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.

Cross Harp Harmonica Notes

Cool Old Harmonica Set
Cool Old Harmonica Set

He said to me at the luau, “Cool so you play cross harp?” The guitarist of the band had me, I was about to fail the pop quiz. I had been playing harmonica for the better part of a month and had just bought my second harmonica, an A Diatonic. I knew enough that the 2 hole draw was bluesy but what in gods name was this cross harp I kept hearing about. I came back with, “For me, it’s all about the 2 hole draw.” He seemed satisfied.

I have been avoiding this post. I had an idea of what cross harp is, but to write a post about it is another thing. Here is the deal. I had answered correctly when I said, it’s all about the 2 hole draw. On a diatonic harmonica, the 2 hole draw is the first note in second position or “cross harp.” If you get nothing else from this post, remember that. If you, like me, want to play blues harmonica, we play cross harp by default. We start with the 2 hole draw. Here’s the deal though, when we play cross harp, the key we are playing in is not the key of the harmonica. That means, when someone says, “Lets play … in the key of G,” we don’t grab our G harp. Second position on G is D and we need to be playing in G. So what harp do we need? What harp has a 2 hole draw that plays a G? It’s the C harmonica.

That’s what got me. I thought to myself, “Crap, I’m going to have to learn every note on every harmonica.” (I know, the name of the site is harmonica notes but I meant my notes on learning to play the harmonica not the notes on the different harmonicas.) I don’t know if I am going to ever learn what notes every hole, blow, draw, bend, over blow, over draw, and chord on every harmonica plays. I probably will eventually know all the cross harp keys though, and probably the notes on my favorite harmonicas.

Here’s a cheat you can use. Take a sharpie and write an X (for cross harp) and the cross harp key on your harmonicas. As you play you will learn the cross harp keys. I got the ideas because the key labels are rubbing off of my harmonicas and I don’t want to get them confused.

I may as well tell you the cross harp keys for all 12 diatonic harmonica keys.

Ab=Eb, A=E, Bb=F, B=Gb, C=G, Db=Ab, D=A, Eb=Bb, E=B, F=C, Gb=Db, G=D

So there you have it, all the cross harp keys and the harmonicas they’re played on.

A Major Scale Diatonic Harmonica notes

A Harmonica Notes, or is it AN Harmonica Notes? Well it’s Harmonica Notes in A Major anyway. So what are the notes for an A Major Scale Diatonic Harmonica? Well the blow notes are: A, Db, C, A, Db, E, A, Db, C, and A.

A Harmonica Notes
A Harmonica Notes

The Draw Notes are B, E, Ab, B, D, F#, Ab, B, D and F#. Cross Harp is the Key of E. This is the second Harmonica I ever bought, the first of course being my beloved Bb Blues Harp.

The A harp is one of the more common harps for blues playing because of its mellow sound and the commonality of blues songs for it. Looking back on it now, I think I would have held out and bought a set of Major key harmonicas all at once. You always pay more when you buy one at a time. I can’t blame myself though, I didn’t know what I do know about which harmonicas to get.

Hohner 532/20 Blues Harp Harmonica Pack with Case and Belt


Harmonica Set Ideas

I have been thinking about my harmonica set. I was thinking about going with a Marine Band Harmonica when I first started looking, but Blues Harps are easier to maintain so I picked up a Bb and later an A. Now that I am looking at filling out my harmonica set I am trying to decide what I need. (hint to loved ones, this is my Christmas wish list ;P)

I’m working on learning blues harmonica so that is the definer on what will round out the harmonica set. When you look into what to pick up the first thing everyone says is you don’t need every harmonica key. So what keys would the budding blues smith need?

Hohner 532/20 Blues Harp Harmonica Pack with Case and Belt

You can’t go wrong with just a natural set A, B, C, D, E, F, G. After the basics are out of the way, the next thing is to figure out which of the others to get. Elwood plays the Bb, and Adam Gussow starts his training videos with a Bb. Eb is a good harp for playing with a horn section. Gussow also recommends low G and Db as well. The Db is right in the middle of the scale.

So what I need to finnish out my set is low G, B, C, D, E, Eb, F, and high G. Some of the major keys I won’t use much with the blues but you never know when they will come in handy. My carrying set will probably be G, A, Bb, C, D, Db, F, and high G. I don’t plan on playing with a horn section so I won’t be carrying the Eb.

So what I need to get to round out the carrying set is, low G, C, D, Db, F and high G. Or maybe I will just pick up the Major scale set and then scrape together the Db and low G later. Yeah, I like that. and I can give the extra A to my son for his Birthday in January.

Harmonica Tabs, What Are They?

What is a harmonica tab? Harmonica tabs or tabulature, is a way to write out a songs harmonica notes based on the harmonicas design instead of using standard musical notation. While My on going series on the harmonica notes in different keys explains the basics for standard notation, harmonica tabs tell you which hole to blow through. draw through and bend.

There are a few ways to write harmonica tabs. The one you will see on this site is as follows: The holes are numbered 1 through 10, blows are denoted with as the number as in 2 for blowing through the 2 hole, the draws are – as in as in 2- or -2 for drawing through the 2 hole. Bends are marked with a ‘ so a bent 2 hole draw is marked as -2′ or 2′- and the 10 hole bent blow 10’. In some instances there are multiple bends for a hole such as the 3 hole draw which has 3 bends that can be played. This will be noted with more than one ‘, so the 3 hole draw bent 3 times looks like -3”’.

