[Harp-L] Why don't harp players learn all the notes and music?

Hellerman, Steven L. shellerman@xxxxx
Tue Oct 30 14:57:56 EDT 2018

I wrote a fairly detailed piece a few years ago here regarding the detriments of force-feeding music theory and reading music on young people, citing my own experience.  It engendered a lot of response, but nothing like what has ensued here the last week or so.

But, to the point: There are a great many talented professional musicians (one might define "professional" as those who earn a living at it; or at least usually get paid for playing in public) who do not read music. The best examples, of course, are the Beatles (and Sir Paul McCartney STILL can't read music). The late great British sax player Bobby Keyes couldn't read a note, played completely by ear. As for us harp players, obviously, one needs to know enough theory to play in the right key in a position that works ((and , hopefully, sounds best).

But just how necessary is it to be able to read notes and understand concepts like "circle of fiths", etc.? When soloing, is one supposed to label the notes in your head as one plays them? (For the record, I have no idea what any of the notes are called as I play.) I would also be interested to know just how "musically literate" some of the great blues players were; guys like Sonny Boy Williamson, Brownie McGee, Little Walter, Big Walter, James Cotton,  et. al.

Can anyone shed some light on any of this?

Message: 8
Date: Mon, 29 Oct 2018 21:30:01 +0100
From: Laurent Vigouroux <laurent.vigouroux at xxxxx>
To: Richard Hammersley <rhhammersley at xxxxx>,        <harp-l at xxxxx>
Subject: Re: [Harp-L] Harp-L Digest, Vol 182, Issue 20 Why don't harp
        players learn all the notes and music?
Message-ID: <2237DB0D-1F5F-4EF6-860A-32FD85B8050B at xxxxx>
Content-Type: text/plain;       charset="UTF-8"

Richard wrote:
"I do not think most people who play the guitar learn by obtaining all the notes and learning music either. Most semi-pro or better musicians eventually learn all the notes and the rest of music, but there are millions of us amateurs who do not necessarily. When I started the harmonica I chose it because I was not at all musical and it is relatively challenging to sound utterly hideous on harmonica when starting out (at least playing solo)."

You're right about guitar. I was comparing the harmonica more to sax, trumpet, etc ... as a solist instrument. I would bet that most sax and trumpet players know music theory.

Your point about the fact that the harmonica sound quite good very quickly is a very interesting point. It is indeed true!
The irony is that it is much more difficult aftern, when one tries to play more elaborated music. Our beloved instrument is full of contradictions!

Happy harpin'

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