Two By Two – Hand In Hand – You're In Love & They Are Too!

Yeah, okay…

So you’re working (practicing) on this technique, that method, etc.

Once you arrive at the point where learning this instrument isn’t as easy as you thunk it’d be – And nobody ever said it was or would be…However…

Well, you’re going to either set it down and pick it up another day, week, maybe even a year or more if at all afterward –

Or you’ll actually want to stay with it because you know it’s something you want to do no matter what. Neither way is wrong, both are correct for the person at the time they find themselves in.

Anyway, that being said and with that mind –

For those who do stay with it, when it comes to playing tunes and melodies something that I found for myself is: How do I remember them all?!

One thing that most newer (actually younger as in age-wise) players tend to forget or may not even be aware of is – Is that there are literally hundreds if not thousands of simple easy songs that when played, most people everywhere will recognize them.

{By the same token too, there’s also tons of stuff, especially in the old harmonica books which are actually still sold/available today that virtually have what I call ‘the WTF kinds of songs are these?!’

Dispersed throughout the good ole classic folk tunes are such hit topper gems as: “Lolly Too Dum” “Kookaburra” “Father’s Whiskers” “Grandfather’s Clock” – something called “The Czech Marching Song” “The Mulligan Guard” “There Are Many Flags In Many Lands” along with “Dunderbeck’s Machine” “Nine Men Slept In A Boarding House” “Raise A Ruckus” – And probably my all time WTF?! song, I kid you not: “John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt!”

Hey, folks, if these are your type of songs that have those big family get-togethers singing along with whomever’s doing the harp playing – Well, God Bless Ya One & All! However, that’s not the purpose of this topic; although the following may help if this is your cup of tea. So…}

Perhaps it’s because of their youth; yet even older beginning players it seems all share the same thing in common, and that’s: Impatience!

Many beginning players – and am not saying all since I myself never did it; and not singling out anybody whoever reads this because it goes far beyond these pages here; and still, only as I see and witness it everywhere – go through virtually the exact same cycle as everybody else who’s already gotten past it, and that is:

“Hey, I just bought a harmonica; I learned to play a few songs; I can do single notes even; but I can’t bend, so what do I do now? Oh yeah, by the way, I’ve only been at this an hour!”

Yeah, well, we all know these cycles; the questions and comments; as well as what one has to do to to really work at this instrument to learn it. And surely, our common decencies prevent us from saying what we really want to say sometimes…As it all boils down to the person’s impatience and thinking they can kick ass just because they’ve picked up the harmonica and are ready to take on the world now! More power to them if they can. More than likely though, not!

Meaning, if they happen to be one of those savants who can sit down at a piano and/or keyboard for the very first time, and having no formal instruction whatsoever start playing Chopin and Mozart and shortly thereafter are on their way to playing concerts and Carnegie Hall – Well, we certainly know of such people who have done just that.

We are also certainly aware of the other life situations that are associated with being such a talented young savant as well. That’s life as it is.

Yet however, it still never ceases to amaze me how many beginners actually seem to place themselves in such categories especially where the harmonica is concerned.

Thing is, if on the one hand you are an actual savant who you can play the most beautiful music between Heaven & Earth, God & Man – most likely on the other hand, you won’t even know such things like this computer here ever exists in that wonderful little world of yours.

So chances are quite quite good that except for something on YouTube somebody else recorded, such a savant won’t ever be writing on any forums or talking in chat rooms explaining anything of what they know about harpin’ methods and techniques in this vast and might Harmonica Universe of ours.

Okay, enough of the editorializing; but yet until one overcomes their Impatience, albeit not necessarily their excitement, for learning this instrument – Well, nobody can do such things for anyone in those regards. And again, that’s just life as it is.

The final thing I’ll mention about this here is, if you’re learning something new and it’s drudgery and/or is boring work for you – then it’s definitely not for you. Meaning, for example, when I learned to drive a tractor-trailer, the first 15 years was exciting and fun. The last 10-15, not so much.

I have always had higher ambitions, desires, dreams, etc. And apparently, God/The Universe/Spirit agreed and henceforth put me on another path to explore those directions.

