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Feb 05, 2009 4:19 PM GMT
hello you all

I understand this is the place to learn the art of the harp.   An organization for the advancement of playing the Harmonica.
a place were freshman learn from sophomores, who learn from juniors, who learn from seniors, who learn from masters who are still learning..
my name is abner i go by Blueyes only because thats what my wife says... "all you have is blue eyes".
im sure its an insult of some kind.  She loves me so...
anyway, im home recovering from the cervical surgery, they removed two discs and fused and a lot of cleaning up. so im home watching Gilmore Girls and self teaching the harp,,
I have always loved music all kinds and i can dance. I just cant play music and i tried. my first love was the acoustical guitar i had a total of 3 instructors and nothing stuck so i dropped it.. 30 odd years later my wife bought a cheap $5.00 harp and once in a great moon i would annoy her and play...
several month ago i was playing along with some music and my son said i was good but i need to buy a rear harp... so they bought me harps and books. and I still don't know how to play...
im getting the hang of single notes, and i still jam to music in fact last night my wife pulled on some songs and i played to them and she says i sounded good... did I mention she loves me.....
so please be kind to newbies like me we tend to ask annoying question that have been answered a 1000 times... like which amp should i get. and so on....
so here are my annoying questions:
how do i know what key a song is played in, and what key should i play the harmonica.
exampl: if the acoustical guitar is playing Tom petty "last Dance what key should the harmonica be in ?
               How would i know this. how can i learn to find out..
I have several harmonics: i wont ask which maker is better. but i will ask:
I have C,Cm,Fm,A,Am,G,Gm I have learned that i needed a D to play Cant you see.... so know i need a D or better yet I want a harmonica in the key of D,
 what other keys should i be leaning to... I love the blues, country blues, a little bit of rock and roll and latin music... and yes i have learned you can play the harp anywhere in music.
instrument jams cd's, blues, no vocals no other harmonic's playing where can i get them...
Is there a pill or a drink that can make me play like a master and no im not taking LSD to make me think i can play.. I want to learn quickly and become a star over night so that i can be adorn by fans throwing panties on stage.
abner (blueys, 48 yr old freshman to the blues)

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Comments (22)

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Feb 05, 2009 9:42 PM GMT
Brady Mills Replied:

Hi Abner,

First, you'd want to find out what key the song in question is being played in. Each song does not have a particular key -- this is variable. I am not a harmonica player, but I am a piano player, and in such a situation, I'd simply ask the guitar player what key he is playing in.
When you step into this a little further -- with positions, modes, etc --- you'll have to make some very different determinations on the key of harmonica you pick up.  Determining the key from a CD may not be as simple -- and requires ear training and experience (most of which, come with time). Therefore, the panties being thrown on stage, probably will not happen over night... but if dedicated, you will easily find yourself one step closer to playing for your screaming fans, simply by taking the first steps.
Don't try to run before you can crawl... Learning the right harp to pick up sounds like a logical first step to me.

Feb 06, 2009 3:56 AM GMT
Bluesie Replied:

First of all, Abner, LSD at 48 would maybe a bit of a surprise!!! That said, there is no need to rush. At first, you'll play in first and second position. Let's pretend you play blues, country and folk. Blues loves second position and country and folk often call for first position but, also second. I mean, basically.

So, if you play a song in the key of G, first position is G. Second position is 3 1/2 tones after the G so, in this case, C. Third position is a bit more complicated to play. In blues, it is used also and it would be a full tone back from the G so, it is an F.

Begin there and, don't forget the chat. Many people to help there. Many much more qualified than myself.


Feb 06, 2009 5:56 AM GMT
Robb L Replied:

Hi, Abner. I've always found it easy, in second postion, to start with the key of the song and just count four: A(1 B(2 C(3 D(4 or G(1 A(2 B(3 C(4 So 2nd or cross harp for A would be D, for G it would be C. The only exception is in F we play B flat. You will figure out why soon enough. If you don't know what key the song is in you might try to pull it up a guitar tab site.
Try to listen to guys like Sonny Terry, Little Walter, Jr. Wells, Sonny Boy Williamson, Pat Ramsey, any and all of the folks here on Harmonica Space and all the other harp player you will come across as you start digging in.
Hang in there and have fun!

Feb 06, 2009 8:18 PM GMT
BluEyes Replied:

thanks guys, its still confusing. 1st position 2nd position all confusing..
but its a start.
slow has always been good for me and I don't mind taking my time. I have my harp with me all the time and when the commercail start i start.....

once again thank you.

Feb 07, 2009 10:34 AM GMT
Judge Replied:

I'd learn second position scales then write out a 12 bar progression. Guitar magazines with free CD often have a few blues backing tracks on them. Buy ' Mel Bay's Complete Classic Chicago Blues Harp' book. It's like a bible to me.
Put some blues on and draw on the second hole on your harps at start of song until it sounds right.
I could talk all day but want to keep it simple.
Oh yeah don't be frightened off by jargon.
Youtube Jason Ricci, Adam gussow, Ronnie Shellist and everyone else!
Learn a few riffs so you're not always free forming{this was my mistake when starting out}
Have fun, you''ll do things on the harp in the heat of a song and think 'was that me' Haha Lovely feeling.

