Harmonica Effects 1 – Police Sirens

Jake, Elwood and The Blues MobileOur Lady of blessed acceleration don’t fail me now

As we know, every Blues Harp player grows twitchy when they hear the sound of Cop Cars in pursuit. Unless, of course, they happen to be driving one themselves. But have you ever tried to imitate the sound of a police chase on the harmonica? Grab your nearest diatonic and we’ll take a look. But before we do, just a few words from our sponsors, fresh from the Mount Prospect City police auction..

  • Jake: The Caddy. Where’s the Caddy?
  • Elwood: It’s been traded for a microphone.
  • Jake: I can see that.
  • Elwood: Like it?
  • Jake: No I don’t like it
  • [Elwood floors the gas pedal and leaps an opening drawbridge]
  • Jake: Car’s got a lot of pickup
  • Elwood: It’s got a cop motor, a 440 cubic inch plant, it’s got cop tyres, cop suspension, cop shocks. It’s a model made before catalytic converters so it’ll run good on regular gas. What do you say, is it the new Bluesmobile or what?
  • a brief pause as Jake lights his cigarette with a Zippo lighter – having previously thrown the electric car lighter out of the window]
  • Jake: Fix the cigarette lighter (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…)


I declare it’s a pity, and God knows it’s a crying shame

Credit to a recent contribution on Harp-L for bringing this small, but important detail to our attention. It’s a recording of the wonderful Sonny Boy Williamson II, starting Nine Below Zero with his harp the wrong way round and on camera. As you might expect from such a pro, he casually shrugs the moment off without ceremony and gets straight on with the job. And hats off to the man. That same thing could represent an insurmountable embarrassment to lesser mortals.


Making It In 4th Position – When Johnny Comes Marching Home […with tab]

And let each one perform some part, To fill with joy the warrior’s heart.. Louis Lambert

Applying the circle of 5ths to a C Major diatonic harmonica enables us to determine the alternative keys and their associated positions that are available on the same harp. As a reminder:

1st position (straight harp) is in C major. Your root note is generally blow 4.

2nd position (cross harp) is in G major. Your root note is generally draw 2.

3rd position (slant harp) is in D minor. Your root note is generally draw 4.

4th position is in A minor. Your root note is generally draw 6.

The first three are the most widely used positions on the harmonica. In each case it is helpful if we can find a well known melody that best demonstrates that position and will map out the principle safe notes for us. In first position the choice is limitless. The most often used melodies are Camptown Races, Oh Susannah, When The Saints Come Marching In and Amazing Grace. In second position the choice is also very wide, especially when we start to use bent notes. In third position the melody to Scarborough Fair is the best example I have come across. You can also try What Shall We Do With A Drunken Sailor or even the theme to the Hawaii 5-O TV series. For mapping out fourth position, try When Johnny Comes Marching Home.


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


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…)