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Harmonica Lessons: Accompanying An Acoustic Guitar

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So, if you're a harmonica player,
and this is the instrument you play.
And you're playing with just an acoustic
guitarist let's say, just as a duo.
Maybe you might be a singer
who's playing harmonica.
How do you accompany the guitar player?
Cuz they're usually accompanying you.
They're playing the cords,
they're playing bass lines and
all sorts of stuff but sometimes, they
might wanna take a solo or stretch out.
And so, if they're doing like a finger
style thing, where they're keeping
the rhythm going with finger picking, you
might just wanna sit on some long chords.
If they're playing something,
like I'm playing the piano here, let's say
If they're just doing that,
you might wanna go
Just almost like pretend you're
a string section or an organ player.
And then, sometimes,
you might just wanna go
with a little hand action, and
sometimes back off the mic.
One of the challenges of our instrument
is that we're so soft that we tend to get
really close up on the mic when we play
because sometimes we can't hear ourselves.
But when you're accompanying somebody,
if you're just playing on a mic
on a stand, back off the mic and
you're just in the background,
you're just a little texture like that.
Or if you're playing blues
like with a handheld mic,
you just have to learn how to
play softer or take that mic,
here's the mic, and
instead of grabbing on to it real tight,
loosen your grip on the mic so
there's some air around it.
Or if you have a volume control knob,
learn how to turn that volume control
knob down while you're playing.
Or sometimes, you might wanna
provide a rhythmic basis for
a guitar player to play a solo.
If he's playing a blues solo, let's say.
I just have a C harp,
he's playing a blues in G,
you might wanna start comping
The thing that's the most important
there is your time has to be rock solid.
You're like a drummer when you're
comping for someone else's solo.
You have to stay totally focused.
It's a good thing to look at
the person you're playing with.
That way the audience knows that you're
really playing with this person and
their attention is drawn to
the person who is playing the solo.
If you just stare at the audience and go
they'll think
they are supposed to be
listening to you and
they'll pay [LAUGH] more attention to
you than they will to the guitar player.
So, it's important to visually direct the
audience's attention to the thing that's
happening that's most
important thing on stage.
Whether it's a duo or a band, if you're
leading a band as a harmonica player,
you should turn toward the person
who's being featured at that moment,
whether its a drummer,
a bass player, whoever.
And a lot of times, I have to say,
like when I am leading a band from the
harmonica, at the end of someone's solo,
if they play something really great,
I'll say their name and
do something for the audience like,
hey, this was Chris Seabald.
Chris Seabald!
And then, they'll all cheer.
And it's something that
really adds to a show,
when you give it up on stage for
the people that you're playing with.
So, there's a lot of
aspects of accompanying.
So, there's the chordal stuff
and then the rhythmic stuff
And then, if it's a rock thing,
suppose you're playing a minor key thing,
you have to find the right
harmonica that will play the chord.
For example, D minor is what's called
third position on the harmonica.
So, you can play
Now, the only problem with
that is it's kinda high.
So, Hohner makes a type of
harmonica called the Thunderbird
which are harmonicas
that are an octave lower.
So, you can play that D minor
and that starts to sound like something.
So, depending on what key the music's in,
you might wanna pick a lower
harmonica if you're gonna be doing comping
because it'll match what's missing.
If you're playing just as a duo with
a guitarist, then he's got all that range.
And it's hard for
you to be believable going
[LAUGH] on the pipsqueak C harmonica.
But much easier for
you to sound believable
on something like a Thunderbird
that has some actual weight to it.
And also with harmonicas, like I said,
you have to be aware of the microphone.
So, a lower instrument that's softer,
it's better to lean into the mic and
not play so loud
And you'll actually have more impact
on the overall sound this way.
It's important to listen to the room.
There's so many angles to this.
We've become overly dependent
on monitor speakers.
So, one of the things that I really like
to do is not have my monitor speakers too
loud, not have too much of myself.
If I have the least amount possible,
put myself in the monitor so
that I'm comfortable.
And that way, I can kinda throw
my ears off into the room, and
hear what the balance
is in the actual room.
And this is something
that a lot of players
don't really realize is
that you can play the room.
You're supposed to be playing in a room.
You're playing the room, and you should
be aware of the sound in the room.