Busking with the Harmonica

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JP Allen

By JP Allen

Check out Dave here from Charlottesville. He’s got a great groove going on, don’t you think? He’s got all the right gear here to go out and get some good experience, making a few bucks at the same time!

Dave’s got a great little amplified sound using a battery-powered amp. You could do the same.

Another option is to just get out there and play acoustically with just you, your harmonica, and a hat (so you can get paid for practicing).

Playing acoustically is really the simplest solution. If you choose this route, it may help to use a higher-frequency harmonica (e.g., keys of Db, D, Eb, E, F or F#), because they have a bit more volume.

If you choose to get some gear and put together an amplified setup, here’s a nice simple and economical option that will give you a solid and respectable harmonica tone (I don’t sell most of the gear below, but I’m sure you can track it down).

1. Battery-powered portable amp: The Pignose Legendary 7-100 does the job for a fair price.

2. Microphone: One of the mics I love is the Hohner 1490 Blues Blaster Mic with the volume knob.
Hohner Blues Blaster Mic

3. Digital delay pedal: The Danelectro DJ17 PB & J does a nice job for the price. It will add so much to your sound it’s totally worth it. You’ll be thrilled to discover that it’s one of the secrets to getting that Chicago blues sound.
Danelectro DJ17 PB and J

If the gear above seems too complicated, you’ll probably have the most fun by just upgrading your harmonica collection and getting some “high-frequency” harmonicas.

You can purchase a set of harps at a local music store, or I sell them here: http://www.harmonica.com/store/harmonica-hohner-special-20-Set-Of-7.php
hohner special 20 7-set

That’s basically the essentials, other than an iPod with some backing tracks.

Maybe pile everything into a milk crate, and then use the milk crate to sit on. And of course a collection hat — because you never know … “CHA-CHING!”

When playing live in the beginning, you’ll probably be happier if you keep it simple.

Remember, you want to be heard, but you don’t want to be overwhelming. You should aim to be heard within about a 30 – 40 foot radius. That’s where the people with coins will be.

Christelle Betheron from France is one of my favorites. With some practice you may be sounding like her one day!

Well, get your busking gear ready, and I’ll see you on the street.

Please send me your busking harmonica videos!!
Or any other busking tips?!?
I’d love to hear from you, so leave me a comment below.

Your harmonica buddy,
jp

(Article by contributing writers JP Allen & Joe Feeney)

Comments (28)

  • pierre philippe seyer

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    excellent j aimerais avoir cela dans les rues de PARIS perci

    Reply

  • Ted

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    If I get a tattoo on my arm, think I could play like that ?

    Reply

    • JP Allen

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      Maybe Ted! Would it be worth the pain to you if that’s what it took? I think taking lessons from me would be a more pleasant way to go ;-) jp

      Reply

  • ralph

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    way cool thank you i will have to try and gather some gear . have a most blessed holiday season .

    Reply

    • JP Allen

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      Yay! Do send me a video of your busking Ralph! jp

      Reply

  • R. Doc Ray

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    One word to the wise here, find out what the law is were you live!… I often pull out a harp & play as I’m waiting for the bus at the Va clinic, it has given a smile to those who truly need one & that’s worth more then a gold mine.

    Reply

    • JP Allen

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      Great Point!!! jp

      Reply

  • anthony paduano

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    Where does one purchase a portable amp?

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    • JP Allen

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      Hi Anthony, Try a local music store or a quick search on Google. jp

      Reply

  • Terry

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    JP, love it…. I think that’s one of those rare times we’ve seen a video with Christelle that she wasn’t wearing a hat. Love to listen to her play. She really has a knack for rythm and Blues.
    Shes got soul.

    Reply

    • JP Allen

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      I agree Terry, I could listen to her play all day long! jp

      Reply

  • Tony Stephens

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    This was cool. I do want to learn to play. I have played a few times at a thing called Pickin’ on the Square in Newna, Ga. It is good to play with others that play guitars, banjos, mandolins and bass. Good or bad, I was trying to play. I met a guy there that plays harmonica very good. He sad he plays by ear and he is never sure what notes he is playing, he just moves up and down the harp to do what he thinks is best. One other story, I work at a Home Depot, I had a friend bring a guitar one day and on lunch break we played 3 or 4 songs in parking lot. The first song we connected on. I do not what notes I was playing, I was just going with what I was feeling. It was a ton of fun. I am not where I want to be yet, but never plan to stop working at it. Thanks JP

    Reply

    • JP Allen

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      Thanks for sharing Tony! jp

      Reply

  • Bud

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    Another grat one from Christelle. Always worth the timke to listen.

    Reply

  • Wes

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    Hey, I love this. The music and most of all her courage.

