How are you at playing single notes?
I was feeling pretty cocky going up and down the harmonica, matching sounds as best I could on my trusty C Diatonic. Then, I realized I wasn’t really playing nice, clean single notes, rather dirty notes and combinations of chords.
I was brought back to reality trying to play the old classic song “BOXER” by Simon and Garfunkel. I just couldn’t get the middle part of the first phrase. When I got into the upper notes, it got screwy and didn’t sound right.
Then I remembered @Luke 's post here on the Major C scale and how the notes change sequence between 6 and 7 (dividing the harmonica between upper and lower parts). Nevertheless, I just couldn’t get it right. I looked up the tabs for the song, and sure enough, I found this sequence giving me problems: 6, 7, - 7, - 6.
Boom!! There it was, that strange change right in the middle of the first phrase. As I started to practice it, I realized it was nothing more than jumping up a step and half from the 6, and then coming back down the scale three notes in a row.
After practicing it for several days while looking at the tabs, I still only got it right only about half the time. For some reason that sequence of notes was particularly troublesome for me.
Though I was able to play parts of several songs, I couldn’t figure out why I was I having so much trouble with this song and this sequence.
Then I finally figured that I wasn’t playing single notes. That was the problem!
So I came back to @Luke 's video here on single notes to watch it again and see if I could improve my ability to hit them. It’s still difficult for me to get a good clean sound on the draws of some of the higher notes, but I’m starting to get them to sound a bit crisper and fuller with a more deep, relaxed mouth position, as Luke suggests.
I have come to realize this: THE HARMONICA IS AN AMAZING AND VERY FORGIVING instrument even when we can’t draw single notes.
As mentioned in one of Luke’s other videos (I think the one in chords), blowing and drawing on the harmonica sounds pretty good due to how the notes are set up on it. But at the crossover between 6 and 7, draws just don’t sound right.
The other thought I have had with this experience is that playing chords and dirty notes can enhance the sounds of some songs, producing a nice rich organ type effect and sounding like a whole Dixie Band, particularly when playing songs like “When the Saints Come Marching In.” You can blow and draw just about anywhere on the harmonica and if your rhythm is right, people will likely figure out what you are playing.
Playing clean, crisp notes seems to be much more like a guitar solo or singing, with chords and dirty notes providing backup. Single notes make it more obvious if we are hitting the right notes or not.
Along this same line, I always wondered what I could do to get away from the “tinny” sound of the whole Dixie Band thing. Obviously, going cross harp to the Blues Scale and working nice deep bends is one option. Another seems to be effectively isolating notes, bringing a new dimension to pretty much every song that can be played like a Dixie Band. Yet, sometimes it is nice to have the whole band on board or go down into the blues… hahahaha…
Bottom line is that I still have a lot to learn. My eyes still go cross-eyed when I see tabs. I’ve been working on BOXER now for about a week, and it still gives me trouble, while other songs I can hear once or twice and follow along pretty easily on the main riffs without isolating notes, though certainly not always “perfectly”.
What has been your experience with learning to play single notes?