Blues Harp Learning Activity Proposal

Blues Harp

This is the Learning Activity Proposal

Introduction to Blues Harmonica

The music called The Blues is fundamental to a great variety of modern musical styles. Jazz, pop, and rock and Roll all utilize Blues forms, patterns and rhythms. Blues is a uniquely American amalgamation of African song styles and rhythms brought to America with African Slaves and traditional European musical structures. It has a distinctive sound and structure which make it easy to play and easy to enjoy.

The harmonica is the most popular instrument of all time. More harmonicas have been manufactured and played than any other instrument. Its sound is distinctly human in its qualities and can imitate plaintive wails and sobs. The harmonica is a natural choice for The Blues because it was inexpensive and readily available to the poor black sharecroppers in the post civil war era. As Blues developed it was shaped by the limitations of the harmonica as much as the music shaped the way the harmonica was played.

It is extremely easy to get started playing Blues Harmonica or Blues Harp as it is called by those who love the instrument. Becoming a master on an inexpensive child's toy, however is a challenge. Once a student learns the fundamentals of the Blues Harp and gets addicted to its distinctive sound, he or she will never leave home without a harp hidden in a pocket. Local Blues jams always feature several harp players ranging from utter beginner to experienced master. Both are appreciated. The harp player, no matter what his or her level of play, always receives a vigorous round of applause. The act of picking up a harmonica and trying to play enrolls the harpist in a fraternity of harp players where mutual support is the rule.

Introduction to Blues Harmonica will teach students about the history of The Blues, its form and structure. It will teach the basics of holding a harp and breathing through it. The course will start with chugs and patterns and train noises. The course will proceed from mastering single clear notes to bends. A small amount of simple music theory (as it applies to the harmonica and Blues) will be covered. Positions will be covered as well as how to pick the right harmonica key. By the end of course a student should be able to accompany a Blues guitarist by performing fills and wails and should be able to do simple "turn-arounds."

About the instructor.s

Keith Graham has been playing the Harmonica for about six years. He has taken lessons from Blues Harmonica Masters such as Phil Wiggens, Gary Primach, Charlie Sayles and Larry "The Iceman" Eisenberg. He is an Amateur Harp player and enjoys teaching and playing. Keith teaches computer languages at RCC and works in the daytime for the man writing Java.

Larry Graham ihas been at the center of the Rockland County Blues community for 30 years, playing Bass and Guitar for a number of local bands including Chip Larrison's Band and The Straight Up Blues Band.


Materials: An inexpensive ($8 to $15) harmonica preferably Hohner or Lee Oscar in the Key of C. The instructor will have a few harps available for students to purchase. Students may wish to bring a tape recorder or a notebook.

General: Although this course is about Blues and Blues Harmonica, in truth it is about enjoying music by listening and playing. There will be no assignments or tests. Students will not be humiliated or forced to play if they don't want to. Consider this to be a Blues Harp club where we all meet and talk about our favorite subject. Part of the class will be listening to music and discussing the history of Blues Harmonica and part of the class will be trying to master the basics of playing the harp.
The instructor will try to convince other musicians such as guitarist, drummers and bass players to show up and help with the lessons from time to time. Guest harmonica players will also be invited to show off their licks. Car pools will be arranged if any major Blues Harp bands visit the area.
A Class Graduation Ceremony will be held at a local Blues Jam where students will have the opportunity to strut their stuff with a working blues band.

Day 1.

The Blues. Southern field songs. Call and response. Spirituals. The early Harmonica recordings. The first Sonny Boy Williamson. Holding the harmonica. Lip and tongue positioning. Breathing through the harp. Second position basics. The "close enough" approach to the blues. Basic 12 bar blues songs. Harmonic Key Chart.

Day 2.

Stoval farm and the Mississippi Delta blues sound. Robert Johnson. Delta style players. The second Sonny Boy Williamson. Single notes. Riffs. "Good Morning" riff. Wail notes, Big and Little notes. Scales. Blues Boogie.

Day 3.

Blues move north to Chicago. Muddy Waters and Little Walter. Muddy Waters invents electricity. Bending notes. Blue notes. Minor Third. Flat fifth and flat seventh. Shuffle Rhythms. John Lee Hooker type boogies. "Hoochie Coochie Man" stomps.

Day 4.

More Little Walter. Big Walter, James Cotton. Junior Wells. The Chess years. Amplified harp basics. Amplifiers. Microphones. PA's. Playing with a band. Jam etiquette. First Position. Turn Arounds.

Day 5

60's Blues revival. Paul Butterfield. Charlie Musslewhite. Jerry Portnoy. The Blues had a baby and they called it Rock and Roll. Folk Blues. Piedmont Blues. Sonny Terry. Third Position and Minor Blues.

Day 6.

Modern Blues. Kim Wilson, Little Charlie and the Night Cats. Paul Delay. California Jump Blues. Is John Popper blues? Putting it all together. Improvising blues. Performing blues. How to choose the right hat and shoes for playing the Blues.


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I began collecting data about the microphones used by blue harp players before there was an internet. I began organizing it into in the late 1990s. I accumulated more stuff than I remember. This is some of it.

Street Theory

A Harp Player’s Guide to Music Theory

Learning Harp

Picking Up Blues Harp

A guide to learning to play Blues Harp

Microphone Information

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Harp Amps

I've been collecting Harp Amps for a while. This is the old website. There is lots of information here. Here a coupld of links.

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A collection of songs and riffs that I’ve worked out over the years, plus some libraries of stuff I’ve converted to tablature. I’ve included most of the notes and instructions that helped me when I was learning to play blues harmonica.

Basic Riffs Simple harp tabs for songs Blues riffs and phrases.

Harp-L Archives 1992 to 2002


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