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There is a lot more to the "simple" diatonic harmonica than meets the eye!  This reference attempts to address the spectrum of information on the diatonic harmonica, from the simple and obvious to the complex and difficult.  There are a lot of books out there that try to teach you how to play the harmonica in a step by step fashion (see the Recommended Instruction Material).  This reference is not one of them, though I hope it makes a good supplement for any course of instruction on the diatonic harp.

This reference is most suited for someone willing to set their own course of instruction, and pick their own music (though a basic blues song called "Blues Riff 101" is completely tabbed out in the How to Play Blues section).  The philosophy is to develop techniques on the instrument, and use those techniques to play music by improvisation.  It is not a philosophy of learning many pre-set licks and riffs and applying those licks in any song where they seem to fit.  It is also not a philosophy of listening to songs and attempting to learn them note for note.  The philosophy in use here is to learn to play the instrument, and learn to play music.  The more you can do with the instrument, the more you can do with your music.

This reference will not teach you how to play the harmonica in 10 minutes, 2 hours, or even a week and a half!  It simply can't be done.  Sure, you can learn to play a couple of very simple tunes poorly in a short time--kind of like playing "Chop Sticks" on the piano... but that's not really playing an instrument.  This reference will also not teach you how to play the blues in 20 minutes.  Sorry, that's not possible either.  It does give you a basis for knowing and hearing what can be done with a diatonic harmonica, and a general direction for using those techniques to play blues by ear.  You can start as a beginner, intermediate, or even advanced player and "mine" the reference for different harp techniques, tips, and theory.  If you want to thoroughly learn the harp, this reference can help.  If you are playing the diatonic chromatically by using overblows or valve-style bends, there are numerous charts and a Javascript layout generator program for users of Netscape Navigator and MS Internet Explorer to help you learn where all the notes are, in any position--AND shows you where the different scales fall on your harp.

How long does it take to learn the diatonic harp and to play the blues?  Of course that depends on you, your musical background, your natural aptitude, and your goals.  I've seen the number 2000 hours cited as how much time is required to be reasonably proficient at blues harp playing, and that seems to me to be as good a number as any.  There are lots of ways to get your 2000 hours--at an hour a day every single day that's about 5½ years.  At an hour every normal work day, that's about 9 years.  If you practice about 6 hours a day for about a year, that's another way to get there.  You want to play jazz?  That'll take longer.  There are more playing techniques required, and more music theory and musical knowledge is needed.  A lot more.  You want to play classical?  See jazz.  Also, the notes on the diatonic don't all have the same timbre, or musical color.  A lot of practice can reduce the differences among the notes, but I have not heard anyone who has eliminated them.  In classical music this is a severe handicap.  In blues and jazz, it is much less a problem, and talented players can even take advantage of these timbral difference to add interest to the music.  This reference focuses mostly on the blues, though you can take the techniques and theory anywhere you want.  The blues is a good foundation for country, rock, and much pop music, so even if the blues is not your focus it is still good as a basis from which to build.

You want to get there as soon as you can?  Keep the harp in your mouth.  You can play with one hand (or none, using a rack) and don't (can't) use your eyes, so you can do other things at the same time!  (even read web pages...).

On the other hand, the harmonica does allow some things to be played quickly and easily!  You don't have to work hard for a long time to get something to sound good!  That's great news, because the more progress you hear in your playing, the less frustrating it is to learn the instrument.  But don't worry, there are plenty of things about the harp to frustrate you!  Most people don't know good harp playing from poor harp playing, which is good news when you're beginning, but frustrating when you get better!  You have to keep in mind that the music is the thing; no one but another harp player cares how difficult it is to make the music, though music that sounds fast and difficult and complex can be dazzling.  But no one but another player cares how hard it is to hit that 2 draw half step bent note, or the 1 overblow. .. the music is the thing.

One of the most difficult aspects of playing music on the harmonica is that you can't see what you're doing, and no one can really show you!  You don't have a keyboard to look at, or strings to press at a place you can see... it's all in your mind's eye and mind's ear.  This reference includes many pictures, diagrams, and tables to try to help you get the harp into your mind.  You play music with your technique, your mind, your ear, and your soul.  You can play great music with good technique, a good ear, and a soul with something to say.  You can play better music with great technique, a good ear, an expressive soul, and a knowledgeable mind.  To improve your technique, practice your instrument.  To improve your ear, listen.  To improve your soul, learn.  To improve your mind, study.  To improve your music, improve your technique, your ear, your mind, and your soul.