Whether you're playing the harp in a blues band, a country setting, or complementing a singer-songwriter performance, the vocal-like quality of a wailing harmonica solo never fails to grab the spotlight and command the audience’s attention.
Steven Troch’s Harmonica Styles Guidebook thoroughly examines the techniques and stylings of eight iconic harmonica players: Sonny Boy Williamson II, Bob Dylan, George Harmonica Smith, Jimmy Reed, Charlie McCoy, Big Walter Horton, Sonny Terry, and Little Walter.
An accomplished vocalist, songwriter and monster harmonica player, Steve Troch leads the Steven Troch Band, which is widely acclaimed as "one of the finest bands playing some of the best contemporary and vintage style blues you will hear in Europe today.” We're thrilled to welcome Steve to the family with his first TrueFire course, the Harmonica Styles Guidebook!
”We’ll play our way through a series of lessons unraveling the approaches of eight legends of harmonica. Six of these players are blues players like Big Walter Horton, the electrifying Little Walter, with his saxophone like phrasing; Harmonica Wizard Sonny Terry, with his rhythmic whoopin; George Harmonica Smith, using tongue splits to create an organ-like sound; Jimmy Reed with his piercing high notes; and Sonny Boy Williamson II playing low down and dirty. But we'll also dig into the beautiful melodic country style of Charlie McCoy. And last but not least the oh so effective playing of Bob Dylan.
Phrasing, sense of timing, how to use octave playing and harmony splits, thrills and shakes and bending in the higher register. All these concepts will be discussed and demonstrated ad we play our way through the course.”
For each series of lessons, Steve will demonstrate all of the harmonica performances standalone, and then again along with the accompanying guitar part. Learn the harp parts or learn the guitar, or learn them both! Plus, both the harmonica parts AND the guitar parts are tabbed out. Along the way, Steve will also dig deep into six key harmonica concepts and techniques.
Sonny Boy Williamson II ”We'll do a song in the style of Rice Miller, aka Sonny Boy II. SB2 stole his name from well-known harmonica player John Lee "Sonny Boy" Williamson. He just took the name Sonny Boy to give his career a boost. Nowadays, it would be called identity theft. Because of the many lies, Sonny Boy told, his early life is clouded in mystery. But, what we do know is that Sonny Boy II wrote some classic blues songs with witty lyrics and his harmonica playing is outstanding. He plays with a rich tone and has a great sense of rhythm and phrasing. Some of the licks we're going to use are similar to the ones sonny boy played on a song called 99.”
Bob Dylan ”Bob Dylan is not considered one of the great harmonica-players, but his harmonica is perfectly effective. Bob played in much the same style as Woody Guthrie, with the harmonica used as a form of "rough coloring" to his songs. It doesn't have to sound sophisticated, but with a little understanding of the techniques he used, you'll be able to play the harmonica to great effect. We'll also be looking at using a neck rack, as Bob Dylan is one of the people who in the sixties popularized the idea.”
Neck Racks - Concept 1 ”In this lesson, we'll look at neck racks, also known as harmonica holders. They gained popularity around Bob Dylan's time, but they've been around since the end of the 19th century.”
George Harmonica Smith ”George "Harmonica" Smith moved to the West Coast in the late 1960s and became a mentor to many of the next generations of blues musicians. He's the father of the West Coast harmonica style.
West Coast blues is a type of blues-influenced by jazz and jump blues, and to create a jazzier feeling, George Smith would often play horn section lines. To create that effect, he used the "tongue split" or octave split techniques. Smith used it a lot diatonically (as well as chromatically) and it really was a big part of his style and sound. A lot of players from the West Coast adopted Smith's style such as Rod Piazza, William Clarke, Mark Hummel and Dennis Gruenling (who's from the East Coast).”
Tongue Splits - Concept 2 ”The tongue split technique allows you to play two different notes on each side of the mouth.”
Jimmy Reed ”Here we're gonna do a song in the Jimmy Reed style. Jimmy Reed ranks as one of the most popular bluesmen of the 20th century. The success of Jimmy Reed was his lazy vocals and squeaky harmonica solos. Reed's screaming high-notes on the harmonica worked really great with his bassy guitar.
"Less is more" is a concept Reed fully understood. He makes the space between the notes at least as important as the notes themselves. He was famous for his first position playing, done mostly in a rack. Simple and very effective. Let's try something in his style.”
Blow Bending - Concept 3 ”Blow bending is a great technique to use when playing the first position, especially with high notes.”
Charlie McCoy ”McCoy stands as one of the most recorded harmonica players in history. You can hear Charlie McCoy's harmonica on records of Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Roy Orbison, Dolly Parton, Paul Simon...the list goes on. Charlie is known for his clean melodic lines. The speed and finesse with which Charlie executes his licks continue to amaze everyone. Just listen to his "Orange Blossom Special". But, we're not gonna focus on speed playing. As a blues player, I'm not that skilled in playing the really fast licks you'll hear in country, bluegrass or Irish folk. We're gonna focus on how to play melodically on the harmonica, so get ready for a trip down melody lane.”
Major Pentatonic - Concept 4 ”Country music tends to use more of a major tonality, and thus uses the major pentatonic scale a lot more than blues.”
Big Walter Horton ”Big Walter Horton: the King of Tone. Big Walter Horton, also known as Shakey Walter Horton, is one of the most influential blues harmonica players of all time. He's an early master at creating stunning amplified tonal effects. He isn't as widely known as Little Walter or Sonny Boy Williamson II, but Big Walter has been very influential. His style was very unique: a full-throated horn-like tone, playful single-note lines, fluid phrasing, and an extraordinary sense of space. Big Walter was a masterful sideman and you can hear his work on sides by Muddy Waters, Jimmy Rogers, Otis Rush, Johnny Shines, Tampa Red, and many others. Big Walter was an excellent tongue blocker, and he used tongue blocking most of the time.”
Tongue Blocking - Concept 5 ”Let's play a walking bass line in a 12-bar blues progression, using tongue blocking.”
Sonny Terry ”Sonny Terry was a giant of the blues - one of the best known and most influential of all blues harmonica players. Terry had a unique sound, a very expressive combination of rhythm and melody. He vocalized through the harmonica and punctuated his playing with shrill whoops. His 50-year career took him from Carolina street corners to concert stages worldwide. With his longtime partner, guitarist Brownie McGhee, Terry was a key figure in integrating blues into the folk music scene. They were among the first bluesmen to reach a national and international audience, many of whom had never heard the blues before.”
Rhythm Playing - Concept 6 ”When we play rhythms, we use breathing patterns. It's very important to use syllables when we do so.”
Little Walter ”Little Walter almost single-handedly fashioned the approach for blues harmonica. His style has become the standard and virtually every blues harmonica player has been influenced by him. In 1952, when he was only 22 years old, he cut the classic "Juke". His electrified swinging style totally changed the game, and "Juke" made it to No. 1 on the R&B charts. Walter's saxophone-like phrasing combined with his creativity and amplification took the harmonica to a whole new level. Little Walter dominated the Chicago blues scene in the 1950s and many of his songs became classics. Walter died in 1968 after a vicious fight, but his legacy goes on!”
Steve will explain and demonstrate all of the key concepts and approaches along the way. You’ll get standard notation and tabs for the guitar parts, PLUS you’ll get harmonica tab for the harmonica performances. You’ll be able to use TrueFire’s learning tools to sync the tab and notation to the video and can also loop or slow down the videos to work with the lessons at your own pace. All the backing tracks are included to work with on your own as well.
Grab your harp and guitar and let’s dig in with Steven Troch!