Harp Q&A’s #1-10


Q&A #10

Q: “Can you talk a little about the space between notes, or the idea of  ‘playing the pauses’?

A: THIS is a very important question! As I am putting up my second full set of Jam Trax here on BadAssHarmonica.com, I will soon be getting ready to offer tips & lessons on what and how you can play along with the Jam Trax. The spaces or “pauses” in your playing as you play solos or passages on the harmonica (or ANY instrument) are as much a part of the music as the notes and chords you play. Music is like a language, and if you were to speak some words in your native language without any pauses, how would someone know when one thought or statement ends, and the next thought or statement begins? The same thing can apply to music. You may want to create some structure so people can follow your ideas and enjoy them with you. In addition to this, the silence or “pauses” in a solo also acts as a contrast to what IS being played. This contrast will bring the listener in to focus more on what you DO play, WHEN you play something. Ever wonder why a constant background noise eventually disappears from your conscious awareness…? Because it is constant. I would imagine that is not what people want to happen with the music they make. Create tension & release it. Use dynamics to bring the listener in, then let them wait a second (or more) for the conclusion or continuation…instead of posing a question, explaining it and offering an answer all in the same breath. Spaces and pauses in your playing can help your music make more “sense” to the listener.


Q&A #9

Q: “I’ve been practicing a lot and learning some new (tongue-blocking) techniques, but also just picked up a new amplifier and microphone. Should I be practicing amplified, holding the harp with my mic?

A: I get this question a lot. To start off, I will say that I recommend all your practice for any harmonica techniques, licks, songs, etc…to be done without holding a microphone. When you are learning a technique on the instrument, you want to be able to focus on the mechanics & muscles it takes to accomplish this, and have your body get used to doing it step-by-step. Adding a microphone into the mix will usually only complicate the practice and/or focus. So I recommend that you practice acoustic. HOWEVER, if you want to get better at your amplified playing (or playing while holding a microphone) and/or this is fairly new to you, I would recommend practicing while holding a microphone as a technique to practice in & of itself until you get more used to holding the harp with a microphone. But at first, I wouldn’t worry about practicing something difficult or new while holding a mic, just get used to holding the harp with the mic while playing things you already know and things you can comfortably play.


Q&A #8

Q: “I’ve been concentrating on working on playing tongue-blocked recently, and I want to know what is ‘normal’ – a ‘left-side block’ or a ‘right-side block’? And is one more commonly used or more useful than the other?

A: To start off, let’s clear up these terms that are being used. Generally the term “left-side tongue-blocking” refers to the technique where you use your tongue to block holes/notes to the LEFT of the single hole/note you want to play, as in blocking holes 2 & 3 while playing hole 4. Therefore a “right-side tongue-block” is the exact opposite – using your tongue to block holes/notes to the RIGHT of the single hole/note you want to play. As far as what is more “useful” or more “used” – the normal way is to block to the LEFT or LOWER SIDE of the hole/note you are playing, having the chord you play (when your tongue is removed from the harp) being made up of the single note PLUS the next few lower notes on the harp (either 2 or 3 notes are usually blocked). Some people play “upside down” (as have some great players in the past including Sonny Terry, Paul Butterfield, William Clarke, etc…) with the numbers on the harp coverplate facing downwards, or on the underside of the harp, as opposed to having the numbers on the top coverplate of the harmonica visible & facing upwards. If you play “upside down” (no offense meant, it’s just that what’s meant as the harp’s top coverplate is now on the bottom…) then playing with the “right-side tongue-block” would be the “correct” way since the LOWER holes/notes are now on the RIGHT side. In addition to this, sometimes there is an advantage to executing a musical passage while utilizing the opposite/higher side block (normally being the left-side tongue-block) for part or all of the passage. For instance on hole 1, there are NO lower holes to block, and if you want to do some chording along with the note, you will want to block to the higher side – which is normally the right-side.


Q&A #7

Q: “I want to ask a question about tongue-blocking – As you know, wooden comb harmonicas (like Marine Bands or Blues Harps) can swell with moisture and isn’t that a problem with tongue-blocking?…I am scared my harmonicas will be damaged.

A: Wooden comb harps can swell if they get excessively wet, yes. However, in my experience (and with many other players/students I know) the initial period of learning tongue-blocking is when most of the problem occurs. Most of time when we put something between our lips, our mouth is preparing to eat it (one cause for “excessive salivation”), but also as we learn and get better at tongue-blocking, we can learn to control our technique more and even learn to not salivate nearly as much. It seems to be part of the natural process. Some players do prefer to learn or get better first on a plastic comb harp (such as a Hohner Special 20), or just go the route of a higher-grade harp with a sealed wooden comb, such as the new Hohner Marine Band Crossover – which has a sealed bamboo comb that does not swell.


Q&A #6

Q: “Is that a Marine Band you are holding? I don’t want you to get in any trouble with any sponsors you may have, but I was wondering if you have a preference to a particular brand of harmonica. I have tried most brands and types…is there such a thing as a better harp for blues, or is it all just personal preference?

