What to Expect as a Beginner Harmonica Player

In my opinion the diatoinic harmonica is the best instrument in the world. It is especially suited for beginners which is both a blessing and and a curse. I do find sometimes that when don’t know what to expect when they take up playing harmonica. In this article I want to set your expectations as a beginner harmonica player.

Fast start

One of the best thing with the diatonic harmonica is that you can start playing very quickly. Within a few minutes you can start with a train imitation. Building on this you can also do simple accompaniment with rhytmic patterns. This means that you can actually start playing with other musicians right from the start. You just need to be aware that you won’t be playing any advanced solos or melodies just yet. The best way to make progress is to practice daily, even if this means short sessions.

Tone development

Most blues harmonica players are looking for the big fat tone you often hear in chicago style blues. When first starting out you will most likely have a thinner tone than you would like. This is because your tongue placement and throat relaxation have not been fully developed yet. The train imitation exercise mentioned earlier is the best way to getting a relaxed embouchure that

Getting into single note playing

To give you the most options for your later playing I recommend that you use the tongue blocking embouchure. Most people find tongue blocking more difficult that puckering to begin with. For this reason you will most likely have to expect that your single note playing will not be very clean to begin with. As long as you work on getting your precision up over time this is not a big issue as a beginner harmonica player. Learning tongue blocking is definately worth the time but it may feel like it takes a lot of time. Truth be told, you will be working on your embouchure as long as your play.

Developing your technique

Playing techniques as tremolos, vibratos and tongue blocking techniques such as tongue slaps are best added as needed when learning new material. You can always start learning new material without a certain technique and then add later. For example if a riff you are studing contains a lot of tongue slaps you can first learn it clean so that you are familiar with the sequence of notes. When you know the riff you can work on the sound of the riff with the techniques you need to add.

Playing solos

If you play over 12 bar blues and play in second position you can start playing solos pretty quickly. You may want to have developed a little bit of single note precision but second position and 12 bar blues is pretty safe for a beginner harmonica player.

Summary

I hope this gives you a fair understanding of what to expect as a beginner harmonica player. Don’t forget to check out the Welcome Package for becoming a subscriber to my newsletter. Click below to sign up!

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Harmonica and Vocals, a Great Combo

When I started playing harmonica playing solos was what I wanted most. Since then I have become much more interested in other aspects as well. In this article I want to push for combining harmonica and vocals. There are advantages you maybe haven’t considered.

Who is most important?

When I have been to workshops with Joe Filisko he has often told the class that as harmonica players we have to count on being considered the least important person on stage. It may not be very obvious all the time but I can certaily realte to this statement. I think this partly comes from the fact that many people see the harmonica as a secondary instrument and a bit of a novelty. A great way to get around this is to add vocals to your repetoire. If you also sing you are instantly transformed to the most important person on stage. This reason alone is enough to warrant combining harmonica and vocals.

Getting rid of air

For blues players the harmonica is primarily an inhaling instrument. Singing is of course done exhaling (at least mostly). The combination is a good way of getting rid of air for more harmonica playing and getting air into the lungs for singing. Because we use the air differently this makes for an easy combination and is therefore also less complicated than people think.

Better phrasing

Vocals and harmonica share a lot when it comes to the expressiveness for music. If you practice singing you will notice interesting ways of phrasing lines that you can tranfer to your harmonica playing. Well executed phrasing and use of dynamics can really enhance a harmonica performance.

Fill practice

If you combine harmonica and vocals you will also automatically need to become better at fills. When you yourself is the singer you cannot step on the your own vocal lines. The improved fill skills will be appriciated when playing with other singers.

Harmonica and vocals summary

As you can see there are great advantages for combining harmonica and vocals. The last one I would like to mention is that it is fun. You are already putting yourself in the spot light as a musician, why not take full advantage of that spot?

Let me know how it works out for you and don’t hesitate to contact me if you have any questions.

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Building Your Harmonica Kit

When you start playing harmonica you can get by with one harmonica for quite some time. However when you want to play with other people you need to be ready to play in various keys. Most players expand ther harmonica kit over time until it is more or less complete (whatever that means). In this article I will guide you through which keys to buy to give you lots of options.

Where to start?

When I have written about buying harmonicas before I ususally recommend people to get a diatonic harmonica in the key of C. The reason for this is that C is a mid range tuned harmonica so it does not have some of the challenges of lower and higher tuned harmonicas. A C harmonica played in second position plays in the key of G which is a key many guitar players are fairly comfortable with. If your play in third position you will end up in D (or Dm).

First addition to your harmonica kit

When adding you second harmonica I would recommend you to get one in the key of A. It is tuned lower than the C but not extremely low so the transition is not to bad. Also in second position you will play in E which is a very common key to play in. In third position you will be playing in B (or Bm).

Adding more harmonicas

For further expansion I would suggest first adding a D harmonica so that you have one harmonica that is tuned slightly higher. This also adds A as your second position key.

After this I would suggest buying a G harmonica, a Bb harmonica and a low F harmonica in that order. They will add D (already covered by C harp 3rd position), F and C for second position playing. F is not a very popular key with many guitarists but I like it a lot personally. C is not a super common position but the low F can also be used to play in G (and Gm) in third position with a different sound compared to your C harmonica.

Summary

All in all when you have expanded your harmonica kit to 5 or 6 harmonicas you will have a kit that is workable for most situations.

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