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Why Blues Harmonica?

Playing blues harmonica is one of the high points of my life. I am not very good and I dont get to play much, but I really love what I do, even when I stink at it. There is something very special about the harmonica that makes it the perfect instrument for me.
  • The harmonica is the instrument whose sound is closest to the sound of the human voice. Because the harp is only ten tiny brass reeds with very little sound of their own, the characteristic cry of the blues harp comes from the resonant characteristics of the human respiratory system. You sound good for the same reason that an opera singer (or any good singer) sounds good. Singers learn to control the tone of their singing voice by shaping their mouth and larynx to accommodate the mood of the song.
  • The harmonica is the only instrument that breath through. You not only blow on the harp, but you draw air back through it. This offers an advantage over instruments that can only by blown.
  • The harmonica can play chords. Most reed and brass instruments can only play a single note at a time. The harp can play full chords and intervals.
  • The harmonica can play 'bent' notes. The harp not only plays sharps and flats by bending, but all the notes in between. The harmonica can howl and wail and waver in a way that other instruments cannot.
  • Harmonica playing is by feel. You cant see what notes you are playing like you can on other instruments. The harp is in your mouth. You cannot tell if you are on the wrong note until you play it. You cannot play the right bent note until you can hear that it is bent correctly. You feel your way around the harp with your ears. In this way harp playing is more akin to singing than any other instruments. This is one of the reasons that harp playing is so expressive.
  • The harmonica is very easy to play. You need to practice, of course, but anyone can learn to play some basic blues riffs and sound decent with a couple of months of really trying. Remember, though, that the harp is one of the hardest instruments to stand out at. There are many OK harp players but only a few good harp players.
  • You dont need to know how to read music. The harp is a non-intellectual experience. I once attended a class where the teacher wanted us to play the "'D" hole. He might as well as said the red hole. I cant see what hole Im playing. I am not usually sure of the number of the hole that Im playing. I play by the sound of the hole. If the teacher had said play the hole that sounds like this and then played the note, I would have got it right away. This is not to say that a little musical background doesnt help.
  • Harmonica is a "color" instrument.  Although harmonicas can play rhythm and backup for a blues song, the only reason that you include the harp is for color. The harp adds character and interest to a song by providing fills and transitions between bars. The blues call and response is particularly appropriate for harp. Even without solos the blues harp provides character and depth to any blues song.
  • Harp players are "bad boys". The harp is not like the guitar that requires years of training and practice. Harp players are not even musicians in the sense that a piano player is a musician. We get up and do our little act and make the band look good, but even though we sound good, we are doing what we do by sheer force of personality rather than great skill. We have more in common with Mick Jagger than Itzhak Perlman. (Although Itzhak does have soul!)
  • And last but not least. Playing the harp is cheap. $10-15 a harp, buy a new one every couple of months, throw them out when they sound bad. Carry you whole gig set in a shoebox. No heavy stuff to cart around. Play wherever you like. The harp is my kind of instrument!
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