Which note next?

Hey all,

I’m trying to figure out if there are a few steps in music theory that can help when trying to play along with others. Already happened a couple of times I hit a note that sounds just right, but when I try to find a note to follow the previous note I’m not getting anything that sounds to fit. I’ll ask for the key to play. Grab a matching harp and just play some random single notes till I find one that sounds nice with overall sound. But then? what’s next? are there are hints or tips on things I could try? Should I move one note up or down?, should I try jumping 2 notes up or down? Should a blow be followed by a draw? I’m trying to stay in what JP called the safety zone of holes 4 to 7 (ok, sometimes can’t resist going higher! :))

Basically still looking for things that can help reduce the random sounding notes. I’m not sounding out of tune but also not ‘fitting’ in with the sound either.

Cheers & keep on Harpin’!



If your playing blues music one thing that I think would help you in determining
what note next is to listen to a lot of the great blues players. One of my favorites is
Sonny Boy Williamson II because he plays simple classic blues licks.

Also another one I like is Brownie Mcghee and Sonny Terry. There album Midnight Special
is a must have.

Listen to these guys a lot and try and break down what they’re doing on the harp.

That’s if your playing blues style improvising.

Hey Joe,

thanks for the reply. I started to listen more to blues with harp in it. I also tried listen to some Jazz but found that’s not really my thing. I do love some work from Toots Thielemans though. Happen to know the album you mentioned from Sonny Terry. Great album, makes it sound so easy while it’s not when you are starting out! :slight_smile:

Unfortunately (in this case) my main music will be folk music. Since I don’t know many tunes yet I have to find a way to just follow along and sound fitting. I will be looking into blues to see if I can mix that. If you have any nice licks please share. I’m always curious for new stuff :slight_smile:

Don’t know if you can play a blues lick on something like Scarborough Fair. One of the few tunes I can play a little! :slight_smile:



If you’re playing chords – from 2-4 notes (holes) together – JP Allen, Jon Gindick, and others have good lessons on Chord Progressions. They can be found on Youtube; and elsewhere. Even if you play single notes of the chord, known as Arpeggio, you can still make it sound right.

If you’re doing a lot of folk music, fortunately you can find tabs for much of it.

So don’t dismiss them to learn the songs. JP has some good links for finding them on his blog here:



As far as Scarborough Fair goes – You can give it a low Blues feel by bending the 4, 5 and 6 intermittently.

To give credit where credit is due – I actually learned about this from our fine member J~J. No, not the song. Rather, one time during a round session in Seamus’ chat room, the only song he could play was Oh Susannah. Yet as he played the song over and over again, he bent a few 4s adding his own twist to it, and it sounded good.

I then began adding a few bends to many of the straight folk songs I knew, and it works. So I use them as well.

Point is: When playing to yourself, if it sounds good to you and you can make it work, it will sound good to others as they just like to be entertained even if it is Blowing in The Wind, Scarborough Fair, or any songs you can kick out!

Hope this helps!

Good luck!

Have fun!

Keep On Harpin’!

I think this is where scales become necessary. The notes in the scale all go together and sound good together.


If that’s so, and I am playing holes 4 to 7 which are all the holes in the major scale why do some notes sound less fitting then others, or is that just my imagination and may just be due to bad rhythmic timing from my end and not the notes played? If that’s the case I’ll focus on that more. I was trying to focus on finding the right notes and just play long notes. Insecurity in playing may also be the problem. If any note in the scale is good I can feel more confident in just playing and learning by ear.



Are you certain they are playing in the same key as you are?

Yes, our violin player has a lot of sheet music and I always peek at the key. Next to that there is a high percentage that the song is either in D or in G. Playing straight harp then trying to play holes 4 to 7. with a little fooling around I often find a note that I like and that sounds as a match but then I face the question which note next to follow? If they are all good options, then I’m puzzled. then I guess it’s my confidence and I just need to stop thinking so much.

I am where you are when it comes to improvising (trying to figure it out), maybe a little more behind! Some of the notes are referred to as stepping stone notes, some notes are resolution and others wailers. From my understanding,resolution and wailers sound good anytime and stepping stones are to be hit and left alone, used only to get from on good sounding note to the next. Like I said, I may have this all wrong but this is what I have gathered to this point.

Yo Out to PB

Enjoyed the Stone & The Cave Boys references. Made Jon Gindick proud, ya did! Hehehe!!

But those Stepping-Wailing-Resolution notes are more for understanding Blues Progressions. Not necessarily for straight up melodies and tunes, me thinks, if I’m not mistaken.

Yo Out to Ton

Don’t know exactly what you’re doing there, bro!

Being that you’re working from sheet music is cool beans! It’s a talent up there with like say a classically trained musician such as Howard Levy would use. Hope you continue to learn from it.

But even if you know the key, somewhere along the lines with the ‘straight’ notes could be flats, sharps and accidentals in the music itself. Which if you’re not catching or playing them, could throw your own music somewhat out of whack. Know what I mean?!

Also, more straight songs than not utilize more than just the 4-7 holes. Many include some of the 7-10 holes in the First Position as well. {And don’t ask me about Positions, as like you, I just know and/or listen for what sounds better overall.} So too then, by locking and/or limiting yourself into just the 4-7, seems where you may be experiencing those problems and frustrations. But again, I don’t know exactly what you’re doing there, bro!

