June 30, 2016

Which harmonica and massive discount on three fab harp courses.

Which harmonica?

One of the most common questions we get asked is “Which harmonica should I buy?”

There are so many different brands and models available that it can be quite confusing.

As with all musical instruments you do get what you pay for so our advice would be that if you can afford it, buy a mid range instrument.

Something in the price range £20 -£40 should do the job nicely.

For your first diatonic harmonica you should choose a key of C as much of the teaching material available is done for this key.

Did you know there also is a thing called fine tuning, or ‘intonation’?

Within the Sonnyboys range there are three subtly different tunings - or intonations.

Sonnyboys’ Mojo = perfect for chordal blues.

Sonnyboys’ Special = perfect for melodies.

Sonnyboys’ Classic = this can do everything.


Please see the explanation chart below.

You might also be interested in our friend Pat (the guru) Missin’s view here http://www.patmissin.com/tunings/audio.html


I don’t know if you are familiar with learning harmonica on-line? I’ve been teaching this way (and many other ways) and people seem to like video tuition.

If you can’t get one to one it’s probably the next best thing.

People tell me my courses are clear, knowledgeable, well thought out and FUN. Not too academic, but very effective. I film them with the idea I’m talking direct to you and people say it’s like I’m right there with you – and that goes a long way with me.

I’ve got three courses that are just about to double in price – to $40 but until midnight tomorrow (end of June 2016) they are half price for you. So you can take a look and if you fancy getting any of them for ten bucks jump in now. The coupons become void after midnight and there are only 100 for each course.


‘Chugging’ is playing ‘rhythm harp’. Very powerful for core rhythms and supporting others. You cannot be the soloist all the time!



Bones of the Blues is an amazing concept. Learn a 5-note scale and you can play in a new key on your C harp without even bending notes. In this course you’ll do that 4 times. I’ll teach you to play blues in 4 keys on your C harp without bending notes. You must have this!



60 Sonny Terry Blues riffs is the first of three volumes of riffs extracted from the playing of the wonderful Sonny Terry. Google him on video if you don’t know him – prepare for a life changing experience though.

I learnt so much from studying Sonny and now you can too.


June 10, 2016

Hi there, time for a new tune in June.

I’m talking to you from downtown Saigon where I’ve been meeting the members of the Vietnam Harmonica Orchestra and staying with their leader in his home.

I brought some instruments I had spare to support them as they encourage new members to start learning harmonica.

Last week I was in Ha Noi doing a similar thing with an orphanage supporting the guy who is setting up harmonica lessons for the kids there.

It’s all on https://www.facebook.com/benjaminhewlett if you wish to see more,

Anyway, tunes.

I thought I would try some tunes I don’t normally associate with harmonica and see if you like them so right now we’re starting with ‘Hello’ by the super famous Adele.

Here's a half price early bird coupon which will be switched off on Sunday June 12th 2016:


Apart from being a well-crafted song there’s a great exercise in it for all harmonica players.

The first verse is deceptively simple to play.

The second starts to tease with a little bit or raised emotion and then you’re into the drama of the chorus.

I even got into the lyrics, wondering about old flames and what their doing! 

It’s very interesting on harmonica and really easy to sound good in minor keys.

Playing minor keys (D minor or your C harp) is great fun, super simple – and sounds great.

We call this ‘third position’.

First position is playing C major on your C harp – like ‘Oh Suzanna’

Third position is very cool:

  • Instant jazzy/bluesy sound
  • 95% of inhaled notes fit perfectly
  • very comfortable to improvise
  • it’s a relaxed position to play in
  • sophisticated feeling
  • audiences are impressed with this scale
  • great for tongue blocking 


Here's a half price early bird coupon which will be switched off on Sunday June 12th 2016:

Ben Pete and Paul.
The Harmonica Hub.

HarmonicaWorld.netdownloadable harmonica tuition
Ben Hewlett Harmonica tuition, on-line video courses
SonnyboysMusicStore.co.uk mail order harmonicas

May 04, 2016

new link for YESTERDAY


Some folks tell me the free course link isn't working so let's try another.

There are still only 300 so grab it while you can!


