Who Hired the Harmonica Player?

Beginning players need a way to practice with a group. It really helps improve your timing and it’s just generally fun. As an alternate you can play along with audio CDs or find free backing tracks on the internet. There are programs out there like “Band In A Box” that let you create your own backing group by inputing chord progressions, but they’re pretty expensive.

Today I’m experimenting with GarageBand on my iPad. It costs only $4.99. Here’s an 8 bar sample.

I’m already familiar with GarageBand. I use it on my MacBook (it comes free). So, it took me no time at all to figure out how to use it on the iPad.


I really love the Smart Instruments. They sound great and make it easy to quickly lay down a few instrument tracks. I first laid down a drum track and then added an acoustic guitar chord progression of C, F, and G. That sounded nice. I played harmonica along with that for a while. Then I attached a small USB MIDI keyboard (the Korg NanoKey) with the iPad’s Camera Connection Kit to see if it would work. Sure enough it did so I added a keyboard track using the external keyboard. I could have used the on-screen keyboard, but it’s much easier to play a real one. Finally I also added a plucked bass using the Smart Bass instrument.

I then used my USB Blue Snowflake microphone to record the harmonica track. It’s the purple one at the bottom. Notice I later edited the track to improve the timing. It was really easy to split the track up into small pieces and move them left and right to line them up with the MIDI notes in the tracks above.

A few things are missing in the iPad version of GarageBand. You can’t import an audio file into a track. You can’t edit MIDI notes, and you can’t change instruments once you’ve recorded a track (like change a piano to a guitar). Oh, well. Maybe in the next release.


Go Tell Aunt Rhody

I woke up this morning humming “Go Tell Aunt Rhody” and knew I had to try it on the harmonica with a dulcimer accompaniment.

It’s probably way too early in the process to be trying a performance, but I just couldn’t resist giving it a go. It’s pretty rough.

Many moons ago my brother Bob helped me build a dulcimer.


It was a bit tricky tuning the dulcimer to the harmonica. I found it sounded best with an “A” harmonica.

I recorded this in Garageband. I did the dulcimer first and then played along with the harmonica in a second track. I edited the volume of each track and panned the dulcimer slightly left and the harmonica slightly right. I didn’t do a bunch of “takes”. This was just a practice session to figure out how to do it.


MultiTrack DAW Practice

The last couple of days I’ve been practicing with JP Allen’s DVDs and CDs which are great. I’ve picked up a few more techniques including tremolo and wah wah and slide.

Today’s practice is done using my iPad and the MultiTrack DAW application. i discovered that you can import a track from your iTunes collection as a stereo track in MultiTrack. I used Track 22 from JP’s “Getting Campfire Ready – CD #2”.


Track 1 is the CD track and track 2 is my harmonica recording. The original CD track was more than 6 minutes. I shortened it in MultiTrack by copying the track to Track 3, trimming Track 1 to about 2 minutes, and trimming Track 3 to just the last few bars. Notice I panned the CD tracks slightly to the left and the harmonica track to the right. I also adjusted each track’s volume, bringing the guitar down a bit and the harmonica up a bit.

I used my Blue Snowflake USB mic plugged into the Camera Connection Kit USB adapter. I used headphones while recording the harmonica to monitor the CD track (guitar).

I really like using this setup for practice. It’s portable and completely silent – no computer fan noise to contend with. It makes a very clean recording.


Banging on the Harp

My hat goes off to all those wonderful music teachers out there who can listen with patience and good cheer to budding musicians practicing. It must be torture.

Today’s 5 minute practice compares to a little kid banging on the piano. It’s done with enthusiasm, but very little technique. I attempt diaphragmatic breathing, single note scales, note bends, and chugging (chords, not beer).

Warning: may be painful at times to listen to.

I recorded this with my Edirol R-09HD stereo recorder in my lap. I like the simplicity and quality of this little recorder.


It’s easy to carry around and use anywhere. It records WAV or MP3 files to a SD card. So, transferring the recordings to the computer is a snap. I made three recordings and edited pieces from each together into the finished composite using Audacity.


Lesson #1

Okay, back to basics. Yesterday I received JP Allen’s “Complete Play at Home Video Harmonica Lessons for Beginners and Non-Musicians”. It’s a set of 11 DVDs and CDs. Check it out at Harmonica.com. I’ve really been looking forward to getting started.

Anyway, one of the first lessons is to play along with a guitar practicing a simple phrase of draws and blows. I played along with JP on the DVD, but then I wanted to see if I could play the guitar as well. So, I found a free app for the iPad called “Classical Guitar“. Here’s what it looks like:


You can strum and switch chords. Cool. I connected the headphone jack of the iPad to the Audio Input of my MacBook and recorded a guitar track in Garageband. I don’t play guitar. I had to learn a basic strum pattern and chord sequence, but that was easy to do by watching a few YouTube videos on how to play the guitar.

I then recorded the harmonica on a separate track in Garageband. Along the way I learned how to pan each track so the guitar is a bit on the left and the harmonica is a bit on the right. I also learned how to set effects for each track (a little reverb). I then saved the mix as an mp3 file to iTunes.

Note: Garageband lets you change tempo. So, you can record at say 60 bpm and then speed it up to 120 bpm. I didn’t do that with this recording, but it’s handy to know that it works with audio recordings without changing the pitch.

I also found a good site for free lead sheets called “Wikifonia.org”. They have all kinds of music available as PDF files. The music has melody and chord changes as well as lyrics. This will be great for playing duets once I get good enough on the harmonica.


Playing with Garageband

This is fun. Garageband has a bunch of instrumental loops. This is a piano ballad. I doodled around on the harmonica on a separate track using the Blue Snowflake USB mic. I then mixed it down to a stereo mp3 file. Listen for our cockateil, Beaker, singing along with me.

Yesterday Apple announced Garageband for the iPad2. It will have Smart Instruments which will make this kind of recording even easier.