Exploring minor blues, third position and rhumba

A few years ago I got very interested in minor blues as it is something not we blues harmonica players tend to shy away from. Some people even think you cannot play blues over a minor chord progression.

This is of course incorrect but I can kind of see why people get the idea. If you are a player who always play in second position and have tried playing a solo when the band is in minor you probably noticed that some of the riffs you usually use weren’t working as well. This leads people to believe that blues and minor don’t mix or that it is too difficult to bother with.

When I started thinking about minor blues it was quite apparent that it wasn’t the fact that the chords were minor that was the problem. The blues scale is based on the minor pentatonic scale so a minor key should be no problem at all. After thinking about it for a while i realised that it was the minor third that was causing most players problems in second position. Playing a minor third over a major chord sounds really bluesy, even if the tone is not 100% in pitch. For example playing the 3-draw half step bend a little sharp (maybe just a quarter note bend) over the I-chord is perfectly alright. You can also play the 3-draw unbent which then matches the chord without being part of the blues scale. This means that you will rarely be really off in 2nd position.

Over the I-chord all blow notes are chord tones so that is pretty easy as well in 2nd position. The V-chord is trickier but most people handle it by using standard V-IV-I licks.

If we look at minor blues the minor third now becomes a chord tone as well as a blues scale note. Since it is a chord tone you really want it in tune, too sharp or even 3 unbent will not be any good and certainly not bluesy. Looking at the iv-chord the 2-blow will no longer be a chord tone, in fact unless you have mastered overblows the minor third is not available. This also means that all full blow chords are out which takes away some of the power of 2nd position. Even the draw 1-3 chord which is very commonly used won’t work because it is the major chord.

What you can do is stay away from the chords, 2 blow on the I.chord and make sure to play 3 draw half step bend in pitch. Or you can do what I did and opt for third position. Why is third position good for minor blues? Well simply put the minor third is quite easily accessible meaning that you won’t get in so much trouble playing it. In fact, the blues scale on holes 4-8 is dead simple and you only have to bend for the minor fifth. Here is what it looks like:

4 5 6+ 6′ 6 7+ 8 (Root, minor third, fourth, minor fifth, fifth, minor seventh)

It is a bit trickier in the low octave but it is not impossible:

1 2” 2/3+ 3”’ 3” 4+

Basically, if you stay above hole 3, third position is very easy and you can always develop the lower octve later.

Now, there are some misconceptions about third position. Some people think that third position is exclusively for minor songs and that is not true. You are playing the same scale so it’s not a specific minor scale you are playing. Third position works just as well over a major chord progression. I think this misconception comes from the fact that it sounds a bit darker playing in the third position but that comes from the fact that the minor thirds are more easily controlled.

Another thing I wanted to explore at the same time was blues rhumbas so I chose to write a rhumba in third position. You can check it out below. If I had written the song today I may have included a part where I play the very well known rhumba riff you often hear as backup.

Check out my “music video” on YouTube!

Reap what you sow blues harp in Dm on a C-harp.

All in all going outside what I usually play was a great learning experience and I recommend i to everyone.

If you sign up to my mailing list I will send you a coupon giving you a 75% discount for my “Learn to play and improve 12 bar blues harmonica solos” Udemy Course.

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Rules for Great Blues Harmonica Practice

As we all know, becoming a great harmonica player takes practice. Lots of practice. What suprises me sometimes is that how little thought some people put into how they practice. When I became serious about blues harmonica quite a few years ago I quickly found out that I was time constrained. It wasn’t because of lack of interest I wasn’t practicing 8 hours a day, it was simply because I had so many other obligations. Work, family, house, garden etc etc. You know how it is. This led me to thinking about how I could make the best use of the time I actually practiced.

Some time ago I took the time to record a few YouTube videos I chose to call “Hertzberg’s rules of practice”. It was my way of collecting the ideas I had developed over time that made my practice better than when I started. It turned out to be 9 rules for some reason, I don’t know why. Now I thought it would be a great time to summarize them here in this article. For full explanation of the rules watch the videos.

1. Quality & quantity
More is not always better, it has to be good as well. Rule #1 video.

2. Consistency is king
Improvements fade if they are not maintained. Rule #2 video.

3. End with a positive feeling
What happens after the practice is also important to end on a positice note. Rule #3 video.

4. Have your gear ready
Don’t waste time when you practice! Rule #4 video.

5. Set your intentions
If you know what you want, everything falls into place. Rule #5 video.

6. Record and review
We don’t always hear what we play when we are playing. Rule #6 video.

7. Make performance practice realistic
The way be pratice is the way we default to under preassure. Rule #7 video.

8. Check relaxation
The more relaxed you are the less you will fight yourself. Rule #8 video.

9. Let the metronome rule
Staying in time is much more difficult than many people think. Rule #9 video.

If you follow these rules I can guarantee you that your blues harmonica practice will be much more efficient. Not only will your progress be quicker but you will also likely spend more time practicing. Everything adds up!

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Blues Harmonica Solo Course Live on Udemy

Everything moved quicker than I expected my course is already live on Udemy. I am very excited about this.

The course is for beginnig and intermediate harmonica players who want to improve their soloing skills. The course covers everything for simple 12 bar blues solo strategies up to startegies that include supporting the chord progression, dynamics, solo structure and creating excitement. This is what you need to take your solos to the next level and really integrate what you play with the music.

If you want to become better at playing blues harmonica solos, this is the course for you.

You will find the “Learn to play and improve 12 bar blues harmonica solos” course here.

If you sign up to my mailing list I will send you a coupon giving you a 75% discount valid until August 31st 2017.

