Harmonicas, Harps And Heavy Breathers (ISBN 0-8154-1020-4)

The evolution of the people’s instrument

I first picked up a copy of this excellent book by Kim Field shortly after the updated edition was published by Cooper Square Press in 2000. At that time I was only interested in the blues, which meant half the content went unread. But this is a goldmine I keep coming back to. As my appreciation of all things harmonica matures, so Kim Field’s work garners greater relevance.

It should be stressed that the emphasis of Kim Field’s research is on the North American harmonica heritage, although the UK’s Tommy Reilly is awarded five pages in the Classical Music chapter and there is brief mention of the burgeoining British bands of the 1960s in the Rock and Roll chapter. Nonetheless, Field’s work combines the best aspects of a good read and a very handy reference resource.

There are twelve chapters in all, plus an intriguing epilogue and afterword. In the opening chapter, Field charts an ancient journey from the South East Asian roots of the free reed instrument family to the harmonica’s eventual landfall in the USA.

The first Hohner instruments to reach the United States may have been sent to some relatives of Matthias Hohner who had emigrated to Chicago. Hohner signed his first export agreements with buyers in the United States in 1862, and the firm began introducing harmonicas named after popular Americam musical heroes, including the Marine Band (a bow to John Philip Sousa’s celebrated aggregation) and the Caruso. (more…)

Blues Harp From Scratch (ISBN 0-7119-4706-6)

Can you recommend a good book for learning blues harp?

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. (more…)