Got a new harpoon & a clean red bandana. What next?
October 24, 2016 8:20 PM   Subscribe

My nurse, while looking at images of my lungs, said I should start playing a harmonica as preventive medicine. She's a very smart lady, so I got a Hohnrr Special 20 G cheap and am almost able to play single notes moving between all 10 holes. So where to go next? I'll be playing unaccompanied to an audience of livestock and dogs for at least two hours a day and we would like to build up a large enough playlist I don't start to hate the songs I'm playing.

The major difficulty is I've never played anything nor have even seen written music for 45 years or so. Is any of the following styles easier to achieve competency in before branching out into the rest? Southern rock, hillbilly fiddle, classic rock, the melodies of southern gospel, rockabilly, blues, old cowboy songs? If it helps, Steve Cash of the Ozark Mountain Daredevils is my favorite player and Sabbath's Wizard is the only specific song on my bucket list.

Complicating factors are: I don't care for sounds of the higher three holes of this harmonica, would it be bad if I bought something with a lower tone instead of a C when I start playing tabs? My left index finger is almost a 1/2 inch short of the right side of the top cover making it hard to play the high hole into the cup of both hands. Hints? I really liked Baby_Balrog's advice from '07 but this is going to be a mostly solitary endeavor where there's no power for YouTube or even speakers.
posted by ridgerunner to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (5 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Jug band music often has a lot of really cool harmonica parts. Check out the riff in Cocaine Habit Blues by Memphis Jug Band.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 9:31 PM on October 24, 2016 [1 favorite]

I would try a G if you want a generally lower tone.

I am generally in favor of old cowboy songs for starting out as they were sort of written for a harmonica.

Sea Chanties may be good too if you want to make use of that harpoon too!
posted by boilermonster at 9:57 PM on October 24, 2016 [1 favorite]

It takes more wind to power the lower notes, so in fact the upper register isn't doing you as much good as if you bought a lower-key option. (my assumption is that the harmonica playing is therapeutic because it's requiring controlled deep forceful breathing) Added to that, playing unaccompanied means there's nobody else whose notes you have to match, so you could play in six flats if you wanted and there'd be nobody to complain. Go as low as you want.
posted by aimedwander at 7:03 AM on October 25, 2016 [3 favorites]

I am generally in favor of old cowboy songs for starting out....

Thanks, I was kind of thinking about starting out with the old dead cowboys songs and working up toward The Strawberry Roan. There's a fair number of old hymns I like as instrumentals, but that stuff I used to hear at hootenannies is intimidating.

If I keep using the G I've got, just go ahead and use the tabs for C?

my assumption is that the harmonica playing is therapeutic because it's requiring controlled deep forceful breathing

Yep, Seydel actually makes two harmonicas just for pneumo patients. Happily, the scar tissue in my lungs isn't bad enough to justify a prescription for one. I'm guessing "six flats" means something that sounds like a diggeridoo? If I wanted to order a harmonica where the 10th hole sounds about like the 6th hole on my G, should I ask for a Low C?
posted by ridgerunner at 6:53 PM on October 25, 2016

the scale of a harmonica is set up so the starting note of the key is the second hole I believe. This means you start higher or lower on the keyboard depending on the key. "G" typically is the lowest key. You can transpose the song to the key you are playing in as long as there are no relative sharps or flats.

Jambalaya and Red River Valley are good starts.

Practice scales for a few min each day, it will help you get more comfortable with the instrument and improve your awareness of the note arrangement.

I am fond of Suzuki as the quality is consistent as opposed to recent Honers.
posted by boilermonster at 12:17 AM on October 26, 2016 [1 favorite]

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