You may also see bends shown as a b but I find that confusing so I will try not to use it on this site. one of the other formats looks like this:

You won’t see much of that on this site. It takes too much work In illustrator and which would you rather see, a pretty illustrator image or a harmonica tab you can use easily?

ets take a look at the blues scale on a c harmonica Played cross harp. The key would be G and the scale is:

G, Bb, C, Db, D, F, G

Now, while you can say that and anyone with an instrument who knows standard musical notation will be able to play. Where tabs come in is when you just want to know what holes to blow and draw through. You don’t need to know the names of the notes.

standard blues tab:

2- 3′- 4+ 4′- 4- 5- 6+

With the standard notation, I have told you how to play the G blues scale for any instrument but with the standard blues tab, I have told you how to play the blues scale on every standard blues harmonica, regardless of key.

Whats cool about tabs is it allows you to play the same song in any key reasonably well. There will be audible differences from key to key but if a blues song is in the key of g, you know you can pick up a C harmonica, play the standard notes from the tab and be bluesy in the key of G.

Here’s a sample of basic 12 bar blues tabs, play on any 10 hole diatonic and you got the blues.

3,4,-3′,3 (play 4 times)

4,4,-3,4(play 2 times)

3,4,-3′,3 (play 2 times)

3,-3′,4,-4” (play once)

4,4,-3,4  (play once)

3,4,-3′,3 (play twice)

Try It out on any key Blues Harp.

Pretty basic right? Harmonica songs are noted with the tab over the word in ths song where it is supposed to be played. I don’t really need to go to much into that do I? How about i leave you with one of the classics of blues harmonica, Saint James Infirmary:

Play this mournful and slow
4-4 5 5 -4 5 4 b-3 b-3 -3 4 2 b-3 4 5 -4 4 b-3 5

5  5    5   5   -4    -4    5  4 -3
I went down to Saint James Infirm`ry
4   4  -4  -5   5
to see my baby there
5   5   5  5  5  5  -4   5    4 -3′
She was laying on a long white table
-3′ 4    4  -3′  4  -3′
so sweet so cool so fair
5   5  5  -4  5   4 -3′  5     5 5   -6  -5  5
Went up to see the doctor”She`s very low” he said
5    5   5  -4  5  4-3  -3′   -3  4   -3′
Went back to see my baby great god she was
5-4    4   -3′
lying there dead
5  5    5   -4  -4  5    4  -3′  4   4   4  4
I went down to old Joe`s barroom on the corner
-6 -5    5
by the square
5    5    5  5   5   -4    5  4 -3′ -3′  3
They were servin`the drinks as usual and the
4 -3′   5-4   4   -3′
usual crowd was there
5  5   5     5    -4  5 4 -3′  5    5
On my left stood Joe McKennedy his eyes
-6     -5   5
blood shot red
5    5    5   5   -4    5  4  -3′ -3′ -3 4
He turned to the crowd around him these are
4 -3′ 5-4  4   -3
the words he said
5   5  5  -3′  5  -4  5    4   -3′ 5  5 -3′
Let her go let her go God bless her wherever
-6  -5  5
she may be

5   5  5  -3′ 4 5    -4    5   4  -3′
She may search this wide world over
b-3 -3 4b-3   4  -3′ 5 -4  4  -3′
she`ll never find a man like me
5   5  -3′ -4   5    4 4  -3′  4 4  4 -3′ 4  5
Oh when I die please bury me in my high   top
-6  -3′  -5
Stetson hat
5  5  5    5    -4 5   4     -3′
Put a gold piece on my watch chain
-3′ -3 4    4   4  -3′ 5 -4 4   -3′
so they`ll know I died standin` pat
5    5  5 -3′ 5   5  -4 5  5   4 -3  5    5  -3′
Get six gamblers to carry my coffin,six chorus
4    5   -6  -5  5
girls to sing my song
5  5 5 -3′ 4 5   -4 5   -3′  -3′ -3 4 -3′   4
Put a jazz  band on my tailgate to raise hell
-3′ 5 4  4  -3′
as we go along
5  5  -3′  5 -3′ -45 5  5  4 -3′  4    4 -3′
Now that`s the end of my story let`s have
4 5 -6   -3′  -5  5
another round of booze
5  5  5 -3′ 5  -3′   -4   -4  5    4    -3′
And if any-one should ask you just tell them
-3′  -3′ -3   4     4    -3′ 5-4 4   -3′
I`ve got the Saint James Infirmary Blues

Learn Harmonica Chords, C Major

Our Harmonica notes series continues. C Harmonica Notes is already up but we can”t forget about C harmonica chords. I’m starting to notice a pattern here but I am going to have to do some research to make sure. While the blow chords are all in the key of the harmonica, the draw chords start with the 2 hole draw, the second chord is the 5 hole draw and the last 2 repeat the first 2. Which is fine for the fourth chord because the it starts with the note that the chord is. What’s messing with me is the 3rd chord. The key of the third chord does not have its note in it.

I guess I’ll figure it out. At any rate, here’s the C harmonica chords.

C Harmonica Chords
C Harmonica Chords

I’m going to look around for some good songs in the Key of C to post up so we can practice. Let me know what you think and if you have any songs or information about the good old basic C harmonica, feel free to let me know. Oh, and if you don’t have one, a Blues Harp in the Key of C is a nice harp to practice those chords on.