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This workshop was initially written as a tutorial to be used with my teachings.  The harmonica's I talk  about here are the 10 hole types, often referred to as 'blues harp'.  They are about 10 cm (4") long, typically tuned in major scales, with no tremelo or double-reed features. By some ancient default they are made by Hohner, but since they launched their MS range, they're no good anymore. My advice is to buy Japanese: Tombo FolkBlues, Lee Oskar, Suzuki (valved). These ones do not leak, stay in shape, do not rust, and sound just fine.
Not at all covered here are the Comets, Tremelo harps, Melody Makers and other harmonica's with 2 layers of holes. The chromatic harmonica's, that let you sharpen the pitch by pressing a knob, are a different world.

This text is written in such a way that the key your harmonica is in should not affect the understandability. I won't use stock notation at all, since it doesn't make too much sense while playing harmonica. Typically, beginners like the low keys as G and A. Later on high keys as D and F become favourites.
You'll own harmonica's in various keys anyway, in time.

Please email me if you feel anything in this text to be in error. That goes for content and language alike, as I'm not a native English speaker.
 

Contents:

        1. Oh when the Saints
           The style the 10 hole 'harp' was designed for.
        2. Crossharp
            The harmonica wasn't made for it, but it sure is a cooler way of playing it.
            This paragraph covers bending of tones as well. 
        3. Three chords and the truth
           About blues cord schemes
        4. Tricks
           Different sounds and effects
        5. Hardware
           Mikes and amps and effects
        6. Walkman
           always have one with you
        7. Tables
           Which note is where? 
           Which harmonica to that song?
        Buy Guide?


Oh when the Saints

The harmonica was not designed to play the blues, it was designed to play songs like Oh When The Saints. Notice the way the notes are arranged on the harmonica. Take a bite of this little piece of theory:
This is the C scale: C D E F G A B (C)
The C scale, like any scale, can be divided in two: Those notes that belong to the C chord, and those that don't. These are the note to the C chord: C E and G. These notes, and only these notes can be found on the blow 'side' of the harmonica. Try it and you'll at least notice that any combination of holes you blow will sound harmonic and in tune.
On the draw 'side' of the harmonica, you'll find all the none C chord notes: D F A and B. In music like Oh When The Saints, not only the C chord is of importance, The G chord is too. So the designers  made  a G chord  on the low  end of the harmonica. Thatís how they ended up with the note G on both ends. Both the 2 draw and the 3 blow is a G on the C harmonica.
Remember the sound of music and check weather this table is accurate for your harmonica. It probably is, so find your way around. Even a better thing top do is to play a simple song.
BTW: Drawing and blowing are not to accurate words. In and exhaling is more like it. You narrow your lips as if you're about to whistle, place the lips on the hole you want to play and breath. You do not push or pull the air, you just  happen to breath the desired direction.
BTW 2: I'll keep using the word 'side' to indicate breathing direction.
 

                      eerste accoord
blow
      do  mi sol do mi sol  do
holes
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
draw
      re fa la ti re fa la
                       vijfde accoord

Either by playing or by looking at the first diagram, you probably have noticed some odd inconsequent habit in the harmonica. In holes 1 to 6, the draw notes are higher in pitch then the blow notes, but in holes 7 to 10, it's the other way around. There are two reasons for this inconvenience.
a. there only seven notes in the octave. (It's called octave as an octave is the eighth note to be counted from the root note). Seven being an odd number leaves you with the need to come up with a solution in the two-directional playing system.
b. the designers wanted the notes to the C chord to be on one 'side' of the entire harmonica. Therefor they decide to simply move the draw notes by one position to solve problem a.
They did a good job, as it is hard to play out of key on a harmonica. You might hit a wrong note, but that not is bound to be harmonically correct. Also, it makes it easy to improvise to a song or with a band. You can take risks a guitar player can not. Still, most players avoid these high notes. Possibly because these holes respond different, possibly because they find the tones to be to harsh.
If I look at the Hohners from my early days, I notice that all the chrome around holes 1 to 6 is gone, while it looks fresh to the right of those holes. (And this is another reason to switch to start liking stainless steel Japanese harps.)
 