Oh yeah, buy you're wife some flowers, a good woman's hard to find.

Feb 07, 2009 12:03 PM GMT
AirMojo (Ken H) Replied:

Hi Abner, If you haven't already, buy Winslow Yerxa's book "Harmonica for Dummies". Its packed-full with great information, and comes with a CD.

Figuring out what key a song is in by listening to it (by ear) takes practice, and for me, all 12 of the major (standard richter) keys. I usually start by picking a harp and playing in 2nd position, but you can also tell if 1st position works. I start with the harps in C, A, G, D, F, Bb, (so I would recommend you get these harps first) and proceed with other keys if needed (add them to your arsenal too).

Get a diagram and study the Circle of 5ths. I have a photo image here in my photos section. I keep this image as my computer's desktop image. I arrange my harmonicas in any case that I'm using in order of the Circle of 5ths (not in a circle, but in vertical columns since that's how most cases are). I also keep a Circle of 5ths diagram in my harp case(s).

Songs in minor keys are usually harder (for me) to figure out, but do-able, especially if you know positions for minors, and/or have some minor harps.

If you get stuck, ask... here, Harp-L, Harp-Talk.

David Barrett's Masterclass website has a section of blues artists, albums, and songs and what key and harp is being used. Its here:

I store my music library on my iPod and iTunes music library. I will often add comments in iTunes that identifes the song key, harp, etc. This makes for a great quick reference library. You can also easily create "smart playlists", like 'Songs using A harp", etc.

Hope this helps, and never give up... its too much fun !

Feb 07, 2009 1:56 PM GMT
AirMojo (Ken H) Replied:

Tom Petty's "Mary Jane's Last Dance" ? Sounds like G harp in 3rd position--song in Am. Use the middle octave, mostly 5D 5B and 4D will get you playing it.

Feb 07, 2009 2:03 PM GMT
jawbone s Replied:

Mary Janes last dance - I'm not sure about this but I heard that the song had been sped up a bit so it does not fall dead on Am but close. So when you play along it may sound a bit off.

Feb 07, 2009 2:05 PM GMT
Jawbone K Replied:

ah another courageous man! it's never too late to begin abner. there has been some very good counsel already from these guys.

i'd say scheme and connive until you have harps in most all keys. this gives you the basic tools to play any position in any key. it took me a long time to make the decision to get all the harps, and since then i have actually weeded out a couple. i never use an E or an F# for instance. but i'm basically prepared for almost any song just the same.

there are 12 keys in music, 12 basic harp keys, and 12 possible positions one can theoretically play in. myself, i began with 1st- which is also "straight harp", same key as the root of the song. before long i realized that my heroes were doing something different- playing 2nd- which is also called "cross harp". 2nd is where you use mainly draw notes on a different harp to get the minor notes in the root key. ex- guitar in G, harp in C since the draw notes on a C are G minors. get a circle of 5ths chart and save yourself some grief! it denotes all the positions in all the keys.
now after many years of blind fumbling, i realized that jazz, swing, and some country players were doing things i just couldn't figure out on a harp, and i realized they were doing 3rd, or "slant" harp. it may sound bizarre, but it's just yet another key harp matched to the root key of the song. the starting point and matching notes are a bit different also. but the end result is a whole nother feel to what the harp can add to a song.

recently i began trying 5th position, yet another different key harp to the root of the song. that's as far as i've taken it. i'm more a "feel" player than a theorist and i have no formal music training at all.

i'd suggest for starters, get hold of a book/cd set already mentioned, or maybe has the jon gindick book, "rock'n'blues harp", which has a jam along cd also.

the simple harmonica holds near limitless possibilities to explore.
in my many years of playing and experimenting i have managed to make some incredible progress, great friends, played with a couple of notable cats, worked with several bands and duos, and generally been very fulfilled. it's an excellent way to spend time and stay out of trouble and actually make at least a few people besides myself happy! i have played harp with several styles of music from blues and rock to spiritual, swing, jazz, funk, irish ballads, bluegrass, country, and on and on. there are some incredible latin harp guys too.

you are in a very good place. those "dumb questions" to me are only the ones you thought too dumb to ask!

Feb 07, 2009 2:12 PM GMT
AirMojo (Ken H) Replied:

My favorite playalongs, are Steve Baker's playalongs books with CD's. Currently there are 3 volumes. David Barrett's Masterclass website has them, but it looks like only vol.2 is available. I ordered my a year or two ago from the UK ( I think). There are tracks with harmonica and backing music, and tracks without the harmonica and just backing music.

Barrett's Masterclass is loaded with instructional books, CD's, DVD's. I've enjoyed the Chicago Blues Harp (combined vol 1&2), and the Building Harmonica Technique book/CD. Lots of stuff there. It helps to have the time and patience to dedicate to the material provided. I often get distracted, but come back to it when possible.

Feb 07, 2009 2:17 PM GMT
AirMojo (Ken H) Replied:

Jawbone... yeah, I just gave "Last Dance" a whirl, and it took me several harps and tries, but G harp seemed closest, and I still wasn't 100% sure. Close often works in harmonica as well as horseshoes and hand grenades !

