Learning the blues.

What would be a good starting point for learning the blues, do you guys think? Would it be better to start with rhythms or scales, or what? My big goal is to play blues so I am going to get started with the actual blues music theory while I net my technique. Any advice to get a head start?

Also, when you guys play, are you supposed to move the harmonica, or your head when changing holes? What is considered ‘proper’, and what do you guys do? Which do you find better, more comfortable, or what-have-you? I generally move my head unless its only a 1 hole difference, but then when I move the harmonica I get lost easily. I guess that’s what practice is for. What are your experiences when you first started tackling the challenge of using all the notes you could?


JP has a terrific set of lessons, and the starting lessons are free.

Ordinarily, you move your harmonica when you are going from note to note. I’m certain there are exceptions, but that is a general rule.

Ya Zummy I think McM is right, I really don’t think about it too much.

But I do believe moving the harp is what most consider ‘proper’, But then again

do what’s most comfortable for you 8)

Now that I think of it I believe I do a little bit of both depending on the tune, rhythm and holes.

You’ll figure it out though.

As far as blues go. I take lessons over at harmonicaacademy.com and it’s funny you ask
cause I’m getting ready to start my blues portion of that course.

I already finished JP’s course and he has some excellent techniques too that you should consider,

http://www.freeharmonicalessons.com/ ;D

Blues scale learn it, play it often, learn it upside down, inside out, learn it standing on your head, with one hand tied behind
your back, blindfolded: 2D 3D’ 4D 4D’ 4B 5D 6B 8)

Harp on!!

Hey Zummy, this is how I did it:

  1. I purchased JP Allens complete home study course.
  2. At the same time I purchases the course I also purchased a Hohner Special 20 in the key of C from JP.
  3. I watched and listened to You Tube videos (especially Sonny Boy Williamson II)
  4. I played (Not practiced) and played and played and played and played and …
  5. The Blues becomes you and you become the Blue, it’s a feeling more than it’s a theory. You’ll know when you have it because it’ll feel good!


Also, there’s a simple way to go about learning to play the Blues, do it the way the originals like Sonny Boy II, Little Walter, Big Walter, Gussow, Gindick, JP Allen and most of the others. Get a harmonica, play the damn thing and listen/watch the good ones play and then you play, and play, and play,…!



You got 2 great posts there for zummy thats it in a nut shell I think.

The best way to learn.

I’m still gonna do my course over there at H. A., but i am gonna start listening to
a lot more blues stuff while I am learning

Harp on!!

Along with Joe, I’m taking the classes at the Harmonica Academy. I particularly like the format, with blues and tunes. Most sits teach the blues only. I think the tunes and blues together help me become better.

There’s only three things you need to learn how to play the blues:

A few good blues CD’s
Knowledge of the 12-bar progression
Know vaguely where to find the blues scale (you don’t have to play it right the first weeks or months)

This combined with vast amounts of practice will get you anywhere you want. Forget all about onlinelessons, blues is in the music.

To quote the great Satchmo: “If you got to ask what the blues is, you’ll never know!”

'Nuff said!

Rock on, yo!

Whiskat can you expand on the 12 bar progression :-\

Harp On!!


I believe I now understand more about chords and layouts. Well, I know I do. Hehehe!

I’m sharing my latest Aha-Eureka moment here:


As you shared with us you are learning to play guitar, I believe then that understanding about what’s called the “Circle of Fifths” will help you and others out immensely.

One enlightening moment for me came when I finally grasped that this Circle of Fifths is already there and laid out; it only takes/took me the necessary time and concentrated effort to better understand it.

As my own words here might fail to explain this system and music theory, here are some great teaching guides/links (even interactive!) to assist you:





Hope this helps!

Keep on Harpin’!

Do you have skype? If you do I could explain it there while I play the piano so you can hear, that would make it much easier for me to explain and for you to understand. Alternatively we could meet in the chatroom over at harmonicaclub at a set time.

Joe this guy is probably the leading teacher for the Blues. Check him out on Kudzrunner Channel.

