BLUEGRASS. Can I say that out loud???

So…I play guitar with a very good Bluegrass jam every week. They are pretty much traditionalists, which means that if I show up with a wind instrument I might get kicked out or get my moonshine spiked with cyanide.
However, I’ve heard that if I can get good doing fiddle tunes, they MIGHT take me in. I’ve been giving it a shot with recordings I’ve made of our sessions, but then I listen to people like Mike Stevens and I think that the time to introduce the harp/fiddle will never come. I can read the tabs, but those speeds…where have you received the best advice to playing fast and all over the harp?

Maybe checkout John Popper, I have seen write-ups that described how he got his speed for all those triplet runs he is famous for.
Also, there is a woman in Texas who plays what she describes as “fiddle harp” I can’t remember her name but she is a member of HOOT (harmonica orginazation of texas) and has been playing this style for many years. Or google Texas fiddle harmonica. Good luck, EL Presidente Supero teaches using Irish Fiddle Tunes and Bluegrass Tunes. They get you playing fast on the harp. You can also download software called The Amazing Slow Downer (google it) It will slow down the tunes for you so you can learn them and speed it up gradually up to speed.

Yeah…those fiddle tunes will get your lips going!


When I was just a kid, in about 1967 I think, my mom gave me Roy Acuff’s album Great Train Songs. It made a lasting impression. I think it is safe to say that Roy Acuff is bluegrass, and you don’t need to whip up a batch of bathtub meth to play along with the harp on that album. I think the only generalization that can be made about bluegrass is that the musicians are accomplished.

Good thing somebody already brought up harmonica and fiddle.
I’m looking to buy my first harmonica
The direction I want to head in is old pre-war blues stuff, old time jug & string bands and mainly old appalachian banjo and fiddle tunes transferred to the harmonica.
Fiddle tunes like Leather Britches and Lost Indian
Banjo the likes of Pete Steele, Hobart Smith, Wade Ward, Roscoe Holcomb etc.
I am also the type of guy that likes stuff little raw or earthy sounding. I think, what is referred to as an overblow, in Beale Street Breakdown is beautiful and genius.
Beale Street Breakdown

I hope those long specifics make it easier get some great feedback and aren’t annoying.

Looking at a Hohner Special 20 in C…
Any suggestions are appreciated.
Thanks in advance.

You won’t go wrong with a Special 20. Many Pros use them! will get you started with Irish Fiddle tunes, Bluegrass, and blues lessons. That’s as far as I can help on that subject.

You can say Bluegrass here all you want! It’s the Bluegrass bands that have the problem from what I hear!!! Good Luck getting your foot in the door and let us know how it goes!

Can I say I like Bluegrass music and I am not even from Kentucky? My opinion is that like all music there are multiple modes, Flat Out Fast to Dead Slow. In between are an infinite number of variations. Within the genre of Bliuegrass you will find the same. As was mentioned before John Popper from Blues Traveller was cited as an example of how to play fast but I have to say. ANY player of any genre who can play within the groove and add to the musical combination is a valued player. I normally play on my own but also like the stimulus of playing with others because it stretches me as a player. Out of it I get a little bit better.

Play how you like, then play with others. Learn how to play up front but more importantly how to play as a rhythm player. Learn how to step up and then step back. That is more important than anything else. It doesn’t matter if you play Bluegrass or Heavy Metal it is knowing when and where to play. Most importantly is to remember this is meant to be FUN.

Enjoy then post a vid of you really belting it out as part of you band


Turn Coat, if you like Jed Davenport, you will probably also like Noah Lewis from about the same time & place. I found re-releases of 3 or 4 of their albums (or collections) in a music store in Honolulu in about '85 and it transformed my life.

Bluegrass music & Bluegrass Musicians are great people. I play with a group of Bluegrass Musicians at a fortnightly jam & I thoroughly enjoy the music we make. It was made clear to me at the outset, over 12 months ago, that many harmonica players are unwelcome because they simply do not comply with the correct etiquette & tend to play over other musicians breaks. Inexperienced blues players are particularly bad. I am very well accepted & am the only harmonica player in a group which often totals ca20 musicians. Lots of Banjos, Guitars, Mandolins plus a fiddler, Double Bass and me on the harp.

Our group play from the Parking Lot Pickers Song book of which there are versions for Guitar, Banjo, Mandolin & Fiddle. There is no harmonica version. There are around 300 tunes in the songbook so it’s a sharp learning curve. I think one needs to be able to pick up tunes quickly by ear as we are often called upon to do breaks of unfamiliar tunes. The secret is to understand that often it is not so much the notes that are important but maintaining the correct tempo is extremely important so the music flows. A wailing blues solo is oft putting in most bluegrass music. Some tunes however can accommodate some bluesy feeling. I think a knowledge of how to play tunes in different positions with a fair repertoire of eg 50 bluegrass tunes would have one welcome in bluegrass circles. The tunes within the bluegrass mix are many and varied covering olde timey, Irish & US fiddle tunes, some country, folk & gospel etc.

Personally I would really recommend Bluegrass jams to any harp player wishing to improve. Its a great learning experience. Most of the tunes are fairly simple and often surprisingly similar & anyone with a reasonable ear can catch on quickly. Of course anything you don’t know or feel uncomfort able with you sit out but of course you can join in by singing.

Here is a video of our group plus some simple bluegrass tunes I have recorded.
Will the Circle be Unbroken
Will The Circle Be Unbroken
Unclouded Day.

I’m from West Virginia. I have been playing bluegrass all my life. Fiddle tunes, sure. What you TRULY need is to be able to play chord rhythm. You can get all your chords on the harmonica. You can even use more than one to get all the chords you need. What bluegrassers don’t like about harmonica players is they’ve all seen somebody who just noodles all day. Everybody else plays hot licks on their lead, then chords when they aren’t soloing. Play the chords, don’t noodle and you’ll be fine.

I’ve got a video of me playing harmonica with Roy Clark Jr. like that, but I can’t figure out how to embed it. The video is on Facebook.

I put it on Youtube. Let’s see if this works.
Roy Clark Jr fiddle Fire on the Mountain