Harmonica players spend years perfecting their soloing chops, but often neglect developing strong rhythm skills. Of course, you don’t often hear people say about harmonica players “man, that cat plays some incredible rhythm!” – although I’ve said that many times about Peter Madcat Ruth.
However, unless you’re fronting your own band, you’re going to be spending most of your time playing rhythm and if you can play a strong rhythm, you will be contributing to the band 100 percent of the time.
In the video below JP shows you a draw/blow pattern that will get you off to a great start on playing rhythm harmonica.
If you want to develop solid rhythm skills, Beginner lessons will get you off to a strong start. If you’re interested. https://www.harmonica.com/lessons
If you’re playing bluegrass, versatile rhythm skills will earn you – and your instrument – considerable cred.
When you chord, you are playing three notes at a time and you will need to maximize your lung power. Stand up straight. Don’t try to blow and suck air, just breathe and relax your embouchure as much as possible. You’ll especially want your mouth and throat relaxed to maximize tone.
Start with the 2-3-4 draw chord on a C harmonica. Breathe in as long as you can. That’s a G chord. Once your lungs are filled to capacity breathe out and sound the blow chord. That’s a C chord. Click your tongue against the roof of your mouth to stop the flow of air. With your clicking tongue, establish a beat.
When your lungs fill, breathe out until they are empty. Repeat.
When you play rhythm, the song might stay in that draw chord for some time. So, you will need to learn how to dump air – something I learned from watching 48 chord harmonica players.
Now try playing that G chord again, just like before. However, just before your lungs fill to capacity, drop your lower jaw – and blow out some of your air below the harmonica. Make sure you drop your jaw far enough so that the blow reeds don’t sound. This should be done quietly. You don’t have to empty your lungs completely, just make a little room so you can draw in more air. I breathe out between beats (and so do the 48 chord players), but it took me a few years to master that. You can simply breathe out for one beat every measure.
Here’s where you can find the chords. The corresponding chords in the key of G are in parenthesis. You don’t actually have the V and VI chords on the harmonica, but what you see below will work:
I chord (G): 2-3-4 draw.
I 7th chord (G7): 2-3-4-5 draw.
IV chord (C): 1-2-3 blow (or any three blow notes).
V chord (D): 1-4 draw tongue-block octave.
VI chord (Em): 2-3 blow.
Like I said above, you don’t have a full V or VI chord on the harmonica. However, they are very easy to find… on another harmonica. You don’t have to memorize any more tables to find those chords, either. For the V chord, you’ll need the same harmonica you would use if you were playing straight harp in that key. If you are playing in the key of G, play the 2-3-4 draw on a G harmonica for your V chord. It’s that simple.
When I’m playing in a group, I usually play with two harmonicas in my hands so I can get all the chords I need for rhythm. It might seem cumbersome at first, but it doesn’t take long for switching harmonicas as you change chords to become second nature.
I hold my cross-harp harmonica as I normally would in my left hand between my thumb and index finger and the second harmonica between my index and middle fingers. When it is time to chop the V chord, I simply turn my wrist slightly and the second harmonica is exactly where it needs to be. The I chord and V chord are in the same place (2-3-4 draw) only on different harmonicas.
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Article by David Payne
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