Re: Harp Experience & Lessons

Steve Levine is right to point out that tongue blocking is not the only
approach used in blues harp playing and that it has played a role inn
all styles of harmonica music. I didn't mean to imply that players
interested in getting the Chicago blues sound should tongue block
exclusively. Junior Wells and Charlie Musselwhite are just two examples
of great blues players who use a lot of puckering. But if Chicago blues
to you means Little Walter, James Cotton, both Sonny Boy Williamsons,
George Smith, etc., it's worth knowing that all these players made extensive
use of tongue blocking. And a lot of the younger blues players, including
Paul Oscher, Mark Hummel, Rick Estrin, and Jerry Portnoy play almost
exclusively tongue blocked. That big, fat sound that people love about the
blues harp sound has a lot to do with using your tongue; a lot of Chicago
blues harp riffs are really series of tongue-blocked octaves.

When I first started playing, I used to go see my favorite harp players
and crowd as close to the stage as I could so I could see how they set the
dials on their amps and exactly what kind of microphones they used. This is
also good information to have, but learning about basic tone production and
classic techniques like tongue blocking will have a lot bigger impact on
your playing. They're just the kind of tips that you can get from a good

--Kim Field

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