Thing is though, that if I only wanted to be a trucker just as a way to do work and earn money, well, there are other ways to make a living than going through and living the life of an over-the-road truck driver, to be sure.

Same thing too, if one instrument isn’t right for you, then it’s not right for you. Find something that is and you’ll be happy no matter how much of a struggle you have to go through to get to where you want to be. Okay, enough with the philosophizing, proselytizing, and pep talks here…Moving onward and upward then…

Along my journey, I came across a webpage on harmonica maintenance. Presented by a gentleman Kinya Pollard, who calls himself The Harpsmith – while already familiar with what he was demonstrating, skimming on through, I came to the bottom where I saw his quote: “Play the notes people want to hear!”

When I read it, it hit me between the eyes and a light bulb went off in my head.

I immediately understood it. Too, I also instinctively extrapolated it. Meaning, not only should you play the notes people want to hear, in addition, you should also play songs and music that people want to hear!

Thing is, I’ve actually found this to be true more times than not, as it happens to me all the time.

Meaning, I go along and play my riffs and blues stuff because I like the way it sounds to me. However, whenever I come across people who are within ear shot, I also notice their ears perk up when they hear something they can recognize and are familiar with.

More often than not then, such things will give them pause, as well as a few smiles and positive comments in my/your/our direction for sure.

Why is that? Well, the familiar tunes they hear you playing are the ones everybody grew up with, simple enough! For all those little classroom visits by those old guy musicians peddling their kazoos, tin whistles, and screechy loud recorders, nobody I ever recall played something called “Stairway To Heaven” by Led Zeppelin or “In-a-Gadda-da-Vida” by Iron Butterfly.

Rather, it was songs like “Mary Had A Little Lamb” “This Old Man” and the like.

However, besides the children’s songs, there are also plenty more tunes from campfire outings, bus trips, radio, records and wherever that stir peoples’ memories and will tend for them to give you a moment during their hectic life schedule to hear you play. And that’s a good feeling when it happens.

So on a major level I understood what Kinya Pollard is saying. And I made it my own as well.

Also though, along my journey (and many months prior; and sometimes you find yourself going backwards to go forwards; nevertheless…)

I came across The Musician’s Handbook, a free downloadable PDF booklet from Jazz Vocalist and Harmonica Player, Randy Singer.

In this great free to everyone offering, Randy says musicians should know hundreds if not thousands of songs to play also. Sure, they can play their own music too.

However, more people get more work by playing stuff that people know rather than don’t know. Again, it re-emphasizes the above quote: “Play the notes (and the songs and the tunes and the music) that people want to hear!”

Okay, some big revelation, eye-opening light bulb moments no doubt. Both of which I’ve incorporated as part of my learning/playing experiences most definitely. And so now I attempt to add some new ‘older’ ‘recognizable’ songs to my ever-growing repertoire as I go along.

However, that still left me with my original question, which is: How do I remember them all?!

Like many harpsters and harpsterettes, whether we learn songs by tab, by ear, whatever – If we can play anywhere from 1 to 5 or more songs at a moment’s notice, well, we’re doing pretty good. So we like to think. And it is good to be sure.

However, more times than not, when I’m just tooling along and somebody hears or sees the harp, they inevitably ask for me to play them something. Well at that time, I used to get the very real symptom of ‘brain freeze.’

No, not the ice cream brain freeze; rather the one that comes from not being able to pull up some song or music kind of brain freeze that has you going “huhmina, huhmina, huhmina” the way Jackie ‘Ralph Kramden’ Gleason did in the old Honeymooners ‘50s classic TV show! You may even want to ‘Pow! Zoom!’ yourself right to the Moon when it happens too!

The key words here are “used to get” – Meaning, I’m beginning to overcome this condition and symptom of brain freezes. Why & How?! Well, check it out:

One day a while back, I decided to sit down and actually challenge myself to play as many songs I can play by heart. Having no outside pressures nor influences to the contrary, I played as many of tunes and melodies I knew. Surprisingly, after only about a handful, I began to struggle.

This can’t be. I knew more than just a handful. So I took out a tablet and started writing down the songs I knew. From memory, I came up with several more. However, it just didn’t seem to be quite enough.

