Blues Harmonica Tabs, pt 1

During the past almost-20 years that I’ve been teaching blues harmonica, I have learned that there are some helpful things one can do to help build your repertoire and vocabulary, while helping your confidence & fluidity on the instrument. One of the BIGGEST and most important things is to learn some of the classic blues songs & solos note-for-note. When I first started I didn’t have any good blues harmonica tabs to work with, and I didn’t even understand why I should learn the “old” stuff note-for-note anyway. I didn’t want to re-hash what has already been done before, I wanted to do my own thing and express myself.

Not long after I started devoting hours a day to practicing the harp, I realized what I was playing didn’t sound as good as I wanted it to, or sometimes even half as good as I thought it sounded! I then started working on my techniques, and started working on learning new solos & songs on a regular basis. I did this just by listening over & over to the records (yes, the RECORDS, haha) and training my ear to hear & understand what I was hearing and how to play it all. Learning solos & songs note-for-note did a LOT to help me get better on the harp and make me much more comfortable playing & working on improvisation. Nowadays there are many blues harmonica tabs out there, but unfortunately most of them are not accurate at all.

While I have done some of my own blues harmonica tabs in the past, and have helped out other published instructors with some, I have grown to appreciate blues harmonica tabs from two other blues harmonica instructors I respect – Joe Filisko and David Barrett. Some of my students prefer the Filisko-style blues harmonica tabs and find them easiest to use, so I use these with most of my students. I have dozens of Filisko blues harmonica tabs on hand to use with all of my students and I work with each student on learning the structure & style of the song before even going to the tab. If you want to learn something like a blues harp song & retain it, you will want to get your ear & brain familiar with it first, then after you have worked on it a little (on you own), start working on understanding the licks & nuances better with a blues harmonica tab.

The wide selection of blues harmonica tabs I use includes songs by:

  • Little Walter
  • Big Walter
  • Sonny Boy Williamson
  • Slim Harpo
  • Junior Wells
  • George Smith
  • and more…

Working on learning solos and songs note-fornote with blues harmonica tabs is only one of the many things I do with my students. In addition to learning songs & solos, I work on building techniques, learning nuances, understanding the musicality of what you are playing, understanding & knowing scales & positions, how and what to practice, understanding & building up of accompaniment AND solo playing, and much more…

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(to be continued…)

- Dennis Gruenling

Dennis Gruenling can be found on or here on He teaches blues harmonica around the globe, including in the NY/NJ area and online, performs all over, and also hosts the blues radio show “Blues & the Beat” on WFDU – Teaneck, NJ on Thursday afternoons.