Mel Bay presents Basic Blues Harmonica Method: Level 1, Complete Blues Harmonica Lesson Series
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This is the companion video to the Basic Blues Harmonica Method (book/cd set sold separately as item 99103BCD). As many techniques are much better demonstrated in video format, you will find this video to be a great learning tool. With large charts, diagrams, and many playing examples, nothing is left to the imagination.
About the Actor
David Barrett is the world's most published author of the blues harmonica. Having played saxophone and trumpet for many years David already had a solid musical platform when he started to play the harmonica at age fourteen. By age sixteen he was already playing blues jam sessions and harmonica shows in the California bay area. By age eighteen he was studying music theory in college and started teaching harmonica at local music institutes. By age twenty he released his first book, Building Harmonica Technique, with Mel Bay Publications. While finishing his degree in music he had the opportunity to take over a local music store that helped spur the beginning of the Harmonica Masterclass Workshop. David now runs the Harmonica Masterclass Company full time, bringing lesson books, lesson videos, private instruction, and workshops to players all around the world.
David has worked and played with Charlie Musselwhite, Mark Hummel, Lee Oskar, Rod Piazza, James Harman, Gary Smith, Andy Just, Mark Ford, Billy Boy Arnold, Rick Estrin, Paul deLay, Jerry Portnoy, Gary Primich, Howard Levy, Magic Dick, Tom Ball, Annie Raines, Paul Oscher, Phil Wiggins, and Brendan Power. He now fronts his own band featuring John Garcia on guitar and vocals.
David is the owner of the Harmonica Masterclass Company, that specializes in harmonica products and workshops for blues harmonica. His last workshop had twenty-six states and eight countries represented in attendance. Through his numerous instructional books and videos, David is revolutionizing the way the harmonica is taught.
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You'll be pleasantly surprised when you've learned this material and move on to the Building Harmonica Technique DVDs 1 & 2 and 3 & 4. The screen image quality on those two dvds is sharp and clear - as image quality should be with the dvd format.
1. Basic Blues Harminica Method (book + CD)
2. Blues Harmonica Jam Tracks & Soloing Concepts #1 (book + CD)
3. Basic Blues Harmonica Method (DVD)
It's best that you get all three at once although Amazon sells the pieces of the package individually. In addition, anyone who is really serious should consider getting the Level II DVD titled Building Harmonica Technique Volumes 1& 2. This DVD is divided into two videos that average a bit more than an hour each. The first of these videos covers techniques like tongue blocking that are part of this manual but not the Level 1 DVD.
I started with the Level 1 DVD. This was an easy way to get into things. Then I started working with the techniques described in this book. In the middle of that, I backfilled with the material covered in the jam tracks manual and also checked out the Level 2DVD, part 1. This proved to be a fairly effective strategy.
This particular manual has 36 pages of explanations and exercises organized into eight sections:
1. Harmonica notation
2. Rhythm training
3. Holding the Harmonica
4. Embouchure (what you do with your lips)
5. Getting started (some basic exercises)
6. Second position*
7. Third position*
8. Tongue blocking*
* This is the core of the manual where the meaty work on blues techniques begins.
Don't expect to speedread this. When I say the manual is tightly constructed, I mean that just about every word and notation is important in some significant way even though you may not realize it immediately. This manual requires serious, slow, and methodical study.
It will also be very difficult for someone to read this material and work out the exercises without further support. This is where the CD comes in, and the CD is a real your de force. It contains 48 tracks. Some of these tracks are Dave explaining things also in the text (which is actually very welcome). Most of the tracks, however, present the exercises. And when I started using the manual and the CD together, I found that Dave's instructional approach was a model in how to teach a complicated subject by breaking it down into manageable bits and walking the user step by step into a mastery of the blues harp.
The CD was a real godsend when I realized that I could set my player to repeat specific tracks covering exercises. After 10 repetitions, the light started to dawn as the exercises seeped down to my DNA level. This repetition made it much easier to practice playing. The CD is also something that you can simply play in the car or on a plane, making the learning an even more immersive experience.
There are no particular prerequisites for these lessons other than a serious interest in the harp. In this regard, though, I have a couple of points:
1. The manual's focus is on the Chicago style of blues harp. However, a solid foundation in this should serve well for other blues styles as well as for rock, folk, and country. A more synoptic look at a range of styles is in Harmonica For Dummies, which is written by someone who also teaches in the Harmonic Masterclass series of personal lessons.
2. Some rudimentary knowledge of music theory will be helpful. Or a working knowledge of guitar techniques.
3. If you don't already have a C major 10-holer, best to get one now. Suggestions: Hohner Special 20, Lee Oskar, Seydel Blues Soloist Pro, Suzuki Manji or Promaster. The last three are pricier. Avoid the Hohner Marine Band (wood comb + moisture = trouble) and Golden Melody (too curvy to start with).
4. I haven't finished working through Level 1 yet but expect it to take me a solid two to three months of work. Others might be faster, but speed isn't necessarily a good thing in this case. Expect to practice hard. Otherwise the work that has gone into this manual will be wasted.
5. If you don't already have CD's for the great bluesmen on the harp, best to start stocking up. Little Walter, James Cotton (my favorite), Paul Butterfield, Sonny Boy Wilkiamson I and II, etc. When you aren't practicing, you ought to be listening. Otherwise, you probably won't understand why you're practicing.
I highly recommend the Level 1 products. And by the way, Dave Barrett has recently opened up a Blues Harmonica instructional web site that uses a subscription pricing model ($17 per month). While I haven't tried this yet, serious users should probably take a look at that as another possibility.