View Full Version : ukers guide to blues harp

09-09-2010, 04:14 AM
hi folks

I am new here and not sure of the rules.

I have been thinking of doing a ukers guide to blues harmonica.

Am i allowed to post it on this forum?

would anybody be interested?

it may or may not be a few installments ( i can be long winded) and the content is still up in the air as i am quite busy right now. It would focus on the beginner ( harp player) who is interested in playing the harp but cant get the process kick started.

there is alot of harp instruction on the net so i dont want to reinvent the wheel.

I dont want to do harp lessons per se, more like some perspective with maybe a basic riff or two to get folks started

if its OK and if there is enough positive feedback via this post for the idea i can start the process.

peace eor


09-09-2010, 04:48 AM
hi folks i can be long winded...

That's good for a harp player isn't it?

09-09-2010, 05:27 AM
sounds awesome! I have been wanting to learn harmonica for a while and a guide on here would motivate me to do it!!

Swampy Steve
09-09-2010, 05:47 AM
I play a bit , but I would certainly be eager to learn more , go for it

09-09-2010, 08:18 AM
That's good for a harp player isn't it?

insert drum roll here :)


09-09-2010, 08:30 AM
Go for it I love the harmonica, always have done, count me in

09-10-2010, 04:28 AM
Bluze is CooL!

Harp on, brother... harp on.... :)

09-10-2010, 06:41 AM
hi folks i am not an expert and any and all feedback from the harp players here is welcome...

The ukers guide to blues harp..

Chapter 1

The harmonica is a unique little instrument. Almost every house hold has one in a drawer or a box in the attic someplace but few households have somebody who can play one.

For our purposes when we discuss the harp we are talking about the 10 hole diatonic harmonica.

Part of the problem is the harp is one of the only instruments where almost everything happens where you can’t see what is going on. Things happen in your mouth or behind cupped hands so its difficult to watch another harp player and see what he is doing. To learn to play the harp you have to replace your eyes with your ears.

The style of harp playing we associate with the blues and most rock music is called cross harp or second position. Cross harp gives the sound of the blues.

Each harp comes in a specific key but even if you change keys of harp the pattern of notes doesn’t change so if you learn a riff on one harp it can be played on any harp in any key, same riff ,same pattern. The same riff played on an A , C and an F harp will play different notes on each but will sound the same , only higher or lower in pitch.

If you play your harp alone, sitting and practicing a riff for example, key isn’t so important but the minute you play to music you have to match the key of harp you use to the key of the music.

In second position, you choose a harp that is in a different key than the song is.

Song key ...... cross harp key

A ....... D
C ........ F
G ........ C
D ....... G
E ....... A …ect

To learn the harp one of the hurdles a newcomer has is to get over being intimidated.

Its possible to play harp effectively, even with out being a whiz, if you under stand that a lot of harp playing especially in rock is only accenting the music or only in a small part of the song, yet really adds a lot to the feeling of the music.

Rock music uses a bit less harp than blues does.

So let look at the form

a classic riff every body knows is played ( by lee oscar, yes that lee oscar) in the song “low rider“ by war. Its only a few staccato notes but it defines the song.


another great harp part that instantly defines the song is at the beginning of this song.. supertramps school


and because it is so iconic check out this version.. same tune with a slight change in feeling…maybe more bluesy.. and more harp in the tune than the original. still all very basic.


Another good example is trooper.. small harp part, not to complicated but defines the tune..


Another fairly simple but iconic harp part is in long train running by the doobie brothers. I usually harp to the whole tune but the original is all you need.


In “if you want to get to heaven” by the ozark mountain daredevils note how much repetition of a riff is used to build musical tension. this is very common in harp playing.


In all these tunes notice how feeling in more important that blistering speed and in some cases technical prowess. Simple riffs well played with feeling work better than complicated ones played poorly or played quickly to show off how cool a dude you are.

Before we take a look at the harp in blues music , since we are on the topic of feeling here is an interesting passage..

“ I've never lived so far that I couldn't walk to the nearest highway and stick out my thumb and be home the next day. I came home for good that way, on a wet November morning, leaving Halifax on a transit bus which would deposit me on the Dartmouth side of the bridge. Maybe you saw me there back in 1988, a young man with longish hair in an old army coat and work boots. I would have been in the hiker’s stance, my back toward my destination, my thumb out, standing back ward as if taking a last whist full look at where I had been. You would have seen my guitar case and kitbag, placed off to the side of the highway out of the mud, and my sign, a requirement for the serious hitchhiker, in the hand that wasn't extended out to the highway. A good sign could take hours off of your travel time and mine always said HELP! HOME TO MAMA...and the name of my hometown on the other side, in black permanent marker to ensure better visibility for the cars and trucks rushing by. What you couldn't see was the damp chill down the back of my neck, the twenty six dollars in my wallet or the straight razor, wrapped in a red bandanna and tucked in an easily accessible pocket. We all carried some kind of blade on the road in those days, for peace of mind more than anything and my choice was based on its clean shave and significant intimidation value.