A: Yes, it is a Marine Band I am holding. I play Hohner Marine Band diatonic harmonicas exclusively (including the new Marine Band Crossover), and my harps are customized by Joe FIlisko & Richard Sleigh exclusively. I started out trying all different kinds of harps and early on I took a liking to the Hohner Marine Band and Blues Harps for the feel & sound they had (before the Blues Harps changed to the bigger “MS” series harps like they are now). It is a matter of personal preference, but the fact that the Hohner Marine Band has been one of the most popular harps for many decades – specifically for blues players – does say something. From my own personal experience, I have never played harps that sound and respond like, or as good as, a good Marine Band. I officially endorse Hohner harps because I believe they are the best harps out there, period. Having said that, many people try out all kinds of harps while developing techniques, and when they develop further as players, they settle on a harp they feel comfortable on and one that they can get the sound they want on.


Q&A #5

Q: “Site looks good. Question about your jam tracks…why are they only available acoustic? Do you or will you have electric jam tracks too?”

A: I chose to start out with some acoustic jam tracks for several reasons. One main reason being that most players practice acoustic (which I also recommend) and a solo acoustic guitar makes sense to play along and practice with for acoustic harmonica, while having a minimum number of instruments to get in the way of your focus of learning to play with another instrument, and learning to find and play with the groove on your own. Granted, sometimes a rhythm section (consisting of at least bass & drums) helps you find the groove easier and/or may be more fun to play with, but I also wanted to keep the first group of tracks fairly simple and straight-forward. I will not only have more stylistically interesting acoustic tracks available soon, but also electric guitar and full band tracks as well in the future.


Q&A #4

Q: “Been playin’ for about two years. Can bend tongue-blocking and pursed. Can’t seem to get any traction on learning to play licks fast. Any tips other than start slow and build speed over repetition?”

A: As far as I know with my experience working with other students AND with other teachers, starting out slow & building up speed once the lick/pattern is down is the best, if not the only way to really get speed down without being sloppy. This is one of the instances where I recommend working with a metronome (every musician should have one, regardless of how annoying they can be! The metronome, not the musician, haha). For instance, get the lick or pattern down correctly, regardless of how slow you can play it. Play it with your metronome at a speed comfortable enough to play it correctly AND in time with the tempo. Once you do that, adjust the tempo on the metronome slightly faster, and repeat the process. It’s just a matter of slowly building up your speed, and a metronome is great for that. Take your time once you reach a point where it becomes more difficult. Tongue-blocking players can play fast if they wish, but I find most choose not to for stylistic reasons. I believe Sugar Blue & Russ Green to be primarily TB players, and they can definitely play with speed.


Q&A #3

Q: “How do you stop a band from getting louder as the night goes on? All it takes is one drunk in the band and the level goes out of control. How do we control it?”

A: Very common question, but tough to answer since it will depend on the situation. In a BAND situation, I like to talk to band members at rehearsals and before gigs about what kind/size amp we will all use at a particular gig, and hope we can all agree on a similar sized amp (and hopefully not a 1,000 watt Mega-Blaster). It’s also a good idea to make sure the idea of everyone being able to hear everyone else is brought up. In a JAM situation, I try to choose who I play with carefully, so I can ensure that I won’t need to compete with someone who just wants to blast on stage regardless of what the other musicians are doing. It’s good to have cues (as in the hand in a horizontal position near your waist, and slowly lowering it) to remind the other musicians that you all need to keep the volume level in check. In addition to these ideas, in most situations, the harp amp will usually need to be at least the same size as the guitar amp (if not bigger) due to the fact that the guitar will likely be able to be louder with a similarly size amp.


Q&A #2

Q: “I originally learned out of the pucker method and I am finding making the transition to tongue blocking quite difficult, especially in formulating the bends and control of them. Is this something that you intend to address in the forthcoming?”

A: Yes. It seems that most of the people who started learning harmonica from the 1960’s and later, started learning with the pucker method (or as I call it, “lip-blocking”). I started as a “lipper” myself, and I understand what it’s like to go from puckering to tongue-blocking, especially with the bends. I’ve been as frustrated as you all are with the transition, and I have worked for years teaching myself and hundreds of students worldwide how to make the transition from puckering to tongue-blocking easier to understand and execute. I will have some video lessons available in the future on this site, as well as practice exercises & ideas to work with. Stay tuned…


Q&A #1

Q: “What kind of live lessons do you offer? Do I have to come to your area?”

A: I offer several types of “LIVE” lessons (more info can also be found on my LIVE LESSONS page).

  • Live lessons in Teaneck, NJ (easily accessible from NJ & NYC). Thursday afternoons/evenings, and some Saturday afternoons.
  • Live lessons in the NJ shore area on Wednesdays (“what exit” you ask? – Parkway exits 124 thru 91 roughly)
  • Live lessons ONLINE, usually Mon-Wed based on availability (you just need hi-speed internet access, and a computer with a mic/camera)
  • Live “private workshops” where a student visits my area, and we devote several hours a day to intensive 1-on-1 study (1-3 days)
  • …in the near future will offer a monthly Saturday group class in the NJ/NY area


Current Harp Q&A’s

Harp Q&A’s #31-40

Harp Q&A’s #21-30

Harp Q&A’s #11-20


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