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Friendly Request for Constructive Critique

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Rudy H
Mar 19, 2011 4:21 PM GMT

Hi - I'm a new member of this forum. I'd like to invite some constructive comments on my harp playing. I know it's not crossharp or blues and I do like playing along with the song. But with that being said, I'd appreciate your comments -- thanks - Rudy

Harp video clip -- "season of the Witch/For What It's Worth"

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Comments (16)

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Mar 23, 2011 4:52 PM GMT
Soulchicken Replied:

Hi Rudy! Welcome to the forum. I'm a new player so I don't feel like I should be critiquing your playing. You were definately having fun though and that counts for alot.

Mar 27, 2011 7:26 AM GMT
Boris Plotnikov Replied:

1) Tone.Too hard attack leads to weak squeezing tone, relax and breath from gut. Don't bend every possible note just becouse you can bend it. Pre-bending can be sweet, but when you use it on any note it sounds like bad violin player which mistakes the note and glisses to the correct one.

2) Phrasing. Too much noodling, too much overplaying. Try playing triple less. Try to play melodies instead of "just playing". Don't play over voice, especially in the beginning on the song. Singer gives you place to play, use it!

3) emotion. You have some good positive vibration and drive. This is ok.

Mar 28, 2011 3:16 PM GMT
Rudy H Replied:

Good comments. Thank You. My dilemma is I do not want to become simply a sporadic embellisher of the song rather than an equal player and partner in the delivery of the song.

The singer strums through the whole song and sings through most of it. Why can't the harmonica player be an equal partner?

Mar 28, 2011 7:57 PM GMT
Boris Plotnikov Replied:

Harmonica can be equal, but it needs a really good arrange as

1) Harmonica has some dissonant timbre when played together with voice (or violin too)

2) Extra melodic lines baffle the vocalist and can lead him to sing the wrong notes.

You can play long notes and chords, but the have to perfectly fit guitar chord progression and/or vocal melodic lines. You're not, you play bunch of notes which sounds wrong to chords. You can play some melodic lines while vocalist take breath.

Mar 29, 2011 4:46 PM GMT
Rudy H Replied:

Thank you for your friendly constructive comments. - Rudy H

Mar 31, 2011 10:40 PM GMT
John P Replied:

Why can't the harmonica player be an equal partner?

Because the available chords on a harmonica are very limited. You can't "build" chords like a guitar or keyboard can. Also, the harmonica is in the same range as the vocals and therefore usually clashes with the vocals if played at the same time, and you are playing over the vocal quite a bit.

What you DON'T play is as (or more) important than what you do play. A harp player has to LISTEN and only play when it ADDS to the performance. You've got to let the music breathe. A lot of what you are playing has no musical relationship to what is going on with the tune being performed. You are overplaying. Don't be afraid to lay out. Sax players don't usually play all the way through most tunes either. Relax and don't be afraid to let the music happen around you.

You also need to create all airflow from the diphragm in order to improve your tone.

Like you, i enjoy playing "Season of the Witch." Not the most natural tune for harp so you need to be more careful/selective about what you play. But the nature of the tune is such that the harp can make a powerful emotional statement if played in the right spots. Overplaying detracts from the emotional imact of what can be done on harp with this tune. Less can truly be more.

A bandleader i play with who has a Masters in Music often says that harmonica can be a real pain in the ass to listen to if you overplay but can make a powerful emotioal statement that adds to the music if played with economy and in the right spots. Pretty good advice i think.

Apr 01, 2011 8:31 AM GMT
Rudy H Replied:

John - I understand what you and Boris are telling me. It is good advice if one wants to advance as a harp player in the public world of performance music. It just will be very difficult for me. I have zero musical training. I picked up the harmonica several years ago and began by playing along to tunes that I love. This of course, is matching the notes of the melody in first position. So it seems then due to the limitations of the harp that a good harmonica player is indeed an "embellisher" and a great harmonica player has his own dedicated backup band. In the open mic world, it is a singer/guitar player's call and the harmonica player is an embellisher if he wants to play. I find this all rather discouraging. I guess I may decide to remain a "beginner" and just play along with the tunes in private for my own pleasure and satisfaction.

Apr 02, 2011 10:32 PM GMT
John P Replied:

Well, picking your spots and playing parts that fit the music is more than just "embellishing." For example, Lee Oskar's playing on the War tune "Low Rider" is the hook that is the most identifiable part of the tune--he may not be playing a lot, but it's an essential part of the arrangement and more than a mere embellishment. Ditto for what Sugar Blue plays on the head of the Rolling Stones' tune "Miss You."

James Cotton or Paul Oscher's playing on the Muddy Waters' song "Got My Mojo Working" is also pretty essential to the overall sound, yet they leave space when they play that tune. Paul Butterfield's "Born in Chicago" is another example.

