Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Chops Workshop: First Position

- What is a position? Think of a position as being a starting point on your harmonica. By changing your starting position, you can play a single diatonic harmonica in several different keys.
- Today, we'll discuss first position.
- First position is the actual key of the harmonica. If you are holding a harmonica in the key of C, first position will be the key of C. Your root note in first position (meaning C on a C harmonica) is in 1-blow, 4-blow, and 7-blow.
- The diatonic harmonica covers three octaves. The most common octave used for first position playing is the middle octave, which starts on hole 4.
- Remember when reading tabs: 2 means hole two-blow, -2 means hole two-draw, -2* means two-draw bent a half step, -2** means two-draw bent a whole step. Practice this scale forwards and backwards.
4 -4 5 -5 6 -6 -7 7

- For the more advanced players, here is the first position scale on the bottom octave. You need to be able to bend in order to do this., but once you learn it, it can add a great new sound to some simple songs you already know.
1 -1 2 -2** -2 3** -3 4

- And here is the first position scale for the top octave.

7 -8 8 -9 9 -10 10** 10

- If you're just starting out, you might find this post a bit overwheling. Don't worry. For now, you just need to worry about the middle octave. That will cover you for quite a while.

Remember that if you are struggling with two-draw, you can substitute 3-blow. They are the same note.

- As an exercise, figure out "when the Saint Go Marching In". Now try to play it in the other two octaves!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Harping On: Ed Vadas

1. You are a very meticulous musician. What is important to you in your music?


The important thing is that I make the music for me.  So that I like it.  Of course, I want the public to enjoy it as well, but I don't like to write or perform with guessing what people will enjoy.  


As for specifics...I want to always have a unique way of saying things both lyrically and instrumentally  included in the tune.   I want my songs to always have something subtle and special, where the metaphor thrives while being natural.   Arrangements should not be like cartoon chase music, but appear to bo something that might have happenned spontaneously.


2. You know a lot about the harp. I mean a LOT. How have you learned so much about the instrument?


Well... let's say that I have an idea about harmonica.  My philosophy is to try to use the harmonica in a way that emphasizes it's strengths.   Most players or all instruments these days emphasize the solo aspect of their instrument and spend little time thinking orchestrally on how best to use their instrument to make the song and arrangement better.   Rather than having a philosophy of play that involves theme and structure, they most often fallback on chugs and call and answer cliches both.   After one gets to a certain...relatively easy accessible skill level on the harp...who is soloing makes little difference... lack of playing thematically just makes one another harp player. (or any instrument including drums...themes make music...cliches and the mundane kills music)


3. What is your harp of choice, and why?


I am a horner "marine band" man.  Probabally because I like the way it mutates tuning wise.  (until it goes just plain awful!


4. What harp techniques are the most important to learn?


Get a great warble and seven hole blow

Learn to tongue block everything chords and single notes alike.

Learn to play all single note riffs as chords and warbles and vice-versa.

Learn to sing...if only to understand, plavement and phrasing.

Learn to play diaphragm breathing, it will help your singing

Learn that the harmonica harmonizes and that what you think is only to be played over the first, second, or third four bars of a 12 bar tune, can be played interchangeable...thinking of thing like a turn around being just for a turnaround is ONLY setting a false limit on your scope of playing.

Play thematically!


5. What important aspect of harp playing do you think is often ignored?

Like I said for the previous answer to question 4.

and learning some theory so as to give the harp player more of a chance to be creative within those 10 holes.


6. Do you do very much harp maintenance?




7. Who are your favorite harmonica players?


There are plenty of good ones around these days but they pretty much learned from the early folks.

Little Walter, Big Walter, Sonny Boy 1 and 2, and sonny Terry should give you enough chops for this lifetime


8. What would you say is the key for successfully playing music with others?


You have to use your ears and instincts combined with your philosophy of play to really be able to play with quality players and be welcomed. (anyone can be stupid and sit in, but not for long)


9. What advice would you give to anyone currently learning to bend?


Know the note you are bending to, play it on a guitar or piano then bend to match.  Keep in mind that lower key harps  need  slight changes in breath to stay in  pitch.