Crossharp

It the guitarist claims to be playing in E, take an A harp. Remember the G chord being on the draw side. Blues players use this cord as their root chord.
This leaves them with 3 benefits:
Benefit #1: all the important notes are now on the draw side of the harmonica, providing the possibility to do some tricks on them.
Benefit #2: it gives the opportunity to play the root note both as a draw (hole #2) and a blow note (hole #3).
Benefit #3: you're able to play the IV chord.  (Say what?)
If you are not familiar with chord numbering: Chords are numbered like the notes in the scale. So in the C scale, D (minor) is called the second chord, and E is called the third. F is the forth, G the fifth. They are often notated in Roman script. When you start counting from G, G is I, C is IV and D is V.
So benefit #3 is, in different words: What used to be the first chord (C on a C harp) will become the forth chord when playing crossharp.
Take a look at this diagram, and compare it to the first diagram by playing on your harmonica.

          1-3= I accoord
blow
fa  la  do fa la do fa la do fa
holes
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
draw
sol do mi sol ti re mi sol ti re
          1-3= V accoord
 

See the tables 'down under' for the exact notes. Also check those tables to find out which harmonica fits a certain key.

When playing crossharp, you find yourself drawing most of the time. You'll find ways to release air through your nose, or in an occasional blownote. Listen to the blues harmonica masters, and notice they make 'uhm' throat sounds while trying to get rid of the air in their longs. On the other side, you can toggle between singing and harping in no time at all, without the need to in- or exhale in between.

Here are a few basics on articulation. Playing articulate is more important then anything else, as far as I'm concerned.
- Start all notes with a "t" or "k" like "ta tata ta taa taa". Try other letters to articulate your moods, or whatever you want to express.
- By shaping your mouth cavity, like you would while speaking, you can articulate your notes to "we" and "you" sounds.

The bending of notes.

This is the major trick to minor key blues harmonica playing.  The goal is to lower the pitch of a note. There are several reasons to want this. First, you'll want to play notes that are not on the harmonica straight on. Second, you'll want to slide from one note to the other. Third, you'll want to do it because of the sonic effects it comes along with. It's for the 'Once upon a Time in the West' way of doing things. 
Itís my job now to give you the analogy that will get you doing it, but first:
Draw a single note, make sure no air is leaking in.
Forcing air will bend the note, but this is not the trick. Try playing on moderate volume to prevent the harmonica from getting out of tune permanently.
analogy #1: it's like whistling. Whistle a tone while inhaling. Let the pitch drop. Do it again and again, and notice the shape your tongue is in, and how it changes. Go from the note you are playing on your harp, and let it drop to the note you want. Apply these tongue positions on while actually playing that harp. No extra air pressure is needed, the pitch should drop. Bending a note this way feels like thinking it lower.
analogy #2: study your tongue. Raise the middle, lower the front, touch the low end of the roots of your lower front teeth with the tip of your tongue. A little cavity is formed right behind your front teeth. This cavity is resonating and forcing the reed to vibrate in a certain pitch. Change pitch by changing cavity size. That's done by pulling the tongue backwards, but leaving it in shape. Bending a note this way feels like pulling it with your tongue.

A few more remarks on this:
Try your new technique on holes 1 to 5, not only on one hole. You'll raise your change on getting it done, and you'll notice each hole on each harmonica needs its own tongue positions.
The bending process itself it not a trick of finding the maximum (like it is when you use air force) but it is a matter of finding the optimum: the right tongue position, and it we talk about millimetres. 
Don't worry, your tongue is good at these precise jobs. Think of how delicate speech movements are, and how you are able to spit out the pits of a grape, while swallowing the flesh of it. I know you're excellent in doing this.
 

Three chords and the truth
 

Blues is essentially built from three chords, spread over 12 bars. I wrote it out in chord numbers (the roman numbers I explained above).
 
