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Chrome on the Bayou

Marty Howe's picture

Performed on a Hohner CX-12, key of E on a C chromatic.

Update (Oct 21st):  Its been a few weeks now since I have uploaded my tune and have been enjoying the interviews and lessons. I really congratulate David Barrett for such a wealth of knowledge and a very effective process for learning.  Thank you David!

Based on some of what I have learned here, I wanted to comment on my tune.

It was very informative to learn that "the most common position of blues chromatic harmonica is played in 3rd position",...... and "chromatic harmonica is tongue blocked 100% of the time".

This is all news to me as I have been playing blues on the chromatic in all keys, and I prefer the style of single note playing rather than the tongue block chording style of George Harmonica Smith.  My influences have been Toots Thielemans, Stevie Wonder, William Galison, Antonio Serrano, and a host of other jazz guys. Not dedicated blues players, but they all can bend the blues on the chrome.

I understand why 3rd position (key of D on a C chrome), has advantages for playing blues (don't have to push the button much, and tongue block chords are available).  And I also understand and respect the historical significance of key players such as George Harmonica Smith and Little Walter preferring these keys and chordal style.  I wonder if the harmonicas that were available at that time helped to shape that preference.  Certainly today's chromatic harmonicas like the Hohner CX-12 and Suzuki G-48 (my faves) can really bend those bluesy notes. I wonder if these harps were available back then, if we would have seen chromatic blues playing in more keys, and more solo note playing (like Stevie Wonder) instead of predominantly the tongue block chording style.

I think that blues playing on the chromatic harmonica is still in uncharted territory when considering the possibilities of the instrument.  I am having fun with my own explorations, and I have a feeling that we will hear more contributions in this area of the chrome playing blues in many keys and bending thoses blue notes like a diatonic blues harp.


Refreshing change of pace

jimsammy's picture

I liked it a lot - Really good, refreshingly different tone and some nice horn-like note shaping and bending - Relaxed swingin' phrasing too! The only thing I'd suggest is that you not close your mind to tongue blocking. You have a real nice thing going right now with your lipping, but adding some tongue-blocking techniques to the mix could only enhance your playing. For me, the song as good as it was, got a little monotonous after awhile. I believe some tongueing technique would give you more textural options, add some sonic variety and dimension to your toolbox and could only serve to make your playing even more interesting.   


Marty Howe's picture

Hi Rick!

Thanks kindly for your comments and thoughtful insights. You are right! Adding tongue blocking to my toolbox will be a great add-on. As of yet, it didn't really come to my attention to develop that, as phrasing, bending and tone development have consumed my priorities. But hearing all the wonderful fat-chord sounds from all the entries here have inspired me.

I guess as we all go along, our sound is shaped by those that inspire us. 

Thanks for the spark!


Terrific Stevie- Toots style

Mark Hummel's picture

im a big fan of both Stevie & Toots, so this is a nice direction & you sound pretty agile in E!! A bit of space would have helped here & there. I also notice some riffs being repeated a lot in the solo. I would have liked more trading off with the synthesizer in this tune- I was just getting into that when the song ended!!

between a smile and a tear

Marty Howe's picture

Hey Mark!

Thank you so much for taking a listen and giving feedback. Space and silence in playing is really important, so thanks for the inspiration to cultivate more of that.

My favorite quote from Toots Thielemans:

“I feel best in that little space between a smile and a tear”


ps - Great idea to put the trade-offs with the synth sooner..... next time when I record this with a band!

Nice work "bayou" ;)

Dennis Gruenling's picture

Hi - There is some very cool bending, tone and melodic ideas in here. I really enjoyed the ideas here, although I also would have loved to hear the melodic ideas develop even further, perhaps with some other textures (octaves, etc), but it really kept the interest regardless. Another nice departure from the typical blues instrumental that was memorable...nice job! - Dennis "Count Chromonica" Gruenling

More textures to come!

Marty Howe's picture

Hey there Count!

Thanks so much for taking time to listen to my tune, and your insightful comments. Tone, melodic inventiveness, and bending the chrome like a diatonic blues harp have been the key things I have wanted to develop in defining my own "voice" on the chromatic, so I appreciate very much that you noticed those qualities.

More textures to come!


I am impressed!

mcpat76's picture

I am always impressed with jazz harmonica players and you don't disappoint! Great tone, timing and mastery of the slide. I also like the fact that you didn't end with the head, but repeated it twice on two different octaves before the last chorus. Very cool!


walterjuke's picture

This is fantastic! You're a monstor!  Great technique, bending, great tune, it's fast and you're perfectly in time.  I really enjoyed this.


One word

Steven Troch's picture



Steven Troch

Belgium (Toots country)

Amazing phrasing!!!!

ErwinIost's picture

Great job Marty, a lot of good licks and ideas in your song. I love the way you play some bends, Stevie Wonder style!!!! great phrasing and beautiful tone!!! Canada rules!!!!

Erwin from Chile!!!!

Just a Great Tune

J.D. Blazek's picture

Wow.  I always thought Chromatic had a gypsy sound to it.  I don't hear it in your playing very much though.  Makes me want to learn that instrument later on....have to do more on the diatonic yet :)

But great job.  I really liked it a lot.  It gets stuck in your head.



Oh My!!

hank stefaniak's picture

This is good to the point of being intimidating!! Love the way you fluidly move around and keep reinforcing your theme!! cool moves to get those bends. Well done!!

Hank - you are my neighbour :)

Marty Howe's picture

Hi Hank,

Just noticed that you are in Victoria BC.  I am your neighbour in Nanaimo.  Come on up Island to a blues jam at THE QUEENS sometime (4:00 to 8:00 every Sunday). Always good to meet fellow harp players!



Thank you Hank!

Marty Howe's picture

Thank you for your kind words :)Ever since I started playing the chrome, I have aspired to make it bend like a blues harp.  I have discovered that both the diatonic and chromatic each have their own advantages, but there certainly is a lot of territory to explore with playing blues on the chromatic. Grateful to share on the journey!