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
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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