Instructor:   Peter May

Course Description:

Level: 2 – 3  (see Playing Experience Level descriptions at the bottom of the page)

This class will build on the key harmonica skills you need to play country, folk, roots, blues, rock, and gospel music. To do that, we will focus on technique and play a range of songs. While having a whole lot of fun, the goal is for everybody to “fill their toolbox” so each person can grow further with this tiny amazing instrument.

We will play by ear and use harmonica “tab” – no standard music notation – and focus on:

  • Playing clean and clear single notes using the lip pursing / pucker style
  • Improving tone
  • Developing basic bending skills
  • Adding to repertoire and playing styles
  • Developing familiarity with basic harmonica positions.

We will also work on single note and melody exercises, finding and playing scales, basic comping over blues progressions, beginning improvisation, and jamming. Finally, we will discuss using a harmonica rack to allow hands-free playing.

Prerequisites / Instruction Level:

The class is targeted at both newer players who are developing their skills beyond playing single notes as well as those who have played the instrument for some time. The main prerequisite is that you have played “some” before and can play a single note on purpose (as opposed to accidentally). This means musicians from Level 2 to Level 3 (as per the FAMI guidelines) – a description that does not really speak to harmonica playing. Translating those descriptions to harmonica, let’s say L2 means playing single notes cleanly and L3 means you can play a major scale cleanly and have some understanding of how to play chords. You don’t need to know how to bend notes.

That’s the starting point for what we will be working on over the weekend. We won’t be spending time learning the basics of playing single notes, how to hold the harmonica etc.

What To Bring:

Please bring a 10-hole harmonica in the key of C. If you have other harmonicas, feel free bring them but, for this course, all materials will be put into the key of C. If you are going to buy a harmonica, please buy one that is of a reasonable quality (i.e., not a toy). Good quality brands available at Long & McQuade and other music stores are Hohner and Lee Oskar. Some of the better Suzuki models are also suitable. Expect to pay $40-60 for a reasonable quality harmonica. Cheap harmonicas make it difficult to play single notes cleanly and have a limited lifespan. We will not be playing chromatic harmonica (the one with button on the side) in the course. If you have a harmonica rack and want to learn how to use it, please bring it as well. I also recommend bringing a notebook, pen or pencil, and music stand.

Peter May

Peter May

I am thrilled to be leading the FAMI Harmonica Level 1-2 class.  It is a privilege to work with people who are passionate about music – whether you have been playing for years or are early in your musical journey. 

 I first picked up the harmonica on a road trip; it was the perfect instrument for travel.  I have evolved somewhat from making a racket to playing melodies, chords, solos, and fills in a variety of genres.  These days, I play harmonica mostly in support of, and as solos within, folk, country, and roots music.  I also play harmonica-based tunes (and some fiddle / traditional tunes) and melodies, and a bit of blues.

I have led workshops and classes for FAMI for several instruments / vocals and am honoured to be a long-time Board member of the organization.  I have taken music lessons / education in several instruments since I was a young boy, and I hold a guitar certificate from Berklee College of Music. 

Currently I am a multi-instrumentalist (bass, harmonica, acoustic / electric guitar) and vocalist in the Calgary-based band Horizon Ridge.  We have played at festivals, folk clubs, public and house concerts, and gala events in Canada, the US, and the UK.

I am active in the Alberta music scene as the Artistic Director of Calgary’s Nickelodeon Music Club, Technical Director at the Canmore Folk Music Festival, and volunteer manager for all the stages at the Calgary Folk Music Festival.  I also serve as a Board member of the Folk Festival Society of Calgary.

Websites: Horizon Ridge

Playing Experience Levels

These guidelines aim to ensure that all camp participants have an enjoyable experience. They represent what your playing capability should be before you take the class (prerequisites).

Classes are generally designed to pace themselves to match the participants' abilities. Level 1 classes aim to proceed at the pace of the slower students in the class. Level 2 and 3 classes aim to move at the pace of the majority of students in the class. Level 4 classes are designed to push the capabilities of all students and will target the pace of the more capable students  Class descriptions that show a range (Levels 2-3) means the material presented is broadly applicable across that range.

LEVEL 1: You are new or relatively new to your instrument. You may be able to play basic chords or scales slowly. You want to learn the basics of the instrument. You have very little experience playing with others.

LEVEL 2: You are competent with basic chords and/or basic scales. You can keep rhythm and/or play basic melodies and/or sing and play at the same time if the song is familiar. You generally need the chords or melody to be written out in order to play along. You have some experience playing with others.

LEVEL 3: You are reasonably comfortable with most chords, basic major and minor scales, and can play at an appropriate tempo for songs. You are aware of time signatures, song keys, and know that there are chords called 6th, 7th, 11th, etc even if you can’t play them all. You are comfortable maintaining good rhythm and are willing to taking breaks while jamming with others, even if the breaks don't always turn out the way you planned. You may be hoping to take your playing up to the next level of performing with a group or band (beyond jamming) and you want to further improve your technique and speed.

LEVEL 4: You are skilled on your instrument and have a good understanding of musical concepts including scales, arrangements, harmonies and some improvisation. You play lead and back-up with a steady rhythm and can play skillfully with others. You know there is life further up the neck on your instrument and have some capability in that world. You have performing experience, can hold a tune, and can harmonize.