Or go to Udemy.com, search for 'yesterday' and enter the word 'thanks' in the coupon redeem box - that ought to do it!


May 03, 2016



Have you ever fancied learning to play the Beatles tune ‘Yesterday’?

Let us show you how it’s done.

No charge!


300 coupons only.

Come back to us if you miss out and we'll find something else for you!

Ben Pete and Paul.

December 15, 2013

Practice practice practice

Why the Progress You Make in the Practice Room Seems to Disappear Overnight

By Dr. Noa Kageyama from http://www.bulletproofmusician.com
Thanks to Noa for his kind permission to use this article - check out his site!

Have you ever been frustrated by the fact that you can take a difficult passage, work on it for a bit, get it sounding pretty good, but return to the practice room the next day to discover that you’re back at square 1? That nothing has really changed? And despite how good it sounded yesterday, now it sounds just as bad as it did before you worked on it?
Most of us can live with “two steps forward, one step back.” It’s the “two steps forward, two steps back” that makes us want to tear our hair out.

So what are we to do?
Are we just supposed to keep at it and learn how to be more patient? Or is there a different way to practice that can make these improvements more permanent?

Enter Christine Carter
Dr. Christine Carter is a clarinetist who teaches at the Manhattan School of Music, and did her dissertation on the contextual interference effect – a phenomenon that can help you make your daily progress in the practice room actually stick. In this post, she shares a few suggestions on how we can make the most of our practice time.
Take it away, Christine!

Making the most of your hours in the practice room:
One simple change that could drastically increase your productivity

When it comes to practicing, we often think in terms of time: How many hours are necessary to achieve optimal progress? While this is a valid concern, a more important question is how we can make each hour count. What is the most efficient way to work so that what is practiced today actually sticks tomorrow? There is nothing more frustrating than spending a day hard at work only to return the next day at the starting line. Unfortunately, our current practice model is setting us up for this daily disappointment.
Repetition, babies, and brain scans

Early on in our musical training, we are taught the importance of repetition. How often have we been told to “play each passage ten times perfectly before moving on”? The challenge with this well-intentioned advice is that it is not in line with the way our brains work. We are hardwired to pay attention to change, not repetition. This hardwiring can already be observed in preverbal infants.

Show a baby the same object over and over again and they will gradually stop paying attention through a process called habituation. Change the object, and the attention returns full force. The same goes for adults. Functional magnetic resonance imaging has demonstrated that there is progressively less brain activation when stimuli are repeated. The fact is, repeated information does not receive the same amount of processing as new information. And on some level, we all know this. Constant repetition is boring and our boredom is telling us that our brains are not engaged. But instead of listening to this instinctive voice of reason, we blame ourselves for our lack of attention and yell at ourselves to “focus!” Luckily, there is an alternative.

Blocked practice schedules

In the field of sport psychology, the continuous repetition discussed above is called blocked practice. In a blocked practice schedule, all repetitions of one activity are completed before moving on to a second activity. For example, a baseball player who must hit fifteen fastballs, fifteen curve balls, and fifteen change-up pitches in practice would complete all of the fastballs before moving on to the curve balls and so on. This most resembles the way the majority of musicians practice, especially when it comes to challenging passages. We work on one excerpt for a given amount of time and then move on to the next excerpt until all tasks for the day are complete. A blocked approach seems logical.  Muscle memory requires repetition and why wouldn’t we do all of the repetitions in a row? After all, if we are working on a difficult passage, it feels a lot more comfortable 10 minutes into practice than at the beginning. It is precisely this feeling of comfort and improvement that reinforces our reliance on blocked practice. The problem with this kind of practicing, however, is that the positive results we feel in the practice room today do not lead to the best long-term learning tomorrow. Practicing in a way that optimizes performance in the practice room does not optimize learning.

Random practice schedules
What if we took the blocks of practice on particular tasks and broke them down into smaller segments on each task? In the baseball example above, the players could hit the three different types of pitches in an alternating fashion, instead of doing all of one kind in a row. Two breakdown options are a repeating order (e.g., abc abc abc…) or an arbitrary order (e.g., acb cba bca…). In either, the net result will still be 15 practice hits of each of the three types of serve, exactly the same as the net result in the blocked practice schedule. The only variable that changes is the order in which the pitches are practiced. This type of interspersed schedule is called a random practice schedule (also known as an interleaved practice schedule).

