Rebuilding Everything

As you can tell, I’m working on getting the site updated. There’s some pretty old stuff here. I’m banging it with a rock. In other parts of my life. I have decided to move on from what I’ve been doing for the past 4 years. I love the people I’m working with but as I focus on more specialized work it’s less of a fit. In the past 4 years, I have honed my video and photography skills. No this isn’t becoming one of those sites. It does mean as I start producing content I have much higher quality tools and much more skill to produce work with. It should be like night and day from my previous work.

I think the timing is great to do another video series. Something about getting back to it after being away for a long time. It should be a fun trip. I’m going to try out some techniques I’ve been using in my current career. I’m looking forward to learning Harmonica All over again. I hope you enjoy the ride with me!

Building a better Life

Hi all. Yup, It’s me, Erik.

As you can tell, my activity has been “Irregular.” I am going to attempt to change that over the next several months. I have rebuilding to do on the site and rebuilding to do on my Harmonica skills. Please be patient with me. I have been sucked into the corporate world and relationships.

The good news is that work sucks and my love life is so messed up I’m living a blues song right now. Give me a bit of time and let’s see if my depression can turn into something truely magical.

Learn Harmonica Advice From Bill Johnston

BillJohnstonI met Bill Johnston On Sunday February 28th at the KNON blues Show at The Pearl in downtown Dallas. He was opening for Johnnie Red and The Roosters. It was a benefit to support KNON a nonprofit radio station in Dallas and the best place to hear blues on a regular basis. I’m working on a post about the benefit and I have an Interview with Johnnie Red on the way as well. If you want to hear what Bill Johnston sounds like, there is a link to his Myspace and his band “The Tu-Tones” at the bottom of the article.

Bill Played with Aarron Burton That Sunday Evening. They played some Old style southern blues. They amplified but didn’t distort much if at all. Aarron played some side, did some finger picking and played an acoustic and a Resonator. (I’m thinking about picking up a Resonator). I’m starting to call it restoration blues because it really digs into the roots of Delta blues. It was a great show.

Bill took a few minutes out to talk to me about playing Blues Harmonica. Enjoy the video.


Amplified Harmonica Notes On the Cheap- A Last Minute Gift Idea

honeytonesWho knows how you got to this Harmonica Notes post. Maybe it was Santa. Do you have a harmonica player in your life (including you) who you absolutely MUST get a gift for, but you don’t have a bunch to spend? Say your limit is $20 plus tax or shipping. Well, let me tell you about what I just bought for myself for Chrismaquansika! (Sound it out, you’ll get it.)

I sound a little like an infomercial. The Danelectro Honeytone N-10 Guitar Mini Amp. I stumbled on it as I was surfing around the intertubes. It’s a little belt clip guitar amp that runs on a 9 volt battery.

Is it sturdy?  No

Does is feedback easy? yes

Is it loud? kinda

Is it compact? yup

Does it look good? hell yeah

Is it cheap? HELL YES

At $20, I’ve used pay toilets that cost more.

Look, the truth is, if you’re at an open mic night or blues jam, sometimes they amplify. Sometimes there are 3 people singing and you can’t  get a mic that’s hooked up to a PA. If you’re like me, 2 big reasons you got into playing harmonica, were cheap and compact. This amp fits the criteria. If you kill it, buy a new one. They don’t have the best sound but that gives your harp playing a bluesy edge. It will give you that little extra punch to be heard without counting on someone elses equipment.

So, what am I plugging into my new little amp? The Shure 57? The 58? The Green Bullet? Nope I went on the cheap for that too. I picked up a Samson R31S Hyper-cardioid  Dynamic Mic. Yup, I went cheap on that too. $20-$30 anywhere you go. I bought mine off the shelf at Best Buy. It’s a pretty good mic for $25. It comes with its own cable that plugs in to it. The mic has the standard 3 prong XLR mic connector on the end so it takes the standard mic cable. the cable that comes with it has that on one side and a 1/4 inch phone jack on the other end so right out of the box it hooks up to an amp. The Samson and the Honeytone sound pretty good together and pump out the sound when I’m walking around the house. I’ll give It a proper try tonight night at open Mic.

