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Dispute about music and styles

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Boris Plotnikov
Jan 27, 2010 10:41 AM GMT

Let’s talk a little about music per se. Not just harmonica. I notice that most users of harmonica space and most harmonica players plays only blues, blues and one more blues. I enjoy blues sometimes, but to be honest it’s hard to me not starting hate blues.

All musical giants and just good musicians find their own way in music.

Some finds their own style, like James Brown or Elvis Presley or Chuck Berry, some mix styles to find their own. Ray Charles. Is it jazz or blues? Jimi Hendrix. Is it blues or rock or funk?

Red Hot Chili Peppers – is it rock or funk or rap? Portishead – is it rock or pop or avant-garde?

Prodigy – is it funk or is it acid or is it punk? Tom Waits – blues or avant-garde?

Great harmonica player too. Jason Ricci – Blues? Funk? Rock? Punk? Fusion? JJ Milteau – Blues? Jazz? Pop? Howard Levy – jazz? Ethno? Fusion? Lee Oskar - jazz? Blues? Funk? Pop?

John Popper… Yes, he plays classic rock, but his playing is unique, no one else plays like him earlier, Sugar blue too.

I think, that if player copy Little Walter note to note, his tone etc and didn’t do nothing his own, he is not a musician, he’s an imitator. I think any good player has to find his own style. How do you think? I even think that “clear styles” is sh*t, it’s boring to listen more than three shuffles, but it’s just IMO.

Yes, any harmonica player has to play some blues, has to play some Irish. It’s basic thing for harmonica and part of history and technique on instruments. I play blues and Irish too but all time I play I try to find my way of playing and my tone, my phrasing.

Sorry, I don’t want to offend somebody. Everything is just matter of dispute.

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Jan 27, 2010 5:15 PM GMT
Barbeque Bob M Replied:

I'm in the traditional blues school of playing but I enjoy tons of other genres and playing styles and it's not limited to anything, instruments, or anything else. The forums dominated by diatonic players are often very blues oriented and too often the impression is given that harmonica was only made for blues and playing 2nd position, which is completely untrue. This site here, like Harp-l was never intended as a blues only forum and too many players who fall in the hobbyist/music fan category often linit things for themselves too much and really wind up shooting themselves in the foot with that attitude because there are tons of thingsone can learn outside of their own comfort zone.

I personally would like to see people who play a wider variety of genres in here as well as those who play chromatic, chord, bass and tremelo harps here as well.

Regardless of genre, there are always gonna be imitators. I'm influenced by people like Little Walter, but even if I play one of his tunes, I refuse to do it note for note (unless I'm in a gigging situation where they insist that I do it that way for the right bread, and a situation like that would be if I was gonna gig with Muddy Waters, who wanted all of his players to learn his licks, note for note), as that bores me to tears, but I'll give you a taste so you get the feel without the cloning. Whenever I hear someone doing it note for note, I look at it and say OK, that's great, but I don't want to hear it ever again and I know of some big name players that when they do one of his tunes, they do it note for note.

In Yahoo Groups, there is a forum strictly for bluegrass players, some of whom poke into here occasionally and I've signed up on that as I enjoy learning from different things and feel limiting yourself is flat out foolish.

There's also a site primarily for chromatic players called Slidemeister, and those guys have been doing customizing for far longer than the diatonics have and I learned a lot from these people, and like diatonic forums, they also have their cliques on what genres the put down as well.

The one thing I like about those two forums is how LESS the emphasis is on the gear aspect, which with many diatonic forums, especially those dominated with blues oriented players tend to put too much emphasis on and very little about playing technique.

Boris, I'm not offended at all and what you're saying is very legitimate here.