10. Any last words for members of HOOT?


It is easy to lull yourself into a feeling that you are good, but remember...most harmonica players SUCK!!



Well the last answer is true enough...the harmonica is in harmony with the key it is in, so it is very easy for someone to think they are better than they are because the notes are in tune...but then, most beginners start sucking and bend good notes to the last answer is a warning more than a put down....You can fool around with fellow novices and think you are making music, but it takes a lot of understanding, study, and practice to make the toy harmonica into a viable instrument.  Unfortunately...most harmonica owners actually delude themselves into believing they can play without anything tangibel to back up their assumption....

such is the harmonica.



Monday, February 16, 2009

HUGE Blues Harp Event in Houston...

Remember the interview with Todd Slobin we did a while back? His movie's almost done, and to celebarate, he's halped put togerther an amazing blues harp event. It's coming up in April and it sounds fantastic. Hope to see you all there! 
Event: Pocket Full of Soul Music and Film Festival  
Date: April 4, 2009  
Location: Discovery Green  
Time: 5:30-10:00pm  
Admission: Free event   
The event will feature a sneak peak of the film Pocket Full of Soul: The Harmonica Documentary along with several musicians from the film performing live in the park before and after the film, including Gary Allegretto, Guy Forsythe, and Jason Ricci & New Blood, and potential surprise guests. 
The film features Clint Black, Robert Bonfiglio, James Cotton, Magic Dick, Rick Estrin, Joe Filisko, Dennis Gruenling, Taylor Hicks, Mark Hummel, Robert Klein, Charles Leighton, Howard Levy, Huey Lewis, Delbert McClinton, L.D. Miller, Tommy Morgan, Charlie Musselwhite, Jerry Murad, Lee Oskar, Rob Papparozi, John Popper, Jerry Portnoy, Gary Primich, Annie Raines, Mickey Raphael, Jason Ricci, Peter Madcat Ruth, Captain Walter Schirra, Corky Seigle, Sugar Blue, Survivorman Les Stroud, Kim Wilson and many others. The film is narrated by Huey Lewis.   
After the event at Discovery Green, there will be a harmonica players' jam at the House of Blues featuring the band Glasspack with special guests. Also free. In addition and to get the groove started, on Friday, April 3rd, there will be a social at Cactus Music with beverages and live music. Performers to be announced soon. Also free.  
If you have never been to Houston before or are just looking for a reason to come back, please make plans to come to the event. Also, if you are looking for good hotel rates, try You can usually get a 4 star hotel in downtown Houston on the weekend between $50-$75 – a deal if you are looking for an inexpensive getaway in this awesome economy. So, there you have it, fly, drive, take a train, or just let the music bring you here.  
If you decide to come, please let me know so that I can try to make your trip to Houston an experience to remember.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Chops Workshop: Holding the Harmonica

Here are Adam Gussow and Dave Barret on how to hold a harmonica...  

Friday, February 13, 2009

Alvin's Harmonica

Here a classic clip....thanks to "alvinsharmonica" on YouTube.


Here are some great videos by Jason Ricci that will help with root notes. These are very important.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Harping On: Walter Tore

Walter Tore is the winner of the Bushman World Harmonica Video Contest. His playing method is interesting. In his own words, "I am totally self taught on all instruments.  I have not had a lesson, read a book, watched an instructional video, or attended a seminar.  I enjoy just noddling around on instruments.  I still don't know how to play a scale, or know any keys per say.  I approach music like a little kid.  I also have never sat down to try to learn a certain lick, tone, etc.   When I pick up an instrument, a song alway is busting to come out and that is a lot more exciting to me than sitting down and thinking.  Music, art, and poetry are my great escape from this world.  I am able to travel through time and space with it.  Also, Nigel Price, an author from England, is writing a book on my life."

1.       How did you first hear about the contest?

I have been a member on the Bushman Harmonica forum for a couple years.  John, the owner does this contest and one for the Ukulele.  Bushman makes harps and ukes.  Here is a link to the forum-

  1. Did you know right away what video you were going to make?

I never know what I am going to do.  All my words and music are spontaneously created performed and recorded.  So, I had no idea what I was going to do.  I just sat down and recorded 3 songs.  That was the entry limit.  I shipped them off and that was that.  It took about 1/2 hour to do the 3 songs, mix them, and ship them off.