You don't see many folks riding the thumb any more. "Smoke house" Willie Brown
would have called it "hoboing". My generation didn't hop rail cars, we followed the asphalt instead. It amounted to the same thing I guess. You took the train or bus and if you wanted to save the cash or didn't have the funds you took your chances with lady luck and the generosity of strangers. There is a feeling of freedom on the open road that is almost a cliché. Hitch hiking is the ultimate expression of that freedom. Its not the short local journey of some kid going into town on Friday night, but the long haul that lets you experience it, the isolation, the independence.

They say that wherever you go you run into some body from back home.

Its a safe bet that at least a good majority of them did part of the journey on the cheap. I would see allot of other guys around my own age on the road, every one of them coming from somewhere and going some place else, for reasons all their own, with a handful of change and itchy feet. A bandanna tied on the end of a pole replaced by packsacks and duffel bags as they stood in the sun or the rain, trying to look mean enough to discourage foolishness but friendly enough that folks would give them a ride.

I learned to play the harmonica on the road. It's the perfect place to learn an instrument since you have lots of time and nobody around to make you self-conscious. It's not the place to learn the cello, but its perfect for the harmonica, though any bluesman worth his salt calls it a harp, or my personal favourite, the Mississippi Saxophone. When you first learn to play and it still sounds like a tinny kids instrument its a harmonica, when you can finally play with feeling and understanding and the music just seems to come out on its own, its a harp.

I don't remember a lot of that last trip home. I do remember taking shelter beneath an overpass, crawling up to the top and sitting for an hour with my harmonica and playing. Heavy moist air and tons of stone and concrete were like an amplifier and with the traffic thumping across the expansion joints above me keeping time; I played. It started out as a blues improv, second position, key of A off the blues scale, but some how morphed into something about maritime boys and the road, about being young and scared, about choices made and regrets. It started as a piece on the harmonica and ended as a piece on the harp.

next …… the harp in blues…..

09-13-2010, 05:55 PM

From this thread

...so a blues song in the key of G uses your C harp. A song in the key E uses your A harp, etc.

Incidentally, this is the same relationship as a Baritone Uke (or guitar) to a standard C-tuned ukulele! Playing a G chord on a baritone is the same fingering as a C chord on a soprano, an F on a baritone is a Bb on a soprano. 5 semitone interval.

09-13-2010, 06:08 PM
BTW, where is that passage from? It's great.

09-14-2010, 03:57 AM
hey allanr

thanks for helping out

the passage is from a story called "Grandfathers House". glad you liked it..I almost removed it after i posted it..as it is I edited it a bit.

I am working on ch 2 of the ukers guide.

i started this project with more enthusiasm than planning and hope i didnt bite off more than i can chew :-)

There is so much great harp instruction on the net.

I am trying to do sort of a pre-instructional so when folks go to a real harp players site ( as opposed to an amateur like me) they will have some perspective.

I encourage others ( harp players or not) to kick in to this discussion.

thanks again


09-14-2010, 07:42 AM
ukers guide to blues harp


The harp and blues music were made for each other.

Low cost, portability, and being loud enough to be heard were some of the reasons the harmonica was popular with acoustic musicians in the blues genre and in roots music in general.

as in rock music ( see ch 1) the harp was often played in the intro or during lead breaks but could be also used as part of the rhythm section so to speak. In many cases the harp player used riffs which closely emulate the horn section and particularly the sax. This was very common in the Chicago blues style.

For the beginner, listening to almost anything by the blues bros would give you a feel of that relationship, the near interchange ability of the two. As a beginner I would often try playing the harp to emulate sax or horn riffs I had heard.

some examples.. check out the horn and the harp parts..

A person could jam to sweet home Chicago and emulate the horn sect. pretty easy. you can hear the harp in the background playing rhythm.. which would sound good alone also.


another good example.. horns and harp


more blues tunes just to get the feeling.

from one of my favourite movies… a must see if you like blues..

And just cause I like these guys..




all of these videos are songs that I found easy or useful when I learned to play harp.