Jan 28, 2010 5:24 AM GMT
BluEyes Replied:

BBQ Bob I agree with you and I have to say to Boris that what he or anyone here has to offer is a great thing. The one reason I came to this site is that there is no set pattern. its open and free. any one can discuss what they want, how they feel, some have even open up hearts and souls and so far not one person has taken a stab at them. From a newbie who has no idea of the difference between bluegrass and the blues, to the one that play them with ease, they are here sharing the love of being different.

abner (BluEyes, im proud to be in this group )

Jan 29, 2010 2:00 PM GMT
Jawbone K Replied:

to me these days it's much less about what the genre or style is and more about how one plays, what techniques one uses to navigate successfully through a song. my style is mostly 2nd and 3rd position with some 1st thrown in here and there. these 3 positions cover so much ground musically and one can fit into an amazing cross section of styles/genres with them. i have played folk, rock, blues, bluegrass, spiritual, a bit of irish ballad sruff, jazz, funk, country, all with one or more of these 3 positions.

i used to be one of those kind of blues/gear snobs. mostly because i didn't yet have a true musical identity of my own. everyone of us is on their own trip with music. we all are going one place or another musically, at different rates and by different routes. the more accomplished guys like levy, popper, and a host of others, found their unique style and it's pleasing to a good chunk of the public. there are others who are really playing for just other musicians. i could care less who can do a little walter note for note, etc etc. i love what he did and i use a bit of what he brought forth, but after you play long enough and learn enough about the instrument, you can go your way and find some unique sound.

in the forums i look for the guys who have transcended a specific style of music. like bob and others. i also look for guys who do styles very different from me.

a really great book- that incidentally kind of shrunk my ego pretty effectively- is "harmonicas, harps, and heavy breathers", by kim fields. he takes us back to the invenmtion of the harp, and it's a real journey through the 20th century with some incredible personal tales from the guys who brought harmonica out of the toy box and saddle bag and into concert halls and venues all over the world. most of them didn't play blues.

styles mutate with every generation too. what i consider to be blues or blues/roots today was not seen that way 30 or 50 years ago. and some of those cats from yesteryear did stuff i have never dreamed of doing on a harmonica.

there is a wealth of learning to be done and part of it, for me, comes from the forums. there is also a lot of teaching to be done. a lot of guys and gals hang out at a forum because they are looking for guidance, advice, whatever. we can give them a sense of direction as experienced players. after all, i have to say, i have been freely given so much by other players. i can probably never give it all back but i strive anyway.

Jan 29, 2010 4:13 PM GMT
BluEyes Replied:

I started out life loving jazz then the blues, I hated rock music. Any clubs I went to were all latin salsa or Jazz never once as a young man did I own or listen to rock. Then I meet my soon to be wife. A total opposite to me.. She loved and still does love rock. At open mic that I attend and play at play acoustic rock. So you can say my learning harp music has been improvising music that has no harp sound. This is not easy, and as for a newbei it even harder. but week after week I do it.. Now Im asking one guy to learn how to play the blues. Not because I hate rock music, which I don't any more. But because listening to rock music week after week is F'En boring.

abner ( BluEyes, now I must take a shower)

Jan 30, 2010 3:18 AM GMT
Boris Plotnikov Replied:


For me it's really hard to listen to one music style more than 20 minutes. So to be honest I often dislike gigs of other musicians, either relatively famous. If whole gig contist of 12-bar blueses it's uncommonly boring. The same about jazz swing for the whole gig. I think each song have to have it's lyrics (with some unhackneyed rhyms) plus melody with some interesting lines plues chord progression plues some great arrange. It's great when each instrument play something except common patterns. Little Walter was too great because nobody plays like him before him!

Jan 30, 2010 5:45 PM GMT
OrthodoxBlues Replied:

Well, I adore the blues, and feel that if it is played with true feeling, then it is never boring (at least to me). Much of what is called blues feels like a lifeless imitation of blues, and that is boring (again to me). I also play and love jazz, rock, folk and because of where I live, Hawaiian music. The ukulele players get a big kick out of hearing a harmonica in the Hawaiian music mix.

I have posted a lot on this forum about old mics, amps, etc., but I sincerely hope that I have not come off as a gear snob.

Boris, I'm a little sad that you don't love blues as much as I do, but I'm not offended at all!

