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Joel H
Jul 28, 2009 3:30 AM GMT

I would like to introduce myself. My name is Joel Hooks. I found this great site by reading the HOOT Dallas newsletter and decided to check it out. I am glad I did. It seems like a friendly community.

I mostly play 19th century banjo styles, but I keep a mouth organ with me just about all the time.

I play the harmonica out of first position by tongue-blocking with the occasional choked note to make a song work. Sometimes I accompany myself by playing the bones.

I realize that the harmonica community is predominately blues and jazz style musicians, so I probably will not be able to contribute much.

I do hope for the opportunity to pick the brains of the experts here on any history they have collected.

My goals for the harmonica is to try to recreate the technique and repertoire of the late 19th century. And also make some new friends in the process.

Now for my first question.

Does anyone have in their collection any 19th century harmonica tutors? Notation or simplified methods, I am interested in them all. I wouldespecially like to study a copy of Ryan's True Instructor For The Harmonica.

I am starting from the beginning as I have had no luck locating any information. My next step will be to contact libraries.

Thank you.

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Comments (9)

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Jul 28, 2009 9:13 PM GMT
Barbeque Bob M Replied:

Joel, as far as what's dominating, in every region of the country or around the world for that matter, it is different, There are more people down South and in parts of the Midwest that are doing or attempting to do what you're doing than there is out here in the New England area, and don't sweat it, just be proud you're doing that, and ALL harmonica styles need to be preserved, and coming from a pro, I don't go for the cliqueiness that too often some music fans/hobbyists tend to do, and 95% of pros aren't gonna do anything like that, regardless of the genre(s) of music they play because, unlike those, pros often listen and even play stuff completely outisde of the genre they usually play in (or the public perception of that).

I think you are making a highly erroneous assumption saying that the harmonica world is totally dominated by blues an jazz players because, truth be told, the tent is a helluva lot wider than that, as it may seem that some of these guys seem to talk the loudest or the most frequently. I myself am a traditional blues player, but I DO listen as well as enjoy harmonica playing of a wide variety of music genres from not just blues, but also country, bluegrass, old timey, jazz, classical, etc, and I do own recordings of this stuff, and I also don't just listen to harmonica players, which too often is the ssingle most common mistake harp players too often tend to do like clockwork.

I'm not sure about any instructional materials on that stuff, but one book I bought about 25 years ago called Folk & Blues Harmonica by George "Heaps" Nelson had stuff, even tho it says blues on it, was really more of the old timey/Americana stuff than blues, and I'm pretty sure it's still in print, and I'd go check it out at and you may be surprised at what you see is available there.

I'd also go on and they also have a list of harmonica clubs and some may be able to help out.

Best of luck to you and don't be ashamed about doing what you want to do, and you may even want to do other stuff besides that, but one good thing about learning what you want to do that will give you a leg up on the average player is that you will learn more about playing melody and rhythm, and there are far too many players who can't even play the simplest melodies like Old Susanna and just want to be "Mr. Riffmaster," and if they're ever called upon to play just a melody, they just freeze up because they never bothered to learn how.

Jul 29, 2009 1:50 AM GMT
Joel H Replied:

I can see how I easily generalized. I guess I based it on the commonly available tutors and how they tent to breeze past 1st position tongue-blocking and go right to 2nd position.

In fact it is funny because this is the very same thing I try to prevent concerning the banjo.

With the banjo it is all "Dueling banjos" and stereotypes. Then folks watch me with a raised eyebrow as I work my way through a 6/8 military march.

My eyes are officially opened concerning the harmonica.

Jul 29, 2009 2:11 AM GMT
Lester S Replied:

Hi Joel,

I believe the earliest recorded harmonica in audio was Deford Bailey (I think late 1890s). He was great even by todays standards. Check him out and welcome aboard!

Jul 29, 2009 2:12 AM GMT
walterharp Replied:

Try Sarge who is on this site. He learned the old style and practices it to this day.

Jul 29, 2009 2:42 AM GMT
Reed Triller Replied:

Good Ol` Deford was born in 1899.I believe the first recording was in this mid 1920s.

Jul 29, 2009 9:32 PM GMT
Barbeque Bob M Replied:

Joel, for some of us, when one thinks of banjo, they may (or maybe me, for that matter lol) be think of that old black and white TV show from the 60's, The Beverly Hillbillies, but banjo has a a big role in the early history of Jazz, as it was the chordal instrument of choice long before guitars were being used (so that now would be referred to Dixieland Jazz).

Just think, back in the late 1920's no one believed classical music could be played on a harmonica until Larry Adler got into a harmonica contest and began playing Minuet In G, which had people's jaws dropping, especially classical musicians, who really regard the instrument as nothing more than a very lowly toy at best during that time (tho for some, it may be still thought of that way). Few people would've thought it could play Jazz until Larry Adler did a session in the 30's with Django Reinhardt and Stephen Grappelli, or later when Toots Thielemans and Les Thompson were doing it, and few people thought of a diatonic in a jazz situation until first Madcat began playing with the Two Generations of Brubeck, and then Howard Levy, especially with the use of a little known technique at the time known as overblows/overdraws.

Too many people have precocieved notions about nearly everything until someone finds away to turn people on their ears andexplode stereotypes.

Jul 30, 2009 1:32 AM GMT
snakeman r Replied:

the banjo came from africa along with the blues

Aug 02, 2009 7:14 AM GMT
OrthodoxBlues Replied:

Welcome! I love hearing harmonica in different genres. I have a good friend who is a great reggae bassist and guitarist, and we've had some great reggae jams.

Your musical focus sounds very interesting.

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