Play What Works, Practice What Doesn’t

What do I mean by play what works, practice what doesn’t? I said I was practicing with a friend, working on a few songs for a battle of the bands. I really enjoyed the time.It was a failure though. We got frustrated with each other because our timing was off. It was a simple song I have performed live probably upwards of 30 times, both at blues jams with a live band and at karaoke. I was singing and playing my harp and he was on guitar. The issue in the end was not that we didn’t know what we were doing, It’s that he was attempting to play past his skill level. I don’t blame him, basic rhythm for 12 bar isn’t the most fun.

I thought about all the ways I could tell him that sticking to the basics was necessary but since we were doing it for fun, in the end I just let him run with it. It wouldn’t have worked if I had downloaded the karaoke version of the song to show him I knew my timings. It would have just made him mad, well more mad.

I learned that It’s important to practice things that don’t work. Scales for instance, they are boring as hell but practicing them will make it easier to move around the instrument better later. Second, when you are playing with other people, play what you can do well, even if it isn’t the most exciting thing to do. It’s the combined sound that makes us all sound good. For the sake of the Battle of the bands, I wish he had just worked on chord changes and timing and not fancy flourishes he found in the online tabs. It’s not that he shouldn’t play them, he should practice the mas much as possible. He should practice them. Just like scales could have helped immensely.

I think he spent so much time on getting all the notes on the flourishes that the other stuff, the basic stuff, the stuff we needed to do well, got left by the wayside. I do the same things though. I love to do Texas Flood with my harp. I can jam all the guitar parts and sing the verses but when I listen to Sonny Terry he has all these great backup sound that I don’t know the first thing about and I have run into the term “harmonica Comping” a few times now. usually in reference to country music. I don’t even know what that is but I guess it’s like using the harp as a rhythm and backup instrument.

I’ve decided to start working on my scales. I think I might try actually learning which notes each hole plays. At least on my main harps. I’m also going to work on that whole rhythm thing. It may be boring but scales will help me switch keys better and backup and rhythm will be good for backing up other people. The whole sounds way better than each individual. Besides, I can’t sing and play harp and not be missing something. I need someone else so why shouldn’t I try to make them sound as good as they make me sound.

Learn Harmonica By Practicing With a Friend

Creative Commons License photo credit: PjotrP

As I continue to learn harmonica, the old saying we all know rings true, practice makes perfect. I practiced with my buddy Big Tiny (I just gave him that for his blues name, if you play blues, you gotta have one) from 4 to 9 yesterday afternoon. If you have a friend who plays another instrument or wants to, having a practice partner is amazing. It’s something I never though of. He’s been teaching himself guitar for the past couple of years and while he has picked up a few things, I think he’d agree that he hasn’t really done much with it. I understand it too.

I don’t really practice alone. I don’t focus well and have no structure to it. Me practicing is kind of a mess. It’s the time when I feel I have the least talent or skill. I listen to experts talk about how to do things on video or listen to the classic great harmonica players and get discouraged. It’s counter productive. I get most of my practice at karaoke, open mic nights or blues jams.

My favorite dive is doing a battle of the bands Saturdays in October. Big Tiny and I have been talking about putting a band together since I started playing harmonica. We just never had focus. The battle of the bands gave us focus. We need 4 songs. The first is Hoochie Coochie Man. We spent 5 hours playing that yesterday evening. We even amplified my harp playing with a cheap Samson mic and a Fender starter amp.

It is the most productive practice time I have ever spent. When you do Karaoke, It’s one song at a time with no do-overs. An open mic is limited to what you can play with someone else or just jamming. Blues jams are the same way. All your skills improve evenly because they all get the same amount of attention. You may get deficits because you avoid stuff you are bad at for the sake of live performance. Practice by yourself, unless you are REALLY disciplined, isn’t very effective and you get discouraged when you have trouble working through problems.

Imagine spending 5 hours working on getting Hoochie Coochie Man down. I can pull out my harp and blast that riff without even thinking about it now. Big Tiny has gone a long way too. You get positive reinforcement when you do well and help with areas where you are deficient. It’s that perfect center between practicing alone and a performance like karaoke.

