By David Barrett
This month we’ll dig into the Power Licks section of my newly released book with Mel Bay Publications Rock Harmonica (MB21979BCD).
The guitarist on the following recordings is John Garcia. John is a master of the extended solo—he can easily wow the crowd for twenty choruses. Not only does he own a huge vocabulary of licks, he’s also very adept at scale combinations and arpeggios at lightning speed. My playing, on the other hand, has become more and more classic in nature over the years. In my teens my focus was on playing fast and extended runs that traversed the entire range of the harmonica; but that has given way to an emphasis on tone and repetitive phrasing influenced by jump and swing blues—very much in the vein of Little Walter, George “Harmonica” Smith and those that followed in their footsteps. Speed is no longer my strength—it could be, with focused practice, but it just isn’t my cup of tea any more.
So… how does this classic blues harmonica player take a solo after John Garcia? The obvious choice is the approach of intensity. Fast runs are intense and powerful—but so are heavy textures and an intense vibrato. This approach is also a hugely important tool for Rock harmonica players. Not only do Rock players focus on speed and bluesy notes, they focus on thick, powerfully presented licks!
The first step in the pursuit of intensity is to realize that the harmonica’s greatest strength is in its ability to present a note in so many different textures. This is the key: texture. Let’s take the simple lick below as an example.
Ex. 5.1 – Basic Lick (MP3 Example 1 – C Harmonica)
A shake is always a good option for adding texture.
Ex. 5.2 – As a Shake
Let’s now make it more powerful by adding a little bit of the upper hole—in this case the 5 draw. The more of the 5 draw you add, the nastier it gets!
Ex. 5.3 – With 5 Draw
Let’s now add vibrato.
Ex. 5.4 – With Vibrato
The 3 draw can also be bent down a half step to fit within the blues scale and make it more bluesy.
Ex. 5.5 – With 3’ (MP3 Example 2)
Let’s make the 3’ thicker by adding a little bit of the 4 draw.
Ex. 5.6 – 3’ with 4’
Let’s now open our cupped hands on the 4 draw to change its tone.
Ex. 5.7 – Opening Cup
And now let’s make it even bigger sounding by rhythmically (slower than your vibrato) opening and closing your cup to create what I call a double vibrato.
Ex. 5.8 – Opening Cup
Listening to our starting example (Ex. 5.1) and final version (Ex. 5.8), you’ll hear a huge difference in the presentation—and impact—of this lick. Let’s now take a lick that can benefit from the textural presentations tongue blocking has to offer. Teaching tongue blocking is not the focus of this book, but it is necessary to mention it here. Here’s our basic lick.
Ex. 5.9 – Basic Lick (MP3 Example 3 – A Harmonica)
Let’s now slap each note. This is where your lips are over four holes and your tongue blocks the holes to the left, leaving the right-most hole open. Each note starts with your tongue off (sounding the chord) as a type of pickup and slaps down (with a light touch) for the single note. Each note has this chord-to-single- note approach.
Ex. 5.10 – With Slaps
Let’s now play the last note as a flutter tongue. This is basically a slap, but many times over. It’s the alternation of tongue-on (single note) and tongue-off (chord) that gives the flutter tongue its signature pulsating sound.
Ex. 5.11 – With Flutter
If we add a little bit of the 6 draw to your flutter it gets even bigger!
Ex. 5.12 – With Flutter and 6 Bleed
Though not exclusively a tongue block technique, the shake sounds great here as well.
Ex. 5.13 – With Shake
It’s hard to deny that the harmonica is amazing in its ability to change the presentation of a passage. Below are some more POWER LICKS to add to your vocabulary. The previous lick could have also used octaves. Our first two examples demonstrate the power of octaves.
Ex. 5.14 (MP3 Example 4)
Ex. 5.16 – C Harmonica
If you enjoyed this material, then check out the entire book Rock Harmonica (MB21979BCD) at http://www.melbay.com/product.asp?ProductID=21979BCDEB
About the Author David Barrett