Guitar Harmonica Duo – Getting Started

In order to progress we must challenge ourselves. As harmonica players, getting in front of an audience is an excellent way. However, even though I am very interested in harmonica music I find that other people don’t have the same interest as I. After a couple of solo harmonica instrumentals most people lose interest. a better way then I find is starting a guitar, harmonica duo.

Why not a full band?

The reason I recommend a duo (or possibly a trio) is that finding one person with a similar interest and drive is much easier than 4-5 people with the same interest and drive. The more people involved the less common ground you usually have. Another thing you may not have considered is that scheduling rehersals with a full band can be a nightmare. To me a guitar harmonica duo is the perfect setup to begin with.

Getting started

I suggest you follow a path something like this:

  1. Gather a library of music you want to play
  2. Find a potential duo partner, maybe a friend. If not then advertise on forum such as Bandfinder.
  3. Discuss what you want to do, make sure your goals are not too far apart.
  4. Try a few rehersals together, start with easy songs you are both familiar with.
  5. Build your repetoir together. You probably need about 10-15 songs before you do your first gig.
  6. Find your first gig. It can be a friends party, a café, pub or why not go busking in the street? Don’t be afraid to ask to get paid but be realistic.
  7. If it all works out, continue building your repetoir get more gigs.

A few additional pointers

Make sure that either you or your guitarist sing, pure instrumental music is harder to find gigs for in my opinion. Consider taking up singing if neither of you sing to begin with! Be prepared for that you will not be the center of attention on all gigs. Some people rather talk than listen, jsut get used to it and focus on the people who do listen. Make sure your set list contains varielty, it will keep people interested for longer. If you are adding a song you are not too sure about then put it between two songs you know you will nail. Make sure to put a little bit of talking in between the songs, script it if necessary.

My own path

I don’t play in a guitar harmonica duo myself, it quickly turned into a trio for me. Duo or trio is not that important actually, it is the act of making music together and the challenge that matters.

guitar harmonica duo or trio
Rehersal with Worn Out Soles.

Go do it!

I hope this inspires you to start a guitar harmonica duo (or trio) nad that you get out in front of an audience. Why not start looking for a guitartist today?

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Tempo, rhythm and groove

When you are involved in playing music you will come across quite a bit of terminology that can be a bit confusing at first. Often there is a dry precise definition but the way people use the terms may be a bit confusing. I find that if you don’t understand the basic teminology you can quickly get lost when they are used a bit more loosely than you are used to. In this article I will introduce how I like to think about tempo, rhythm and groove and how they relate to each other. This is just as important as learning scales.

Tempo

Tempo is perhaps the easiest term to explain. Basically the tempo tells you how fast to play the music. I guess that you often tap your foot when you play or listen to music. Most likely you will tap your foot at the tempo of the rhythm (it is not uncommon though to tap your foot at twice the tempo or at half the tempo). In order to get the full picture though you also need to know what the tempo is referring to. To define this we have the time signature, this tells us how the music notation is divided in to musical bars.

4/4 is a very common time signature telling us that each musical bar contain four quarter note beats. Seems fair as four quarter notes would make up a whole note. However not all time signatures are that simple but let’s leave that for another time. If the time signature is 4/4, then the tempo tells you how man quarter note beats to play per minute. Therefore it also tells you how long a quarter note lasts.

The tempo is notated in bpm, beats per minute. 120 bpm translates to 2 beats every second. In 4/4 this means that a quarter note lasts half a second.

Rhythm

If the tempo is the speed of the music then rhythm is the repeating pattern of strong and weak beats. Every bar the same underlying pattern is repeated. Listen to how drummers play, rhythm is their contribution to the music and their playing with tell you which beats are strong and which beats are weak.

In 4/4 the recurring pattern is strongest beat, weaker beat, strong beat, weakest beat. For a blues harmonica player this is important to understand. People will pay more attention to the notes you play on beats 1 and 3, make sure make them count!

In comparison 2/4 rhythm (typically marches) only have two types of beats, a strong and a weak.

Groove

The best way to think of groove is the feeling of the music. A shuffle has a specific feeling and that is the groove. To be more specific I like to think of the groove in terms of how the sub divisions of the rhythm is handled. How is an eigth note played for example?

In rock music the eigth notes are played very straigth forward against the quarter notes. The eigth note between beat one and two is played half way between the beats.

In a shuffle the eigth notes have more of a triplet feeling, the eight note between two beats is delayed so that it is closer to the second beat. This gives a completely different feeling compared to the rock beat.

Beginner Blues Harmonica Riffs Boogie Inspired Rhythm
Depending on the groove the riff will sound different.

Summary

I hope this explanation will make communicating with other musicians easier for you. Maybe this can be your introduction to learning more music theory. A word of causion though. Different styles of music may use these terms differently. In general the way I have described things work most of the time but you may run into different usages as well. For example a beat can mean an entire track or the instrumental part of a song. Groove may mean that the musician is playing a rhtyhm with a lot of feeling pushing and pulling beats with a pleasing effect.

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How to Change Position

In a previous article I wrote about how to explore positions when playing melodies. Using the original position may not be the best choice for you depending on what you want to do. I have received questions on how to do this practically so in this article I will outline a process on how to change position.

Rough process

The rough process to change position is very simple and either require a little bit of music theory knowledge or a cheat sheet. Follow below to to see it in practice.

  1. Find the position of the tab you are working with.
    1. Most likely the tabs you have will also tell you this. If the tabs do not indicate the position at all my first guess would then be that it is in first position. This is not 100% guess but if the first note (or last note) of the tab is 1+, 4+, 7+ or 10+ it is very likely. Many fiest position melodies start or end on the root note which is on those holes.Find out the position of the song you are working with.
  2. Translate the tabs from hole numbers to scale degrees.
  3. Translate the scale degrees to hole numbers/tabs in the new position.

Also remember that when you change to a new position on a harmonica you will also change the key you are playing in.

Change position in practice

Now let’s look at the process above to change position of “Jingle Bells” that we used as a start for exploring positions. Below you see it as a reminder.

Jingle Bels in first position.

The original tab is in first position, below you find the mapping between tab symbols and scale degrees for first position.

Change position scale degrees first position.
Mapping between blow and draw notes and scale degrees.

Below you find the the melody translated to scale degrees. If you combine the infromation you should end up with the translation below.

How to change position of tabs, scale degrees as intermediate step.
The melody translated to scale degrees.

Below you find the mapping between scale degress and second position tab symbols. As yuo can see I added the 3” to get the second scale degree in the low octave. Also the b7th is there but not the 7th.

Change position scales degrees second position
Second position scale degrees.

Finally the melody translated from scale degrees to second position tabs. Simply combine the information from the images above.

Exlopring positions - Jingle Bells second position
The end result in second position.

Summary

As you can see it is not all that difficult to move tabs from one position to another. Why not try it yourself. For my subscribers I have included a “How to Change Position Cheat Sheet” PDF in the Welcome package to make moving between first, second, third and fourth position quick and easy. With the cheat sheet you don’t have to first go to the scale degrees, it is done for you.

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