Additionally and incidentally – If you were to only play your music within a certain octave of holes, like say the 4-7, (and without doing any bending or anything special) then you’d probably be better off playing a chromatic rather than a diatonic to get to those notes that need to be there to sound correct. Know what I mean?!

Finally, even if you read from tabs, even JP, Gindick, myself and others here on the forum will tell you that they’re not always correct either. So yes, if you find the note/hole that sounds better than the one written/given – By all means Eureka you found it! And by all means use it!

Hope this helps!


Keep On Harpin’!

So the same musical theory’s that apply to blues and /or 2nd position don’t apply to straight harp, 1st, or other positions? Maybe that’s what has been holding me back, I don’t have to stay only with the notes within a key’s scale!
I thought others spoke of to notes as wailers,resolution, and stepping stone notes also. If it just belongs to Gindick I pass along a pat on the back and Highest praise for his description. I think Gindick’s way of breaking it down like that is very helpful, at least it was for me.
I’m doing well with melodies, and have learned a few 12 bar progressions but still fail to be able to improvise. Hopfully it will come together soon!


Don’t know what I’m doing either, but I’m having fun while doing it! ;D I know tunes are not written in stone. Valuable lesson for the perfectionist among us (like me). I agree there is more then just 4-7. From my own experience I’m already noticing that I’m moving around more freely on 4-7 and some on 7-10 due to some songs. But the 1-4, especially the draws is a challenge for me now. So yes, play all holes, get comfortable with them. I’m doing JP’s simple blues scale now and it’s fun. It will be blow 3 for me now, but I challenge myself for draw 2 soon! (For those who know the course).


I certainly don’t know much on the subject and can’t tell from my own experience yet. But when I see you write Stepping-wailing-Resolution. I’m thinking Chord progression, and yes Blues progression. In Music theory some Chords lead to other Chords better and some Chords want to go back to the previous. Again it’s not written in stone. If it sounds good like SPD said, by all means use it! Perhaps reading about Chord progression gives you new ideas.

Ah okay, Ton!

You’re following along JP’s lessons…I gotcha now! :wink:

Hopefully you’re using a Spec20 C to start with as well! :slight_smile:

Once you get the major scale down - from C to C, from 4 to 7 - It’s only after you get a handle of this safety zone, and you start moving around the instrument, yes, you will find notes that fit and don’t.

One thing that I wished JP had emphasized a little more in or during this lesson was to go to the songs/melody books and introduce them as part of the learning curve process.

They are part of his overall package; as well as he offers many tab songs and how to find others on his blog.

Interestingly enough, most pre-internet teaching methods, found in books and on cassette tapes, offered various old standard tunes for someone to begin with. In these days of the internet, you can plenty of tab songs virtually everywhere –

However, most internet teachers and teaching methods - from JP Allen, Jon Gindick, Howard Levy and others do not discuss or emphasize them enough. Yet most people want to learn to play harmonica so they can play those old and even newer songs/melodies on their instrument of choice! Know what I mean?!

So whether it was an oversight or just plain lacking in this department at the time the lessons were produced – Well, that was one of the reasons I pitched the idea for this forum…So as to clear up and discuss in more real time such ‘holes’ - few and far between as they may be - that can/could/would be found and pondered about by JP Allen students and others on their journey through the wide & vast Harmonica Universe as it is!

Bottom line and all this being said: Time now for you to get out of the comfort of the safety zone, now that you understand it more, and go into the songs/melodies books and learn some tunes and your way further around the harmonica! :smiley:


Good luck!

Keep On Harpin’!

Hey SPD,

Yes, I’m doing the JP course among other things. I had my mind set on playing Scarborough Fair since that’s where I bought my first C harmonica during my holiday. I wanted a Hohner marineband in C, but all they had was a Tombo Folkblues in C. Turned out to be good.

Discovered the JP lesssons and the DRE. But since I wanted to play single notes was not convinced straight away to replace my starting pucker. toke some digging how to do the single notes with the DRE. Once that became clear to me I ordered the course. So yes I may be one of those who wants to move to tunes quickly. Doing both works for me.

And I agree. I am missing some introduction to easy song/melody understanding in the learning curve from JP so far. I do love the jamming along and I do see that as a key element to stay with it.

I just had another (lesser) gotcha moment trying to translate an Irish tune from sheet music to the Harp. I’m missing a note in the lower Richter tuning that I need. So that either means I have to learn to bend or check the Paddy-Richter tuning or look at Chromatic. It’s a fun journey never the less! :smiley:

Keep on Harpin’!

I is a having a slightly hard time following exactly what you are getting at…but this is my 2.5 cents.

I think what you need to to is get more farmilar with the harp! Once you play for quite a while, you start to ‘feel’ the harp, so you can kinda hear a note in your head, and then match it on the harp? Does that make sense? Basically, all I am saying is try to get as farmiliar with the harp as possible! Scales are a good way to do that…

IF my advice ain’t worth 2.5 cents, I’ll lower the price!

Peace Out!


Burning Thunder,

Wise words are worth more then 2.5 cents! :slight_smile:

I totally makes sense and I do recognize that from my other instrument journey. At a certain moment you just do. If scales are a good way to go, do you know from experience what else is valuable and good to get to know the harp better?



IF my advice ain't worth 2.5 cents, I'll lower the price!

I thought it was worth at least that, BT! :wink:

Too bad POTUS Obooma already lowered it for ya, and hear tell you owe him 5 cents more! Go figure, huh?!! :stuck_out_tongue:

Keep On Harpin’!

I tell you what, economics these days will kill just about anyone!