I am often asked this question and the answer is yes. One I often prescribe is Blues Harp from Scratch by Mick Kinsella, published by Wise Publications. I remember its first incarnation, Play Blues Harp In 60 Minutes, which I picked up at a Johnny Mars master class in Brighton a few years ago. It was a pocket size manual and CD which, although brief and not error free, was actually very easy to get along with. It was well structured, concise and free from inaccuracy. Of course you could never really learn blues harp in one hour, that takes years rather than minutes, however this was a great little entry guide.
The revised and extended A4 version is great. As you would expect, it introduces you to the C major scale and breathing exercises straight away, before tackling Oh Susanna and Amazing Grace in first position. With the basics familiarised, Mr Kinsella moves into cross harp using the basic, bend-free, blues scale 2D 3D 4B 4D 5D 6B with more exercises. Two lovely blues tunes follow, Easy Street and Trouble Free Blues, both of which educate the newcomer in the art of chord changes and promote technique building such as glottal stops, short runs and repeated blues licks across holes 1 and 2. The tunes can be challenging at first, but they help to build important foundation skills.
Here she comes, around the bend
Next comes note bending. Exercises and study pieces for holes 4 and 6 draw bends are tackled first, followed by the more difficult 3 draw and 2 draw bends, complete with a selection of riffs. Full tone and part tone bends are then explored before moving into direct bending and additional riffs using the full blues scale 2D 3D’ 4B 4D’ 4D 5D 6D and back.
With the bottom end charted, later lessons focus on blow bending in holes 7, 8 and 9. These are dealt with in short order compared to the draw bends. Some more information on blow bend technique would be beneficial, however there is always the CD to listen to for guidance. Wah-wahs, head rolls and tongue rolls are mapped out next, although in my opinion tongue rolls are a slight red herring. Then throat vibrato, jaw vibrato and finally note splitting. The last study piece, Lake Shore Drive, draws all the newly mastered skills together over a wonderful concluding Chicago shuffle.
Mick Kinsella guides you expertly through the essentials of blues playing with clarity and in a musical way. The tab doesn’t just comprise arrows and numbers, it has formal notation too. This is good. Newcomers should learn to associate their playing with traditional score, complete with note values, rests and time signatures. The study pieces are not designed as backdrops for special effects. They help to build an understanding of how tunes progress through chord changes towards resolution (unless of course you’re vamping over a mesmeric one chord wonder such as Shake Your Hips or Boogie Chillen). There are still one or two typos in the tab and scores, but you’ll quickly spot and correct them for yourself.
My only suggestion for improvement is that when the package is updated, the study pieces and exercises on the CD would benefit not just from Mick’s examples, but also from shadow tracks. This way students can build confidence playing along in tandem before venturing into their first solos.