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…)

1st Position Blues Harp – An Introduction (Part 3)

A guide to straight blues harping

In previous posts we considered why 1st position blues can sometimes be left in the shadows. We also touched on building a general awareness of positional playing, how some positions are interchangeable, the Ionian Mode, the low end 1st position blues scale and some low end 1st position signature riffs.

One thing is certain; played well, the top register of the blues harp packs a mighty punch and it’s a crowd pleaser. Any blues harp player who likes to showboat will agree. John Popper of Blues Traveler rips it up with his quickfire high end licks. Sugar Blue blows us away in high altitude 3rd position, while Magic Dick blows the roof off with some soaring cross harp blow bends. In fact a long list of stars knock us down every time with their death-defying, high wire antics. However, it’s not only the fast stuff that delivers. Let’s enjoy a 1st position blues montage then get cracking again.

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A Postcard From Scandinavia

..or when is a harmonica not a harmonica?

Sometimes it is important to take a complete break from the everyday, including the harmonica. A holiday should promote a renewed sense of perspective and a fresh appetite. Which is possibly the true meaning of recreation. And so it is, that not playing the harmonica can actually improve musical creativity.

This summer the Good Doctor vacated the Harp Surgery and repaired to the fresh air of Scandinavia in a bid to recharge the old electrochemical cells. If less is more, then the expansiveness, raw nature and piercing silence of Northern Europe is a source of great spiritual enrichment.

But just when he thought it was safe to run naked from the sauna, our unlikely musical instrument leapt out uninvited. Ain’t it always the way? Take Helsinki Airport for example… (more…)

Harping in Havana – a bluesman’s introduction to Latin diatonic

Latin American diatonic for the uninitiated

To witness Cuba’s musical pulse first hand and sip Mojitos in the sweat of Havana’s Bar Montserrate is privilege enough, but to sit in with the house band Sabor de Cuba, play the diatonic harmonica and get out alive? Ay Caramba! That’s the stuff of dreams.

The Montserrate is a tourist magnet for genuinely good reason. Kitsch-free, under a blanket of humidity and aromatic cigar smoke, the throb of its acoustic Latin music is quite simply mesmerising. Add a splash of Ron Cubano, a serpentine twist of Salsa dancing and you have all the ingredients of an impromptu Latin fiesta. Next time you’re in town, drop in and join the party.

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During a break in the music, house vocalist Luis Franklin presented the band’s bongo drums to guests sitting at the bar. Stepping up, the Good Doctor patted a rhythm across the skins which drew a nod of approval from Luis. Followed by an offer of sale. Sadly a shortfall in funds and luggage space forestalled business and in broken Spanish the Doc explained he too was a poor musician. What do you play? Luis asked. The Doc produced a lone Lee Oskar diatonic from his bag.


1st Position Blues Harp – An Introduction (Part 2)

A guide to straight blues harping

In Part 1 we looked at an overview of first position. We considered why it may be something blues players put off till later. We noted that 1st position blues mainly comprises deep low end draw bends and confident high end blow bends, and that the middle octave has little to offer to those who cannot overbend.

We also recommended that blues players develop the ability to identify positional playing by ear. This isn’t as hard as you might believe. It’s like birdsong. You could probably recognise the call of an owl, a seagull or a finch right? Well the three principal blues harp positions also have their own signatures.

In this, the second part of our series, we look at the bottom end blues scale in 1st position and its trade licks. Meantime here’s more of our series theme tune from Nine Below Zero. The song is called Doghouse and it’s from their second album, Don’t Point Your Finger. It’s played in first position using a B harp and, for information, the opening top-end lick is 10B  10B’ 9B  9B’  8B  7B .

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Octaving The Blues On Harmonica

Blues RemedyPutting double-barreled blues harp into your playing

As a journeyman blues harp player listening to the experts, there were moments when those guys hit what I call the tickle spot and I shuddered with pleasure. For years I just couldn’t work out how they did it. It just sounded like they were producing harmonics and extra fat tone from out of nowhere.

It wasn’t until I broke into third position playing and learned that octaving can be achieved with 5 hole splits – as well as easier 4 hole splits – that the secret began to reveal itself. By reapplying those 5 hole splits to cross harp, the hairs on my neck stood up and I broke out in goose bumps. Bingo! There was that tickle spot. So how do you pick it up?