In a random practice schedule, the performer must keep restarting different tasks. Because beginnings are always the hardest part, it will not feel as comfortable as practicing the same thing over and over again. But this challenge lies at the heart of why random practice schedules are more effective. When we come back to a task after an intervening task, our brain must reconstruct the action plan for what we are about to do. And it is at this moment of reconstruction that our brains are the most active. More mental activity leads to greater long-term learning. In the blocked schedule above, the baseball players must only construct the action plan for each type of pitch once, at the beginning of each block. In the random schedule, they must construct and later reconstruct an action plan fifteen times for each pitch. Although a blocked schedule may produce superior performance during practice, study after study has shown that a random practice schedule consistently produces superior retention following practice a day or more later (i.e., the amount actually learned). This phenomenon is called the contextual interference effect.

How much better is a random practice schedule?
It turns out that the hypothetical baseball example used above is not hypothetical.  In a 1994 study by Hall, Domingues, and Cavazos, elite baseball players were assigned to either the blocked or random practice schedules discussed above. After twelve practice sessions, the baseball players in the random practice schedule hit 57% more of the pitches than when they started. The blocked group only hit 25% more of the pitches, meaning that the random practice schedule was almost twice as effective, even though the two groups hit the same number of practice pitches. Similar results have been found across a wide variety of fields. Most pertinent to our interests as musicians, my preliminary research at the Brain and Mind Institute in Canada provides empirical support for the use of a random practice schedule in music. Not only does this research suggest that a random practice schedule is more effective than a blocked schedule for practicing musical passages, participant interviews also reveal that random practice has positive effects on factors such as goal setting and focus.

How to use a random schedule in the practice room
Rather than spending long uninterrupted periods of time woodshedding each excerpt or section of a piece, pick a few passages you would like to work on and alternate between them. If you want to spend a total of 30 minutes on a particular excerpt, practice in shorter segments, continually returning to this excerpt until you have achieved your 30-minute goal. Experiment with lengths of time. If you are practicing excerpts that are very short, you may be able to switch between them at a faster pace than would be required for longer sections. You can use a small alarm clock to time specific intervals or switch after each repetition. At its most basic level, random practice might look like this:

Material to Practice

3 minutes
Excerpt A

3 minutes
Excerpt B

3 minutes
Excerpt C

3 minutes
Excerpt A

3 minutes
Excerpt B

3 minutes
Excerpt C

Practicing passages in different rhythmic variations is a great way of introducing contextual interference on a smaller scale. But instead of doing all rhythmic variations on a single excerpt before moving onto the next, do one variation on excerpt A, one on excerpt B and then return to excerpt A for a second variation etc. Technique can also be interspersed into the random schedule, instead of doing all of it in one long block. An example of a more complicated random practice session might look something like the following:

Material to Practice

2 minutes
Long tone, scale, long tone, scale…

3 minutes
Excerpt A (using first rhythmic variation)

2 minutes
Third progression, arpeggio, third progression, arpeggio…

3 minutes
Excerpt B (using first rhythmic variation)

2 minutes
Long tone, scale, long tone, scale…

3 minutes
Excerpt A (using second rhythmic variation)

2 minutes
Third progression, arpeggio, third progression, arpeggio…

3 minutes
Excerpt B (using second rhythmic variation)

The permutations are endless and the exact division of time is not important. What is crucial is that you are keeping your brain engaged by varying the material. More engagement means you will be less bored, more goal-oriented (you have to be if you only have 3 minutes to accomplish something), and substantially more productive. Most importantly, when you return to the practice room the next day, you can start from where you left off. This type of practice sticks.

By Dr. Noa Kageyama from http://www.bulletproofmusician.com
Thanks to Noa for his kind permission to use this article - check out his site!

December 04, 2013

Word Harmonica Festival


Up at four am, scraping ice off the car, drove to Heathrow, flew to Stuttgart, trains to Trossingen, check into Hotel Schooch three pm quite tired.

