Originally posted June 2016
Last summer and fall I arranged a bunch of popular songs for diatonic harmonica, and they’ve recently been published in Hal Leonard’s “First 50 Songs” series. You can get it here.
The song list is wide-ranging, including melodies to blues, folk, rock, country, gospel, Motown, Broadway and jazz standards. Songs include: Ain’t No Sunshine * Blowin’ in the Wind * Edelweiss * Isn’t She Lovely * Jambalaya (On the Bayou) * Kum Ba Yah * Let It Be * Michael Row the Boat Ashore * My Girl * Puff the Magic Dragon * Ring of Fire * The Sound of Silence * Sweet Caroline * What a Wonderful World * You Are My Sunshine * and more.
Tab and Music
If you don’t read music, you can simply follow the harmonica tab. If you want to practice reading, I transposed all the songs so that the music notation is readable on a C diatonic harmonica. And of course, if you want to play the songs in a different key, you can always follow the tab, which will work with any key harmonica.
No Bends Required
Nearly all the songs are playable with basic single-note technique. You can play most of the fifty songs without bending a note! For an extra challenge, I included bends on maybe three of the arrangements, but most of the tunes lay really nicely in the middle octave or higher.
Straight Harp, Cross Harp, and Beyond
Most of the tunes are major key in first position (straight harp), a few are in second position (cross harp) and require bluesy bends, and a handful are minor key and play smoothly in third or fourth position.
I’m particularly happy to have included the minor key tunes, because they add variety – minor key tunes are darker and moodier, and again, I arranged them so they’d be playable by beginners with single notes, no bends required.
By the way, you don’t have to know all this position stuff in order to play the songs and enjoy the book, but you might notice that some songs sound bright and happy, some songs have a bluesier feel, and some songs are darker and more mysterious sounding.
Short and Long Songs
There are short tunes here which fit on one page, perfect for when you want to flip to a new song and just try it out without investing too much time. There are other tunes which stretch over several pages if you’re up for a longer story.
My Life With Songbooks
When I started playing music as a kid, I loved browsing through anthology songbooks like this at home. I couldn’t play every song, but I picked through and tried out bits here and there. When I found a song I was familiar with, playing the notes felt like running into an old friend. I enjoyed figuring out what all the notation meant, and gradually learned a lot about music, along with the specific songs.
There was a lot of work involved in choosing the songs in this collection, and even more in notating and arranging them. It feels like a real accomplishment to have it out there now! Go check it out here.