Benefits of Bass Line Practice

Of of the coolest elements of blues harmonica in my opinion is playing backup. However it is not the thing most associated with the harmonica. Most people would probably say that soloing is what drew them to the harmonica in the first place. I have started appreciating playing backup more and more. In this article I will point out benefits of bass line practice.

The purpose of bass lines

A bass line is what the bass player usually plays. It outlines the chords of the song and provides the foundation together with the drums for the song. In smaller setups where there might not be a drummer and/or bass player, the harmonica can fill this roll. In order to fill this roll properly you have to do specific bass line practice. It will however improve your playing in more ways. Actually, by taking the backup role you will instantly become more involved in the song and that will carry over into your solos.

Know the chords

Since the bass line outlines the chords it will be very grounded in the chord tones. Bass lines are basically music theory in practice. When you get to know the chords you are playing you also start understanding how they relate to each other. Step one to this is finding the important notes for each chord. These notes are the root, the third (minor third for minor key songs), the fifth and the minor seventh. Those notes are normally enough to outline each chord.

Basing your solos on the chord tones and spicying things up with some scale tones, outside tones and blues notes is a great way of building solos.

Get the groove

To properly lay the foundation in a song you need to know the groove. With specific bass line practice you will find that the grooves you practice will become second nature to you. This will improve your timing and allow you to make small changes as you play to make the music swing even more. To get to this point the metronome is your friend.

Support yourself

Even though bass lines are usually talked about in a band context they are useful when you play solo (as in unaccompanied) as well. Whenever there is a hole in the melody you play or in between riffs, hinting at a bass line is a great way of keeping the groove alive without a band. To able to do this you need to be really comfortable with bass lines.

Find your own benefits

As you start your bass line practice your will discover even more benefits as you progress. A nice way of practicing is to listen for the bass line of a song you like and play along to a recording. This way you can also work on your dynamics to blend in nicely.

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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.


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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