Trossingen smells of cows and woodsmoke. It's cold and fresh.

A rest, an inevitable beer and sausage, a walk round town to identify main parts and I'm off to the Dr Ernst Hohner Concerthall at 10pm to register, attend the jury meeting (which happened several hours before I knew of its existence)

I also missed the opening ceremony and party unfortunately but I didn't know about them until I got my program after they had finished.


Gerhard Muller, President of the Federation Internationale de l'Harmonica, and Hohner Factory boss talked me through the job of judging in the competion. I've never done this and it seems a bit daunting but my fellow judges are old hands so I'm sure it will be ok.


I bumped into AJ from Marble Amps - did you know he makes them all himself at home? - and then Ben Bouman, Viola, Roger Trobridge, Joe Filisko, Winslow Yerxa (fellow judge) and a bunch of other harmonica pals; feels like I'm amongst friends at last.


So the World Harmonica Festival starts here.


Thursday 31.10.13


I'm teaching first thing 'rhythmic patterns for diatonic players in the first three positions'

It's a very simple idea but really effective; we started with clapping call and response patterns in 3,4,5 and 6 time ending up with half the group of about 50 people clapping (in 6 beats to the bar) on 1,3,5 and the other half on 1 and 4 - at the same time. Then each person clapping 135 on one knee and 1, 4 on the other knee at the same time. Try it!


On to a 'shakeyshakey' instrument with simultaneously played harmonica to try developing rhythmic independence, and then a bunch of rhythms to underpin some great tunes like Jambalaya, Tom Hark, When the Saints etc.


Next we worked out how to find the groove in a range of tunes on iTunes ranging from classical, zydeco, and reggae through to blues.


Finally the whole group worked together but in threes or fours finding rhythms, grooves and solos. Sounded pretty good to me, and I believe they all enjoyed it as they were actively involved from start to finish.


I truly believe participants being actively involved is the way to go if you are offering a workshop.


A seminar, demonstration, talk or 'meet the artist' (and hear their life story!) are equally valid provided you know you are just going to listen and not be active - it gives you the chance to grab an espresso first!


Other sessions going on at the same time were Rick Estrin (of 'and the Nightcats' fame) 'playing the blues', Keith Dunn 'the basics of solo performance', and Fata Morgana 'Ensemble playing; arranging for harmonica groups'.


Later the Hohner Service team offered two hours of maintenance related sessions and finally Tollak Ollestad talked about 'modern chromatic sound shaping'

I couldn't make these sessions unfortunately but they looked great to me.

The competion was going on all day pretty much - you wouldn't believe how many people have entered - I heard it was 180 from Hong Kong, 100 from Malaysia, and many more from all over the globe.


There were 298 entries in total but I didn't see any native Brits (Eva, Leonid, and Greg our adopted Brits excepted) or even any US competitors.


The competion was held in 5 venues over three days simultaneously!


In the evening Philip Achille played with Chris Collis to great applause at the 'Young Chromatic Talents' concert with Sirius Ensemble, Arinori Inagawa, and Cheuk Yin Ho.


If that wasn't enough there were also three jam sessions to round off the first day; Joe Filisko and Eric Noden's acoustic jam, Steve Baker's late night blues session and Tom Stryker (ex SPAH President, prior to Winslow Yerxa, and my fellow competition judge) with his Jazz sessions.


Friday 1st November


I did another workshop on the same subject as before to a mostly different crowd. Another surprisingly good turnout with lots of happy campers.


Then to Steve Baker's workshop but couldn't get in as I missed the 11am start by a couple of minutes unfortunately. I'm sure it was good and was on the subject of tone, taste and timing - three things I admire about his playing - so I was sorry to miss it. I should have been more punctual!


The three 'young chromatic players' (including Phil Achille) from the previous night's concert did a workshop which sounded good but competition jury service called so I didn't make that one.


