Harmonica Players: How to Find Compatible Musicians

Harmonica players sometimes get up onstage alone and perform as true soloists, and unaccompanied virtuosity has a long tradition in blues harmonica. But playing with accompaniment and accompanying others can be very rewarding experiences.

You're bound to wonder where to look to find other musicians to play with. After you’re connected with the local music scene, you’ll have candidates to choose from, but first you have to find the scene. Here are some ways to start out:

  • Check local bulletin boards for musicians looking for collaborators, whether physical corkboards in music stores or online listing services such as Craigslist. You can also place your own ad seeking players.

  • Scan the entertainment listings in your daily or weekly newspaper for local bars, restaurants, and nightclubs to see whether they feature blues artists or host a weekly blues jam. (Clubs often schedule jams at slow business times, such as Sunday afternoons or Monday evenings.) You can probably meet other musicians in the audience.

  • Find out whether your area has a club or association devoted to blues or harmonica and whether it has meetings where you can go and meet other players.

After you find potential collaborators, you have to figure out whether they’re a good fit for you. Whether you want to play in a duo or with a full orchestra, here are some things to consider when you start a new musical group or join an existing one:

  • Complementary instruments: Harmonica plays in the middle-to-upper range of the sound spectrum, and instruments that can play in the spectrum’s lower-to-middle part, such as guitar and piano, can really fill out the harmonica’s sound. On the other hand, a trio of two flutes and a harmonica (all treble instruments) wouldn’t have any bottom end. It may sound rather ethereal in a blues context, and you and the flute players would likely have a limited repertoire in common.

  • Similar musical styles: If you want to play acoustic, down-home blues and you hook up with a death-metal guitarist who wants to shred at stadium-level sound volumes, you have either fertile ground for a new stylistic hybrid or grounds for a quick musical divorce. Look for people who want to play the same kind of music that you do.

  • Appropriate skill levels: If the difference in skill level is too great, you’ll end up being the weak link; you’ll sound bad by comparison and may feel inferior. On the other hand, if you’re by far the best player in a band, you may get bored or frustrated. Overall, try to find players whose skill level is near your own.

  • Compatible goals: If you want to just jam in your living room or play at nursing homes while holding down a steady job but your prospective band mates want to go on an extended tour of punk clubs hundreds of miles apart and crash in the van between gigs, you may want to look for partners whose goals more closely match your own.

  • Positive personalities: You don’t have to be best friends with your musical partners (though it’s nice if you can be). If someone you play with drives you nuts because of a personality conflict or irresponsible behavior, either the music had better be really, really good or you may want to part ways with that person.

  • Matching schedules: Even if you find cool people who play complementary instruments in your desired style and share all your musical goals, you need to be able to get together in the same place at the same time on a regular basis. Compare schedules to make sure you actually have enough opportunities to do the things you want to do together.

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