5 Tips For Improvising On Harmonica

May 11, 2016 | Advanced Beginner Harmonica Lessons

Hello, welcome to this week’s harmonica lesson where I will be showing you 5 strategies to help you get started improvising over a 12 bar blues.

To follow me in the lesson you will need a harmonica in the key of C. However, these ideas will work in any key. You just need to make sure that you are playing over a backing track in the appropriate key.


1) Rhythmic Improvisation

Before you start thinking about complicated improvisation you should just pick one note and improvise with that.

Start with the 2 hole draw. The only variable you have control over is the rhythm you use.

2) Follow The Chord Changes Over A 12 Bar Blues

Continuing on from the idea of improvising rhythmically we are going to use the root notes of the I, IV and V chords. These correspond to the 2 draw, 4 blow and 4 draw.

You are going to improvise rhythmically using the root note of the I, IV and V chords. This means that over the I chord you will only play the 2 draw. Over the IV chord, you will play the 4 blow. Finally, over the V chord you will play the 4 draw.

3) Using The Blues Scale

Virtually all of the great blues solos we love are based around the blues scale which is why it is important that you know it inside out.

Here are the notes –

Blues Scale

Select 2 or 3 notes of the scale and play around with creating your own licks from them.

4) Learning Other People’s Licks

Just like when you learnt to talk as a baby it is very important to learn by copying the greats. I suggest you select one lick from a recording you like and slowly try to work it out by ear. This will involve a lot of pausing and rewinding.

The more you practice this, the better you will be. Eventually, you will hear something in your head and be able to replicate it on the instrument.

5) Take One Lick And Build It Into A Full 12 Bar Blues

Just like a conversation, a blues solo should have a theme. The alternative is just playing a string of licks which lack cohesion.

A great strategy for improvising is to take one or two licks and use them throughout the full 12 bar sequence. You don’t necessarily want to repeat them the same way each time. Instead, you want to create variations using call and response and chord tone targeting amongst other things.

Introduction to Improvisation eCourse

If you want to learn more about how to get started improvising on harmonica, I have put together a 5 week eCourse called ‘Introduction to Improvisation’.

The course consists of 5 modules featuring video, audio, tab and detailed homework exercises to give you everything you need to get started improvising over a 12 bar blues.

Here are the 5 modules –

Module 1 – Understanding Rhythm

Module 2 – Understanding a 12 Bar Blues structure

Module 3 – Using the Blues Scale

Module 4 – The importance of learning licks by ear

Module 5 – How to use licks to build a solo

Thank you

Improvisation shouldn’t feel like too much of a mythical thing anymore. There are strategies which we all use and make it much easier than simply creating out of thin air.

Happy harping!

Thank you so much for taking part in this lesson. I hope it was useful for you. If you enjoyed this lesson, please share it with your friends.

See you again for the next harmonica video!

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