How to Play Harmonica Riffs

Harmonica riffs are probably the reason why you noticed this instrument and wanted to play it in the first place. Riffs are short musical phrases that are typically repeated several times. If you think of your favorite rock tune, you'll probably realize the tune's lyrics are sung over repeating chords. This series of repeating chords is a riff. Unless you are continually soloing, you will likely be playing riffs quite often on your harmonica. Thus, it is important to know how to play them well.

Blowing And Drawing
Even if you've never played harmonica, you may know how it works. Blowing and drawing, or inhaling and exhaling, is the way to play the harmonica. Riffs are repeating phrases that can be played only by blowing and drawing, so it is important to master some of that technique before playing riffs. Try playing up and down the harmonica, simply working on making sounds by blowing and drawing. When you've gotten that down, it's time to play some chords. Chords are the building blocks of many riffs.

Playing Chords
Riffs are often a series of repeating chords. If the riff is just a sequence of single notes, your blowing and drawing practice will make playing it simple. Chords are a different story. Chords are harmonic combinations of notes, most simply built from the root, third and fifth of a scale. What this requires on harmonica is playing several holes at once. As an example, consider the G chord. Assuming you are playing a beginner C diatonic harmonica, place your lips over the first hole, the second hole and the third hole. Draw. If drawn successfully all at once, you will hear the G chord. What you have done is combine the root, third and fifth of a G scale. Next, place your lips over the same three holes, and blow. You will hear the C chord.

Combining Chords Into A Riff
Now that you know how to play C and G, it is time to play a riff. Try drawing and blowing, using different combinations of chords as you go. For example, try playing G twice, and then C and then G again. Repeat again as many times as you wish, and pat yourself on the back. You have just created and played a riff. Tablature and chord charts are available to instruct you how to form different chords. Once you learn other chords, you can expand your repertoire and build a nearly infinite number of riffs.

A Word About Rhythm
Riffs played without a steady rhythm sound pretty bad. For beginners, it's best to try counting as you play. Most popular and blues tunes are in 4/4 time, which means they have 4 beats in every measure. Count 1, 2, 3, 4 as you play. Try playing chords only on 1 and 3, or 2 and 3. Try as many combinations as you can, holding the rhythm steady with your counting. Soon, the rhythms will become automatic.

The Importance Of Riffs
Riffs are the backbone of blues, jazz, country and popular music. They also open the door wide for experimentation, soloing and creativity. After learning how to play riffs, try developing your own style. Riffs are important because they're flexible, and their character depends on you alone.

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