Open category in the competion had a wide range of acts including 'popular music from the Italian Islands' , a Fiddler on the roof based composition, Peg o' my heart (when will it stop?), Swedish music, Blue in Green. Ravel's bolero with a loop station, 1771, Tico Tico, Vivaldi concerto for two trumpets, Nemesis, In a friendly way, Danse Macabre, OBS2, Swedish Emigrant, Malagueña, Italian medley, Barber of Seville, The harmonious postman, Our delight, The Entertainer from our own Eva Phoenix and husband, and Feel free to forget our name - played by the Hippies from Hell.


It was so tough to judge with some outstanding performances. Eva came near the top but wasn't able to beat the Asians unfortunately, but very few can as they all seem to play from school days and are trained to win competitions from an early age. I can't imagine the Asian Pacific Harmonica Festival - I'm told many thousands of people attend - we had 3,000 here which seems a lot to me, and the APHF is supposed to be bigger. Must go along one year.


I had to miss workshops from Keith Dunn, Rachelle Plas, Sirius Quartet, Kathrin Gass on teaching children (I'll need to follow that one up), Yasuo Watani on sound phrasing.


Fata Morgana played but I went to see the amazing Rachelle Plas ripping up a storm, Keith Dunn with his incredible solo act, and finally Rick Estrin and the Nightcats showing us how to play the blues.


After that we got to play with the Nightcats at Steve Baker's late night jam - I played Watermelon Man and I can tell you those guys are mind readers, they allowed me to stretch out, blow when I wanted, drop the sound down to pin drop level and come back in with the final head on max. Now THAT was a treat!


Tom's Jazz session was great but it was a long day...


Saturday November 2nd


Excellent workshops for Joe Filisko and Rick Estrin on their take on the blues and then off to the Hohner Factory to do some filming on the subject of harmonica education - I have some views on that subject.


Next, with pockets full of sweets (a reward from Hohner!), I joined a factory tour where I was able to see the factory in operation from manufacturing the combs, the reeds, the reed plates, stamping the coverplates right through to the finished produkt. I'm pretty sure there is a video on YouTube about how a harmonica factory works if you are interested.



There was a chamber concert I am kicking myself that I forgot to go; I was told it was outstanding.


It featured the trio 'Triological Moments' (the brochure says 'Logical...Triological'. Who says the Germans have no sense of humour? Don't answer that...)


This was followed the award winning Hong Kong Harmonica Association Orchestra.


There is so much going on here it's hard to keep up as well as eat, drink and sleep.


I decided to go to the German harmonica museum instead which was, as always, rather fascinating. I notice that the Director, Martin Haefner (not sure if that's the right spelling) was wearing lovely white side whiskers and looked not dissimilar to Matthias Hohner himself. I'm told he will shave them off on Monday and has been growing them for some time. There's commitment for you.


In the evening we have the world harmonica gala. It features the 20 year old Konstantin Reinfeld who has been playing for only four years but would compare very well with some of the finest jazz players in my opinion. Unbelievable.


Yasuo Watani follows Konstantin and is a man who has taught at, and originally studied at, the conservatory in Trossingen. He reminds us how to play classical music on the harmonica and get a very lengthy applause for his efforts.


Tollak Ollestad is an amazing all round musician with high levels of skill on diatonic and chromatic as well as being a great singer, keyboardist, and songwriter. This show keeps getting better and better with every new act.


Finally Marcos Coll and Los Mighty Calacas take to the stage where the microphones are sporting some pretty fancy skeletons 'calacas' in Spanish. They start with some Latin salsa type of music and everybody starts dancing between the front row and the stage. Maybe not everybody, but I am told this is a first for The World Harmonica Festival. They play a mixture of blues, soul, funk, and Latin music with Marcos being very dynamic on the harmonica. Another great show full of humour excellent music and showmanship.


More excellent blues and jazz jam sessions round off another cracking day.

Sunday, November 3rd. The first part of the final day is the prize giving ceremony which seems to go on for very many hours. Rob Janssen from the Fata Morgana harmonica quartet founded in 1980 in the Netherlands, is the master of ceremonies and he invites to the stage the entire group of people who have performed each category, one at a time.