And I tend to agree with Whiskat re the 3 things needed to know but there is also a 4th ie that you have to really enjoy listening to the blues & that it has to become a part of you. I really struggle with the 4th ie I find I dont like it much. Incidentally I purchased the recommended CD in this video and I find I never play it because its music that doesn’t grab me. But I like bluesy melodies and I really like Country which is similar & requires the same or even greater bending skills.

Also I purchased a DVD from Adam of all his Youtube lessons. The DVD is very reasonable at $20 & contains ca 30 of his youtube lessons. I often refer to them.

Oops…why did it work yesterday but not today. Try again.

Joe the Adam Gussow DVD for $20 is called ‘Blues Harmonica Secrets Revealed’.

<a href=“http://”>

I give up. Just hit the red highlighted part ie Joe you know what to do. In this video Adam explains the 12 bar progression.

I just had a listen thanks for the help…I hope it helps me gonna be concentrating now
to see if I can some how figure out the blues harp.

Thanks SPD, David, Whiskat…

Harp On

hey whiskat is that offer good to anyone. I can skype. No time till the holidays are over though.

Hi! Sure it is :slight_smile: My name is Per Stian Wølenerg, just add me and we’ll find a time.

thanks for the help.....I hope it helps me gonna be concentrating now to see if I can somehow figure out the blues harp.

First up, I’m happy that somebody is at least willing to conversate on stuff…{Conversate…term used by some chick on “The Millionaire Matchmaker”…hehehe! Go figure! Anywhose…}

Some of the things I’ve learned along the way that’s really helped in my Aha-Eureka moments I’d like to share with you now. To wit:

Although and especially for beginners, everything harmonica seems to run together simultaneously; and before you know it, you’ll find yourself getting overwhelmed/frustrated by it all very quickly.

Still, in giving yourself permission to take learning this as you would anything else, as in step-by-step, day-by-day, little-by-little will help get you through those rough patches and over those hurdles.

As an example of methodology, I would suggest that in a quiet moment, take stock and/or make a list of what you do know and what you don’t know about a particular subject.

I will use trying to understand blues harp, as this was a project I worked on also.
While continuing on with other things such as playing tunes, single notes, bending etc. – With my questions still uppermost in my awareness, in doing my research, studying Jon Gindick, Marcos, David McKelvy, Jerry Portnoy, JP Allen and others et al, I was surprised at the number of little breakthroughs in my understanding when they came to me.

Putting aside a ton of music theory, I-IV-V’s, and other things etc. –

Albeit being necessary to use some harmonica terms, still, here are my findings which hopefully will assist you on your journey. Therefore, and in no particular order, to wit:

  1. On any diatonic harmonica Straight Harp (also called 1st or First Position) relies mostly on Blow notes. {Generally from 4-10 holes. The middle to high registers.}

  2. On any diatonic harmonica Cross-Harp (also called 2nd or Second Position) relies mostly on Draw notes. {Generally from 1-6 holes. The lower registers.} **

[**Special Note: Yes, much can be played in the higher register using Overblows etc. But it’s advanced and not needed to understand this part of the subject matter. And neither putting too much emphasis on knowing Positions et al – For all intents and purposes, and the sake of keeping everything simple, we move on. Henceforth…]

  1. Blues Harp takes advantage of both Straight and Cross-Harp, dependent upon the way it’s played.

So to further understand the connections, one has to make distinctions between them! The missing notes on a diatonic harmonica are the ones we want to learn to bend. From 1-6.

These bent and/or bending notes are used in playing both Cross-Harp and the Blues. Many times, these bent and/or bending notes are called the Blue notes. Why? Because they just is! They make songs, riffs, etc. sound ‘bluesy’ when playing them.

However, while playing songs etc. in Cross-Harp, while this relies more on using the lower register scale and bending notes when apropos –

Blues Harp itself doesn’t necessarily rely on playing any bent notes at all.

