You don’t just have to play the root notes when you improvise on harmonica!

Aug 16, 2017 | Advanced Beginner Harmonica Lessons, Advanced Intermediate Harmonica Lessons, Intermediate Harmonica Lessons, Jamming & Improv

Hello and welcome to this week’s harmonica lesson where I am going to address something that a lot of students get confused about which is whether or not you have to play the root notes when you are improvising over a 12 bar blues?


Root notes are great but…

Both myself and a bunch of other harmonica teachers start by teaching people to improvise over a 12 bar blues using the root notes.

The reason to start like this is because it is the easiest way to play something that sounds good. Furthermore, it helps you to memorise the chord structure of the blues progression.

However, you don’t always have to play root notes when you are improvising. In fact, it is just one of many strategies that you can employ.

Here are some other strategies you can employ to great effect…

Repeated phrases

A great idea which comes back frequently in blues music is that of repeating a phrase over a 12 bar blues.

I suggest you try repeating the same phrase 3 times;

– once over the I chord (bars 1 and 2)
– once over the IV chord (bars 5 and 6)
– once over V and IV chord (bars 9 and 10)

You should hear that even though you are not playing phrases which follow the chord changes, the repetition sounds good and the lick will sound different over each location in the 12 bar blues.

Use the blues scale

If you just concentrate on creating phrases from the blues scale without worrying about hitting root notes it can sound very effective.

The blues scale notes work in almost any 12 bar blues situation so if it sounds right then it is right!

Mixing strategies

Once you have tried both of these alternative strategies you should try to mix a few strategies together. This will give you something that sounds more natural then just using one.

For example, you could play a lick over the I chord then repeat it over the IV chord, finally targeting the root notes over the V chord and IV chords.

Or you could play a blues scale inspired lick over the I chord, then play a lick targeting the root note over the IV chord and finally use the blues scale over the V and IV chords.

Get experimental!

Don’t forget

Don’t forget the root notes; they are a very effective improvisational strategy but they are not the only one!

Backing Tracks

Click here for a bunch of backing tracks to download!

Do you want more help?

If you are struggling to get started with improvisation then I can give you some help with my ‘Introduction to Improvisation eCourse’ which is 5-week long course which will give you everything you need to get comfortable improvising over a 12 bar blues.
Click here to find out more about it.

Thank you

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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