Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Rock Harmonica Lesson 1: Rock for the Blues Harmonica Player

What is Rock Harmonica?

          At its most basic, rock harmonica can be described as an aggressive style of blues harmonica over chord progressions or rhythms generally not associated with blues harmonica.  It tends to expand the scales and note choices of a harmonica player relative to blues harmonica, and can either sound dark and minor or bright and major (or in between like blues music!). 

Phrasing is also different due to differences in the rhythm of the music – blues swings, and rock is generally played straight.  Rock harmonica players also tend to phrase more like a guitar, vocalist, keyboard player, or horn player. 

While both blues and rock harmonica can rely on “riffs”, their application can be different.  For example, blues players often combine riffs to create solos over a 12 bar blues progression.  In rock playing, riffs are frequently used as tags or hooks to a song, just like what a guitar player does, and soloing relies more on improvised melodies with embellishments.  These embellishments often create phrases that use more notes than blues phrasing.  They are also considered to be flashier and/or faster than blues playing.

The lesson material presented assume a few things.  

1.) You can already play and improvise in 2nd position over common blues progression, even if it is poorly.
2.) You can navigate the blues scale in 2nd position from at least holes 1-6.
3.) You understand the differences between Major, minor, and Dominant 7 chords to some extent.
4.) You have at least heard of modes and how they relate to harmonica - even if you don't really get it.

The first concept we will look at is simply note choice.  Coming from the world of harmonica blues, you should be familiar with a few basic concepts of harmonica and music theory.  Namely, the blues scale.

The blues scale in 2nd position, most commonly described as 2 3' 4+ 4' 4 5 6+, will work over most major and minor rock songs just as well as it does over the Dominant 7 chords that generally make up a standard I IV V blues progression.  Without belaboring theory right now, let's simply look at additions to that scale that are commonly played over rock that would immediately work over BLUES songs you already can play.  This will add a rock flavor to blues arrangements similar in style to guys like Charlie Musselwhite, Kim Wilson, Jason Ricci, Pat Ramsey, Paul Butterfield, Magic Dick, etc.

Instead of thinking in terms of the blues scale, try the Mixolydian mode, which looks like this:

2 3" 3 4+ 4 5+ 5 6+

While this won't sound real "bluesy", it will give you a different sound that will work great over the D7 chords commonly found in blues.  It is also the bread and butter scale for learning to rock out!

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