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.)
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
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
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
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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