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Trying to Pick Up Harmonica

Discussion in 'Miscellaneous [BG]' started by greekorican, Oct 31, 2010.

  1. greekorican


    Mar 12, 2009
    Yesterday my dad gave me a harmonica that he had for a long time. He tried to learn, but gave up very quickly. I figured since I know my theory, it would be relatively simple to pick up, and it looks like a blast to play. A great skill to have if I ever get locked up...

    It's a C Hohner Blues Harp , which from my research online, is supposed to be pretty solid. I'd like to pick up a few other keys after I get the hang of it, they are pretty cheap. I could slowly build up my collection if I decide to stick with it. Which keys should I get? I don't quite understand how cross harmonica works. Am I better off learning to play cross harmonica, or having a harmonica in every key? When you play a harmonica in a different key, is this similar to the way horns are transposed to keep fingerings the same?

    Any tips or good resources? I found a great wikibook about harmonica that seems very helpful. I also have a book that came along with this harmonica that I can work though.

    Right now I'm having a hard time getting just a single note to sound clearly. I had no luck with the tongue blocking method. Is there anything wrong with the pucker method? My notes are also sounding rather weak. On horn I fixed that problem with more air, but on harmonica, more air makes the note bend downward. How do I get a nice, full sounding note?

    Any hint's on bending? I'm working on trying to play the entire chromatic scale. I found the 2 hole is incredibly easy to bend, but others are damn near impossible. I also find bending to be very tiring, so maybe I've got the technique wrong. Once I can get the bending down, I think some half step exercises would be great for nailing the technique.

    Can anyone play harmonica and bass at the same time? Personally, I can't hold a conversation and play bass, so that will be a challenge.

    I played french horn in high school concert band, and as much as I hated it, it made me a better musician. Horns really force you to use your ear, which I think has suffered since I graduated. Harmonica seems very similar in that respect. I'd like to pick up harmonica not only to improve my ear, but also because it looks like lots of fun to play. I think I'm going to take my harmonica to school once I get the hang of it. There are always performers on the train platform, and my commute would be alot more fun if I had a blues jam on the way to school.

  2. http://www.ezfolk.com/harp/index.html In case you are wondering B is blow and D is draw.
    Good thing about the harmonica you can take it and get some practice in just about every where you may go.

    No I never did understand cross harp myself. Does not matter until you start playing with others - then you need the harmonica that has the key they want. In my case that would be C, G, D and A we seldom ever go beyond that.

    It's a fun instrument - good luck.
  3. petesenkowski


    Feb 10, 2007
    Atlanta, GA
    For cross harp, you would use your C harp to play in the key of G; this allows you to draw on scale tones 1, 3, 5, and b7. You have to bend to get the 2nd, and the major scale 7th just isn't there, but all the notes of the pentatonic and blues scales are reachable. You learn to live with its limitations. Cross harp is the standard to play blues.

    Unless you're a very advanced player, you can only bend drawn notes. I sort of pull my mouth together as I draw to bend a note. Blues harp is such a personal and intuitive instrument, that it's hard to describe techniques; you just try stuff until something works for you. To get single notes, I hold the harp at about a 45 degree angle instead of straight across, but I haven't seen anyone else do this.

    Before I found anyone to jam with, I picked a recording of a song with a harp part that I liked and played along with it until I figured it out. To play diatonic instruments like the Hohner Blues Harp, you really need to get a harp for every key you want to play.

    Straight harp works for some music, but most blues influenced music uses cross harp; it's good to learn both. Some harp makers have other scales as well: Lee Oskar has harmonic minor and "melody maker" scales (melody maker is similar to cross harp but with the major 7th). And of course, there are fully chromatic harps (Stevie Wonder plays them), but diatonic harps are much more widely used.

    Harp is a really personal, expressive instrument. Enjoy learning it.
  4. bobba66


    May 18, 2006
    Arlington, Texas
    Many years ago I saw Johnny Winter's Bass player play harmonica and bass at the same time. The guy was a monster on both instruments. Wish I could remember the name....
  5. Jefenator

    Jefenator Supporting Member

    Aug 22, 2008
    Last year I saw one of my idols, Chris Wood playing upright bass and harmonica, simultaneously and well.

  6. John Paris?

  7. phmike


    Oct 25, 2006
    Nashville, TN
    I _highly_ recommend books from Jon Gindick. Covers note selection, cross harp, bending, etc in an easy to understand way.
  8. delta7fred


    Jul 3, 2007
    Have a look at Adam Gussow on Youtube, he has a whole series of lessons. A harp playing friend of mine says he is pretty good.
  9. Rudreax


    Jun 14, 2008
    New York, NY
    This, so much. Gussow is going to be one of the best resources you're going to find on the internet, IMO.
  10. Fergie Fulton

    Fergie Fulton

    Nov 22, 2008
    Retrovibe Artist rota
    Check out Jason Ricci, the videos say it all.:)

  11. BullHorn


    Nov 23, 2006
    I have a ton of urls for awesome harmonica resources online, I'll be able to give them to you when I get home in 2 days, remind me if you're still interested by then.
  12. bassbully

    bassbully Endorsed by The PHALEX CORN BASS..mmm...corn!

    Sep 7, 2006
    Blimp City USA
    I love playing harmonica and got into it about a year ago. I agree on holding or tilting the harp 45 degree to get single notes and only getting bends on drawn notes.
  13. Shakin-Slim


    Jul 23, 2009
    Tokyo, Japan
    I also do this when I want a clear single note. It's not altogether orthodox but it does the job.