  1. How did you first start doing the one-man-band thing?

When I was a teenager, I was given a harp by my girlfriend.  I use to walk everywhere with it, playing it as I walked.  I was walking down South Orange Ave. in Newark, New Jersey.  I was delivering drugs and collecting money at the bars in the Vailsburg neighborhood.  If you 

ever saw the show, the Soprano's, you get the idea.....    As I was going bar to bar, a purple Cadillac pulled up next to me.  It was driven by Wilbert Harrison. Wilbert had big hits with Kansas City in the late 50's and later as a 1 man band with Let's Work Together.  Canned Heat did a cover of it.  Wilbert had a bunch of women in the car that were dressed like the Supremes, hairdos and all.  He kept yelling for me to get in his car and he was going to make me a star.  They were pretty high and I knew with what I was carrying, it would be gone in a minute if I got in.  I kept walking and he kept following.  He kept screaming that he was a big star and I was going to be in his band.  Finally he jumped the car up on the sidewalk and cornered me.  Then he help up old record cover albums.  I had no idea who he was.  I zipped up my coat that had extra pockets inside it to carry the stuff, and got in.  He was in bad shape and was playing some of 

the worst dives in Newark.  Me being white would never have made it out alive from those clubs and neighborhoods on my own.  Wilbert was doing the one man band thing, with bass drum, high hat, guitar, and harp.  I carried the gear and would blow harp.  He didn't last long onstage and I would jump on the kit and guitar and make noise.  I guess I was so into it, and people were so high, it went over.  Wilbert disappeared and I never saw him again.   This was in the 70's.  I did the 1 man band thing on and off for a year or so, and gave it up to be in regular bands. 

4.       How do you manage to do everything at once?

I don't know.  I started as a harp player, and then went to harp/singing because no one wanted to.  Then I started on the guitar because it was so hard to find guitar players.  When

 we left Austin Texas in 1996 and moved to Sonoma County California, I didn't find any musicians I could groove with.  So, I went back to the 1 man band set up.  I have added a snare via a modified double kick pedal that works the bass drum and snare.  I let go of the high hat for a ride cymbal that works on a kick drum pedal with at stick attached to it.  On the snare  I have designed the beater with a stick on one side, and a brush on the other so depending on the mood, I have options.  

About a year ago, I started playing the keys and added them to setup.  I know if I start thinking, everything falls apart.  When I close my eyes and just let things unfold, it sounds like a real band is behind me.  There are some things that I can't do with the harp and guitar in the 1 man band set up, but it is worth the trade off.  No more band dramas, and scrambling to find musicians for gigs/tours.  Now when I get booked it is just me.  If there are some musicians around that I groove with and they are available, they come by. 

5.       How are you able to get good tone when you play on a rack? I have tough time doing that.

Again, I don't know.  I have been playing on the rack since I first started out for some part of the day.  I wanted to have it sound like it was in my hands and through just wanting to hear that sound, I figured things out inside my mouth to get vibrato and tone.  It was basically just countless hours using it.  I think a lot of harp players think it will be an easy thing.  It is almost like learning all over again.  I spent a lot of time trying to get the harp rack to sit like it was my hands.  I finally gave up and still use the cheapest harp rack out there.  It was like $6 when I started out, and now you can find them for $8.  It is about the only thing connected with harps that hasn't skyrocketed. 

6.       What is your background in harmonica?

My girlfriend bought me one for my birthday.  My parents wouldn't let me play music.  They worried I would become a drug addict like so many did in the 60's-70's.  I would borrow guitars and my father would break them.  That led to no one loaning me anything.  Plus there weren't any people doing blues around where I lived.  So, the harp was a great gift.  I kept it in my pocket and blew it in my pillow at night.  I also had no idea there was such a thing as a guitar pick or harp rack.  I also had no idea the guitar had to be tuned a certain way.  I figured my own tunings and when someone finally put it in standard tuning I was lost! I would wedge the harp into things at eye level on a wall and stick my head way out so the guitar wouldn't hit the wall.  Then I saw a Bob Dylan album cover and saw a harp rack.  I had to have one.  Soon my father found out about the harp, and with all the hassles we were having, I took off.  