Jan 30, 2010 5:47 PM GMT
BluEyes Replied:

im the opposite, If i like the music and it draws me in then I can listen to it all day. Now it it has the same the same beat like Boris was stating then yes, after the third song im waiting to hear something new. This is were a good band has a bunch of songs under their sleeves to pull out when they hear snoring. At the same time if the crowed is jumping and stomping you need to keep that going.

abner ( BluEyes, its just me snoring )

Jan 30, 2010 8:02 PM GMT
Boris Plotnikov Replied:


Anyway I love blues, as much as other traditional music (reggae, irish, swing) and I enjoy to play it sometimes, however too much blues around harmonica world make me feel a bit tired of blues. Anyway, you even can hear one blues (chicken shack) at my profile.


So you're show the reason any player have to play as much styles as possible. Unfortunately, I still weak in classical music and my tries of arabian/klezmer music is still not more than imitation. Hope I'll gonna be better in these styles ((:

Jan 30, 2010 8:52 PM GMT
eric h Replied:

that sounds a bit elitist. it could be said by those that stick to just one style that others have no discipline or focus and, thus, dont settle on one. i listen to many types of music but only have limited skills on harp. if i was good enough to do jigs or classical, i probably would.

i thought the basic definition of a musician is somebody that makes music. not that they have to make a variety of music or cover different genres or be somewhat an innovator.

to me, if somebody can do what any other past or present musician can do, they are a musician.

Jan 31, 2010 3:35 AM GMT
Duane C. Replied:

I've always considered music a personal form of expression, how I feel at any given moment or on any given day can & surely will give a great diversity to what I want to hear or play. As a second language, there's alot to learn and experiment with. Genres almost certainly have to be crossed.

I've been playing for just a little less than 2 yrs, almost all of the teaching materials I have are considered blues stuff. But; that covers a LOT of sound producing techniques, as I become more adept, I'll carry these over into different styles.

Seems that the majority of materials out there are for blues, I don't consider that good or bad just what is.

I currently listen to a lot of different stuff, and often experiment with producing some of the licks and phrases (that catch my ear) with my harmonica. Sometimes with very neat sounding results.

Jan 31, 2010 8:49 AM GMT
Boris Plotnikov Replied:


Could you recommend me some Hawaiian music? Who are the best players or bands? Just want to know anything about this music. I think almost any musician loves his gear and upgrading this gear, me too. Anyway I love music per se much more.


I always adore the innovators (Miles Davis, Charlie Parker, John Coltrane, Jimi Hendrix, Prodigy, RHCP…). I can also enjoy some followers but in much less degree than innovators and style invators.

Music talking is more about emotions than just words. It’s much harder to talk about music, especially with some language bar. I’d say you can feel the emotion of some music or cannot. It’s possible to find the feel of almost any music style. I still hardly understand any kinds of heavy-metal music (although I love some alternative rock like rage against the machine), maybe sometimes later…

Feb 01, 2010 2:23 AM GMT
BluEyes Replied:

Feb 01, 2010 2:24 AM GMT
BluEyes Replied:

Good harp players can do anything. Jason Ricci can do funk; Sugar Blue can do rock; I can go on. Harp can be incorporated into anything, whether in the background or up front. It just so happens that it may be best showcased in blues. But Led Zep featured the harp in a number of songs as do the Rolling Stones just to mention two. The Beatles, too. In American culture, the harmonica is big in folk music and bluegrass, and it was used during the old west days.

But in the blues, the harmonica can really communicate feeling. I guess that's why it's so easy to incorporate into that style of music. It's such a soulful instrument and the blues is the best way to make use of it. It's the only instrument that I can think of that you inhale and exhale on, and that's life - breathing.

You're right, though. It isn't just about the blues. But hey, whatever floats your boat.

abner (BluEyes - going to learn to play opera on the harp)

Feb 01, 2010 2:26 AM GMT
BluEyes Replied:

The bottom is an example of the problem I've been having posting new topics or adding comments. Sometimes I lose it all, sometimes it's just partial. I know that this is a little computer glitch. I have to deal with it, I'm not getting frustrated, I just have to learn to get around it. And I thank Brady for this wonderful site.

abner (BluEyes)

Feb 01, 2010 5:54 AM GMT
Boris Plotnikov Replied:

I have to mention that most of players who tends to play the blues think that blues is natural style for harmonica. You're not right. Harmonica was invented to play simple german folk music like "Oh my little Augustin", Blues plaing is really hard trick. 3 hole one semitone bending blues 3rd is really hard to master even by me best students.