    Cross harp isn't as hard as it is made out to be. When, or if, you play blues, just start out by using the key a 4th above the key the band plays in. C harp for G blues, Bb harp for F blues etc. I never had any lessons, just mucked around for a year or so and now I front a blues band that plays at New Zealand's international jazz festival every year, and always to large, appreciative crowds. Just goes to show that it's not that much of a 'taught' instrument. The only thing I ever was told was not to 'granny kiss'. Don't use just the front of your lips. You need to basically get your whole mouth around that thing.
  14. Mark Wilson

    Mark Wilson Supporting Member

    Jan 12, 2005
    Toronto, Ontario
    Endorsing Artist: Elixir® Strings
    Moved to Misc.
  15. Stumbo

    Stumbo Wherever you go, there you are. Supporting Member Commercial User

    Feb 11, 2008
    Song Surgeon slow downer. https://tinyurl.com/y5dcuqjg
    Harmonica basics
    Buying/learning harmonica
    Types of harmonicas (See below)

    Diatonic- The standard 10-hole major diatonic harmonicas come in all 12 keys of music and allow you to play a complete 7-note major scale of the key of the harmonica. Many additional notes from outside the major scale can be acquired by "bending" certain draw (inhale) and blow (exhale) notes. Most professionals are predominantly diatonic players. Diatonic harmonicas are typically used in blues, rock, country, and folk, but can also be found in nearly all styles of music. They are sometimes referred to as a "blues harp", "harp", "short harp", or "standard 10-hole".

    In terms of price and overall quality, we like the Lee Oskar Major Diatonic and the Hohner Special 20, in the key of "C", best for players just starting out. The Lee Oskar harmonicas also feature the 1st Position and 2nd Position keys printed on the ends of each diatonic for easy reference.

    Chromatic- The chromatic harmonica has a button on the side, which when NOT used, allows you to play a normal major scale in the key of the chromatic. With the button depressed, you have all the missing half-step notes in-between the major scale notes. This allows you to play in any key and any type of scale. The chromatic is typically used in jazz and classical music, but is found in all styles of music. Bending doesn't work nearly as well on the chromatic as it does on the diatonic harmonica and when used, is used more for a "bending effect". In most cases, you will be doing good to bend a note a half-step down. Learn more about playing chromatic harmonica in the Chromatic Harmonica section.

    Tremolo- Tremolo harmonicas are Diatonic models constructed with double holes (sometimes 8, 10, 12, or more sets of double holes), each containing two reeds tuned to the same note, one tuned slightly higher than the other. Since both reeds are either blow or draw, when played, both will sound together and the slight difference in tuning creates a vibrating or tremolo effect. The tremolo harmonicas are primarily used for special effects. They are not made to play blues, bend notes, or do anything other than play the most simple melodies. Depending upon the particular model and brand, the major scale would begin on the 3rd or 4th set of holes, and then the pattern would be the same as the diatonic major scale pattern in relation to blows and draws. These harmonicas are not recommended for our instruction.

    Octave Tuned- "Octave harmonicas are similar to Tremolo models in reed layout and musical range. Instead of having reeds tuned to the same note, however, each double hole has one reed tuned an octave apart from the other. The resulting sound is stronger and full bodied, but without the tremolo effect. This is the harmonica equivalent of a twelve-string guitar (sort-of)." These harmonicas are not recommended for our instruction.

    Special Tuned Diatonics- For players that do not play chromatic harmonica, but may have the need for additional notes and scales in their playing, they can pick up a special tuned (actually re-tuned from the standard major scale tuning) diatonic. Tunings include: natural minor scale, harmonic minor scale, major scale 2nd position tuned (Lee Oskar calls them "Melody Makers" and Hohner calls them "Country tuned"), and "high octave" (key of "G") and "low octave" (low D, Eb, E, F, and F#) tuned. These harmonicas are not recommended for our instruction.

    Other Types- Additional types of harmonicas are available for special purposes like harmonica trios, groups, or orchestrals. Most of these are made by the Hohner Company, but other companies may carry some as well. This group includes: bass harmonicas, chord harmonicas, Polyphonias, and miniture 4-hole harmonicas. These harmonicas are not recommended for our instruction.
  16. BullHorn


    Nov 23, 2006
    http://www.angelfire.com/tx/myquill/Harmonica.html - Great reference
    http://www.youtube.com/group/HarmonicaEnthusiasts - YouTube channel for harmonicists
    http://harp-l.com/mailman/listinfo/harp-l - The biggest harmonica mailing list running since around 1992
    http://www.patmissin.com/index1.html - Some pretty rare info
    http://www.overblow.com/ - Extreme harmonica technique :p
    http://www.modernbluesharmonica.com/home.html - Good site and pretty good (but dead-ish forum)
    http://www.harmonicaclub.com/ - Another pretty dead forums but the Chatroom often has people playing over mic/webcam so it's quite awesome

    I also highly suggest Jon Gindick's 'Rock & Blues Harp' or however it's called book+audio. It's simple and teaches you how to play.

    DON'T try to rush it, getting the hang of proper breathing, hitting a single note clearly, bending, etc, will take TIME. Just try to enjoy the simple stuff on your way to the awesome stuff. :)
  17. asberrys


    Sep 7, 2009
    You can only play simple melodies with a tremelo harp? That's too bad as I was hoping to get one. I really love their accordian sound. I don't particularly like the accordian but I love these accordian sounding harps.

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