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Working on blues harmonica course for Udemy

Forr the last month I have been working on a course to publish on Udemy. The reason I have chosen to go with Udemy is their great support in putting together courses. Now I have been able to focus on the material I want to tech rather than designing web pages. Hopefully everything will be up and running within a few weeks. I am very excited about this!

Harp on!

Recommendations for Buying Harmonicas

Before you start playing it is pretty obvious that you need a harmonica and typically what you need if you play blues is a diatonic harmonica. This is the 10-hole version that is quite common in blues, rock and among troubadoures. Some people think this instrument is a toy but nothing could be further from the truth. A diatonic harmonica from serious brand is a serious instrument is suprisingly cheap compared to other instruments. There are a few things you need to know before shopping around for your harp and this article aims to give you a good start. Recently, I got a Turnigy 9X for my RC plane, it’s the most useful accessory for my RC that I Have gotten in years.

First of some basic stuff, what you are looking for is a Richter tuned, major diatonic harmonica. Most often you can leave out the “Richter tuned” part when you search for a harp but you want to be sure it is a major diatonic. Most diatonics are major diatonics but some brands offer other version such as melodic minor and harmonic minor variants which are more suitable for playing folk music and melodies.

OK, so now you know the type of harmonica you need, another thing to decide is what key to choose. The key of the harmonica is which scale the harmonica is tuned to. A C-major diatonic harmonica is tuned to the C-major scale, it is basically a small piano with the black keys removed (and a few of the white keys as well). So what key to pick then? First off, it doesn’t matter what key you use when you play by yourself and learn to play, they all work the same way. However if you play with other people you need to be in the right key and also if you choose a harmonica that is tuned to a very low key it can be more challenging to play at first and also very high pitched harmonicas can be challenging to control. What you want in the beginning is key somewhere in the middle of the range. Traditionally G is the lowest key and F (or possibly F#) is the highest key. Nowadays many brands offer keys outside this range such as low F, or even down to low low F. I would recommend a C-major harmonica to start with. This puts you in the middle giving you a very workable harmonica without “extra” challenges, also a C-major harmonica when played in 2nd position, which is the go-to position for many blues harmonica players and what you normally learn first, is in the key of G which works reasonably well for most guitar players. If you choose to buy more than one harmonica I would recommend an A-major harmonica as well as this plays in the key of E in 2nd position and is also a nice key when you play by yourself. In fact if you get the following keys you are pretty much set for most situations: C, A, G, Bb, low F and D.

So, now you know what type of harmonica and the key to buy so now we have to choose a brand. There are a lot of brands out there and in the end it comes down to what you like and what suits your playing style. I make these recommendations based on my own preferences and what I use and have used. If you ask somebody else you may get other recommendations. One thing though, you basically get what you pay for. A cheaper harmonica tends to be less durable and in some cases not as well set up out of the box.

The list below is in order of preference from my point of view.

Hohner
Generally speaking I recommend Hohner, their harmonicas have been the standard for many blues players for a long time. This is no accident, other brands may have gained ground at Hohner’s expence during the last few years but for me Hohner is still my choice.

Hohner Marine Band Deluxe
The Marine Band Deluxe was the Hohner flag ship product for a number of years, it is an updated version of the classic Marine Band with a better sealed comb and reed plates that are screwed on rather than nailed. They play very well out of the box and also lend themselves well for repair work and custimization. The tuning of this harp works very well for blues and the chords are beautiful.

Hohner Marine Band Crossover
The Crossover is an updated version of the Marine Band Deluxe with even higher precision and bamboo composite comb that does stands up very well against moisture. As with the delux it is very maintainable and plays lamost perfectly out of the bos. The tuning is slightly different so the chords are not as smooth compared to the delux but it works over a wider range of keys and may therefore be a better choice if you not only play 2nd position blues but other styles and positions as well.

Hohner Marine Band Classic
Before Marine Band Deluxe and Crossover this was the go-to-harmonica for many blues players. An often copied harmonica and for good reason. It works very well out-of.the-box and has a partially sealed pear wood comb. You may experience som swelling of the comb with this model which is a draw-back but it is not too bad. The reed plates are nailed to the comb which makes maintenance of this model a bit more cumbersome than the Deluxe and the Crossover.

Other options
The three harmonicas above are far from the only options but reallt what I prefer. Here are some other options to consider if you either don’t like these three, prefer platic combs or can’t get hold of them for some reason.

Hohner Golden Melody is a nice harmonica that is a bit thicker, it plays very well but is tuned to equal tuning which works better for melody playing so chord heavy music is not its strong point. Hohner Pro Harp is a plastic comb harmonica quite close to the Marine Band Classic but very maintainable as it is part of the Hohner MS system. Hohner Special 20 is a plastic comb version of Marine Band, many people like it but I never made friends with it. Lee Oskar is a very custimizable and maintainable harmonica with lots of spare part options, works better for mealody heavy music due to its tuning. C.A Seydel & Söhne 1847 Classic is a really good harmonica that feels semi-custom to begin with which is quite special, the only draw-back is that it is a bit pricey.

If you would like to order harmonicas online I can truly recommend Thomann for europeans, excellent selection, good service and fast deliveries. For full disclosure, I am a Thomann link partner.

 


Musikhaus Thomann Linkpartner

Beginner Course in the Pipe

Right now I am preparing a beginner course that will be run together with Studieförbundet Vuxenskolan in Landskrona. I am very excited about this and I hope we get enough students to start the course. 

Link to Studieförbundet Vuxenskolan Västra Skåne

I’ll post more info later when dates etc are set. Most likely this will happen during fall.