So I went into my old music books and looked at some titles, and just by seeing the titles alone I played and added them to my list.

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As I sat, I pondered my problem. It wasn’t so much I didn’t know the individual songs; I did. My problem and here again was: How do I, how can I possibly remember them all?!

With harmonica in one hand, the tablet in the other, I began going back and forth between the tunes I knew by heart. And in doing so, I experienced an Aha-Eureka Moment!!

And here it is:

  1. When going over the list of perhaps 20 or more songs, I noticed more than a few had overall similarities with others on the list.

  2. In finding those similarities, I began grouping songs together.

  3. In grouping songs together, I discovered the songs themselves could be used to tell a little ‘story’ – and that as a musician, a harmonica player, I could play and interpret that story in an nice interesting way.

  4. In playing and interpreting that little story containing a grouping of songs together – not only was I a musician and harmonica player, but I also became an Arranger of Music!

  5. In my becoming a little story teller and an arranger of music, I also and more importantly discovered that I can/will and do remember which songs and how to play them SO MUCH EASIER!!

  6. Not only can/will and do I remember which songs and how to play them so much easier – I believe anyone who understands and works with this concept that soon enough you can and will be able to remember which songs and how to play them so much easier for YOURSELF & OTHERS TOO!

    Therefore, using myself as an example, check it out. To wit:

I love the song “Shenandoah” as most people do. Playing it as a solo at a moment’s notice, the old brain freeze attacks come charging at me. However, once I followed, teamed and played it up as a duo with “Red River Valley” – and worked this into a double-song performance – well surprise, surprise, it came and comes to me faster than I can write it out and you can read this here!

For me, “On Top of Old Smokey” teams up nicely with “Down in The Valley.” And all I need to do is just start playing the first few notes with the tunes in my head, and viola! I just played two songs back-to-back for the price of one!

With thousands of easy listening songs to choose from, the possibilities for coupling melodies together are virtually endless.

Which then might raise the question: Well how then do you remember which pairs of songs to play?

The answer to that one is easy enough, and that is: Write them down!!

Yes! Every musician I ever saw always carries some sort of music or cheat-sheets with them, don’t they?!

So whenever I put two songs or more together, I write them down as I’ve arranged them.

What I like to do is start with the first song – We’ll say Shenandoah. I’ll do one full run though of this song; then I’ll play Red River Valley twice; then go back to one more chorus of Shenandoah to finish up my little story telling ‘set’!

But that’s me. However you wish to play your songs is up to you. But instead of playing individual songs, if you learn to play them as pairs or more, you can and will learn them much easier as well as be able to recall them that much faster too!

So instead of carrying around books full of tabs and whatnot, all you need now do is look at which two or more songs go together by their titles – And again, viola! they’re on the tip of your tongue and out the harp for everyone to enjoy!

Now one other question might arise from all this, and that is: Why does putting two songs or more together work?

Well, believe it or not, it actually comes out of the Aha-Eureka Moment itself.

Meaning, and without getting too technical – For me, learning/playing two songs or more together uses different memory muscles which haven’t necessarily been used before and actually strengthens others one I do have.

What does that mean?

Well, again without too much technical jargon, still, in learning songs individually, we developed the muscles memories of how to play just them. Thing is, it’s in there (our brain cells) somewhere.

However, we have the old adage which says there’s strength in numbers. So when I play two songs together as outlined above, my muscle memories have to be developed to remember my own specific arrangements. And because I personalized it, I’m more open, more susceptible to remembering something I personally did and/or am doing!

For instance:

The most widely sung song in the world is Happy Birthday! Perhaps too, right behind it then, at least to all the places and people I’ve ever met is: For He’s (She’s) a Jolly Good Fellow! Most always followed up with another verse of Happy Birthday!

So if these are the songs people burst into whenever the occasion calls for it, why not me {or you} as the harpster {or harpsterettes} in the room to play these…Songs everybody knows and recognizes!!

Now I’ve already posted about the song Happy Birthday elsewhere on the forum.

However on my special list, I have three songs to make one round. They are: Happy Birthday! For He’s (She’s) A Jolly Good Fellow! and Auld Lang Syne!

