14 Free Blues Harmonica Lessons

14 Free Blues Harmonica Lessons

These 14 free guitar lessons are from Annie Raines’ Blues Harmonica Blueprint, the definitive learning system for blues harmonica. Over two years in the making, with hundreds of hours dedicated just to the visual notation guides and animations, the Blues Harmonica Blueprint and its interactive video format sets a new standard for harmonica instruction. The course drills deeper and wider than any blues harmonica course ever published, but more importantly, its effectiveness as a teaching system is unprecedented — finally, you will clearly see, hear and understand the ins and outs of blues harmonica.

Raines delivers the instructional goods in what is likely the most comprehensive work of its kind. Yet, the material is presented in such a clear and concise manner that you will fly through the syllabus thoroughly enjoying its hands-on play-along interactive approach.

Blues Harmonica Blueprint Lesson #2: Orientation

Download the tab & notation for this blues harmonica lesson.

If you are already comfortable with the basics of harmonica playing, feel free to skip over the beginner lessons, but I recommend you watch this segment for an explanation of the “Time-Dot” tab, and the segment titled “The Layout” so you’ll be familiar with the visual systems we’ll be using at various points throughout the course. And if you’re not familiar with music theory, don’t worry. Some of the greatest blues harp players of all time couldn’t read music. There’s a little theory here and there to help you get familiar with basic terms.

About the tab: The tab borrows from the SuperTAB font created and developed by Steve Jennings and Pat Missin. There is no uniform standard of notation for harmonica. Some people use letters or up and down arrows to denote blow and draw notes. I prefer to use plain numbers for blow notes and circled numbers for draw, saving the arrows for actions relating to bending and other effects. In developing this tab I have tried to pay attention to nuance while keeping it simple and visually intuitive. I came up with the “Time-dot” system so you can see the music the same way you hear it: with a beat.

Blues Harmonica Blueprint Lesson #3: Anatomy Lesson

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The modern harmonica is thought to have been invented in Germany in the mid-1800s. The term “harp” comes from an earlier incarnation of the harmonica called an aeolian, or wind-harp. Here’s a deconstructed harmonica so you can see the inner workings.

Blues Harmonica Blueprint Lesson #4: Holding

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There is more than one way to hold a harp. I hold it in my left hand (with the numbers on the top) to create a cup around the low notes where most of the shaping goes on. Many of my left-handed students prefer to hold the harp in their right hand, freeing their dominant left to move and create the “speechifying” effects. In order to maintain a cup shape around the low notes, some of the great left-handed players also played the harp upside-down with the numbers on the bottom.

Blues Harmonica Blueprint Lesson #5: Breathing

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This is reminiscent of the Dovells’ 1963 hit, “You Can’t Sit Down.” The exercise is performed here in the classic “2 shorts and a long” structure, so you get a chance to syncopate the 2nd inhale on each of the first two measures, then lock in with the beat on the long version until you get to the final, syncopated draw chord.

Blues Harmonica Blueprint Lesson #6: Phonetics

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This is very similar to the in-out-in-rest; we’re still going to breathe in, out, and in, but this time we’re going to come in ahead of the first beat and end the phrase on the third downbeat. We’re also going to double up on a couple of chords and use phonetics to sharpen up the rhythm. You use phonetics constantly when you speak, but ordinarily you only talk when you’re breathing out. Hitting “t’s” and “k’s” while breathing in takes a little retraining but it will pay dividends in sharp chord rhythms and rich, bell-toned bends.

The most important part of the breathing in this exercise is when you’re not playing at all. A short inhale/exhale on the rest will keep you in the groove between phrases.

Blues Harmonica Blueprint Lesson #7: John Lee Boogie

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John Lee Hooker made this ultra-syncopated groove part of the American musical lexicon. I don’t know if everyone who has used it has had a hit record, but Hooker (“Boogie Chillen”), along with Norman Greenbaum (“Spirit in the Sky”) and even Shania Twain (“Man, I Feel Like a Woman”) have banked on it and reaped the profits. It’s also really fun to play.

Here are the variations in this exercise:
Luk-duk-duk 2x
Luk-duk-duk-duk-duk
Luk-duk-duk-duk-duk-duk
Ull-Luk-duk-duk-duk-daaa-duk (anticipate & hold)
Hands
Luk-duk-duk-duk-duk-duk-duk and combine with “I’m a Person riff” (Ah-ha-a-duk)
Finish w/Luk-duk-duk.”

Blues Harmonica Blueprint Lesson #8: Ta Ta Tern

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Made popular by Sonny Boy II on Marine Band 365 (larger and pitched an octave lower than the standard Marine Band harp). This piece alternates a simple 5-note riff with a simple chordal rhythm and shows you how just a couple of basic ideas constitute a danceable blues song!

Blues Harmonica Blueprint Lesson #9: Cross Harp

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Here’s a major 6th arpeggio in Cross Harp; the 1st, 3rd, 5th and 6th degrees of the scale or 2d/3b, 3d, 4d, 5b. This chord skeleton is the exact same thing you hear in a Boogie Woogie bassline.

Blues Harmonica Blueprint Lesson #10: Basic Blues Scale

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This is a very simple blues scale with a scary name: Mixolydian Pentatonic. The scale degrees are 1, 3, 4, 5, flat 7th. When it really starts to sound like a blues scale is when we play it going back down, starting on 6 blow, then 5 draw, 4 draw, 4 blow, 3 draw, and we’ll land on the 3 blow. Most phrases in blues songs resolve down, not up.

Blues Harmonica Blueprint Lesson #11: Home of the Tigers

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This is the first song I ever wrote on the harmonica, and it started out as an exercise to use some of the things I’d been learning from Jon Gindick’s Harmonica for the Musically Hopeless. Jon is an expert at defining things in the simplest, most communicative terms, like the “up riff” (3b 3d 4b 4d), and the “down riff” (4d 4b 3d 3b). We’ll be using those as well as a major 6 arpeggio and a few time tricks with the pentatonic scale.

Blues Harmonica Blueprint Lesson #12: Bending Secrets

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Just a sampling of the “weird science” that goes into the harmonica.

Blues Harmonica Blueprint Lesson #13: Creating Sounds

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In the second half of the video, we’ll do more exercises to improve bending fluency and learn tongue-blocking and tremolo/vibrato. These 2 techniques will allow you to create an infinite variety of timing and sound effects and enrich your tone. Although these are considered intermediate to advanced techniques, you can learn them at any level and apply them to the songs you know.

Blues Harmonica Blueprint Lesson #14: Shuffle Rhythm

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Here’s the shuffle rhythm again – this time we’ll be playing over a 12 bar blues, always landing on the root note of the chord on the first beat of each measure. We’re also adding a variation with a 2 draw whole step bend. Up to this point we’ve been going into bends from draw notes or chords. This time we’re going to get there from a blow chord, so you’ll be using that blow chord to get in position for the bend. It can help to isolate a 2- or 3-note section and practice that transition before working it back into the rhythm pattern.

Dig these Blues Harmonica Blueprint lessons? Download Annie Raines’ Blues Harmonica Blueprint for much more including tab, notation, and jam tracks!