    Reply

  • Fred Byron

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    Christelle Berthon is my favorite Harmonica virtuoso. Her melodious sound is distinctive in the unique manner that a virtuoso’s renditions are “stamped” as their own. Particularly, I admire Christelle’s vibrato and arpeggios which are crisp, clear, and individually “shaped”: oftentimes, Christelle will utilize her free hand and arm to help “shape” and round out the notes which are being emitted from her harp. Christelle has said in the past that she imagines “becoming” the Harmonica so that she can better “sing” through it. When there are lyrics involved in the song, she focuses on the words to be able to call up the emotions which she is transcribing into her playing of the Harp. Most importantly, Christelle has said that she does not use Harp tablature, nor read the linear lines of musical notation: what Christelle is noted for is that she plays the Harmonica “by ear.” I myself aspire to play with the unique sounds that Christelle is able to produce so effortlessly on the Harp. In a parallel manner to another French “busker,” the violin virtuoso Stephane Grapelli, Christelle has structured her playing along the lines of Mr. Grapelli’s genius. The violin technician, Yahudi Menuhin, could memorize an entire musical composition; but, when Mr. Menuhin played a duet with Stephane Grapelli, Mr. Grapelli “blew Menuhin out of the water” with his inspired improvisation of phrases. Interestingly, Mr. Grapelli, like Christelle Berthon, always played all of his renditions “by ear.”
    As well, Kenneth Bruce Gorelick, or Kenny G the great jazz saxophonist, is famous for his ability at “circular breathing” in order to sustain elongated notes on his saxophone; however, Christelle Berthon has perfected “circular breathing” to the point where she can uninterruptedly sustain a note for up to ten (10) minutes’ duration! Clearly, Ms. Christelle Berthon is my “beacon light” guiding me along the path of mastery over the Harmonica. Even the great Harmonicist, Mr. Howard Levy, sound overly “stiff” and “staid” on the diatonic Harmonica through Mr. Levy’s renditions. To really appreciate the depths of the human “voice” through the Harmonica’s capacity to mimic “crying'” “wailing,” “plaintiveness,” “joyousness,”
    “crescendos of emotionality,” “passion,” and the “nuances of the human condition” no one has greater capacity at commanding and controlling Harmonica mastery than Ms. Christelle Berthon. I have fallen in love with Christelle’s prowess with the Harmonica, as I increasingly find that I am falling in love with Ms. Christelle Berthon herself. — Fred Byron, or “Mr. Harmonicist”.

    Reply

    • JP Allen

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      Thank you for sharing your observations, I appreciate your sensitivity to the emotion and passion of these harmonica players….Christelle is most definitely a very sensual and passionate harmonica player and seems to embody the music she is playing….love her soulfullness!
      jp

      Reply

  • hiral raval

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    Hey jp i saw videos that has been played very-very nicely ……

    Reply

    • JP Allen

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      Cool Hiral. jp

      Reply

  • Sean McLaren

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    Hello JP,
    I purchesed your harp pkg a couple of yrs ago. I have worked through it & cont to go back to it for practice & always seem to learn smething new. I have an iPAD & cant use your CDs w/ it. Is there any way to download you CD pkg some how, like an app or something?

    Reply

  • Sean McLaren

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    Hello JP,
    I purchesed your harp pkg a couple of yrs ago. Is there any way to get your harp pkg downloaded to my iPAD?

    Reply

  • Bill Neil

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    I recognize the locations in both videos. The first was on the mall in down town Boulder, Co. and the 2nd was on the Denver Mall in downtown Denver. How do I know? Because I lived there for 40 years. I also know the area where Hal Walker lived, having lived in the metro Cleveland area for 20 years.
    I bought the Roland Micro Cube. It is powered by either ac or 4 AA batteries.
    I plug the mike into the port that is built for a guitar. I still get delay, reverb, flange and other effects when I play my Special 20s. I am the only person in the band who doesn’t read music. I am fortunate that after a few times of hearing a new tune, I am able to play it. The band cosists of 2 guitars and 12 dulcimers. This makes me the star because of my uniqueness.

    Reply

  • Palani

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    Hey,J.P., I have been playing Harp for 7 years. I accompany myself on Baritone Uke. Do you think the French Quarter in New Orleans is a good place to busk? What do you think about busking in Hanalei or elsewhere in Kauai? Much obliged! Palani.

    Reply

    • JP Allen

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      Hey Palani, I’m not familiar with the scene in New Orleans but I wouldn’t recommend busking in Kauai. jp

      Reply

  • Rick

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    Very nice to hear as I have my morning coffee, thanx

    Reply

    • JP Allen

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      Happy to hear you enjoyed Rick. jp

      Reply

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