I
I of IV
I
I
IV
IV
I
I
V
IV
I
V

In standard blues, the chord in the second bar is a I when played fast and a IV when playing a slow blues. Listen to that music, and try to get familiar with this scheme. Once you got it, you've got the base to improvise along on any blues session in your local pub. Or, put negatively: you'll be bored heavily, as you'll not able to listen to a blues song without having it's structure being revealed to you instantly.
But it isn't about the composition in the blues, it's about the mood you try to get across. This chord scheme can be used for building up tension like no other. It's possible to repeat the melody you played over the first four bars over bars five to eight, thereby creating an harmonic tension instantly, as the cords are different. Secondly, the IV chord maximises this tension, nicely releasing it via the V into the I. Therefor, singers repeat their first line of text, and give a conclusion or explanation in the second. 
"Wait a minute, something's wrong the key won't unlock the door.
Wait a minute, something's wrong the key won't unlock the door.
I've got a bad bad feeling my baby don't live here no more."

Between two sung phrases, the harmonica fills in. Notice my remark on the usefullness of draw notes. The more the harmonica contributes to the song, the more it's appreciated over just any silence-fearing fill in.
And if you copy pieces of the sung melody, your fills and solo's will be more coherent. Thus being more 'speechfull'.
 

Tricks

Wah Wah: by closing your hands around the harmonica, you can do wah wah sounds. Hold the harmonica tightly between your right thumb and stretched index finger. The nails of these are exactly on opposite sides of the harmonica. Close the hole in the palm of your hand, by placing your left hand more or less stretched, with closed fingers, to the back of your harmonica. This way, you can open and close your hands optimally. Add a little 'we-you' to it and you'll be OK.

Alternating notes: Move the harmonica to the left and right over one hole distance, at a rate of 5 times per second or so. Single noting becomes altering between two notes.

Vibrato: Move youíre the tip of your tongue at a 5 times per second rate for a nice vibrato (pitch variations).

Tremelo: Cause fast volume fluctuations by changing breath speed. It will happen when your at the top of your longs anyway.

Percussion: Add steam train sounds to your playing, for optimum pre WWII style. Experiment to get your style up to date.
 

Hardware 

There are a lot of tools for harmonica players. One of them is the harmonica stand free your hands to play guitar. They com in different versions, but not a single one allows the height to be adjusted, stupidly enough.
When performing with an electric band, you'll need to amplify your sound. Or you want to change your sound. The trick is to find a bad mike and a heavy amp. Bassguitar valve amps are favourite, but heavy to carry around. Christal mike give the right distortion, no guitar distortion pedals are needed. The default singers mike Shure SM58 is definately not what you want. Try to find an old mike.  (prefarably my stolen 1927 Acos PA Mike, and send it back to me.) Or you can try microphones drummers use for their snaredrum. Just go to a store and play all odd mikes they have. You can settle for shure's green bullet, headlight shaped harmonica microphon at anytime anyway, and have the avarage harmonica bluessound rightthere in your hands.
Take a look at all the EQ's, filters and reverbs guitarists use and see if they are of use for you. We've heard the delays though.
 

Walkman 

Being an harmonica player, your not only a musician in the weekends or on Tuesday night when the band rehearses. You can put one in your pocket and take it out whenever some music is needed, or whenever you are about to be bored. Railway stations are excellent places to play in, and it will be appreciated, as it fits the surroundings. If you can handle the extra attention you'll get, you can play where ever you going, thus being your own walkman.
As it is written on the old Hohner advertisements: Keep on harping!
 
 

Tables 

harmonica in C
          1-3= C chord
blow
C E G C E G C E G C
holes
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
draw
D G B D F A B D F A
          1-3= G chord

harmonica in A
          1-3= A chord
blow
C#  E C# E A C# A
holes
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
draw
B E G# B D F# G# B D F#
          1-3= E chord

Blues Schemes, or I IV V schemes, one four five blues.

BLUES IN G (use harmonica in C)
 
 
G
G of C
G
G
C
C
G
G
D7
C
G
D7

BLUES IN E (use harmonica in A)
E
E of A
E
E
A
A
E
E
B7
A
E
B7

 
CROSSHARP:  Guitar plays blues in:  Mondharmonica is gemerkt:
Which harmonica 
to play which key? 
D
D#
E
F
F#
G
G#
A
A#
B
C
C#
G     (the lowest bluesharp)
G#
A
A#
B
C
C#
D
D#
E
F
F#    (the higest Bluesharp)

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