I love Auld Lang Syne. It’s just a good song anytime it’s played, even solo. However, I also know Jolly Good Fellow, as a solo too.

When putting both of them together with Happy Birthday, well, it took some work for me to get it all just right.


Because when you play one song, you have to be able to consciously “shift” in both your mind and on the harmonica in order to play the next one over. It’s true!

So I finally worked on getting Happy Birthday down; however, I was having difficulty starting Jolly Good Fellow. My brain kept freezing up. That is, until I was looking at the tabs for Jolly Good Fellow and discovered it’s also known as: “The Bear Went Over The Mountain!” A children’s tune! And a song I knew from way back when.

So check it out:

I play my Happy Birthday as it’s laid out elsewhere. At the end of it, I take a small pause and sing to myself ‘the bear went over the mountain… and on the harp it comes out: “For He’s (She’s) A Jolly Good Fellow! When I get to the final part either I think ‘to see what he could see…’ or by that time my mind has caught up with ‘which nobody can deny!’

So I take another pause, and Auld Lang Syne is already primed to go. Playing through that twice, it’s back to the final Happy Birthday verse!

The point is to do whatever it takes to train your muscle memories in new and exciting ways. And it will surely pay off for you in Spades!

One more thing I’d like to address, and that is: Is it always necessary to play the two or more grouping of songs together when you perform them?

No, not really. Meaning, for instance, I love Dixie. I have it wrapped up in a little grouping of songs. However, let’s say for whatever reason I don’t wish to play those wrap-arounds, but would rather just concentrate on Dixie.

Because the songs are much stronger in my memory banks now, and because I purposely arranged them one way, well using my brain powers I can always change my arrangements and at a moment’s notice too! Whichever way the wind blows and tunes carry you, see?

Just plain fun isn’t it?!

To recap then: Of the thousands of simple easy songs for the harmonica - learn to play them for yourself and others because people will be happy when they recognize the tunes and respond to them and you in positive ways.

While it’s important and good for you to do that as a musician as well – It’s also more important for you personally as to “HOW” you go about learning and remembering all those tunes yourself!

So yeah, if playing Dunderbeck’s Machine with the tale of John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt is going to rock the hoe-down and blast the barn in your neck of the woods, by all means go for it!

Just by putting songs you like together (Two by Two); by arranging them as to how you’ll play them (Hand in Hand) – and by doing this and so much more – You’ll definitely be on track to keep your harp playing fun and exciting for everyone (You’re in Love and They are Too!) for sure!

Keep on Smiling!

Thanks for Reading!

Keep on Jammin’!

WOW! I read the whole thing without stopping to pee, whew! good info SPD! ;D

Ya I just finished it too. I won’t tell you how long it took me, but I took my time with it .
really good and interesting ideas on how to learn them all. And not keep getting that
brain freeze which I sometimes do get more often than not.

Harp On!!

Very interesting. Use of associations works for other things, why not this. Good job!

Won’t say how long it took from my Aha-Eureka Moment to actually posting this interesting subject/lesson – But I missed quite a few ‘pee breaks’ in between there myself. Hehehehehe!

I don’t/won’t apologize for its length - as there’s a lot of good stuff to be gained throughout.

Yet as our good friend BB might say: “I knows all youse guys and gals can’t read too fast, that’s why I wrote this slow!” Mwuahahaha!!



Keep On Harpin’!

Jeezus Joe, a little bit of humility would go a long way. I have spent more time than I care to, trying to convey simple harmonica concepts to you, but it seems you know everythng. As an expert on nothing I find your missives both long winded and self serving. I have heard your attempts at playing…anything, and it falls short of being musical in the vaguest sense. “I got the blues baby” “I got the blues baby” what the hey? The most sophmoric of non players could come up with somrthing better than that. Yet you have convinced yourself (and quite a few beginners) that you know what you are doing. If you had any humility you would realize that you have a LOT to learn, but you have put yourself at the top of the class, ignoring any concepts that are beyond your comprehension. I know that because you are deemed “Global Administrator” this thread won’t ever see the light of day on this site. And that is to be expected of one with a fragile ego such as what you are displaying. But I know your “Dirty Little Secret” as you like to put it. Be real, forget the pose, 'cause in the long run all you will have is a pose.

