What's the next step?

Hey guys. Been trying to learn to play the harmonica several times, but I every time I’ve ended up giving up. The reason for this is I can’t figure out what the next step for me is.

I know how to hold the harmonica, I know how to blow single notes, and I know bending. I know the blues scale even though I can’t play it very fast. My handeffects are alright, my throat vibrato is non-excistent. I know the mannish boy lick. Blues is my life so I know how the 12 bar blues, and the progressions etc work.

My problem is that I know almost no riffs or licks, and I’ve got no feeling for improv yet, so I can’t just sit down and jam along with my blues vinyls.

The point is I don’t know where to go from here to progress. It seems like every book, dvd or youtube lesson is first step lessons (like bending, single notes etc) or solostuff that are way out of my reach yet.

I would really appreciate some help. I can’t wait to be able to jam along with Junior Wells and some of my other guys!


Hey Phil!
Check out some of the blues harp how to’s on youtube.
There are some that show note by note how to copy some
of the popular blues riffs. Some videos even include tabs.
Check it out.
BTW, if you chug just about anything in second position
on the correct key diatonic harmonica, it will probably sound
pretty good to you while jamming with your favorites.
As you go, you will “stumble onto” cool little chunks that
sound great. Just repeat what you know, throwing in
whatever comes up new. As you expand your arsenal,
keep the riffs as fresh as possible (little changes in
attack, dynamics, scooping, passing tones, etc.).
Pretty soon you will begin to have a repertoire to call
on while you begin to get your improv wings.
Nobody can improvise until he/she knows the instrument
well enough to be comfortable with more than the simple stuff.
When you get comfortable with the not so simple stuff,
improvisation will come to you like breathing.
Trust me. As a boy of 13 playing my first live performance
(closing three lounges a night on a cruise ship), I found
that scales and arpeggios were my avenue to improvisational
success. When I had truly mastered brass instruments,
I could sit in with anyone playing anything I had never even
heard. I just had to know the key, then fly. Most of us back
then would be taught by the “big guns” by having to repeat the
same simple little stupid obnoxious song like “Twinkle Twinkle”
or “Glow Worm” until we were ready to shove our horns under
some rolling heavy equipment! Only then would we be allowed
to embellish the tune at all.
It is good for us that honking on a harp can sound good (at least
to the one playing) without a lot of effort. Don’t be mislead though;
it is easy to learn harmonica well enough to entertain yourself and
maybe some friends, but playing truly WELL takes some dedication.
Don’t expect that you can be Charlie Musselwhite overnight (a rhyme!).
But you can achieve some level of greatness, no matter who you are
in the talent world.
I’m not trying to scare you, but I am trying to goad some dedication out
of all of us…me included.
Keep at it at least a few minutes to a half hour a day (more if you can
handle it…My practice sessions as a young conservatory trumpet man
were usually around 8 hours…usually a couple hours with each project
I was involved in with a break in between…the breaks were usually a
class or two). But remember to have fun! Practice, but play some


I feel your pain Philosen as I’m at the same crossroad. And thanks for that bugleboy. That’s some sound advice.

Hi Phil, I think at your learning stage it makes sense to continue learning with playalongs since you already seem to have some basic knowledge on the instrument. I can highly recommend Steve Baker: Blues Harmonica Playalongs Vol 1 since it helped me improve my skills a lot. The book also comes with a CD, so it is easy to copy and jam along.
Alternatively, Dieter Kropp’s Blues Harp Songbook is also a great choice and a bit easier than Steve Baker’s playalongs.