New to Harp, plz help.

The lowdown on the Mississippi Sax. Just for Google, this section is about harmonicas.

New to Harp, plz help.

Postby buddy » Tue Sep 16, 2008 12:22 am

Hi, iI've been playing drums for about 5 years and i was searching for some blues on youtube and crossed over Little Walter harp player, and he just amazed me! So i decided to start playing harp too.
Please help which harp to choose, in which range of price and where and how to start learn. I don't know nothing about it except they comes in different keys and different amount of hole. My guess will be key "C" 10 holes for a starter? And where to get tab/notes or whatever is used for harp to read.
Thank you, very much.
P.S. Sorry for a broken English.
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Re: New to Harp, plz help.

Postby MakaInOz » Tue Sep 16, 2008 3:10 am


There's lots of different ways you can progress, but I like the personal touch and would recommend seeking out a teacher or mentor that's in your local area. An instructor may also be able to hook you up with someone of similar (or preferably slightly more) harmonica experience, and sharing practice time occassionally I find is good for morale.

I think second best is one of the book/CD/DVD packages from a reputable source. There are (very) many of these - have a hunt around youtube (search for harmonica lessons) and see if one of the instructors is particularly to your liking. Most of them have some packaged training system - some even offer phone or Skype instruction. Dave Barrett is one that has an extensive and comprehensive series of books/CDs/DVDs that make up modules of a learning 'system'.

A C harp is the most widely used key in the instructional books, but sometimes they use an A as well. As to brands, there are heaps to choose from. Given the difference between a cheapo harp and a reputable brand/model is likely to only be about $20, its probably worth going for something of reasonable quality. Lee Oskar, Hohner SP20 and Delta Frost are all similarly constructed (plastic combs) and priced. I'd recommend a plastic comb to start with, but the wood comb devotees may well disagree.

DON'T buy a microphone and amp. Wait until you get some 'acoustic chops' and you'll then be able to identify the style you want to play in (perhaps Little Walter Chicago Blues) and the venues you're likely to play in. This will impact on the type of mic and amp you should buy - and they need to work together.

The tin sandwich is a bloody sight more capable than first impressions indicate - easy to play simply, hard to play well. Biggest beginner mistake - blowing too hard. Try to play quietly - sometimes that is more difficult than it appears it should be. Mic/amp will make it loud later on if required.

Main thing - have fun!
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Re: New to Harp, plz help.

Postby jeffl » Tue Sep 16, 2008 6:35 pm

I've played harp for over 40 years, and I'd support Maka's advice, generally in total. I wouldn't try to copy anybody's style at first, even if you're tempted to; learn the basics and the rest will come, and you'll develop your own style. I would recommend learning the tongue-blocking method first, and then learn how to switch to lip pursing when you need it (Jerry Portnoy's advice). And, Maka's advice about not playing amplified at first is critical. If you don't heed it, you will develop some bad habits early on, and your tone will suffer. BarbequeBob Maglinte (an accomplished veteran member here) would say to never practice amplified, I believe, and in general I agree; I do practice amplified techniques at home however, but I'd wait on that. Brian Purdy posts pics with his tutorials at . We also have a link to a basic harp tutorial on our home page at this forum. Jerry Portnoy's Harmonica Masterklass is an extremely thorough CD/book based tutorial, dryly executed, but wonderful in its progression from basics to intermediate techniques. It's quite a commitment though, in effort and cost, at about $70.00 U.S.; Jerry's a Chicago style harper too. For country blues, there's a low cost CD/book tutorial on Sonny Terry. I learned via a book/vinyl by Tony (Little Son) Glover; it's still available via used book dealers through Amazon. I believe it's titled "Blues Harp". It's really good on teaching the different positions to play in ( I-IV ), and it's also folk and country blues oriented. And, it's funnier than heck. Some of the online stuff is free. Happy Harpin' and see you at the harp forum.
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Re: New to Harp, plz help.

Postby jbone1 » Wed Sep 17, 2008 11:45 am

cardinal rule: don't DRAW OR BLOW TOO HARD AT ALL! unless you want to replace a harp often. play only as hard is is needed to make a reed sound. this is such a common issue with new guys and something i did for years myself. esp in blues, where bends are part of the music, it's tempting in moments where you get excited, esp when playing live, to just draw the heck out of that #4 or #5 hole, and it will sound good for a time. but that reed or any reed will fatigue and crap out if it's stressed too much.

you can do as much or as little with a harp as you want, it's really up to the individual. i have known guys who made good $ doing old standards and show tunes solo at the mall and the bar, and i've known guys who have delved deep into the mysteries of how the greats made those sounds. i'm one of the latter.

i took a very long time to begin really learning about blues harp especially. the internet and open mic nights were two of my best teachers. a student mentality has been vital. i'd say if you can get face to face with someone who plays how you'd like to play, that would be a good idea. i also collected a lot of different music to listen to and learn from, blues, country, rock, funk, jazz, bluegrass, folk, etc etc. hanging out at forums like this and others has also been a huge help in recent years.

patience and perseverence is also key. it can be as hard to learn to run a harp as it is to learn guitar.

don't be afraid to ask questions either, you may save yourself a lot of time and effort!
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Re: New to Harp, plz help.

Postby too2tall » Thu Sep 18, 2008 12:09 am

I would like to add this thought about Jerry Portnoy's Masterklass CD set. I was mired in mediocrity for several years and got the CD set. Opened my eyes to some things I had not realized and took me to the next level. I still go back and review from time to time and find a little note of advice that is beneficial.
Starting out with a C is great especially since you can pick up a good starter harp easiest and cheapest in that key. As you get more proficient in bending I would recommend going to a higher quality harmonica like a Lee Oscar, Golden Melody,
Delta Frost, etc. Also I would practice bending on an A harp as it takes more muscle to bend the reeds on an A harp and helps build those muscles up. Also practice playing with the radio or CD's as you learn so you can practice using them in a band situation. My final bit of advice is when start playing with other musicians please pick your spots carefully to run a riff or solo. Try to blend into the groove the band is on. I like to mimic the bass players progression until I see a nice hole to throw out a riff behind the vocals and then wait for someone to give me the nod to take a ride on the loop.
Good luck and keep on keeping on.
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