[Harp-L] Re: Howard Levy School vs. David Barrett School?

At the risk of sounding biased, I think Howard is the most brilliant virtuoso who will ever pick up the harmonica. That he's not just living at the same time in history as me but is also actually teaching is a mind boggling stroke of fortune. It would be like learning from Charlie Parker, Oscar Peterson, Itzhak Perlman, Jaco Pastorius--well, you get the idea. Every other instrument has a long list of virtuosos which have brought their genius to bear upon it. The harmonica, in my opinion, has scant few. Imagine our luck that perhaps its greatest player is offering to teach us what knows.

No one would argue that Howard is the most technically advanced player to walk the planet. Personally, I think that alone is reason to study with him, for you'll never master an instrument if you don't master its technique. However, not everyone appreciates his style of music (hey, not everyone appreciates John Coltrane either). Personally, I think Howard plays with breathtaking beauty that is as eloquent as it is moving. This is not just true of his playing jazz, classical, eastern, latin, or the many other non-"conventional" styles of harmonica he's mastered. What many don't realize is that Howard also can play some mean, dirty, down-home blues that we were all raised on. What's unique about his take on it though is that he plays with wonderfully fresh ideas that are filled with wit and originality. As much as I love the blues, it can quickly grow stale with recycled licks. If you want to break the mold, then study with the guy who broke the mold.

Yes, Howard does talk about theory, stuff that's crucial to developing musically. While you can get the same material on your own in books, I think seeing/hearing your teacher talk about theory doesn't just help you understand it, but also makes you take it more seriously. What the teacher thinks is important will consequently be valued by you as well. The same point applies to playing through changes, even the deceptively simple I-IV-V. Few harp players do so, yet when it's done the music suddenly sounds compelling. As being the only player to comfortably play in all 12 positions, Howard of course will teach you to play through changes, be it Juke or Giant Steps.

As for improvisation, there are videos on this as well, whether it's improvising over I-IV-V (the glue of blues) or II-V-I (the glue of jazz). And yes, Howard does teach by illustration/performance, which sometimes means learning what he's doing by ear (although in beginner lessons he spells out the blows/draws). However, developing your ear is an essential tool to playing music. If you can't translate what you hear to what you want to play, then you'll never play your instrument. The instrument will play you.

But the greatest resource of Howard's school is the student video exchange. This alone is worth the price of admission. No one else to my knowledge does this. Even if someone else did, no one else could provide a personal one-on-one instruction with the degree of musical accomplishment as Howard. His grasp of different musical traditions isn't just broad but equally deep in mastery. It's extraodinary to watch him give a lesson on the Beatles then one on Bach then one on Stormy Monday. In each case he deconstructs the piece with remarkable clarity and patience, providing insights for the beginner, intermediate, and advanced players to approach the piece. And if you have questions or want feedback on your own rendition, simply create a video of your performance and he'll answer it with a video in turn. That's f***en unbelievable if you ask me, especially considering the subscription rate ($60/3months) which I think is absurdly underpriced. But that's just my $.02, which might overpriced.



Message: 9
Date: Tue, 4 May 2010 13:07:50 -0500
From: Mike Fugazzi <mikefugazzi@xxxxxxxxx>
Subject: [Harp-L] Howard Levy School vs. David Barrett School?
To: harp-l@xxxxxxxxxx
Content-Type: text/plain; charset=ISO-8859-1

Levy seems to cover a wide range of things...according to this syllabus,
nothing really interests me until his intermediate level of study (some of
the 5th position stuff does). The jazz stuff is cool, but I don't really
play jazz, nor would I likely even if I wanted to. The world music piece
looks fun, and the tongue blocking piece where you chug/play a melody at the
same time looks wicked awesome. There is a wealth on 4th, 5th, and 12th
which I play and would like to learn more about. However, most of the
lessons seem theory based, which isn't necessarily unique to harmonica (I
can find that other places). Also, from what I've seen I get the impression
it is a lot of listening to Howard play a standard and then trying to figure
it out yourself. I didn't see much about "do this" or here is the tab. The
samples also didn't show me how to improvise with the knowledge.

The Barrett school is focused on blues only...which is something I do play,
although I am from the Ricci/Del Junco kind of school - Modern blues to flat
out modern harmonica. The videos are awesome and his teaching style is
wonderful. He holds my attention with his use of theory, and some of the
foundations he focuses on can be applied to other styles...and he teaches
improv. The artist inverviews are a huge bonus, and the equipment stuff
looks juicy. That being said, the licks and phrasing are going to be mostly
12 bar blues based - I won't be learning a "new" style of music for me, but
rather refining my tradtional chops and then learning to move them to
different octaves/positions. My use of extended positions and scales
wouldn't advance.

I am a very liberal user of overbends, which Barrett doesn't talk too much
about, but Levy does. For the time being, I don't see me getting to play
styles other than blues and rock. There are no "jazz" gigs around here for
me and I am totally foreign to the scene. However, I use more than the blues
scale and could stand to expand my vocabulary beyond learning melodies to


Mike Fugazzi

This archive was generated by a fusion of Pipermail 0.09 (Mailman edition) and MHonArc 2.6.8.