Learning Blues Harp – lessons,lessons,lessons

If you are wanting to learn blues harmonica (blues harp) the best place to start is with Adam Gussow.

Listen to one of his many and great lessons (you can see I am a fan!)

Having said this , learners learn in different ways, and so it is good to look up several teaching sites and try to learn what you can from each. Some provide some beginners lessons for free in the hope that you will join and pay anything from 4 USD per month upwards for membership. Some provide forums which can be very helpful,when choosing harps, learning specific techniques,knowing which key a particular blues tune is in or just exchanging ideas and realising you are part of a musical community. I will list a few of the popular sites with some of their particular features.

This is Dave  Gage’s site , harmonicalessons.com  A very comprehensive site – as well as lessons , he has forums, playing tips of the day . even information on making harp repairs, and a full list of playing techniques

Harmonica Techniques: Single Notes Holding Hand Effects Bending Breathing

Songs & Tabs:

Master Song List Tabbed Solos             List Scales (diatonic) Chromatic Songs

Blues Riffs “Jam-To” MIDI File Chromatic Harmonica

Full membership costs $37.95 but there are other membership schemes. Examples of the info available on the site:

About notation

“Number and Arrow” system of notation– The “up” arrows indicate blow (exhale) notes and the “down” arrows are for the draw (inhale) notes- The little “b’s” under the bent arrows are flat signs. One “b” is a half step bend and two “b’s” are a whole step bend (as shown in the graphic below).All riffs are played in the 2nd position– For more information on 2nd position, visit the General Overview section.Use your own timing– Except for the triplet riffs, you can use your own timing with these riffs to make them fit into whatever song you are playing with. Listen to the sound file below the riffs to help get you started.

Problem with the hole 2 draw– If you have a problem with the hole 2 draw you can substitute the hole 3 blow until you have the ability to make the hole 2 draw come out correctly.

For Intermediate and Advanced players– you can add a 4 draw bend between the 4 blow and the 4 draw of the “Almost Blues Scale” riff. This will make it a complete one octave blues scale.

“Jam-To” Blues MIDI File– If you would like a quick, easy background song to begin jamming to, you can use the “Jam-To” MIDI File in “G” to try out the different riffs and ideas outlined here. Additional MIDI files are also available.

12 Bar Blues MIDI File:
Here is a 12 bar blues MIDI file in the key of “G”, Slow_Blues_in_G.mid, that you can download and play/practice to with a standard key of “C” diatonic played in 2nd position. There is over 5 minutes of MIDI music that you can jam to (7 times through the 12 bar blues).

Once you click on the MIDI file it should download and begin to play. If it hasn’t started playing automatically, you can double-click on this file and it should open your operating system’s default MIDI player (Windows Media Player on a PC or QuickTime on a Mac).

Since the first four bars of the song is an intro, the first full 12 bar blues pattern begins on the 5th bar. You can start playing at anytime or wait until the fifth bar to begin the full 12 bar blues pattern.

To accurately come in on bar 5, hit the play button on your MIDI player, and then count 1 2 3 4, 2 2 3 4, 3 2 3 4, 4 2 3 4 (four beats or foot taps per bar), and you’re in. Another way to come in at the beginning of the first full 12 bar blues pattern, is to listen for the drums to do a short 2 beat pickup (or fill) just before all the instruments begin playing at bar 5.

About harmonicas:

And what about harmonicas. Hohner marine band harps have been favourites for decades but the move to plastic parts such as you will find on Lee Oskar harps, have become new stars with new harp players.

I can agree that Lee Oskars are really worth trying,not expensive, but good quality and a wide range of keys (try the Em!)

Another very comprehensive site is Mike Wills site :

How a Harmonica Works Breathing Holding the Harp Which Harp to Get Embouchure

Techniques such as  Bending Vibrato Tone Overblows and Overdraws

Amplified Harp Amps Mics Effects

Some  musical theory such as Circle of 5ths Note Layout on a Keyboard Note Layout on Manuscript Key of C Layouts Chords
How to Play Blues The Blues Scales Second Position Third Position First Position Fifth Position Cross Harp
Practice Tips
Maintenance Tuning Reed Gapping Reed Slot Embossing

You wont want much more than that to get you started!

Another good all round blues harp site is bluesharp

An example of a tabbed lesson from bluesharp lessons:

Lesson 3


There are two basic trills used by blues harp players, the hole 4 and 5 draw trill and the hole 3 and 4 draw trill. The idea here is pretty simple. You just draw in on the harp and move the harp back and forth across your mouth either with your hands or by shaking your head. Mastering these trills is not easy however. Again, you have to be careful to sound each note individually or the effect will not be the desired one. Once you have mastered the basic trills you can try things like bending the trilled notes while you trill. You can also experiment with finding other trills on the harp on your own.

The trills look like this:

4-5 draw trill

4     5     4     5     4     5     4     5     4     5     4     5
D     D     D     D     D     D     D     D     D     D     D     D

Click here to download an audio file of the “4-5 draw trill” above played on a “C” harmonica:

4-5 draw trill .au format4-5 draw trill .wav format

Check out the introductory lessons at harmonica club on this site there is plenty of info about all aspects of harmonica playing,including a range of techniques and a useful forum.


$4US  per month-and for this you can download tabs/songs in the members area.

There is good introductory video at bluesharmonica

and at blues academy there are some free lessons to get you interested as well as sound files  and tabbed songs/tunes and membership starts  from $19.95

With the above links and the video starters below – just try some of the lessons first – as I have said, you really have to get the feeling of playing with the teacher – their teaching styles are very different, but you will learn something from all of them. Beware, there are some players with free lessons on youtube that will actually teach you bad habits -the ones below are the better ones to try first.

J.P.Allen has his own site with some good articles on playing the harp as well as listening to others:

Try out these other teachers/lesson providers:

Listen to Ronnie Shellist, who also has two sites harmonica123 and shuffletones

Adam Woodhall

Dan Gage is a youtube teacher with several vids on offer:

Some ‘advanced’ bending from Jason Ricci

Jon Gindick  has something different with his Jamcamp, where even Adam Gussow has been known to coach:



~ by Ray Harris on December 18, 2009.

One Response to “Learning Blues Harp – lessons,lessons,lessons”

  1. Those are indeed good harmonica resources mentioned above. If it’s okay to, I’d like to put in a plug for my own new downloadable harmonica lessons with tabs and backing tracks included. I’m preparing new lessons each week for players at all levels(beginner to advanced) and in many musical genres(blues,jazz,bluegrass,irish etc..) Please check out the free samples by going to http://www.onlinelessonvideos.com or you can also visit my website at http://www.sandyweltmanmusic.com I’d love to hear your feedback after you’ve had a chance to check them out.Thanks much- Sandy

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