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How To Play Harmonica With A Backing Track | 5-Step Harmonica Lesson & Tabs

Hello! Jamming the blues along to a backing track on your harmonica is one of the most fun things you can do on the instrument. It will also improve your musical ideas and accelerate your playing abilities. But how exactly do play along to a jam track?

Step 1 - Pick the Right Key

The backing track we're using in this lesson is in the key of G, so it would be sensible to think that you need a G harmonica. WRONG! Most blues is played in 2nd position (don't worry if that means nothing to you at this point) which means we need a C harmonica to play in the key of G. So we'll be using a C harmonica in this lesson.

I don't want to get bogged down talking about positions and keys in this lesson because I want our focus to be on playing through the backing track.

Step 2 - Count the Beat

Before picking up your harmonica, it's really important to get a feel for the rhythm of the backing track. The easiest way to do this is to start counting along.

Put the track on and start counting through 1-2-3-4 (because there are four beats in a bar). In the video lesson, you can count along with me.

Most blues follows a 12 bar format (which we'll look at in step 3) so you'll be counting "1-2-3-4" twelve times - once for each bar - until the cycle repeats itself.

Step 3 - Play Root Notes

Now you can pick up your harmonica! Our track is a standard 12 bar blues which makes things easy. There are only three chords: G, C, and D (don't worry about the '7' at this point) so we can easily practise playing the corresponding note for each of them. These are called "root notes" because they are the root upon which the rest of the chord is built.

Start by playing the two draw (-2) for the G chord, the 4 blow (4) for the C chord, and the four draw (-4) for the D chord. You can play along with me in the video lesson.

(Take a free trial of harmonica school if you want to learn more about blues structure.)

Step 4 - Practice Arpeggios

OK, now we're going to expand the notes we're playing. Remember the '7' from the chords in step 3? That means the chords are "seventh chords" which just means they are comprised of a certain combination of notes that sound quite bluesy. We can practise playing each of these notes in ascending order to really lock in with the track. (This is the perfect gateway into soloing, as we'll see in step 5.)

Playing each note of the chord is called playing "arpeggios". Don't be scared by the fancy word - you can do it! Here are the notes you'll need for each chord:

Harmonica tab key

G7: -2 -3 -4 -5

C7: 1 2 3 -3/

D7: -1 -2/ -3// 4

Try playing this set of notes to the backing track - one note per beat. You can play along with me in the video lesson. Don't worry if you can't play all the bends, just pick the notes you can get for now.

Step 5 - Build a Solo

Depending on how you feel, this is either the most exciting or the most scary part! You might feel that you're not ready to solo yet, that you don't have the knowledge or ability. But I have good news for you - you are ready! All you have to do is start chopping up the arpeggios you've just been practising in step 4. By selecting certain notes from the arpeggio, you can make sure you're in tune but start to improvise and come up with your own licks. Have a listen to me in the video lesson for some inspiration.

Congratulations, you played a blues solo!

The final step...

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  • Simple chord charts

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