There were about 300 entries to the competition including groups some of which had 20 people involved. Whilst I saw many people who have entered multiple categories the majority seemed to be one off's. I think you can read the results on the world harmonica Festival website and there are many videos on YouTube now for you to have a look at.


After this most of the Chinese speaking community hopped onto buses and vanished whilst I lot of people including me went back to the Kesselhaus for Steve Baker's chillout concert, where he together 'with master guitarist, singer and composer, Dave Goodman and drummer Oliver Spanuth create a breathtaking mix of energy, virtuosity and unrestrained Joy of playing which promises to bring the world harmonica Festival 2013 to a fitting close' it says here in the program.


And they certainly delivered exactly that; it was a great way to say goodbye to old and new friends have a chat with some of the performers I had been meaning to talk with and to generally round things off.


Since my flight was on the Monday I went for a last evening meal with the Los Mighty Calacas and we found ourselves in the only place that was open so almost everybody else including the organisers was there as well. Interesting to find out that this band live between Spain and Mexico so don't really get together unless they are playing or touring. The music they produce is excellent so clearly it works for them but must be very difficult to manage I would imagine.


I say my good night's and goodbyes to the organisers and tutors and head for home.


Many trains, planes, and motorway miles later I get home to Bristol and sleep for 17 hours.







September 01, 2013




Saturday 17.8.13

Early start with the ‘Presidents Breakfast’. I was able to meet all the other presidents and VP’s of local harmonica clubs and tell people about the National Harmonica League (www.harmonica.co.uk) so it was a great opportunity to network plus we got to meet the instrument manufacturers, most of whom I already knew, but it was a treat to meet the President of Hohner Inc. worldwide.


Unfortunately that meant I had to miss Buddy Greene’s bluegrass, Celtic and old-time seminar, the Sgro Bros, Joe Filisko’s country blues tradition, and Harmonica fun 101.


Maybe each seminar needs to be videoed so people like me who are hungry for information can get to see everything?


Following that there was a gospel show, the legacy of Stevie Wonder, Breathe easy MD harmonicas in therapy, melodic approach to diatonic with Michel Herblin, patterns and arpeggios for improvisation with Sandy Weltman, Harmonikids with Gary Alegretto, jazz harmonica – chromatic, diatonic or both? With Filip Jers, breathing secrets – using your third lung, with James Conway and Richard Sleigh, rock effects for the harmonica with Marko Balland.


I managed to get to quite a few of these but only a few minutes in each as I had the Filisko teach – in to attend between 12 and 2.


That was the first time I had taught at SPAH in Joe's teach-in and I must say I enjoyed doing it and was able to give quite a lot of people some help.


The people I was competing with to get customers were Steve Baker, Madcat Ruth, Buddy Greene, Jerry Devillier, Brandan Bailey, Ronnie Shellist, David Barrett, Michael Peloquin, Buzz Krantz, Dennis Oellig, Will Scarlett, PT Gazell, Jellyroll Johnson, Lonnie Joe Howell, Cara Cook, Jimmy Gordon, James Conway, Michael Rubin, Adam Hamil. It was amazing that I managed to get anybody to sit on my table!


Later there were cocktails, the grand dinner, the award ceremony, and then the final concert was started by Robert Bonfiglio showing why he is regarded as one of the finest classical players of the chromatic harmonica. I recall him introducing one piece saying he had played it 440 times with different orchestras in pretty much all the classical venues in the world.


Another youth cameo came next with some more brilliant playing followed by harmonica express featuring Al and Judy Smith with Tom Stryker. Finally Charlie McCoy and a magnificent group of Nashville stalwarts finished the evening off with standing ovations throughout, and thinking about it, standing ovations have been a very common sight during every concert.


He even played the ‘stone fox chase’ as a special favour for the British contingent!


As I did not win anything in the raffle I don’t really want to talk about it.


