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Starting out on stage or jamming with others
Harmonica players have a bad reputation among other musicians, and sadly it's well deserved. Here are some tips that may help earn you some respect.
- Timing! Practice every day, you don't need your harp to do it.
- Make sure you play in the right key. If you play diatonic learn about positions.
- Don't play until it's clear it's your turn unless encouraged to do otherwise, and when in doubt take the harp out of your mouth.
- When it is your turn play for one or maybe two choruses, keep making eye contact with the leader so you know when your turn is over. When in doubt fall back on simple rhythmic chugging and/or Blues cliché licks/riffs. If and only if you're encouraged to keep going do you play anymore.
- Learn to play bends as notes, go straight to the bend,
don't slide into it. Sliding into bends is okay so long as
it's your choice. Practising with a chromatic tuner helps.
- And for pity's sake N E V E R play your harmonica among the audience uninvited. It's rude, inconsiderate and unwelcome to performers and audience alike.
- Check out the rest of this site.
The front page is intended for new harp players wanting to find good
informative harmonica websites.
Including instructions on joining Harp-L and HarpTalk email communities.
When starting out these groups have a lot of very supportive people who can
help you understand and progress on the instrument.
- Rick Epping's advice for beginners note quality
Dealing with those tricky notes in the first few holes.
- Jerry Portnoy's Blues Harmonica Masterclass
This is the first harmonica course that made all the difference for me.
Being able to hear what the harmonica is supposed to sound like, plus having everything in audio made everything much easier than trying to
read about it in a book.
Available at Coast to Coast Music.
Chromatic Harmonica Reference
Includes pages on holding harmonica; playing harmonica; techniques;
and exercises. Almost all of this is applicable to diatonic harmonica too
- Some Blues harmonica players of note:
Little Walter, Big Walter Horton, Sonny Boy Williamson,
Sonny Boy Williamson II, Junior Wells, Carey Bell, James Cotton, Billy Branch. Muddy Waters had a lot of good players cut their teeth and start their careers with his band, so well worth listening to.
These are the harmonica players to listen to first. It's their life work that shaped the language of Blues harmonica. Later players base their playing on what they achieved, so you're best to start at the source.
Some respected players that have come since the original players: William Clarke, Mark Hummel, Paul Butterfield, Kim Wilson, Sugar Ray Norcia, Charlie Musselwhite.
Useful practice software tools
Simple beat box program for generating a bar or bars of rhythm with up to six percussion instruments at most tempos. Freeware.
Audacity is free, open source software for recording and editing sounds.
Superb for setting your computer up for recording yourself. Freeware.
- Amazing Slow Downer
Can slow down, speed up and retune any music track on CD or PC file.
Start & stop points can be made anywhere in a tune making it easy to work on phrases or finer details of a lick or riff. Trial-ware
A more powerful programmable rhythm program, a simplified sequencer. Trial-ware.
- Band In A Box
Very powerful practice tool. You can enter any chord progression, choose among hundreds of styles. Change key and tempo very quickly. Generate melodies, solos and harmonies. Thousands of well known songs are in BIAB format on the internet for free. Commercial program.
Suggested first time rigs
If you're relatively new to harmonica and don't want to spend too much on your very first rig, then these options are a good way to start out.
It's assumed these won't be used in a venue bigger than a lounge, they're best suited for practicing at home, or small private jams with friends.
Clean practice rig
If you just want to make your acoustic harp playing louder
The Leem SF-600 is a cheap vocal mic that'll do the job. The Shure SM58 is a long standing professional workhorse.
I recommend both a long cable and the XLR to 1/4" patch cord so you can use your mic and cable with any sound system you end up playing through later on.
If you get a long XLR to 1/4" cable you may end up having to buy a second long XLR to XLR cable so you can plug into a mixer or PA.
- Vocal mic e.g. Leem SF-600 or Shure SM58
- XLR to XLR 30 foot cable, and XLR to 1/4" patch cord
- Behringer MS-16 monitors
- Stereo 4mm to RCA lead
The MS-16 stereo monitors have seperate stereo line inputs on the back, with a stereo 4mm to RCA lead you can plug in any music playing device e.g. iPod, CD player, laptop etc. So you can practice with any backing.
It also has headphone output so you can practice with headphones.
Chicago Blues practice rig
If you want to produce overdriven tones in the tradition of Chicago Blues
Both mics are currently available on today's market. Sadly most of the best traditional mics can only be purchased second hand. The Shure 545 will need to be wired for high impedance to drive amps and effects properly. The mic comes with instructions on how to do this.
- Hohner Blues Blaster bullet mic or Shure 545 microphone
- Dan Electro HoneyTone mini amp, or Original Pignose amp
- Behringer VD400 vintage delay
- Leem Micro Mixer WAM290
- Stereo 4mm to RCA lead and 2x RCA to 1/4" connectors.
The HoneyTone amp is only 1Watt which is plenty for bedroom practice or jamming in the lounge. It also has a headphone output, so you can practice with headphones.
The Pignose amp is 8 Watts, bigger, heavier and louder. This is a very popular little amplifier. It's good for busking, and more than enough for practicing at home or jamming with a few mates.
The Behringer VD400 vintage delay is an inexpensive copy of an early Boss analog delay and surprisingly effective. You can use just a little to fatten up your sound, slap back or go crazy go nuts with it.
If you get a Leem Micro Mixer WAM290, lead and connectors, you can plug your microphone/delay into that plus any music playing device, e.g. iPod, CD player, laptop etc and it's output into your amp so you can play with backing.
Any comments or suggestions can be emailed to
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