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The Harp: How to Play the Thing, Part 5

Updated: Jan 5

How to Play the Thing, Part 5


There they are: twelve skills and concepts to work on. The Twelve Commandments. Not a word about arpeggios, warbles, glissandos, tremolos, overblowing, or wah-wah effects, either.


How long will it take to achieve some competence? With steady repetition and practice, maybe a few months, then a matter of years to become good. That is a lot shorter than with guitar or piano. Adam Gussow (see more on him below), sitting in his dark car late at night, has a very thoughtful and provocative series of three lessons on How To Get Good beginning here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9jKBqktaz6E.


One way to test your level of competence is to go to the excellent website where Tomlin Leckie posts online lessons every week. He rates every lesson by Beginner, Advanced Beginner, Intermediate, or (rarely) Advanced Intermediate. There is no plain Advanced there. The lessons are excellent and, unless you choose to subscribe to premium content and hands-on tutorials, completely free. They cover technique, equipment, a little bit of music theory, and every other harp-related subject, tightly focused on the blues. There are about 300 lessons there; try a few of them and see at what level you qualify. You might be pleasantly surprised by your ability to play some Advanced Beginner or even Intermediate stuff pretty quickly. https://www.tomlinharmonicalessons.com/free-harmonica-lessons/page/2/


The other place to go, once you realize that you need a hands-on teacher – face-to-face or virtual -- to help you with the harp: Jon Gindick. www.gindick.com. I have mentioned this guy above – that he has been publishing (in actual books!) and streaming lessons from way back in the 70s right up to today, that he founded the blues-harp camps in Clarksdale, Mississippi, that he is smart, and funny, knows the blues inside out, and knows how to teach the subject. Now, go to his website and sign up for an online lesson: 30+ minutes for $35.00, which is very reasonable. Midway through the lesson he will pick up his guitar, put the C harp in the rack around his neck, and provide background music for you to play along with. After the lesson he will send you, by email, a 5-minute audio that reviews what you have worked on, and a couple of suggestions on how to improve. An excellent recent lesson is at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2uxHiUIKHLI, in which he emphasizes what notes to stay away from, and when and why. And when he plays the guitar and says, “Come on, let me hear you play,” you’re going to play. What more could you ask for? There is nobody like Gindick, and you will find his lessons (Zoom or Skype) pleasant, engaging, and challenging. There is no better way to learn the harp than to connect with a teacher one-to-one, and Gindick among the best one out there.


So there are Gindick, Tomlin, and Gussow. There is also Jason Ricci, who is technically the best of all of ‘em, but his teaching style takes a lot of getting used to. Go online to https://mooncat.org/ and find his stuff and decide for yourself if he is the online teacher for you. But among this small group of blues-harp teachers there is a wonderful variety of lessons and tutorials. Each has his own style, and each is truly keeping the blues and the blues harp alive.


Do those Twelve Commandments seem daunting? They might, but remember: you have already practiced, become fairly competent at, and begun mastering some of the items contained therein, especially #s 1-4. The others will come along in time. These are the skills and notes that will reside in your playing and listening repertoire – your arsenal. They are no different now than when Butterfield put aside the flute and guitar and picked up the Marine Band. Use them.

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