We are going to be practicing with each other over the next few weeks. so we can play in the Battle of the Bands but after that, I would like to get together with him once a week for practice. It is really productive.

Harmonica Notes Greats: Little Walter

Little Walter was arguably one of the greatest influencers of harmonica music. The only harmonica player to ever be admitted to The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a sideman, a harmonica player. His song My Babe is one of my favorite harmonica songs. A true pioneer in blues harp.


I couldn’t find any videos of him playing My Babe, but I did find this video of him  backing up Hound Dog Taylor And Koko Taylor. I dig those soulful riffs and mellow back up harp.

Blowing my B Harmonica

I mentioned in one of my earlier harmonica notes that I had picked up a Blues Harp MS  B Harmonica. I picked it up because Stevie Ray Vaughn’s Texas Flood and a bunch of other SRV songs are in F#. F#/Gb is the Crossharp key for the B harmonica. I do run into Gb blues too so I figured it was time to pick one up. I like singing SRV songs when I hit Karaoke nights but the long solos don’t do well for karaoke. No one wants to see a guy standing on stage doing nothing for 24 measures.

I went to open mic night last night and tried it out. My B harp is now one of my constant carry harps. Texas Flood gave me lots of solo harp room. There is a 15 measure opening and a 24 measure solo. That’s a lot of space to fill with a harp solo. I really got to dig into my bag of tricks and play around with licks. It’s like having a blues jam without having to coerce all the other musicians up on stage. I’m putting Texas Flood in my repertoire as my new opener, I’m getting a little tired of She Caught the Katy. I still love the song but I think the bar staff at the places I go are getting tired of hearing it.

My next harp will probably be an Ab Blues Harp Harmonica. I know there are a bunch of great Eb blues songs. I just can’t remember any right now.

No, Really Lets Just Burn It All Down

508parkavenueThe building where Robert Johnson had his second recording session is set to be torn down. I’m a big fan of Robert Johnson. Feel free to ask Eric Clapton, Keith Richards, Dan Aykroyd and just about anyone who really appreciates the blues, They’ll all tell you that he is the father of modern music.

Beethoven, Mozart, and Bach all have historical locations to commemorate their life and work. We have 2 pictures, 2 sets of recordings, and the buildings where he recorded, The Gunter Hotel, San Antonio, Texas and 508 Park Ave. in Dallas. We’re uncertain where he’s buried. The most important in the history of American music, has so little to remember him by. Now, there’s going to be a little less. A LOT less. I understand keeping history isn’t the easiest thing. Even the buildings that stand to remind us are temporary.

When I think about how hard people fought to save the Dr. Pepper factory, A SODA FACTORY, but there is so little work being done to protect our musical heritage, especially here in Dallas. Shame on us and our temporary attitudes about our world. In 600 years will there be anything to remember Robert Johnson by? J. S. Bach will have 1000 year old historical buildings.

Hey, Clapton, Richards, Aykroyd you get it, work with me. Lets save one of the few things we KNOW are connected to Robert Johnson. Is this what people mean when they say, “We are at a crossroads?”

I went down to the crossroad
fell down on my knees
I went down to the crossroad
fell down on my knees
Asked the lord above “Have mercy now
save poor Bob if you please”

Harmonica Notes Jams

Last night I hit the battle of the bands at my local bowling alley. They have a separated bar and pool hall where they host karaoke, open mic nights and local bands. I missed the first guy, who came from 50 something miles away to play his guitar. A buddy of mine played next and I caught most of his set. I even sat in on a few songs. I need to start organizing us so we can get something together. He’s as disorganized as I am. If I want to do something live, I’m going to have to take the bull by the horns I guess.

After that another buddy of mine backed me on a little harp jam. He played back up 12 bar acoustic. I wailed a bit and got some applause which surprised me a little. I guess I’m the only person that thinks I sound like crap. I need to tighten up my one hole and key switching. I definitely need to work on my licks. I feel like I have one lick. I jam better when I get going but I always seem to fall back to the same stuff.