For several years I would literally play 10-20 hours a day.  I was so overwhelmed with the world in my head that when I stopped playing I feared I would kill myself or someone.  But once I played, everything felt ok.  I am still sort of that way.  I play 2-4 hours a day(7 days a week) and work a full time job as well.   I was living anywhere I could and one night I was in NYC and saw Louisiana Red perform.  He blew me away.  I went up afterwards and we talked.  He asked if I as a player.  I told him I was a harp player and trying to learn the guitar.  He said I could come by his house anytime.  I said how about now?  He said sure, and off we went.  Red is a great harp player.  I learned a lot from him.  

He turned me onto to Bill Dicey, who was pre Charlie Musselwhite and Butterfield with white guys getting into the Black blues scene.  Bill turned me on to Sonny Terry.  I would help him out at gigs.  He taught me a ton about sounding big and not blowing hard.  I am still learning that lesson!  Other than those 3 guys, I never really fit in the harp community.  I  had my own kind of style and making it all up as I go along, had me always the outsider.   

That has kind of been true with me and most musicians and the music world.  I got a hohner harmonica endorsement when I was living in Austin.  I piloted the Rainbow Harmonica Program in the Austin City Schools.  The rainbow harp was a 4 hole diatonic sized harp that had color coded holes and a color coded songbook to go along with it.  Hohner was hoping to have it replace the recorder in the schools.  It never really went anywhere.  It was the only time I got anything free from hohner!   They sent me hundreds of those  harps, books, patches, hats, posters, etc

  1. Did you really think you would win the contest?

To be honest, yes.  That is my soul speaking.  We all have our own unique gift and if we have enough faith to let it shine, it will always be special.  So, IMO, everyone who plays should feel their music is the best because it is uniquely ours.  But on the other hand, my head doubted I would win and I had been thinking of what I would write to congratulate the winners.  I submitted 3 videos, the limit for the contest.  2 were just me and the harp.  I felt one of those would win, but the 1 man band song I entered won.  That showed me once again, you never know what others will think, so just play for yourself and let the cards fall where they may.

8. So what was the prize?

I got to order $750 of Bushman harps and reed plates.  I could have used the $ for anything they sell.  I also get to go on right before the headliner at the Bean Blossom Blues, Brews, BBQ Festival and get a great cabin to stay in (complete with hot tub), and get paid as well.  The Bean is a harp lovers festival and is a 3 day affair.  I am real excited to be there. 

9. Any gigs, events, etc. you want to tell us about?

I wish I did.  Last year I won the International Blues Challenge for the Columbus Blues Alliance.  That sent me to Memphis for the finals and also came with a lot of festivals around this part of the country.  I am burnt on hustling gigs.  I have no agent, and the established labels so far at least, haven't touched spontobeat.  So, I have only the Bean on my calendar as of now.   I don't hang out in the scene anymore.  

I built my own studio and live there in my free time.   I record about a full length cd a day.  This keeps me satisfied-kind of.   Gigs still trickle in, and I am grateful for that.  Considering I only play when people call and I like the set up, things are good!   I still dream that a promoter will see something in what I do and hook me up with some gigs.  I am now a special education teacher and love it.  I also love all the vacations that come with teaching.  I am available all summer and a bunch during the year. 

  1. Last words to member of HOOT?

I want to thank you for looking me up.  It is very moving to be recognized.  I have had very little of this in my musical career.  It seems to be getting better as I get older.  This is special because I can really appreciate things like this interview.  When you are younger, often you look ahead too much and miss the beauty of the moment.  

Helen Keller said - "life is a daring adventure or nothing at all."  That line has been my life.  Heck, all we are doing is waiting to die, so we might as well do something that inspires us.  Take chances.  Follow your heart.  Ignore your head.  Live life with passion.   That is all from Walter Tore for now-take care. 

Here is the winning video...