Feb 07, 2009 5:40 PM GMT
BluEyes Replied:

holy rusted metal, I did not expect all this advise.
You all have given me so much to chew on.
and AirMojo thanks for giving it a try you went beyond the call.
Jawbone i am going to have to read and re-read your post and get the circle of 5th. at least no exams.
cheeky z,Robb L,Bluesie,Brandy<

thank you all for your suggestions.... like i said its a month full and as always I will take it slow and enjoy..
man im psyched.
thank you

Feb 07, 2009 6:09 PM GMT
Jawbone K Replied:

just take a bite at a time abner. i turned 54 today, been playing on and off, mostly on, for about 37 years, and i STILL have so much to learn! but what i have, i got a piece at a time. occasionally i have an a-HA moment, more when i am challenging myself to the point of crying frustration, but these are fewer as time goes on. the crying part anyway.

if you just focus on basics for a while, you will be off to a good start. and don't forget- if you just want to play a few songs read the paper that came in one of those boxes with a harp- on top of old smoky is there along with a few others. but if you're like me, toss the paper and find another way in! any one of the materials suggested here will be an awesome start.

Feb 07, 2009 6:33 PM GMT
AirMojo (Ken H) Replied:

Its easy to get overwhelmed with too much information, especially with the internet, so do work on the basics like JawboneK says.

Learning familiar songs is highly recommended. The tunes are already in your head, so alot of the work is done.

The past few years, I have found myself returning to old favorites, like "You Are My Sunshine" where you need to work on your draw bends (playing in 2nd position on a standard 10-hole harp).

This past Christmas, I worked on "Blue Christmas" which is a great song to work on those draw bends... and people recognize these songs, especially when played well !

Feb 07, 2009 7:09 PM GMT
BluEyes Replied:

ok im looking at buy some books, "dummies" and Gindric. trying to find Steve Bakers play alongs.
I think what I realy want are cd/s that I can jam with I have The Idiots guid to playing and "First Lessons Blues Harmonica by David Barrett"
I am also a bit confused on the harps.
right now i have

Marine Band C
Hohner Speacial 20 C
Lee Oskar Natural Minor Gm,Cm,Fm,Am
Lee Oscar Melody Maker G,A,C

family members bought these for me this past xmas... I had no say...
and they had no idea. A friend that plays the guitar gave them the keys to buy...
what key should I get:
as I said I love the blues, county and a little bit of rock and roll.
Brand, i know this is so personal. The problem i see is Hohner has different models with differnt numbers IM looking at them and like a deer staring at a head light. I like both Hohner and Lee Oskar and I know that there are other brands...
im willing to spend $30 on each and up. dont worry about the cost I can buy some now and more later... Im having a lot of fun hearing different songs finding the key and then jamming. my wife will tell me if i got it or if im off key... we were up till past midnight playing and singing.. after 28 yrs of marriage this is awsome..

Question: CD's that i can jam with such as "Steve Bakers play along " that I cant find.

man you cant belive how much fun im having. Thank you all for being part of it.

Feb 07, 2009 8:00 PM GMT
Hammik Replied:

I got Harmonica for Dummies from my dad's girlfriend for x-mas and I like it a lot. It comes with a cd with tracks for everything in the book.
Also I have a Marine Band in D that sounds great. I know you were saying that you were looking for a D. If you like how the Lee Oskar's play try the Major harps.

Feb 07, 2009 9:09 PM GMT
AirMojo (Ken H) Replied:

You can order the Harmonica for Dummies from Amazon, or maybe at your local bookstore. The Steve Baker books/CDs are hard to find in the USA.

I would get an A, G, Bb. Lee Oskar or Special 20, or try a Seydel model like the Blues Session. I really like the Seydel 1847's, but they are more expensive. You can order online from Coast-to-Coast.

Feb 07, 2009 11:07 PM GMT
BluEyes Replied:

thank you both for the help. i was kinda hoping for more to join in. maybe later.
AirMojo I will look at the Seydel and hunt for Steve Baker.
since you and Hammik like the Dummie book I will give it a look... I may stick with the
books I have and spend the money on the harps...

Feb 07, 2009 11:08 PM GMT
BluEyes Replied:

if i may I might repost my request as a new topic.


Feb 08, 2009 5:00 PM GMT
Elk River Replied:

To find the harp for the song, play two drawpart. Usually the I and IV chords are very prevalent in a song and the two draw, on a C harp, it's a G note... So when the tune is in G, that two draw will sound good through most of the sound, because the G is the root of the I chord and also one of the three notes in the four chord. So, in a nutshell it fits through most of the song.

This might also be a help to you, you can pick the key and play along:

Feb 08, 2009 6:27 PM GMT
BluEyes Replied:

Dave thank you, this is what im looking for.
I want more, im hooked.


Feb 10, 2009 1:56 PM GMT
BluEyes Replied:

Elk River i went to the site, but I didn't see or could not see the jamming cd's...
Question: out of the 11 jams I am assuming that they come in different tempos....

anyway thanks for the site, it is what im looking for... and if there are more out there I would love to know....thanks again