Thererfore, instead and meaning: “Blues Harp” is more of a feeling, a way of expression, a way of you playing your music from within.

In his great book/tape ‘You Can Teach Yourself Blues Harp’ – Phil Duncan gives many fine examples of playing the Blues without having to bend one single note!

David Harp and Glenn Weiser offer non-bending Blues in their works as well.

But hold on! Even these instructors talk about Blues Harp as Blues Harp. So what’s Blues Harp then? Well, I agree, they do. They also call it Cross-Harp and Playing Second Position harp too!

Thing is, we’re now talking about interchangeable terms. And so, it’s really all about semantics as they are. {You say ‘Tomayto’, I say ‘Tomahto!’ Same damn thing!} Yet in order for us to better understand for ourselves, it’s up to us to make the fine line distinctions within the terms themselves! And if/when we do, it makes everything more clear!

As long as I remember that Straight Harp relies on more Blow notes; and Blues Harp and Cross-Harp both rely more on Draw notes – I can still further break down Blues and Cross-Harp to understand them more.

For instance: We can play the Mannish Boy riffs, as we discussed here:


But in playing a version of as in: 2D 4B 3D 2D over and over again –

It’s a Blues riff! So okay, Blues Harp!! It will sound ‘bluesier’ if we bend the 3D somewhere in it. But if we don’t, so what?! Who cares?!

Here’s another Blues riff ala Deford Bailey: 2D 6B 5D 4D 3D

Not one bend needed nor played. But it’s Blues! And it sounds good!

On the other hand, from here:


Learning to play simple tunes/melodies in Cross-Harp (using the bending notes) will expand your horizons and eventually lead you on your way to mastery of the harmonica.

Great thing about learning Cross-Harp is that once you have the tune/melody down, and it’s recognizable - You can then explore and play it anyway you want! Have fun with it!

Same thing goes with Blues. I hear as many different versions of Mannish Boy riffs as I hear harp players! No two it seems play it alike – It’s just plain fun!!

Still yet, there are some songs I’ve written/created along the way. I usually start them out on the “Blues” drawing side of the harp…But I’ve been fooling around with them to hear what they sound like on the ‘Straight’ blowing side. {“I’ve Got the Blues Baby” on my Manji A in the higher register is kick-ass! At least to me it is! Hehehe! Anywhat…}

Bottom line: With everything else that’s coming at you when learning about this instrument – When you get to a stumbling block along the way, as you inevitably will – Well, take stock and/or list what you do know versus what you don’t or wish to know about.

Once you can focus, concentrate and center yourself on that particular subject – Well somewhere along your journey, you’ll be surprised how much information and Aha-Eureka moments come to you.

As one of our harmonica friends related to me recently, he said: “We make this harmonica stuff a lot harder than it really is!”

I couldn’t agree more. I also had to add that one reason is because at some point, not too long ago, it was very hard, very difficult to get the information we wanted. Now though, we have too much information it seems. And we don’t know where to go or what to do. He agreed as well.

So I said it before, I’ll say it again: “One day at a time; one step at a time.”

The harmonica is still a solo-learning effort. However, we have the benefit of a great forum. A great place to bounce things off of each other. We’re all separate and individuals in our own lives, ways, everything. Yet we do have more in common than we may ourselves admit. Especially when it comes to our experiences in the vast and mighty Harmonica Universe.

For me then, along with everything else I’m doing, having now distinguished between all these harmonica terms in my mind and for myself – I do want to learn more blues riffs for blues and cross-harp tunes/melodies. It’s just plain fun! And it’ll all get there when it gets there!!

Hope this helps!

Thanks for reading!

Keep On Harpin’!

SPD & “I’ve Got The Blues Harp, Baby! I’ve Got The Blues Harp All Of The Time!!”


My name is Per Stian Wølenerg


Formerly known as:God! :o

Then known as:Whiskat! :wink:

Now here you are as: Per Stian Wølenerg! ;D

Got more friggin aliases than I got! :stuck_out_tongue:

Whatcha hiding?! >:(