Now that we have the video sect out of the way we can get down to getting our hands dirty

A couple of points….

Start with a decent harp.. I prefer Hohner Marine bands, Big River harps ,Special 20’s and Lee Oscar harps.. I haven’t experience with a lot of different harp makers since I live in the boonies. I would stay away from Hohner marine band harps at first. They are hard to play if you are starting out….

listen to a lot of blues music…

don’t drive yourself crazy if you cant play single notes.. it usually still sounds good if you hit multiple notes.. single notes will come with practice…

Remember.. most folk music has the harp in first pos. the harp is in the same key as the music.. think melodies or neil young. 1st pos. accents the blow notes.. Music in G, harp in G for example…

Most blues, country and rock is second position or cross harp. accents are on the draw holes. The harp is ( as alanr mentioned) 5 semitones above the key of the music. music in G, harp in C…..
have fun….

In order to get started with the harp you have to learn a riff or two.

Its easier if you understand a few points about what is going on…

first make sure the band ( or your uke as the case may be), is tuned to concert pitch. you cant tune your harp so the band has to be in tune to you

Most harp playing you hear focuses on the holes from three blow up to 6 draw .

To simplify even further you can get started learning a few riffs on only holes 3 and 4.. here’s why..

Take a song in G with the chords G (tonic) C(subdominant) D( dominant)

As a harper the only notes on the harp you need to memorize, and its not really notes it’s the holes you are memorizing is 3 blow, 4 blow and 4 draw.

If you are in second position to the music 3 blow is always the same note as the tonic chord, 4 blow is always the same note as the subdominant chord and 4 draw is always the same note as the dominant chord.

no matter the key of the music, if your harp is chosen to be in second position this relation ship applies.

so in the example above when the music is playing in a G chord if you play your key of C harp( 2nd pos) and do a 3 blow, you will be playing a G note. when the music plays a C chord , four blow gives you a C note and when the music plays a D chord four draw gives a D note.

further more you almost always start and finish with the 3 blow , consider 3 blow home base. you start there , work your way up and down the scale and keep returning to home base.

you always wail on the draw notes particularly four draw

also if you are playing your harp in the right key to the music, again in second or cross pos., almost ( some notes are stepping stones that sound better if you don’t stay on them to long) every note sounds good , no matter when or where in the piece you play it. the rule of thumb… usually you wail and build musical tension on the draw notes and resolve that tension on the blow notes.

In this little tune..

G................................................. .........................................
They call me the uke man they say that my guitar is small

C ................................................. G..............................
They call me the uke man they say that my guitar is small

D........................................C........ ................................. G
but when you play on four strings, you don’t need six strings at a all.

You could do a simple 3 blow during or just behind the G chord , a simple 3 blow again or a four blow during or just behind the C chord ( either works) and a 4 draw ( feel free to wail J ) during the D chord before going back to returning to a 3 blow at the end.

The first riff I learned was just on 3 and 4 blow and draw..if you cant do single notes don’t worry it comes and still sounds ok if you slur.

you have heard this a million times in the blues and is a great warm up and practice riff and it goes like this….

3 blow 3 draw 4 blow 4 draw

4 draw 4 blow 3 draw 3 blow

if that works for you try the same thing but in the middle when you are playing four draw, as you do the 4 draw go up to 5 draw and back to 4 draw in the same breath..it looks like this..

3 blow 3 draw 4 blow 4 draw

4 draw 5 draw 4 draw Same breath

4 draw 4 blow 3 draw 3blow

to be continued…………

good luck

09-14-2010, 07:49 AM
hey could some one try this and see if I explained the whole thing clearly especially the riffs at the end?/ thanks


Chris D
09-19-2010, 04:04 AM
Cool guide, thanks for posting!
I am starting to dabble with blues-harp a little.
I found this tutorial real useful...
Gindick 6-blow-down (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=10-35TnLpBM)...
Basically a blues-scale excercise which helps you get a feel for the scale well enough to improvise a little.
Starting to feel like I'm getting somewhere with this after only a short while!

09-19-2010, 07:36 PM
I like to play harp.

My friend has played Harp for over 30 years. He swore by Hohner. He told me I was wasting my time looking at Suzukis. I bought him a Suzuki. THe next day he swore he'd never play another Hohner. Suzukis are not cheap and there are a few varieties. A Suzuki Promaster and Suzuki Hammond are my preferred. Just take a look at my forum name. haha.

