Re: [Harp-L] Bluegrass

My highlight of the bluegrass jam at the last SPAH was when David pulled out his chord harmonica and flawlessly played the challenging tune, âLonesome Moonlight Waltz.â (PT Gazell also played a wonderful version of this tune during his performance on stage. You can hear a sample of this tune on the ârecordingsâ page of my website,

Iâve jammed and performed at hundreds of bluegrass festivals, including some in the South. Iâve noticed the Southerners tend to be much friendlier to harmonica players. When I show up at a jam, the assumption is that I know bluegrass, and folks seem genuinely curious how Iâm going to play, especially when they see me holding a chromatic. They donât seem surprised that I know the tunes and can play the melody lines. In contrast, when I show up at a bluegrass jam in California and they donât know me, I feel I need to prove myself before being welcome. My theory is that bluegrass is part of the Southern culture and folks assume that when you show up at a jam, you know and respect the genre. In California, musicians sometimes join bluegrass jams with little or no understanding of the music, and this seems especially common with harmonica players. Over and over again Iâve seen harp players join a jam without knowing any of the tunes and without following the established jamming etiquette. They play everything as if it were a blues tune, miss chord changes, and stomp on other peopleâs breaks. I doubt that the South often sees such players.

On Mon, Jan 24, 2011 at 2:51 PM, David Payne wrote:

I am a fourth generation bluegrass player and I'm also from the south, where people take bluegrass music very seriously. This notion that the body of bluegrass musicians is primarily comprised of elitists who reject the harmonica out-of-hand is without merit and an urban legend of our own creation. I used to buy into that idea myself and backed it up with my own personal experiences, until I sat down and looked at it realistically. I can think of very few times I even got a look or something and I've played with hundreds of bluegrass musicians. There are jackasses in every genre of music. Yet, we magnify that jackassery and use it to create an unrealistic view of an entire body of musicians. Overall, they respect musicianship. It's as simple as that. One observation I'll mention is that the people who are closed minded about harmonicas and dismiss it without hearing you are generally not very good and other bluegrass musicians might not like them either. Those people are in every crowd, I don't care what you're playing.

I remember one time I went down to Bill Duncan's house. Bill played with my grandpa back in the 1950s and was one of Bill Monroe's Bluegrass Boys later on. I brought my harmonicas and mandolin. I played the mandolin for a while, I was a little scared to pull out the harmonicas, until he said "why don't you let me play that mandolin and you blow on the harps for a while." That's when I started to think this idea of bluegrassers hating harmonicas was unfounded. Now I believe, it's something mostly of our own own manufacturing, based on the expressions of a minority of jackasses, whom we've let speak for the whole.
Bluegrass musicians are surprisingly TOLERANT OF BAD AND MEDIOCRE HARMONICA PLAYING. They will get all excited about harmonica, even if it's not very good. I've seen that happen probably 20 times for every time I've seen even a anti-harmonica look. Harmonica players are generally given a great deal of leeway and understanding that those playing other instruments don't enjoy. A great number of novice players have a huge issue when they play bluegrass and rarely called on it (chord rhythm is always the first thing I teach my students) and noodle around when they should be playing a simple rhythm. I think the bluegrass musicians are so understanding about it because they don't know the harmonica is capable of a chord rhythm. If a guitar player noodled around like that, he'd get the same looks, but probably a talking to as well. If you do find yourself among the minority of haters, you'll shut them down once you demonstrate an ability to play rhythm. These chords below will get you through chording 95 percent of bluegrass songs. On songs with other chords, you can switch between two diatonics, to get the extra chord needed.
I chord - 234 draw
I7 chord 2345 draw
IV chord any three blow notes.
V chord - double stop tongue block octave 1 and 4 draw (it works better than the 456 draw Vm chord)
VI chord (relative minor) 1 and 2 blow.
Or you can just add a chord harmonica to you arsenal of axes. I used to play rhythm on diatonics. Anymore, I use the 48 chord, then switch to diatonics or sometimes a chromatic for lead, then go back to the 48. Bluegrassers love the 48 chord! I mean love it. When I play with guys I haven't played with before, they are always amazed that it even exists. I keep it in a modified mandolin case. It goes the same way every time, I say "Check out my mandolin" they open the case, then there's shock while they figure out what it is, then they are impressed by what it does.
Here's a little something I did with Steve Williams, Roy Clark Jr. and George Hauser, on the 48 chord. If I were using diatonics I would be playing the same thing pretty much. It was Roy's turn to shine, my job was to lay down the beat. If you know what your job is at any given moment and do it, you will go far in the bluegrass community and the same goes for any genre.

Also, if anybody is interested, I did make four bluegrass 48 chord lessons and put them on Youtube a few weeks ago. Here's the first one:
There's a lot of potential for the 48 chord in bluegrass.

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