakfast table down at the Harp Surgery this morning. The Good Doctor was blowing bass on an empty scrumpy jar, Elwood was harping his little head off, Otis the postman was tapping his teaspoon on the side of his cup and the Riverboat Captain was dancing a maniacal hornpipe around the hazardous waste container. We’ve not had so much fun since last Sunday’s matinée showing of Jungle Book.

We hold our hands up and confess we know next to nothing about Paolo Nutini or his band The Vipers, except they’re from north of the border. Clearly Paolo has been a rising star for some time. For obvious reasons however, one player from amongst The Vipers caught our collective eye. He’s Fraser Speirs, the coolest Laird o’ the Moothie. This man has been a beacon for the diatonic for decades. You can see him in action here with Tam White.

Anyway, we just had to share it with you. So turn up your sound system, grab your G major diatonic (2nd position) and get with the groove! Happy Harping.

And by the way… in case you were wondering, it’s here. And yes he does the Bear Necessities too! For more information on this track and the harmonica content, see our follow up post Pencil Full Of Lead – Which Harmonica?

The Apprenticeship Series Begins

If you’re visiting the Harp Surgery, chances are better than good that you’ve made that crucial transition from being a harmonica owner to a harmonica player.

You might have come to realise – however late in the game – that those reeds are supposed to be bent, and now you have to figure out how. Or maybe you’ve been bending for a while and can hit a Bb on or a C# on a C harp with perfect ease – but you still can’t make that sucker sing like a bluesbird. Or perhaps you’d like to explore new positions, trying to unlock the first-position treasures of Big Walter Horton or build up an arsenal of third-position riffs. Hell, maybe you just want to learn a fox chase.

Well, hello friends. My name’s Murray Elwood, and I’m one of you. Guys like the Good Doctor can say they’ve been there and done that; like you, I’m still there and I’m still trying to get it done. (more…)

Introducing Elwood The Apprentice

I’ll have to prescribe the strongest medicine I’ve got

JT30We have some important news dear reader. In recent weeks, the popularity of the Harp Surgery has been growing faster than a wheat field on eco-friendly fertilizer. ‘Great stuff’ we hear you say – and we don’t mean the cow poo.

Unfortunately for the Good Doctor, this has resulted in long hours of chain-gang labour which, at his time in life, is really not good for the health. For a moment we were worried he had contracted the rockin’ pneumonia and the boogie woogie flu. Which is a grave situation for harp players. When tooting the blues burger, there is nothing more ornery than cold sores, snot and breathlessness – apart perhaps from a wah-wah hand that has recently been chopping onions. Either way, it’s hard to sustain your throat vibrato. (more…)

Beefing Up Those Bends – 4 Draw Bend

Here’s a simple two-part exercise to help strengthen your 4 draw bend. We’ll assume you have already found your draw bend, but haven’t perfected playing it in isolation without scooping down from the clean draw. If you have already perfected them, you may still find this exercise useful in sustaining your bending muscles and add it to you ‘harp gym’ regime. Hitting a bend accurately and without scooping is known as direct bending – a skill which is central to controlled playing. If you haven’t yet attempted any bends, why not take a look at the draw bend page from my Harp Skills menu here.

Stage One

We start by moving from the draw note down to the draw bend as slowly as possible. The objectives are to maintain a good tone (no loose air), a respectable amount of volume and to control the descent. Now do this again, but saving enough lung capacity to hold the bend as long as possible. Remember to descend as slowly as possible first. (more…)

What Does ‘Cupped Harp’ Mean?

‘Work your hands from day to day, The winds will blow the profit.’ Louis MacNiece

Introduction

It all boils down to what you do with your hands. When playing acoustically, there are two principal hand positions – open and closed. Harp players also call the closed position ‘cupped’. The term ‘cupped’ probably derives from the way we would naturally use our hands to scoop and hold drinking water.

When playing amplified harmonica there are three further scenarios that need consideration; the way we use our hands changes in each case. The first scenario is playing semi-acoustically through a vocal microphone (mic). The second is playing with an open hand position through a hand held mic. The third is playing with cupped hands through a hand held mic. (The hand held mic can be either the vocal mic or a separate harp mic). Let’s look at all the options in greater depth. (more…)

Perfecting that 2 draw bend – Low Rider (War) [..with tab]

Lee OskarFew students ever arrive at the Harp Surgery knowing exactly how many bends there are or where they’re all located. Some think they do, but on closer inspection find there are gaps in their knowledge or ability. Some can draw bend but not blow bend. Some are unable to bend at all. This is a skill area that almost always needs attention. I firmly believe players of any ability should spend time working on the accuracy of their direct bends. No matter how good you are, those 3 hole draw bends can never be taken for granted.

When you start bending, it always pays to remember the Harp Surgery’s golden rule – it’s ok to make mistakes. That’s why they put erasers on the end of pencils. Perfecting your bends will involve an amount of trial and error. You will learn from your mistakes. And remember this is one of the most significant points of any harp player’s development. Be patient and persevere. You’re breaking into the big time!

In another article, we spoke about monitoring the accuracy of bends – How do I know I’m bending in tune? My conclusion was that all the electronic paraphernalia in the world is no substitute for using your own ears. Furthermore, instead of learning each individual bend in isolation with an electronic tuning device to determine your accuracy, far better to pick a fun tune and learn to play the bends in context. You’re a musician after all. If the bends ain’t right, the tune don’t work! (more…)

Jason Ricci – Biscuits and Blues, San Francisco 5th Dec 2007

Prelude

Jason RicciDeeply disturbed by my encounter with Barry Manilow outside Tiffany’s this afternoon (literally!), I was in serious need of some rehabilitation. Mercifully the Copacabana was closed for staff training, so Biscuits and Blues it was to be – where, to my good fortune, harmonica wizard Jason Ricci would be weaving his magic. Plenty of good hoodoo was assured.

Actually, I had never heard of Jason before, but he came highly recommended by Dave Barrett (Harmonica Master Class) and I intended to correct my ignorance. Dave couldn’t make the gig, but Aki Kumar, one of his students, was at the bar nursing a beer. We made our acquaintances and Aki initiated my re-education. Jason, he informed me, is originally from Maine, but currently works out of Nashville. His influences include Pat Ramsey and Johnny Winter, while his style includes fast flowing third position patterns, overblows and licks drawn from jazz, rock, samba and swing.

Jason took the stage playing through what looked like a Shure SM57 or Unidyne mic, into a 4×10 tweed 59 Bassman. The sound he created was at times reminiscent of Johnny Mars in full flight. Avant garde in urban blues terms, it is not your classic Chicago crunch, but a synthesised variant. The tone is a challenge at first, in fact it is ‘in your face’, but you quickly acclimatise.

Musically and artistically, Jason is as challenging as his adopted harp tone. He has planted his flag on the ramparts of Fort Radical. His appearance and his persona is that of an edgy Punk. His energy is arresting. His playing is simply astonishing. If I had to credit specific harmonica players and bands for redefining the blues’ boundaries, Blues Traveler, Alabama 3, Little Axe, Lee Sankey, Lee Oskar and Sugar Blue readily come to mind. Jason Ricci vaults them all.

(more…)