I managed to get away from all of the wonderful jams going on at about 1:30 AM but had to get up at 4 AM for my flight out. You might think that at 4 AM on the last night of SPAH after spending five days immersed in the harmonica world people would want to take a break, but no, outside were six people standing in a circle playing crazy stuff to each other all jamming along and on a bench two guys were talking and playing as if the harmonica had just been released from prohibition. And that was my exit from SPAH 2013 leaving in the shuttle bus to the quietening sounds of the harmonica…


I forgot to mention the shops and stalls that were a constant source of interest. All the main manufacturers were present, Seydel, Hohner, Suzuki, the SPAH shop, Richard Sleigh, Harmonica Einstein, Blue Moon harmonicas, Brendan Power and his X-reed harmonicas, Martin Haeffner’s harmonica museum, PT Gazell and more (sorry I didn’t name everyone – there was too much going on).


Arrived in Denver and after 2.5 hours sleep and a bit of driving I found myself on a 4 mile hike in the Rockies with a 1,000 foot elevation change up and back. Denver is already a mile high so I had to stop every 100ft to get my breath back and settle the heartbeat. I also drank a gallon of water on the hike.


I don’t know if SPAH will be held in Denver anytime but as dry mouths and inability to breathe would be really tough for any low altitude folks, it might not be such a good idea!


That’s enough from me, it’s an amazing festival which it would behove any harmonica player to attend, and even though I was overwhelmed by the talent, skills, numbers of great players, and the incredible opportunities – I’ll be back.


Thanks to Winslow, LJ, Deb, Elizabeth, Phil, JP, Paul, Tom and the convention staff, plus the performers, teachers and attendees for a wild time.


Ben Hewlett

Chairman NHL



September 01, 2013




Friday 16.8.13
Playing tasteful fills
Band in a box
John Sebastian Jr on his famous father
Irish Music
Chord workshop
Chromatic harmonica 101
Add variety to your act
Tone, Vibrato, Bending
Basic diatonic
Can playing harmonica improve your health and athletic performance?
Classical harmonica
Rock harp
Why harmonica?
Reading music
Al and Judy Smith workshop
…are the seminars I missed today – I don’t quite remember why now, it’s all somewhat of a blur.
But after my teaching session I went to a truly outstanding session with Buddy Greene and Charlie McCoy. Buddy is best known for his video that went viral. Buddy’s solo performance, at Carnegie Hall I think, of the William Tell overture is worth a Google search if you would like to see an extraordinary performance.
Buddy and Charlie are old friends and started by telling jokes – it was quite a routine – and gradually it turned into a hilarious interview with jokes and music throughout. Boy, can they both play!
Steve Baker had a seminar followed by Deak Harp which sadly I missed, and the movie ‘Pocket full of soul’ was showed and I caught the end of that.
The Windy City Trio caught my attention in the evening shows and then the amazing Stan Harper who I must confess I hadn’t known about until SPAH. I loved his start; something like (and I’m paraphrasing here)…what an amazing festival, all these great people, I’ve enjoyed every minute…until now.
What an outstanding player, I’ll need to find out more about him.
The youth cameo produced more great young players reassuring me the harmonica is being preserved and advanced all the time.
Koei Tanaka knocked everybody out with his beautiful lyrical playing on the chromatic. An exceptional jazz player who will surely become world-famous if he isn’t already. You won’t find many better players than him in my opinion.
After the break Filip Jers came on and played a wonderful set using diatonic and chromatic, sometimes with guitar. He is also a great front man interacting well with the audience.
His story about meeting Toots had some effect on the person who won a drawing of Toots in the raffle on the final day, as he kindly and fittingly gave it to a very proud Filip.
Madcat and Kane played a fantastic set after that. It’s hard to get used to such an amazing talent one after another, all the time!
Sandy Weltman finished the concert off with a dazzling performance of jazz, klezmer, latin and gypsy jazz; and once again the audience was blown away by the talents of Sandy and his band.
I seemed to run out of energy and didn't really make it to the blues jam, the bluegrass jam, the country jam, all the jazz jam, all of which seemed to go on till very late every night. I guess I caught the jazz jam a few times as it was very close to the source of beer and the quality was very high each time I saw it.

Ben Hewlett


August 28, 2013

SPAH part 2

Thursday 15.8.13

from Ben Hewlett at www.sonnyboysmusicstore.co.uk

Up early to sample some real American culture at Waffle House – coffee, bacon and maple syrup. An alternative to the $17 breakfast in the hotel, although I think there was a discount.