Like you, I have no formal music training, but over the years I've picked up a basic working knowledge of music theory from other musicians I've played with. Unless one is blessed with a very refined ear (I'm not), it's hard to play along with the stuff you like without at least some knowledge of music. it's also hard to get by playing only in first position--this is because the diatonic harp lacks a complete 12 tone chromatic scale. Other positions have different notes available that make it easier to play certain tunes. You pick a position that gives you most of the notes you need to play the particular tune you want to play. IMHO, the easy way to learn to get around on the diatonic harp well enough to handle popular tunes you want to play along with is to learn the blues scale, the minor pentatonic scale and the major pentatonic scale. You can get A LOT of mileage out of just knowing those scales and which of them to use for what type of tunes. This stuff isn't rocket science, so don't be resistant to picking up a little practical music knowledge.

Btw, i find some of the well known harmonica led bands to be somewhat uninteresting because the harp player leading the band plays so much to the exclusion of interplay with the other instruments in the band. I usually find it more interesting to listen to harp players that are a a PART of the band, rather than being backed up by a band. Again, picking your spots doesn't necessarily mean that you are just "embellishing."

Apr 03, 2011 3:08 PM GMT
Rudy H Replied:

John - I appreciate the time you are spending (hopefully not wasting) in posting in this thread. On further reflection. your words are full of wisdom. Let's agree then that I am a beginner and my "playing along" with the tunes that I really love are a way for me to learn where the notes are and to get some control over my draws and blows. It is not an end in itself. However, one can not add ( I won't use the word embellish again) without these first steps. I guess I'd like to be a harmonica generalist and be able to select different styles, scales and positions depending on the tune, This could include rock, folk, Latin, -even German Uhmpa, and also some Blues, but not exclusively Blues. At least in the US, it does appear to me that Blues is the Nexus for harmonica. I want to be more musically diverse. When I go back to playing along in private to my favorite recorded tunes, I will attempt to contribute in places in the tune where there are empty spaces or passages needing emphasis. I will also try to pick up some music theory. I have amassed a briefcase full of unread harmonica how-to booklets. I need to go back to school for awhile. Regards, Rudy H.

Apr 04, 2011 4:17 PM GMT
John P Replied:

I understand what you are saying. I am in the U.S. and i pride myself on being able to play in different styles although I am probably strongest playing blues. And yes, far too many American harp players are hung up on blues to the exclusion of other music.

For me, learning scales opened up the ability to express myself on harp--to make what i hear in my head come out of the instrument. It is also the foundation of learning to play in different positions. IMHO, that is the place to start. Then, after you learn scales and when to use which scales, the next step would be to understand the relationship of scale tones to chord tones. But the main thing is to be sure to enjoy yoursel and have fun doing it.

Apr 07, 2011 11:17 PM GMT
Adam W Replied:

good conversation. i myself a problem of playing too much. on piece of advicee given to me by anothr harp player is that we need to think as a horn player. phrase in when it sounds good, not over the guitar or vocals. what boris said about the harmonica being intune with thevocals is ispretty accurate.

Apr 08, 2011 10:32 AM GMT
Rudy H Replied:

Adam - Thank you for joining the conversation. The advice to play as if one were a horn player certainly will keep one from playing too much. Unfortunately for me it will definitely mean I won't be able to play enough to be satisfying since singing and guitar playing usually comprise most of the song. I guess I picture myself more as an accordian player, than a bluesy horn player. By the way, I have gotten some really good audience reaction to playing a rousing "Squeezebox" by the Who by playing it in a continuous accordian style along with the singer and guitar player. I believe this song really lends itself to this style especially when the singer sings "In and out, and in and out and in and out......." So my attempts at harp playing are usually not blues, but I do have great respect for that style of music and harp players who love to play it.

Apr 08, 2011 11:02 AM GMT
Rudy H Replied:

Me again. Ok I did a search on "Squeezebox and Harmonica" and found this video on youtube:

As a harp player, this is an example of a harp playing I do NOT want to follow. When I play along with this particular song, I PLAY it continuously. Regards, Rudy

Apr 08, 2011 5:21 PM GMT
Rudy H Replied:

This is my version of harping along to Squeezebox. I accompanied a very fine open mic host, who let me play as much as I wanted. I really appreciate that he is so accommodating. I realize that the amount of harp playing should be somewhere in between the video clip above and the audio clip on my website:

But I gotta ask you -- which harp player do you think had more fun?

(you will need the Quicktime Plug-In for Microsoft IE to play the tune on the temporary website that I set up. I don't believe Firefox will work -- Regards, Rudy)

Apr 08, 2011 6:19 PM GMT
Rudy H Replied:

Sorry about the double entry on the last post - but I guess the following would be an example of a harp player not under or over playing on Squeezebox and doing it with a bluezy feel.

Of course, the use of these clips of Squeezebox by the Who is for educational purposes and not intended to infringe on copyrights.

Apr 24, 2011 4:54 PM GMT
Rudy H Replied:

The audio clip being "temporary" on <> has now been removed. Thanx. - Rudy H.

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