How to create "tension" playing blues harmonica | Easyharp Tips

blues harmonica lessons


Hello blues harmonica friends, today I try to give you some simple suggestions about creating “tension” playing blues with your harp.

What is “tension”? Don’t think about getting stressed :) In general, in music, “tension” and “release” are very important aspects when you want to play an interesting phrase or sequence of notes: like when you are talking, for example, imagine to leave an argument “suspended” for a while and then to get to a “conclusion”. Compare it to a rubber band: if you stretch it for a while, it will naturally come back to the starting shape.

So how come we imagine to add more “tension” and “release” to our phrasing? Actually it’s not difficult to do it playing our cross harp, that is playing diatonic harmonica in second position, in particular if we are blues music lovers: musical tension is an inner aspect of blues language.

Now I try to make it easy and to give you some practical tips to add more tension to your blues phrasing.

1 – Get a “blue note” and make it long lasting. In cross harp, for example, it means playing 3 draw half step bent, 4 draw half step bent, 5 draw, but also 2 draw full step bent and 1 draw half step bent, staying in our reference octave. Play a short lick ending with a blue note and play it long. Then play a shot lick ending with a more relaxed note, like 2 draw, or 6 blow for example. “Blue notes” are very effective notes playing blues and are the most characteristic notes of the so called “blues scale”, a great opportunity to practice with tension-release playing our blues harmonica.

2 – Play an “ostinato”, that is take a riff and repeat it, repeat it a lot of times, for example you can play the same triplet four times, eight times, sixteen times, even for an entire 12 bars blues progression or ever more (do you remember Junior Wells playing “Help me” during a live session?). In this way you are creating tension and in particular you are capturing your audience attention; then in some way you need to conclude (or “release”) your repetition, so stop playing your riff and play a short lick maybe ending to a 2 draw.

These are two simple ways to create “tension-release” playing blues with your harmonica and I hope this can help you improvising during a solo in a live session. Like a rubber band: don’t’ stretch it too much :)

I wish you a lot of fun playing your blues harmonica.


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