Re: [Harp-L] Rhythm Harp

Besides soloing at times, it's great to play some rhythm harp (such as repeating a phrase being sung, or performing some "harp" percussion, syncopation, accompliment, and basically adding more to the music.

Does anyone know of great sources of information to become proficient at this? (various YouTubes, training, books, DVDs, etc.)

Hi Jeffrey,
Rhythm harp is a great subject, not often treated here. I don't know Madcat's instructional materials, but I have to believe they're great. He's a fabulous musician.

I have found myself playing rhythm harp at least as much as leads and solos. I learned alot from listening to rhythm guitarists, especially Steve Cropper on the Stax recordings. Also by studying how the three guitarists split the rhythm chores on Motown records.

The real job is learning how to play a rhythm that helps drive the piece But Does Not Stick Out all the time. That's a big deal. Harp sticks out if you don't consciously make sure that you aren't in front 100% of the time. You can just stop playing, but if you want to be part of the rhythm section you have to find other ways to not stick out.

I still make an exercise of studying a really good rhythm track and finding the holes, the places where nobody else in the rhythm section is playing. I then try to find an engaging set of figures to play within those holes - that is I try to find which bits to leave out so that what stays in is musically valid on its own, but is really "locked" as part of the ensemble.

Always try to find ways to not stick out - harp sticks out without any trouble when you want it to, and even when you don't if you're not aware that much of the time you should be felt and not heard.

I'm always telling players to work with a metronome daily. Among the many advantages this will give you is the ability to hear when to play ahead of the beat, when to play behind it, and when to sit right on top of it. This goes for soloing too, but you can make a tremendous contribution to the excitement of a band performance by hearing when you should be in front of the beat.

Most blues players on most instruments learn how to play behind the beat. When I used to see blues in the clubs I could always tell when the players weren't fully developed because nobody ever played ahead of the beat, at least not on purpose.
Playing ahead of the beat, when done right, is often the secret to excitement in performance.

I used to sit in with a good band, 40 years ago, that would start to lag about halfway through. They would call me up and I would get everybody dancing just based on pushing the beat while everyone else was sitting comfortably behind. I played both rhythm harp and solos when I sat in. One morning after such a gig their manager called to offer to put a band together for me - he saw how I could excite an audience. I guarantee you it wasn't because of my looks. Aside from the fact that I was a good harmonica player I could really control an audience with that little secret of knowing when to push ahead of the beat. (Idiot that I was I turned the guy down. He went on to open the Bottom Line.)

The greatest exponent of playing ahead of the beat in American dance band music was King Curtis. His bands were always full of studio cats who could play around a beat in their sleep. And so often you hear Curtis, or the or the bass or the drums, or something, pushing the beat. They're so good that it never sounds rushed, but the excitement on his records is wonderfully unbearable.

It's of course really important to learn the kinds of rhythm techniques that Madcat can show you, but learning how to use these techniques in the ensemble will make you a valuable band member.


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