Wow! Sounds like somebody got up on the wrong side of a bent note this morning! Mwuahahaha!

In the spirit of full disclosure, we do happen to know of each other. In our journeys through the wide and vast Harmonica Universe our paths have crossed and met. And that’s one reason why this is so freaking hilarious! Hehehe!!

The reason for all the vitriol, who knows? Everyone’s entitled to have on off day or more, eh? Even lil ole me too! Anywho…

While I had so much to say in response – And I actually did write it all out – In the final analysis, a lesson I learned early on from my parents came to the fore. My dad was slighted by the words and actions of his mother, my grandmother, and decided to write her a long letter explaining his position.

Full of ire and dissatisfaction in what she had done to him, after he was finished, my mother told my dad: “Okay, you got it all out of your system now. So just tear up the letter and throw it away.”

She convinced him that no matter what happens, it was better to take the “High Road.”

Eventually, my dad did just that. And he felt better about everything afterward. Same here then. I’m taking the High Road; and letting this forum with its 2400+ and growing members speak for itself.

As there’s no need to further explain nor apologize for what this cool forum is all about, I will say this though:

With all the bullshit everywhere on the internet, as far as being a global anything on any forum – Well, even the least knowledgeable of forum peeps are aware that spammers are dealt with as soon as those with the keys to the place can take care of it. Right on, eh?

And too, as far as slammers go now – Well, this is a pretty fun place, isn’t it?! Mwuahahaha!!

Anybody who feels the need and wants to slam me for whatever, fine, so be it. Yet though, anybody who feels the need and wants to slam any of the other 2400+ and growing members here – Well, please don’t be too shocked and/or surprised if/when your postings get the Las Vegas ‘death ray’ zapper treatment ala:!/

Oh yeah, and by all means, don’t let the door hit you in the ass on the way out either!

This is such a fun place, isn’t it?!



Peace & SPD Out!!

Hey SPD, I’ll only slam you in fun. And I have definitely never noticed a fragile ego. There are plenty of people here who enjoy this forum. If I ever get to the point (and I can’t see myself going there) where I can’t take you people anymore, I’ll just POLITELY leave. Poking fun is one thing. You do it to me, and I do it to everybody. But can’t we all just get along? Haven’t I heard that one before? Anyway, Spud, don’t worry about it. We have a forum where people are advancing on the harp. I know I am in my own humble way. But I’m getting there, and I’m enjoying myself. I owe that mostly to JP and this forum with you, SPD, and all the friends.
I haven’t read all of those posts you spread out here yet. I’m afraid I may not get through without having to make a rush like our better buddies could. But I WILL get a round tuit.
Anyway, we got your back, even if we are holding bunny ears over your head behind your back.


I should have realized something from that F flat comment in the other thread.


If we ever do stop making each other laugh, then youse and i’s in real trouble there, ol buddy ol pal o’ mine!

But just to make sure that ain’t never gonna happen - Well, why just settle for one round tuit, when you can collect and trade them all with your big hosts of friend:


Laters, yo!!

I should have realized something from that F flat comment in the other thread.

Yeah, don’t fret over it too much, BB – Wouldn’t want to do anything to ruin that nice moonshine complexion of yours, now would we?! ;D

Keep On Jammin’!

Yup I was wondering the same thing about his magical harmonica that can hook up
to a guitar like bob dylan does.

I comment on that and I thought you handle it correctly there, also telling me not to call
the guy out. He was just being sarcastic.

Harp On!!

Let’s just go back to being friends and having fun, and let’s forget all about this?
Harsh words are not easily shaken, but I salute you for doing it.
Like they said on HeeHaw (our Dixie National TV Network)…SAAAALUTE!


Mwuahahahahaha!! :smiley:

BB, you’re such a kidder!! :wink:

Mwuahahahahahaha!! ;D


Rock on, yo!!

Dude, your eight layers are showing. MWUAHAHAHAHAHAHA

Lost me on that one…say what where? ::slight_smile: