ACCOMPANIMENT ON THE HARMONICA  - PLAYING RHYTHM, FILLS AND PADS

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Harmonica is quite a versatile instrument, which not only lets us play solos, but also to produce an excellent accompaniment. This is a very important feature which greatly affects the possibility of using various other musical instruments, alone or when playing in a group. Have you ever wondered about how to use harmonica to accompany a singer, a guitar player or a full band? Are there any more elements needed for this purpose than others'? You will find the answer in this article. I'm going to introduce you to three key elements to play side by side with other musicians: these are chords, fills and pads.

Don't you own a harmonica yet? Here you can find one!

Harmonica player with a band

Have you ever observed a kid putting a harmonica in his mouth for the first time? What kind of sounds does he produce? I'll tell you...Chords. When a kid who has never picked out a harmonica before, starts playing it and blows through the holes,he forms sets of notes like everyone else does. Not yet aware of the technique to play single notes, the new harmonica player focuses on rhythm and he does basically the part of what we should all learn if we want to accompany with this  instrument. Likewise it happens in many aspects during our existence, that we start neglecting certain skills that we already possess, and at the cost of our own creative instinct, it is due to the reason that we put logical part above every thing else. Let's see now the three elements that I would suggest you to incorporate in your accompaniment playing with the harmonica.

The first technique we need to learn to accompany someone is to reproduce important chords and with the right rhythm. Regarding the notes to be used, you need to know in which key you are playing, so that you always know which notes are good and which should be avoided.

If for example we play in first position, we must know that by blowing in any hole we get notes of the key chord, also called first of the scale. Instead, if we draw on the first three holes we get a fifth chord. In the same way, if we draw on holes 4,5 and 6 we get a second (in this case minor) chord and so on.

As you can see, knowing where the notes are on the harmonica, is very important as well as having some notions of musical theory, especially related to the keys and harmonization of the scales which result from each degree scale.

Concerning our instrument in particular, studying the position and playing topic is fundamental. Going back to the rhythm, when you play chords, remember to keep the tempo and if you are playing with a band you can take the drums as a reference; this is also called 'playing with the drums'.

Once we learn how to play various chords and combinations of notes such as octaves, we can use melodic lines to perform 'fills'.

How do you play fills? Suppose you are playing with a singer, he sings sentences and there is some room between one sentence and the other. Henceforth, you can use this room to play small melodies that fill it, producing a special interaction between harmonica and the voice, a sort of 'call and response'. When using this technique, be careful not to overshadow the singer's voice and try not to play too many notes, and remember that even silence becomes music in certain contexts. A pause is what allows the listener to digest what he has just heard and turn it into an emotion.

The last element I describe to accompany with the blues harp is called 'pads'. Basically, it is a matter of reproducing what the string sections usually do. i.e. uniform sounds formed by two or more notes which remain in the background acting as a filling function. Octaves are powerful tongue blocking articulations, quite useful when playing pads. An octave is formed by two notes played at the same time, where the distance is 12 semitones. While using these elements, it is essential to maintain a certain degree of 'discretion' in terms of volume and amount of notes. Remember that an effective pad sometimes has a barely perceptible volume.

To summarize, in order to make accompaniment on the harmonica we must learn to play chords and we should know the purpose of chord in the process of scale harmonization. When we play melodic lines instead, we do it to fill empty parts without exaggerating.

Now that l've given you some points to better learn the instrument, you could call one of your guitarist friends and practice these concepts. Good accompaniment to all!

Read also the article about harmonica improvisation.