Feb 01, 2010 6:00 AM GMT
Boris Plotnikov Replied:

I mean "by my best students" it's not a problem for me ((:

Feb 01, 2010 6:01 AM GMT
OrthodoxBlues Replied:

Boris --

Like many other genres, there are different types of Hawaiian music. These days, much of it is a mix of more traditional Hawaiian motifs (pedal or lap steel guitar, ukulele, slack key guitar) with aspects of rap, hip hop, pop and reggae. I prefer more traditional Hawaiian music. For me, the number one Hawaiian music player was Israel Kamakawiwoole (kah-mah-kah-vee-voh-oh-lay), also called Iz or Brother Iz. He was very overweight and died before he was forty. It is very possible that you've already heard him, because his version of Somewhere Over The Rainbow has been used extensively in advertising in the US, and I suspect the world. Before he was on his own, Iz was in a group called the Makaha Sons of Niihau (Makaha is the western region of the very populated island of Oahu, and some people there are descended from people from the sparsely populated island of Niihau).

Other performers who play somewhat traditional and pleasing Hawaiian music are the band Hapa and a man named Kealii Reichel.

Before we moved to this island, my wife and I brought a group of high school students on an environmental expedition in a very unpopulated part of this island. We were helping a crew of US Federal workers repair a fence for the park that contains the active volcano Kilauea. We all camped out at the site, and for many nights, there were two separate camps, the workers and the students (and their leaders). Each night, the workers would break out an ukulele and a guitar and play Hawaiian music. I felt that I broke the division between the two camps by going over and playing harmonica with them. They loved it, and were amazed to hear harmonica on Hawaiian music.

Everyone may already know this fact, but the lap steel guitar was invented in Hawaii. It was exported to the mainland US with the big Hawaiian music craze in the rest of the US in ... I think it was the thirties. It made its way into country music, and eventually also morphed into the pedal steel guitar. Now, that sound is perhaps most associated with both country and Hawaiian music. There is a crossover of country and Hawaiian music. When some of the plantations converted to ranches long ago, cowboys from Mexico were brought in to train the workers how to ranch. Those cowboys, and the current Hawaiian cowboys are called paniolos, and Hawaiian music in a country vein has the same name.

Feb 01, 2010 6:20 AM GMT
Boris Plotnikov Replied:


Thank you! I'll go home to fast and unlimited internet and I'll buy album of Israel Kamakawiwoole. I'm into music for almost all my life, I have ukulele at my home and play it sometimes, soI feel frustrated I don't know how sounds real Hawaiian music. It's latin music too I suppose, closed to salsa from Cubabut with some different patterns? Am I right? I think harmonica fits that music great, as it sounds great in any latin music (I adore playingsalsa, samba and bossa-nova!)

Feb 02, 2010 6:22 AM GMT
OrthodoxBlues Replied:

Boris --

Well, Hawaiian music isn't exactly Latino music, but the ukulele is a variant of an instrument brought over from Portugal, and that instrument might originally have been from Spain. There also are some Portuguese roots in Hawaiian music. But, as you know, Hawaii is in the Pacific, far from most of the cultures that constitute Latino music. Reggae from the Caribbean has had influence recently, but the traditional Hawaiian music probably is a mix of the sounds from the Native Hawaiians that were here first, and then North American, Portuguese, Chinese, Japanese and Filipino immigrants. Polynesian music, meaning the music of the islands of the Pacific, is believed to still be the dominant influence in the sound of Hawaiian music by some authorities.

Although harmonica is not a traditional instrument in Hawaiian music, it sounds great with it. I've played at a bunch of jams here, often called kanikapila, and people have been very welcoming to have me join in. These jams often consist of ten or more ukulele players, one or two guitars, and perhaps a bass. I've taught them some simple blues, which is very fun to hear in a ukulele based jam. At one jam, the teacher of the group (who also plays guitar) did many of Muddy Water's riffs on ukulele!

