"When In Doubt..." Blues Harmonica Tips

Here's a collection of simple thoughts, tips, and basic concepts to keep in mind for blues harmonica jamming and for most general playing situations. Great for beginner blues harp players and up.

Beginner's Shortcut
A simple 2nd Position set of notes to begin jamming with . . .

Use any or all of these notes from the "Almost Blues Scale" to create riffs. Avoid starting on hole 4 Blow. It will sound good if you end your riffs on either the hole 3 Blow or the hole 6 Blow (for resolution). Repeat your idea two or three times to create a melodic feel. beginner improv.gifInitially, don't worry about any additional techniques, you can add those later. And, don't worry about perfect single notes because chords and a little sloppiness will sound just fine. Use a Blues MIDI file to jam to with your key of "C" 10-hole diatonic.

(View all Beginner's Shortcuts)

    Jamming Tips & Shortcuts

  • When In Doubt...
    Stick with holes 2 and 4 draw for all basic 2nd position style jamming, especially for blues harmonica style. Use slides, bending, hand effects, and other basic techniques to create your own riffs. If you have problems playing hole 2 draw, substitute 3 blow until you are more successful with the hole 2 draw.

  • When In Doubt...
    Of what to play rhythmically: use more long held notes (for slow, medium, and fast tempos). Add some dynamics (loud and softs), hand effects, or bending to these notes for interest.

  • When In Doubt...
    Play primarily blow notes in the middle part of the harmonica to jam in 1st position.

  • When In Doubt...
    Play primarily draw notes at the low end of the harmonica to jam in 2nd position.

  • When In Doubt...
    Of the key of the song that the band you're jamming with is in: Ask someone! Bass players or keyboard players usually are the best first choice(s).

  • When In Doubt...
    As to whether you're playing too much or too little when jamming, play less. If you'd like to be invited back, give the other musicians plenty of space to play and be heard, especially the singer. Try to play in the "fill" areas between vocal lines when the singer is not singing versus playing while they are singing and then stopping when they stop. Drowning out the singer tends to really annoy them. If you want to play while they sing, play very simple riffs or chords and bring your volume down.

  • When In Doubt...
    Of what to play when jamming: keep it real simple, and stick with the stuff you know you can do. Avoid trying to play what you've been practicing the last few weeks; you don't have it perfected yet. Repeat your riffs for a more melodic feel.

  • When In Doubt...
    Of how to get a "blusier" 2nd Position sound, use more bending on holes 2 and 4 draw.

  • When In Doubt...
    Of how to get a more "country" 2nd Position sound, use more 3 draw bending.

  • When In Doubt...
    Learn and use 3rd Position for any type of music in a minor key.

  • When In Doubt...
    Don't think too much, close your eyes, play, and have fun.

    General Jamming/Practicing

  • When In Doubt...
    Lick your lips and the mouthpiece part of the harmonica before playing to prevent your lips from sticking to the harmonica. Repeat whenever necessary.

  • When In Doubt...
    Knock the excess saliva out of the harmonica by rapping the harmonica (mouthpiece side down) against your leg or palm to keep the holes from clogging up. Repeat whenever necessary.

  • When In Doubt...
    Get up off the chair and stand up for practicing and jamming to facilitate good breathing habits. Try to stand erect with your head up, back straight, and body relaxed.

You may also want to take a look at the One Liner Tips section and Beginner's Shortcuts pages.

Sample Video
"Beginner Harmonica Lessons"
"Advanced Harmonica Tips"

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