“I would like to play an instrument that doesn’t take too long to learn and doesn’t cost a fortune to buy”.
The Blues Harmonic (or blues harp) is a good choice. It is cheap to buy, relatively quick to learn and a lot easier to take on the bus than a double bass!
Ten Hours or Ten Years
If you learn to play the blues harp which is also called blues harmonica, it won’t takea long time to get started. It has been suggested that the only difference between a blues harp player who has been playing for 10 hours and one who has been playing for 10 years is the amount of songs they know!
Of course this is an unfair statement as, like most instruments, it takes a long time to become an expert and play an instrument to its full potential.
However, once you get over the initial challenge of learning where the notes are and whether you should suck or blow, you’ve made a great step forward.
Perhaps the most difficult part to master when you first start, is to be able to play one note at a time. This is more difficult than is often thought when you discover that the holes are small and close together, and mouths are a bit too big!
You can learn to blow notes separately by blocking unwanted holes with your tongue or puckering-up to make a small hole and then blow into the harmonica.
Here is an example of notes made when the corresponding holes are blown into a harp in C.
note: C D E F G A B C
hole: 4 4 5 5 6 6 7 7
——-B D B D B D D B
When you have mastered the scale and the ability to blow one note at a time, you are well on the way to being able to play a lot of tunes on the blues harp.
One technique which is an essential part of blues harp playing is the ability to bend notes.
This is achieved by drawing or sucking the notes flat to get that blues sound that is so distinctive of the blues harp style. Bending notes by drawing holes 4 and 5 is a good place to start.
Other techniques include trills learning riffs and chords, and improvising on the blues scale.
Crossharp or Second Position Playing
It should be mentioned that a C blues harp is usually played in the key of G. This is because the C harmonica has F in its scale (rather than the F# in the key of G) and therefore gives a blues sound. When the B natural note is drawn down to a Bb, you get all the notes you need for the blues scale in G.
Crossharp chart (right).
The blues harp can also be used to play other styles of music by using both the major and pentatonic scales.
Blues Harp & Harmonica Links