Feb 02, 2010 1:32 PM GMT
Chris C Replied:

I don't know about anyone else but I feel compelled to play the way I do. It doesn't matter how many different styles I incorporate, or how skilled I get it is always there, that initial nut of self expression. Some may call that ego but it does not feel like a negative thing to me. I do take issue inpart with the whole traditional teaching methods approach of the most egalitarian of instruments.

'If you hold your mouth this way you will get a well rounded (souless?) tone.'

It is true that many of us need some of this but I do know many a studied playerwhosoundboring and are wondering why they are not getting acolades. The traditional teaching methods have a downside to me. They were designed to produce consitenttonesfor orchestras. The player becomes a pawn for the composer and conductor. True this approach has produced some of the greatest tone poems but it may be out of place with the average harp player who are often just attarcted to a sound and do not want to play in orchestras. The same goes for some of the most capable players I've heared on the web. You have to take you hat off to them and their skill. But for some I can't help wondering why they didnt just play keyboard and save themselves a lot of trouble.

It is not about style of music only style of approach to me. We all play with a combination of hart, head, soul, body, and libido. It is just a matter of in what amounts. I dont find blues boring just some treatments of of it. Particularly prescibed approaches that discourage expression and invention.

It is no suprise to me that the most egalitarian of music attacts playes of the most egalitarian of instruments.

Feb 02, 2010 10:03 PM GMT
BluEyes Replied:

salsa, merengue.

I grow up with Motown and latin music. In my teens i went to clubs that had live bands playing latin music. Latin music is in my blood. Blues is in my soul. Now i am very interested in finding latin music to play with. Now im not that interested in the latin music of today. It seems they focus on the singer and not the band. In the old days it was the band including the singer that made the music.

abner (Blueyes, spent the whole day cleaning out the garage, talk about the blues)

Feb 02, 2010 10:44 PM GMT
Joe L Replied:

Boris - While Blues is often associated with the harmonica, there is an awful lot of Blues music where the harmonica has no role.

If the music doesn't move you, you don't have to play it. For example, Irish music does nothing for me. I wouldn't consider playing it. In spite of it being part of my heritage, I have zero desire to play the stuff. None. Nothing.

Since, I am not a professional musician, I have the freedom to play what I enjoy. If I couldn't get harmonicas, I would probably start playing Blues on the guitar or bass much more seriously. When the music grabs you and it becomes a passion, it's something you love doing. There are few things in life than doing something you despise.

It doesn't make you a better or worse person. There really is nothing to dispute. You've have do what you've have do.

Feb 04, 2010 7:04 PM GMT
BluEyes Replied:

Joe L, I agree with you only becouse Im not a musican and I cant play anything other then what the guys are playing so I have no choice in the matter. its play thier stuff of sit dowm.

abner (BluEyes, standing is also getting harder)

Feb 04, 2010 7:44 PM GMT
Not a Replied:

I've recently gotten it into my head the Hip Hop is the next "open frontier" for harmonica. I've been discussing the whole harpboxing (beatbox harmonica) thing on another forum, as well as the connection (historical and musical) of Hip Hop to blues, funk, and soul. I think that there is a very cool bit of uncharted territory there, and I aim to start exploring. I think that the RIGHT combo of blues, hip hop, alt rock, funk, and soul would just be a killer stage for a new direction in harmonica style. Add in some technology (looping, multifx processors, turn tables, samplers, etc.), and the musical styles would be endless!

Feb 04, 2010 9:08 PM GMT
Barbeque Bob M Replied:

As far as hiphop sampling blues, that's actually been done. I know Public Enemy sampled some stuff from Muddy's After the Rain and Electric Mud, and another hiphop artist (who's name I can't recall at the moment) has already sampled the opening instrumental chorus from BB King's The Thrill Is Gone. The thing for a lot of players to adjust to hiphop is that the music 95% of the time is sampled and doesn't use a band, and the stuff that'll need to be played has to be very rhythmic and groove well and just throwing out licks without any sense of groove happening is not gonna cut it.

Feb 06, 2010 4:08 AM GMT
Chris C Replied:

Ilike G Love and his Special sauce. He was adding harp to his own acoustic brand of rap right from the very start. But I love RL Burnside. he brought the Blues into the present day. Beck hanson mixes all that stuff up with harp as well.

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