It was a humid summer’s day. Beyond the duck pond, the Rear Admiral’s mower muttered to itself and occasionally spat stones at his prizewinning parade of pink floribunda. Next to the Tickled Trout, a canopy of elder flowers floated in the warm breeze, while hover flies patrolled the cow parsley below, pretending to be bees. In the harp surgery kitchen, the Good Doctor was preparing cordials and halving strawberries for afternoon tea. He flourished sugar across the fruit from a shallow silver spoon. ‘How many songbirds fly to and fro, in an English country ga-ar… what the?’ A manilla envelope boomeranged through the window, clipped his ear and skidded to a halt on the kitchen table. The sugar spoon fell to the floor.
Don’t start me talking, I’ll tell you everything I know
Elwood reminded folks at the Harp Surgery it’s the anniversary of Sonny Boy II’s birthday this week. How about we tab out one of his monster tracks? he suggested. The Doc stroked his goatee and lifted his bowler down from the coat stand. No need to tab one number, young Elwood, we’ll do them ALL he replied. But how is that possible? quizzed Elwood.
The Doc raised a sagely eyebrow. Once you’ve mastered his trademark cross-harp licks and timing, my boy, you can tackle much of his material. Then it’s a case of studying the first position harp work, timing and tone. But always remember you will never sound exactly like the master, nor should you . Elwood started warming his favourite blues burger. So where do we begin? he asked. From the turn around, answered the Doc, it’s his signature lick. It goes like this…
This is THE showcase blues harmonica number which every journeyman player needs to learn. It’s a catchy melody in its own right, but it is particularly attractive when played on the blues harp. And what makes it so important to a player’s development is that, while it incorporates the essential elements of a good harmonica boogie, it offers a concise blueprint for circuiting the 12 bar format without ignoring chord changes and clinging to special effects. In other words it promotes the art of blues musicianship – how and what to play over the I, IV and V chords.
There is no doubt that emulating Big Walter’s delivery demands a great deal of precision. You will need to master a range of techniques including tongue fluttering, octaving, puckering, tongue blocking, tongue slapping and accurate bending. All of which are sustained with excellent breath control. And above all else, you’ll have to nail that BIG tone. Take your time, pay attention to the technique and detail, and you can master this show stopper for yourself. (more…)
When learning to play individual notes for the first time, 2 draw (2D) is often the hardest reed to master. Harp Surgery frequently receives emails asking, is it me or is there something wrong with my harmonica? It may not be what you want to hear, but the short answer is, it’s not the harp.
2D is a long old reed, which swings through a big slot when we play. Picture in your mind a spring diving board, fixed at one end and unfettered at the other. The 2D reed and a diving board behave in the same way. Consider also, the fact that 2D shares a chamber with 2B, another long reed in another big slot. These two reeds constantly interact, working as a pair. Consequently, we expend a lot of air when we work in hole 2 and it can feel like we run out of breath really quickly.
Consider also the flexibility of the reeds. With a choice of one natural and two bent positions, 2D is very sensitive to changes in air pressure. When we play 2D for the first time, it can sound mangled or flat. Alternatively it won’t respond at all. At the same time we seem to be inflating really quickly.
Fear not, this is a common experience for beginners. Let’s investigate things and see if we can help you overcome an important hurdle. It’s a relatively short process and we promise you it will be painless. Kim followed our advice and look what happened to her! (more…)
We respectfully dedicate these pages to the friends and family of Barney Jeffrey 1958-2008
The Good Doctor found himself in San Francisco, the morning after England had pulled off their 2009 Ashes victory against Australia at The Oval. For those unfamiliar with this particular competition, we will go no further than to say it is a bi-annual cricket tournament played exclusively between two great Commonwealth rivals. Poms against Ozzies. On a world scale, the patriotic fervour runs disproportionately high. On a local level however, thousands of cricket fans tune their radios in and will every ball to swing their way. To partake is a birth-right. To draw is acceptable. To win is sublime.
From his hotel bathroom, the Good Doctor could be heard preparing for the day ahead, humming Soul Limbo by Booker T. & The MGs. For years it had been the iconic theme music to the BBC’s evening Test Match Special programme. In the olden days, all summer long and across the nation, mothers were inadvertently swaying their hips to its tropical rhythm from behind their ironing boards. Meanwhile, fathers switched on the telly, then took to the settee with their pipe, slippers, a bottle of pale ale and an innate comprehension of cricketing’s complexities. Today of course the domestic scene is very different. Fathers vape to Sky Sports, while mothers limbo under the ironing board, swig craft gin and surf Netflix.
Rinsing his toothbrush and still humming, the Good Doctor’s thoughts were arrested by the memory of a school mate slapping a shiny sliver of black vinyl onto the common room turntable, then grinning ear to ear as a raunchy harmonica version of Soul Limbo belted out through the stereo speakers. It was an irreverent piece of R&B; punky, zestful and hip.
When we first pick up a diatonic harp, we’re on a mission from God. Nothing, but nothing’s going to get in our way. In short order we buy some cheap shades and a big old hat, then we embark on a crusade to capture that sound. You know the one. It fits in your pocket and goes da DAH da da.
We raid the wardrobe, car glove compartment and every drawer for loose change, and then plunder the sofa. Then we invest our accumulated swag in a used copy of Play Like Walter in Ten Minutes, while bidding on ebay for a second hand entry level harp with a fancy name like Sonny Boy’s Special or Blues Howler. (more…)