I was only learning uke to play chord progressions to backup my harp playing; but now I am enthralled with the uke. I still pick up my harp but the uke has most of my attention these days. I can't wait to marry the 2 of them when I get decent with the uke. .

I have lots of instruction books on harp. I mean lots. I also have over 70 diatonic harps. I recommend the following
1) bending (Buy a Suzuki and get a good book on bending. It won't take long. If you can whistle, you can bend the harp)
2) phrasing - licks, riffs, and turnarounds. Reel the crowd in. practice practice and practice and when you need it, it will be there.
3) playing WITH a band means learning the lingo and talking like a musician not assuming you are lead and running all over the place
4) You can't tune a harp (technically you can) but make sure the guitar or whatever it s you are playing with is in tune with the harp.
5) No need to try and sound exactly like others. You are your own unique sound and style
6) Carry it with you everywhere. If I see a kid crying, I play that kid a song. Sometimes they cry harder. You can't appease a critic.

Inner Prop
12-04-2010, 03:51 AM
Well, it looks like my wife put the kibosh on my getting a ukulele so I'll have to give my harmonica another try. I gave the harp a try a couple of times, but I just can't seem to get the hang of it. So I bought a better one and another book on how to play, still befuddles me. I really like this group so I'd like to stay on this forum.

I have a Horner Blues Harp, but I can't make the durn thing bend. I got an electric tuner and watched it, but to get the harp to bend I had to do all sorts of oral gymnastics, and I certainly couldn't hit it without first hitting the straight note and wrestling the bent note out of it. Unless someone could suggest an harmonica that's like <$20 I'll run into the same problem with the harp as I have with the uke.

Also, I just can't remember where the notes are.

Lastly I can't seem to get my hands right.

I CAN make it sound pretty, that much I can do, but I can't play tunes very easily.

BTW - Isn't it funny that harmonica seems like it should get an "an" while ukulele seems like it should get a long "a" indefinite article?

12-04-2010, 04:46 AM
I have a Horner Blues Harp, but I can't make the durn thing bend. I got an electric tuner and watched it, but to get the harp to bend I had to do all sorts of oral gymnastics, and I certainly couldn't hit it without first hitting the straight note and wrestling the bent note out of it. Unless someone could suggest an harmonica that's like <$20 I'll run into the same problem with the harp as I have with the uke.

The most important thing is to have fun, if you can't bend, play straight. one or 2 notes played with feeling in the right place can be magic. bending a note isn't rocket science, but it's one of those things you have to do / discover yourself. it's something organic, you do it with your whole being, your breath, mouth shape, tongue placement, its one of those things that is so simple and so complicated at the same time. just remember to have fun and keep playing. I get a lot of harp practice time on long solo car trips, listening to good harp players {love CCR} and then copying their riffs
As far as a good harp goes, You can get a cheap China one in Cracker Barrel for $5 or spend hundreds on a pro one, but you can have just as much fun playing the cheapie, you just have to avoid some notes sometimes. I play my Makala dolphin[you can get one of these for about $ 30] as much as my uke costing 10 times more because I don't worry about damaging it. of course it dosn't sound as good, but it sounds pretty good .

be patient grasshopper, blow out, suck in, just keep breathing

01-02-2011, 12:40 PM
I would be very interested, I can play a mean Captain pugwash and a few other bits 'n' bobs with a bit of work. Hope you start it off soon.

04-05-2011, 03:33 AM

thought i would put a link to my cover of supertramp school for uke and harp here since i had mentioned the tune in the " ukers guide".


see ya

07-05-2011, 05:33 PM
Hooray! I have a blues harp, haven't learned to play it yet. I even have one of my ukes desigated my "blues uke." been thinking about finally learning to play the harp.

Go for it!

PS: That's an awful sweet sound in the clip above!

07-30-2011, 02:07 PM
Yeah, I own a blues harp or two....about time I learn how to play!!!! Also like to play blues on my uke. Why don't you take all the great stuff you've developed and start a "Blues Harp Ukers" Group in UU ?????? I started a blues group, but everyone just stops bye, says Hi, but doesn't contribute anything? That way, folks won't have to search down here all the time for new stuff? Just an Idea.

08-03-2011, 03:44 AM
PS: That's an awful sweet sound in the clip above!

thanks its a great harp intro and one of my faves.

see ya

08-03-2011, 03:48 AM
. Why don't you take all the great stuff you've developed and start a "Blues Harp Ukers" Group in UU ?????? ? Just an Idea.


havnt been spending much time on the forums lately.

i dont understand what you mean by start a group.

thanks eor