Is the Blues the "Gateway" to getting good?

After about a year of playing Harp, and completing Luke’s great “Beginner to Boss” course, and finding a bunch of fun backing tracks to play along with, I think I am coming to a realization that might make a good article. I want to share this and see what people think. Luke, if you want to run with this and make a video or article, go right ahead, I’d love to hear in depth what you think.


Blues is not really my thing, but I can appreciate it. Once I “GIT GUD” I think I will prefer playing other styles. But it seems at this point, if I want to get good, The blues will be the best pathway to it.

So what do you think???


Personally I dont think thats true for me. I like the blues but I would say Rock is one of my favourites for listening to. I find any tune I’m really familiar with is the best to practice on the harmonica. So I practice folk songs, ancient hymns, classical and rock.
What I do believe is that the blues is easy to sound ok on. For example Lukes Blues for beginners video gets you sounding ok after a few minutes. He’s not going to start you off on Jesu Joy of Mans Desiring because it’s difficult fast and there’s no room for your own style or interpretation when mastering it for the first time.
Easy blues tunes help a lot to get you feeling like it might be possible to play one day but for me I advanced way more by practising more difficult classical pieces and rock. I think that for me its really about melodies you really know and learning how to perfectly reproduce them. Once you can do that you can start improvisation because your brain starts to go on auto pilot finding the notes it wants to make the sound your aiming for.
This is the type of question that requires an individual answer. I don’t think there could be a definitive yes or no. So there’s my opinion.
That being said if I could play Whammer Jammer as some are trying to do in another post I’d be really happy with myself even though I really don’t like it to listen to.
Great topic. Im looking forward to reading other answers.


@toogdog, I think you make make a good point. I have been improvising to several genres of backing tracks. I do think I sound better to myself improvising with the blues (having learned the blues scales in 2nd and 3rd positions.)

Maybe what I should be doing is learning songs rather than improvisation. It seems that at least will help me with note isolation.

Other opinions?


Hello @argold57,
I can tell you, play what you enjoy and what you can do!
That’s exactly what I do. I now play different genres and that’s how I learn the most. You have all the time signatures and tempos.
I don’t want to eat the same thing every day, but the variety is what whets the appetite!
The harp is such an interesting little thing that it’s a shame to limit it to just blues. I really enjoy experimenting and have nothing to lose.
It is important that you can put the basics into practice and theory and then try it out.

Regards from Astrid :woman_in_lotus_position:


Hi @AstridHandbikebee63

How right you are, Astrid! I try to play Bossa Nova, light jazz, some country & other genres too. They all can sound terrific on the little ten hole saxophone :laughing:

All forms of music can help one to improve and, in my opinion, not any one is better in this regard than any other.

Best regards,
– Slim :sunglasses:


Hello @Slim, my best!

I like that, even though sometimes I wish I could :saxophone: play like my dad. A tenor saxophone has a special sound.

Regards from Astrid :woman_in_lotus_position: I hope you have successful weeks :crossed_fingers:!


I like the blues a lot and sing the blues as well harmonica. My goal is to experiment with other genres of music and play harmonica to it. Country, rock, jazz, and others
. To me versatility is key.


I just watched the video above. Incredible!
Luke, Do you have the tabs for that? :grinning: :grinning:


Still hoping @Luke chimes in on this topic.


I think it all depends on your journey. For me, I hit a huge plateau in my playing when I played blues. With the birage of people telling me that I should be playing a Marine Band instead of my Golden Melodies and that I shouldn’t mix blues and country together (as if Terry McMillan didn’t do that before me), I decided to come back to my roots and be a country player. I also had no resources for learning the type of country that I want to learn, the Terry McMillan style of country harmonica, so many people told me things about country harmonica which weren’t true like that I have to sound like Charlie McCoy to be a successful player or play only melodies because the audiences likes that more. I felt like I hit another roadblock because I was being fed so much misinformation about country harmonica. I don’t play country/major 7th tuned harmonicas because the stuff I play doesn’t require it.
Whenever I asked people how to do Terry style, they either told me to learn his stuff by ear (which I didn’t do back then), doubled down on stereotypes, or were very passive aggressive towards me. Even some said that Terry and Charlie sound the same and that I was unteachable. I felt so hopeless until I met my friend, Todd Parrott. He is very accepting of my musical identity and I credit him as the one who got me into playing gospel as a secondary genre.


@ KeroroRinChou

That was a really good response.

Country is one of the genres that I would like to get good at, as is rock and reggae. About 15 years ago I started listening to country, saying it was (arguably) “the last of the great guitar music.”

I would like to know if you ended up finding any good country role models (other than Todd Parrot, who I will begin looking for after I post this.)

Still hoping for @Luke to chime in on this thread, but here is what I have learned since my O.P. on Feb 23:

  1. Every harp player is different and we all need to find our own way.
    a) there is plenty of guidance out there to help (thank you @Luke), but our path will be our own.
  2. Most of the instructional material out there (especially the ones you pay for) are blues oriented.
  3. Most of us will, fairly early on, learn the blues scale(s). I am still working on it/them but have not yet figured out how that/those scale(s) will apply to other genres.
  4. The blues can be very rewarding when learning to improvise early on. It almost seems like a player with good timing can cover-up mistakes and make it seem like he/she meant to play that (wrong) note.
    a) I have also been improvising to reggae, rock and country backing tracks and it seems, to me, a bit harder to sound good (maybe because I am trying to use blues scales when I should not be? I don’t know yet.)