Oh, I almost forgot. I blew out a reed on my A harp on stage last night too. My sound guy friend says he heard a ping and my harp lost sound. It’s the first harp that I played heavily so it was in bad shape to begin with. I guess I’m glad I bought the wrong harp from Musicians Friend a while back. I already have a replacement. I may Pick up a Hohner Hot Metal Harmonica in the Key of A as well. I’m thinking about getting a set of them as back up.

You Get Them Where You Find Them

I am looking for a band here at Harmonica Notes. I’m not picky. If I can find a band that I can sit in with or their looking for a harp player, that’s cool. If I can put something together, that’s cool too. I’m not too picky. I don’t want a super band or to be a rock star. I just think it would be fun to have some guys to jam with regularly. I run into guys all the time that are interested in getting something going, but we just can’t get it together.

Last Monday at the open mic night down the street, I got in on a really awesome jam with some really talented guys. We had the makings of a Grateful Dead style jam band right there. I tried to get everyones information and missed a few so no drummer or bass player but 3 guitarists, 2 singers and me on harp. I forgot to call one of the guitarists and haven’t heard back from the others. So I don’t know where it’s going.

This morning though, my new neighbors a few doors down decided to have a garage sale. I stopped in to see what they had. I noticed a set of drum pedals. I asked and he confirmed, he’s a drummer. He probably plays metal and is looking for a band with a name like Slagathor or something. That’s the way it is with most drummers these days, no subtlty. Anyway, I joked about him joining the band and invited him to come play at the monday night open mic. We’ll see how things turn out.

Harmonica Notes After One Year

It’s been just over a year since I started Harmonica Notes. I had just started playing harmonica after internet marketer, Ed Dale, during one of his broadcasts, had Adam Gussow’s Youtube page up during the broadcast. I was going to post up the stuff I found on the internet about learning harmonica. I didn’t, partially because there isn’t a lot of concise posts on any single subject regarding harmonica basics that I could find, partially because I got distracted as an internet marketer by what I thought people wanted to find out about the harmonica when searching the term “Harmonica Notes.” Mostly, I was distracted by other parts of my life. I hadn’t started Harmonica notes to make money. I had started the site because I wanted to talk about my new interest, the harmonica. That was why I chose the name Harmonica Notes.

What Have I been doing over the past year? I have been, learning and playing harmonica. Whenever I can, I get out to play the harmonica. I do Karaoke about 3 times a week and take my harmonicas with me, and I have an open mic night once a week that I really enjoy. The harmonica is becoming a more important part of my life. I now introduce myself as a musician as much as I do as an internet marketer. I probably spend as much time on harmonica as I do on learning more about web marketing, maybe more.

What are my plans about this site? I am, as a musician, looking at this site as a platform for me to talk about my views on music today. I will be posting up my recordings for free download. Original video is on the way, both of me doing performances and showing how to do a few basic things on the harmonica. For any regular readers out there (are there any? let me know), Sorry for not continuing to post up the different notes and chords for the harmonicas. I will continue doing that as I get back to the site. It’ still won’t be a regular feature, mostly because I’m not a “regular feature” kind of guy.

One thing I am working on for this site is a 30 day harmonica challenge. It’s a challenge for both you and me. Once a day for 30 days in January (I hope it’s ready by January) I will post up a program that will take a complete beginner through what I have learned over the past year. By the end of January, a complete beginner will hopefully be at the level I am at after a year. There are no guarantees. I am not doing this to create an army of harmonica players. I am doing this to put a free concise program that teaches the basics that I had to search the web for. I want to put the basics in one place so that new harmonica players don’t have to pick through pieces of information on the net to find out the harmonica basics.

I believe in learning through teaching. That’s what I want out of doing this. By putting what I have learned in one place, I will be reviewing what I have learned. I will be exploring what I have learned to cement it in my head. I will be refining my skill.

After January, I will be working on cleaning up my sound, learning new licks and, thanks to a guy I met at open mic night, I will be working on 3rd position. See you around Harmonica Notes.