Blues Harp #1

Monday, November 16, 2009

Here comes my favorite Blues instrument!

Originally, the Blues harp wasn't designed to be used for Blues. Properly called richter-tuned harmonica and also known as 10-hole harmonica, the most widely known type of harmonica has ten holes (not eleven) which offers the player 19 notes (10 holes times a draw and a blow for each hole minus one repeated note) in a three-octave range. The standard diatonic harmonica was designed to allow a player to play chords and melody in just a single key.

Over time, Blues players found a perfect use for the instrument. Employing the cross-harp technique, they totally debunked the above restriction by playing the harmonica in a key a fifth above its intended key. Playing just the unbended notes, this position gives the mixolydian scale between 2 draw and 6 blow. However, bending the 3 draw allows the player to play a minor third (or a blue third), allowing a player to use a C harmonica to play in G mixolydian or G minor. On a diatonic, starting note is hole 2 draw or hole 3 blow. I usually just take note of the second chord (in a 12-bar blues song) to determine which key to use.

Easy to learn, extremely difficult to master. One might say, "Well, you only need to blow and draw - how hard can it get?" Listen to one of Sonny Terry's songs and you'll understand what I mean.


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Blues rules!!!

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