Although not a country player, I found Jason Ricci to be my second mentor, but mainly my Youtube mentor. I’m subscribed to him on Youtube and one of his Patrons on Patreon. If I viewed Todd Parrott as a father figure, Jason is like the crazy but fun uncle that you love so much. Todd teaches me the songs I want to learn and advanced music theory, but Jason has taught me a lot more scales to use as a harmonica player and to not limit myself creatively, especially when it comes to showing that the blues is more than just Little Walter and all the tongue blocking, vintage Marine Band playing, tone comb conspiring purists on Facebook.


With country, there are songs to use the blues scale only, some the major scale only, and many of them mix the blues scale and the mixolydian scale together. It’s all about who you want to sound like as a reference.

1 Like

Oh, I forgot the most important lesson:


(did I learn that from @Luke? (I think so…))


I think it is “a good gateway” - blues is (also) the basis of jazz, country, and gospel. It’s 3-4 chords and provides a simple structure for you to follow.

Once you get the sound down in your head, start to incorporate the relationship between the band’s key for a song and the harp key you’re using into your understanding of the music, and can hear where you’re going in a song, you can move on to lots of other music.

Blues? Try these: Take Out Some Insurance- the Beatles; Back Door Man - the Doors; Red House - Jimmie Hendrix; Johnny B Goode - Chuck Berry; Hard Times - Ray Charles; Stormy Weather - Lena Horn; Tenor Madness - Sonny Rollins; Take the A-Train - Duke Ellington; No Vacation from the Blues - Travis Tritt; Ain’t Wastin Time No More - Allman Brothers; Somebody Loan Me a Dime - Boz Skaggs; I Know A Little - Lynyrd Skynyrd; Amazing Grace - the Blind Boys of Alabama; I Want Jesus to Walk With Me - Eric Bibb.

Blues are just like relatives. You don’t have to like them to run into them.


Thank you. Great reply.

Surprised not to hear from @Luke on this topic yet. I really want to know his opinion!


Hey @argold57 lots of great ideas and perspectives here already, and I think it’s a great question, and I have my own opinion about it.

I view the blues as foundational to all popular music. @BnT called them cousins. I’d actually take it a step further and say that the blues is the mama and the papa, and other popular genres (jazz, country, rock, soul, funk, hip hop, gospel, cajun, reggae) have all evolved from the blues.

That’s not a hard fact. It’s my opinion, and I think it’s a way of looking at it that serves musicians seeking to advance their playing and self-expression.

Here’s a few more thoughts:

1.) THE BLUES GOT SOUL. :sunglasses: Being able to play SOULFULLY in ANY GENRE is better than not being able to play soulfully, lol. I mean…music is about feeling right? And the soul is feeling.

2.) Every genre has songs that follow the 12 bar blues form. Certainly all the genres I mentioned above have many popular songs in their repertoire that follow the basic 12 bar blues form. This is another reason why memorizing the form and mastering the ability to solo over it will play well.

3.) The Blues is a great format for practicing improvisational skills.

When I was boy, I loved stuff like Led Zeppelin, Eric Clapton, Jim Hendrix, etc. and when I read interviews with those guys they were always talking about their influence being the blues.

BECAUSE of that, very early in my life I devoted a tone of time listening to and studying old blues stuff.

I feel that this decision has served me very well in my musical journey, and if I went back and had to do it all over again, I go the same route. You can’t err in studying the blues. It’s gonna serve you well in every other genre you might wanna explore.

When I was in my late 20’s and early 30’s I just burnt out on the genre. I could hardly listen to it, and didn’t really enjoy playing it.

Now I’m cool with the blues again. In terms of studying blues, I’m into pretty atypical stuff for harmonic players these days: I’m deeply studying Joe Filisko’s study songs on DeFord Bailey (Fox Chase style Pre-war rural blues) and Sonny Terry’s version of the same stuff, and right now I’m transcribing Howard Levy’s Slow Blues in C and Bb Blues from his Out of the Box album - the former I’m working on mostly for practicing overblows and overdraws, and the latter just cos I’m enjoying learning 2nd flat position (aka 11th position.)

So right now my favorite genre to play is NOT PRIMARILY the blues (except for the early pre-war stuff I mentioned in the style of DeFord Bailey and Sonny Terry.) When playing with a brand or jam track, I very much enjoy playing fusion, funk, rock, reggae, Brazilian, and lately a ton of country and gospel stuff a la Buddy Greene.

BUT to answer your question, I’d say YES, the blues is a gateway to getting good. In my experience - putting time and energy into it pays rich dividends. It’s a broad genre, so the key is to find a corner of it that makes YOU feel INSPIRED and focus on that stuff.

All of the improvisers that I love and admire can DEFINITELY play the blues!

BTW - Learning songs, especially by ear, is GREAT not just for your technique, but for your improvisational skills as well. When you learn a song, you’re PLAYING A MELODY. When you’re improvising, you are MAKING UP MELODIES in real time. So GETTING GOOD at PLAYING melodies is gonna make you sound better when you make up your own.

That’s my $.02 for what it’s worth!

@Jeff_Engineer - I started working on Buddy Greene’s version of Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring a while back and then kinda got a way from it, but I wanna get back to it. I thought it’d be cool to do a video teaching a few classical pieces - that one, and Bhetoven’s 9th, William Tell Overture, and one or two more.


Thank you, thank you @Luke for that well thought out reply. Since I originally posted the question, and got some good replies, I have also done quite a bit of searching, thinking, and listening.

With your reply, I think I am ready to commit to getting good via the blues, of course not on its own, but as the central theme of my practice/woodshedding and studies. I also popped for the Jam-Along system and am working through those melodies.

I am looking forward to diving into some of your suggested listening. Luke, feel free to use this theme in some of your writing or youtubing. I think a lot of others, besides those on this forum can benefit from your thoughts…