Tips for Soloing on the Harmonica

By Winslow Yerxa

Once you’re onstage in front of the audience, you may be called on to take a harmonica solo. First things first: Make sure you have the first few notes of your part ready to go and that you have the right harp (and it’s right side up). Now, make sure you also do the following:

  • Watch the leader to begin. When it’s time for your big moment, the onstage leader will gesture or say something to tell you to start. To make the best of your solo time, keep the following in mind:

    • Avoid closing your eyes and going somewhere else mentally. This helps you to stay connected to your surroundings and the music you’re playing.

    • Play to the audience (but remain aware of the band; after all, you’re making music together). Feel the energy from the audience. Acknowledge it, play to it, and let it stimulate you — it’s a powerful, positive force.

  • Start by playing something easy for your first one or two phrases. This gives you a moment to get comfortable with being out front. You can give some attention to what you’re playing, some attention to the band, and some attention to the audience. You can’t divide your attention if you’re playing the most difficult, intense passage possible right from the start.

    Beginning at an easy pace also gives you somewhere to go. As you play, you can build the intensity of your solo and bring the audience with you.

  • Watch the leader to end. Your solo will usually last for one or more verses of the tune. At the end of the first verse, watch the onstage leader. She may motion you to stop or to keep going. Be ready to do whatever the leader indicates.