You Ain't Never Heard Blues Like This (Tongue-Blocking for Beginners)

You Ain’t Never Heard Blues Like This (Tongue-Blocking for Beginners)

DeFord Bailey

I have been learning a style of music on the harmonica that has unlocked new doors for me in every aspect of my playing:

:small_blue_diamond: my tone

:small_blue_diamond: my breathing

:small_blue_diamond: my rhythm and timing

It’s an old style of pre-war blues called the Fox Chase, it’s 100% suitable for total beginners.

Check out my short vid demonstrating here:

The Fox Chase is a GREAT way to get an intro to tongue blocking, and work on your breathing, tone, and switching back and forth between single notes and chords.

Even if this old-timey style of blues doesn’t appeal to you, I believe this groove is the EASIEST introduction to tongue-blocking - a great primer if, for example, you’re wanting to eventually get into Little Walter style blues grooves.

This is the foundation of it:

:one: Blow SOFTLY on 3 using tongue blocking:

:arrow_right: use your tongue to cover hole 1 and 2, and play hole 3 out of the right corner of your mouth

:two: Lift your tongue off the comb and draw LOUDLY on -12 (you may also include -3).

So the tabs are: 3 -12 3 -12 3 -12 3 -12

Every time you play 3 your tongue is blocking holes 1 and 2, and then you lift your tongue off the comb to play the big fat -12 chord.

:bulb: The secret is to make the draws as full and loud as you can using an “uh” vowel shape, and to play the blow 3’s more quietly.

From this foundation, you can end up playing cool stuff like this. If you’re wanting to delve deeply into this style, I encourage you to check out Joe Filisko’s teaching resource Deford’s Dream.

:question: What is Pre-War Blues?

Pre-war blues is the name given to all blues music that was recorded before World War II, which began in 1939. Many people lived a more rural life in those times; it’s not surprising to find much of pre-war blues has more of a country “hillbilly” vibe to it compared to later blues recordings.

Mississippi John Hurt and Robert Johnson are a couple of the most famous pre-war blues artists. But in the world of harmonica one name rings the loudest from the period, “the harmonica wizard” himself, Mr. DeFord Bailey - one of the first artists to be recorded in Nashville, the first African-American artist to appear on the Grand Ole Opry. Check out Deford Bailey’s Fox Chase.

When I’m playing music with other people I always gravitate toward lip blocking, and when I’m playing by myself I mostly gravitate toward tongue blocking. IT’S SO MUCH FUN!!!