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Where’s the Tab?
Sorry for any confusion here. I can’t post my tab of Timber without purchasing a license for the song. There’s some other good theory and technical material here for learning the song, however, so read on…
Articulation, Key Choice, Song History
In this lesson, we’ll look at Timber, by Pitbull, featuring Kesha. There’s been some discussion over exactly what key harp to use, where the song comes from, bending options and articulation.
What key harmonica?
Short answer: for Timber, use an E harp.
Medium answer: if playing along to the Pitbull track, use an E harp. If you’re playing it by yourself, solo, you can use any key you want. To play with bent notes, play in the low octave in cross harp. The keys of C,D,E will all respond well. To me, the non-bends version sounds better when played on a lower pitched harp, like an A, G, or low F.
The bending version of Timber is centered on the 2 draw. It emphasizes draw notes as start and finish points, and all the action takes place on the low end of the harp. This is typical for traditional, blues-style playing; it’s a position known as “cross harp” or “2nd position.” Here’s the scale you’ll need: -2 -3″ -3 4 -4 5 -5 6. If you can play this scale, follow the video instructions and you’ll be able to play Timber.
If you can bend, go ahead and play the bend version. If you can’t yet, then learn to bend! Or play the version without bends.
For a non-bending version, you’ll move all the notes up to the higher octave of the same position, running from holes 5 and 6 up to hole 8 and 9. The scale here runs like this: 6 -6 -7 7 -8 8 -9 9. Because we’re in the higher end of the harp, I prefer to play this version on a lower-pitched instrument. Check out my demonstration of the non-bend version below:
For chromatic players, start the non-bend video at about 0:43, and you can match what I’m playing, as long as you have a C chromatic harmonica. I’m playing a diatonic harp, but the middle octave of a diatonic has the same note layout as a solo-tuned chromatic. For you, the riff will start with 6 7 7 7, all blow notes. I recommend playing the first few notes of the 2nd position major pentatonic scale to get comfortable here: 7 -7 -8 -9 -8 -7 7 6 7. Listen to my demo, starting at 0:43. Make sure you can accurately sing or whistle the riff to yourself, and then use notes from the scale above to pick out the riff by ear. This will take repetition, careful listening, and patience! But that’s the road to better musicianship.
Back to diatonic harmonica here – using a “Too tah tah, tah” sound on the in and out breaths will make the opening notes more percussive, and help you hit the -3 bend more accurately. But you’ll have to work on your 2 draw, because -2 frequently wants to bend when you hit it hard.
Who’s That Guy on Timber?
I thought it was Lee Oskar, because the tune interpolates his song “San Francisco Bay,” and because it’s funky as all get-out, but it turns out the harmonica on Timber was played by a session musician from Dallas, TX named Paul Harrington. Here’s a news article on the recording of Timber. They asked him to play like Lee Oskar, and he knocked it out of the park. Congrats on the song, Paul!
Thanks to all my readers who have written in to update me on the history of this tune!
This file is the author’s own work and represents his interpretation of this song. It’s intended solely for private study, scholarship or research.