Friday, February 6, 2009

Harping On: Tony Eyers

    One of the best instructional websites I've found is Harmonica Academy. The lessons are separated into different "years". Freshman, Sophomore, Junior, and Senior. Each year consists of ten detailed harmonica lessons which cover basic playing. Each year also has ten blues lessons. 
    Every lesson has audio about what you have to learn. You have to be able to play each part before you go on. 
    The founder of this site is Tony Eyers. His playing (which is superb) mostly consists of bluegrass and traditional Irish fiddle tunes. His Album, "Black Mountain Harmonica", is a great example of music which is all too often overlooked by harmonica players. 

1.  What is your background as a harmonica player?

   I went to College in the US in the '70s where I met Jim Fitting, the famous Boston based player. Jim inspired me to start, then helped me in the early stages. Through the'80's I led blues bands in Australia, and studied baroque recorder (the other end of the spectrum). During the 1990's I started going to bluegrass festivals in Australia, and was drawn to the traditional fiddle tunes. I didn't know if they could be played on harmonica, but I was determined to find out.

   2. I listened to your CD. It's all Irish folk music. Your harmonica playing through it is very much like a fiddle. How did you adapt your playing to that style?

   Actually the CD is more bluegrass. I hung around bluegrass players in the US in the early 80's, then reconnected with the music in the '90s. There are some Irish tunes on the CD, inspired partly by Brendan Power's playing on "New Irish Harmonica". I sound like a fiddle, because I'm playing fiddle tunes... I've retuned my harmonicas to more easily play the tunes at full speed, this accounts partly for my sound. Also I use very good custom harmonicas, made by Neil Graham in Australia. These make a big difference. I try to play the tunes note for note, like the good fiddle players.

   3. I understand you became a big harmonica instructor in China. How did that get started?

   I was working for the University of Wollongong, and ended up teaching engineering at Zhengzhou University in China, as part of an exchange program. The students had a great interest in Western music, but few resources for learning. I teamed up with a Chinese post graduate student named Shiwee and created a harmonica teaching web site. I wrote the lessons, Shiwee did the translations, built the site and built the Chinese community. Shiwee and I have a close working relationship, the site now has over 30000 members.

   4. How did you decide to create HarmonicaAcademy.Com? came from the Chinese site, the lessons are essentially the same. I make my living writing educational material in the IT area, so creating Internet based harmonica instruction has been a logical step.

   5. How did you come up with the lesson format?

   I started by looking at existing harmonica teaching material. There is some great stuff these days, but I found two common problems which I tried to address.

   1) Audio samples. You should be able to play the bit you are learning over and over. And it should be right next to the tab. Most instruction books have CDs, where you have to jump to track 46 then start, pause etc. The Internet allows online audio players which avoid this hassle.

   Also I wanted to avoid endless tab. Many books have a few pages of instruction, then tab for the remainder. My eyes blur over after a page or two of tab, I suspect that others feel the same.

   2) Many instruction courses lack a clear structure. You get the book, it is too easy, too hard etc. In particular, intermediate players often have trouble finding instruction books which suit their level. Creating a structured learning program is not easy. I drew on my skills as a professional educator when designing Harmonica Academy, so that players could easily find the right starting point, and progress from there.

   6. On the site, you separate harmonica lessons, from blues-harmonica lessons. What is your main reason for doing that?

   Most harmonica courses are all blues... Nothing wrong with that, unless you want to play other styles (traditional tunes, Hip Hop etc). For this reason I divided the Harmonica Academy lessons into two strands, one for blues, the other for traditional tunes. I also cover Hip Hop, country and other styles. The idea is to appeal to a wide audience, and to equip players with more performance options than just blues.

   7. Do have many students through the site?

   The site is becoming popular.

   8. What kind of feedback have you gotten?

  Pretty much all good so far. I get suggestions on improving things, which I try to incorporate. Early on someone suggested a "Click here for the next lesson" link at the end of each lesson. An obvious feature which I had overlooked, but then added. 

   9. Anything coming up?

   I've been writing a series of articles on things I do as a player. I'm also writing about common traps for beginners, and how to avoid them. Things like the two hole draw note, why you start with a C harmonica etc. I struggled with these things when I started, and didn't have the Internet to help me out. I'd like to make it easier for emerging players if I can.

  10. Any last words to members of HOOT?

  Absolutely. Texas has some of the best live music in the world. Go out and see it!