I will say this, $50 for both mic and amp sure beats the hell out of  $119 for a Green Bullet and $80 for the Fender Champion 30. This does NOT mean I won’t be blowing $200 some odd bucks on the Green Bullet/ Champ Combo at some point. I just don’t think the expense is warranted for my skill level. I just want autonomous amplification sometimes.

One more thing, I would have put a package deal together fo both of them but you can only get the amps at music stores and no self respecting music store, online or otherwise will stock anything Samson. It might be that Samson doesn’t sell to them… I don’t know.

Harmonica Notes Magic Garageband Blues Backup Tracks

Hey, this is Erik here at Harmonica Notes, I have a tutorial here for you on how to make backup tracks using Magic Garageband in Garageband 09. It’s a great way to have custom backup music for practicing on your own! Also, everyone remember to sign up for my news letter and get ready for the Learn Blues Harmonica Basics in 30 Days, coming in January. This is all the stuff I learned in my first year all together for you in one place. Will it make you an expert? HELL NO! It’s just the stuff I learned and my philosophy on learning blues harmonica. I might think totally differently in a year but that’s then not now. Did I mention it’s free? Yup, nothing, no cost, nada, zip, zero! What do you have to loose (except a month of your life you can never get back…ever).

But I’m rambling. Here’s the video.

Harmonica Notes Stories

Harmonica Notes wants to hear your story. I have a story about how I decided to learn harmonica. I was a teen when I first picked up a harmonica but that didn’t last long. It didn’t last a day. I didn’t think about it again until I found Adam Gussows videos on Youtube. My friend had just broken up with his wife and he got into blues guitar. I started playing the bass when that happened to support him. We would play together. I just didn’t get into it. It wasn’t my instrument.

After I saw the Adam Gussow videos, I decided to try harmonica again. I bought the harmonica key he was using and watched his videos and learned. I have been playing ever since.

So, what’s your story? I want to hear how you got interested in harmonica. Please leave a comment with your story and let me know. I want to hear where you’re coming from and what you want to get out of this site.

Harmonica Note: On Cleaning

 I haven’t written anything technical in quite a while. I really don’t much like writing technical stuff but it is useful. I’m going to talk about cleaning your harmonica today. I meant to do this 8 months ago because of an incident I had with my A harp. I was in love with my Bb harp at the time. It was the only one I played. I was teaching myself man of constant sorrow an thought i was amazing. I didn’t play my A harp for about 2 months. Eventually I picked it up just to blow a few notes through it.

Have you ever tasted oxidized brass? It’s memorable because it tastes so bad. That’s what my A harp tasted like. the reed plates had oxidized. It was just a little bit brown. I couldn’t get the taste out for my mouth for 10 minutes. The only taste worse than that that I know if is arm pit sweat. Don’t ask, it involves a  girl.

I needed to get rid of the oxidized brass. Finding an article on how to clean your harmonica is next to imposible. I take that back, it is imposible. I finally found a series of posts explaining how to do it. It offered nothing to fix my brass flavor problem but it did run me through the cleaning process. I recommend doing this for each harp you have occasionally based on how much you use the specific harp.

Start by removing the nails or screws that hold the harp together. This is one reason I love my Hohner Blues Harp. It has screws. No nails to pry and no holes to widen. Once you remove those, the outer plates come off. Give them a light polish with a rag and they should be fine.

second, the reed plates will be screwed into the comb. unscrew the reed plates and seperate them from the comb. The reed plates are the most sensitive part of the harmonica so be careful of them, especially the reeds. You have to be careful not to bend the reeds. if you do, the harp is done. Run water across them to clean them up. I have seen where people say you can use a tooth brush on them but I would’t trust it. Maybe a toothpick to get any gunk from between the reeds and the plates. Just don’t force it.

The comb is another wipe down. It’s not sensitive. Rinse and wipe and you’re done. I have found bits of food in my comb before. After that, just put it back together.

So how did I fix the brass oxide problem? I polished the mouth side of it with a rag. focusing on the reed plates. It took a few minutes but I got all the brass oxide off.

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.