Fall Global Blues Harmonica Summit

Photo by Mark Seton. Licensed under Creative Commons.

So I missed the first Global Blues Harmonica Summit, which happened back in August. It was my father’s birthday and he was in town, so attending an all-day online harmonica workshop wouldn’t have been the best choice to make (y’know, unless my goal was to piss off the family).

Back about a month or so ago, I bought the GBHS package so I could watch the recordings (still haven’t watched them). While making that purchase, I spotted a note saying this wouldn’t be possible for the Fall GBHS, so I jumped at it, plunked down my US$45 and made plans to attend it in November.

The Fall GBHS took place on Saturday, November 11. Again, not the most ideal of days, as I should have made an effort to attend the Remembrance Day ceremony, but hopefully the Royal Canadian Legion will forgive me.

The summit was quite well done. The trio of instructors and their chief of technology (for the day) kicked things off at 10:00 am MT with a little playing, a little discussion about the summit and a mention about the next one (March 2018). Then each conducted their hour-long sessions. They wrapped things up with a full-on Q&A session that took the summit about 30 minutes over time.

Instructor and harmonica customizer Richard Sleigh started things off with a session on scales and positions. Now, most blues is played in second position (or cross-harp).

For those who have no idea what I’m talking about, the diatonic harmonica is … well … diatonic, in that it is designed to be played in a particular key (C is the most common one for starting harmonica players). However, with bending and overblows, a harmonica can be played in all 12 keys. These are called positions.

If you’re playing a C harmonica in the key of C, you’re playing in first position. If you play in second position, which puts the blue notes on draw bends, then you’re playing a C harmonica in the key of G.

The only reason I explain this is because Richard does things a little differently. He plays in fifth position; so on a C harmonica, he’s playing in the key of E. And his session focused on playing in fifth — well, specifically, learning the scale in fifth, practising the scale and then using it for improvisation.

As the instructors noted throughout, learning the scales will make improvisation make sense.

After a short break, Ronnie Shellist stepped up to talk about tone. The technical discussion pushed me to go back to some of my YouTube videos and note a few things that would improve my tone. As a harp player, I have a tendency to hunch up — instead of relaxing — my upper body. When your body is relaxed, it will give off much better tone. Definitely important for a musician.

As Ronnie noted at the beginning of his session, the first thing anybody notices about any musician’s playing is their tone. Good point.

Another break and Dennis Gruenling (aka Count Chromatic) finished off the general sessions with instruction on tongue blocking. This is a technique that I make very little use of. I use it in a certain fox chase rhythm, but for single notes, I prefer to use the more common puckering technique. It just works for me.

There are some good reasons for tongue blocking, and Dennis showed off what can be done. It’s a cool technique for certain types of songs, but I don’t think I’ll end up being a regular tongue blocker (something about that sounds kinda wrong, eh?)

The Q&A session was all over the board regarding blues harmonica and different playing techniques. Because of all the questions, the summit went a little long (nearly half an hour over time). Nobody minded, of course, but I think we were running out of time on Adobe Delve. When Ronnie, Richard and Dennis wrapped things up, there were still several lingering questions, which they planned to answer in written format sometime after the summit.

That’s the Fall GBHS in a nutshell. Ronnie announced there would be three a year going forward. The next one is being planned for March 2018. I’m pretty sure I’ll be attending.

Categorised in: Blues Harmonica, Music

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