This to make sure I got to Madcat Ruth’s seminar on acoustic tone at 08.30 and I was only a little late.

He gave a great write up one of our Sonny Terry riffs books on www.harmonicaworld.net so I wanted to thank him and hang out a bit. We’ll try to get him to the UK festival some time.

He’s such a character you have to love him and I learnt a bunch of new things including about his ‘loo-roll’ amplifier and his swanee whistle auto bending machine…

My 1.5 hour seminar and following 2 hours of (the Joe Filisko Teach-in) teaching ‘How to play in 7 keys on a C harp without bending a note’ went down well with a flurry of interest and a swarm of people wanting more at the end of it.

I was quite surprised how many people came to the seminar of an unknown Brit but 40-50 souls attended and it was an honour to teach them.

Unfortunately that stopped me going to all the other seminars such as:

Harmonica Collecting and History

Chicago Blues with Joe Filisko

Chrom playing for diatonic players

Group playing by ear

X-Reed harmonicas with Brendan Power

The craft of Country harp

Traditional Quebecois music

Adding colour to music

Singing and harmony

Better bending

Playing by ear

How to be a frontman

Breath control for blues harp


There is so much going on you can really only catch 10% of what’s available.

Then in the evening there was a 4-hour concert with Winslow Yerxa, Pierre-Luc Dupuis, Paul Rishell/Annie Raines, John Sebastian, Hot Shots, Gateway Club followed by and blues jam, a jazz jam, a country jam, a bluegrass jam all with high quality especially the jazz.

I had to leave at 1.30am to get some rest but sat for a while listening to a little hallway jam with Madcat Ruth, Richard Sleigh, Steve Baker, Dennis Greunling and friends. Astonishing.

Crawled down for breakfast at 0830 to find the stage in the lobby bouncing to the sound of a chord/bass/chrom trio playing ‘When the saints’ to rapturous applause.

More coming...

from Ben Hewlett at www.sonnyboysmusicstore.co.uk

March 15, 2013


Last week I was at SPAH50; this is the Society for the Preservation and Advancement of the Harmonica's 50th annual convention, and is the US main umbrella group for harmonica players. There are many area groups as well and this year Gateway Harmonica hosted the convention in St Louis Missouri.


A long way from my home in the UK and sonnyboysmusicstore.co.uk but I was giving a seminar and doing some other teaching so worth the pain of flying!

Wednesday 14.08.13


First full day at SPAH.ORG has been interesting and overwhelming.


Being still a bit jetlagged I couldn’t make Michael Rubin’s beginners blues jam at 08.30 but did see him doing a workshop on 3rd position to a packed house.


There was a theory class ‘for scaredycats’ and a ‘harmonica for meditation and relaxation’ that was on at the same time at the 3rd position workshop.


Bob Kessler did an excellent seminar on composing using an iPad app ‘LooperHD’ where he showed how you can compose with multi layers on this simple app using multiple harmonicas – it looks so simple I might try it myself.


Later Roger Trobridge showed some of his NHL harmonica movies but only extracts – he needed a 59-hour extension to cover the whole thing.


Jimmie Lee taught about ‘Every groove a bluesman needs to know’ explaining how he’s categorized everything from a Texas shuffle, the ‘flat tyre’, a Bo Diddley to a jazz swing. More on his site no doubt.


Jason Rosenblatt taught advanced diatonic theory using many klezmer scales, which I enjoyed – especially ‘Freygish’ that is Phrygian mode with a sharp 3. The klezmer guys turn some of the normal modes into eastern European hybrids it would seem. Cunning stuff and worth exploring.


If you go to any seminar you miss four others so ‘Chord Structures’, ‘Soulful Beats from the Heart’, ‘Rhythm Games’, ‘Basic Chrom’, ‘Nashville Numbering’, Jazz Impro’, and ‘Pulmonica’ were the ones I missed.


I also located the only place where you can’t hear any harmonicas – in the pool under the water. Still a bit overwhelmed by the talent, performances, seminars and people I consider famous wandering about being friendly and approachable.


More coming...


Ben Hewlett