Deborah writes (adapted from an email to a student dated 9/25/01):
Here are my suggestions for playing with a jazz band, both as an ensemble player and as a soloist (remember, this is not a comprehensive tutorial - just some tips and ideas):
First of all, the harp needs to be amplified. If it isn't, its going to be impossible to compete with the brass and percussion. There's no wimp factor in this -- the guitar is also amplified in a jazz band (as is the bass), so think of yourself as a big guitar. Get a pickup for your harp (you can get a Fishman Pickup - as well as my amplification kit though the mail order catalogue on this site), tape the sound holes on the back of the harp with gaffer tape (so you have less chance of 'feedback' from the amp), and then turn up the volume.

You can use existing material, you just need to choose your role. Here are two possible roles as an ensemble member (i.e. not a soloist):

A) TRUMPET-TYPE: Think of yourself (and your harp) as a single line instrument, but DOUBLE the line at the octave or double octave with the left hand whenever possible. If the line goes to fast (like a flute line might if you were doing runs), then use both hands on one line.

B) GUITAR-TYPE: Think of yourself as the guitar. Get the guitarist to show you the rhythm she strums in and play block chords ("block chords" will be explained in the next sentence) with her, as though the two of you were two guitars. When you play chords, do the following:

1. DON'T PLAY BASS NOTES: (i.e. don't play the usual harp chord voicings with, for example a low C,G, middle C in the bass and then E, G, C in the right hand).

2. CLUSTERING AND CLOSE VOICINGS: If you're playing a Cmaj7 chord, use a voicing more like this: B (below middle C), middle C, E, G; or middle C, E, G, B; or (for a C9) D above middle C, E, Bb. In other words, keep the “triadic” flavor out of your playing by trying to keep the chords in close voicing and by having some kind of cluster whenever possible (i.e. by having 2nds in your chords as well as 3rds).

3. DOUBLING IN LEFT HAND: Play the above voicings with the LEFT HAND, double them an octave up with the right hand.

4. NO CHORD BREAKING: Play all the chords dry and rhythmically, trying to get the same feel as the strumming of the rhythm section guitar. Being together with the band rhythmically is absolutely essential, so keep your playing as simple as you need to in order to be TOGETHER rhythmically with them.

5. DAMPING: If you play the chords dry and don't pull your hands out from the harp too much, you can put them back on strings you just played. Don't think too much about this - if you're emulating the guitar, she'll probably be strumming the same chord 2 to 4 times each measure. To do that, you'll need to stay close to the strings anyway, so the damping should just sort of happen.


A) BLUES: Blues soloing is the easiest kind of soloing to do on the harp. It also allows you to STAND UP during your solo, which I think is essential (unless you are in front of the band and clearly designated as the soloist from start to finish with lighting, etc.). You can create a blues solo on any blues tune, just like any guitarist would, but it might be even easier for you. Here's what to do:

1. PUT YOUR PEDALS IN THE "BLUES SCALE" MODE for the piece you're playing. For the key of F, the blues scale pedal chart is: D, C, Bb -- E, F, G#, A. The basic model for making a blues scale is this: For whatever KEY you're playing the blues in, you want the harp: root, sharp 2, major 3, perfect 4, perfect 5, major 6, flat 7. This is simple, but effective.

Even if the band is playing complex substitutions or altered chords, with practice you should be able to play a convincing solo using these notes.

2. PLAY AS A SINGLE LINE INSTRUMENT: Play melodically ONLY (just like a trumpet would) and follow these guidelines:

a) Do NOT play chords.

b) Do NOT arpeggiate (unless you're doing it melodically, i.e. in the same way a trumpet would).

c) Do NOT play bass notes.

d) Double the melodic line at the octave or double octave.

e) Keep the solo line HIGH (i.e. the left hand should basically never go below trumpet range and the right hand should be one or two octaves above that, doubling the left).

f) Alternatives: to bring the line out, you can use the following alternatives to doubling (just make sure that, whatever you do, your line is way out front in terms of volume and presence ---- and turning up the amp won't always give you that kind of presence).
• USING A PICK: You can learn to play solos using a pick.T with your fingernails will give you a nice loud sound, you just won't be able to play fast.

3. STAND UP: because your harp is tuned to the blues scale of the piece, you can stand and play, just like any other soloist (except the guitar or piano).

4. BUILD THE SOLO: The easiest way to to this is to literally start in the low end of your range (with your left hand around middle C) and SLOWLY work your way up. By slowly I don't mean you should play slowly, but rather you should work UP slowly. For example, keep the first 8th of the solo within the five lowest notes of your range, the 2nd 8th moves up to the next 5 notes, and so on, so that you're getting to your most audible range (i.e. high and loud) no sooner than 3/4 of the way through the solo.

5. END THE SOLO: There are basically two kinds of solo endings:

a) end big and impressive (i.e. high up, or lots of notes or fast glissandos), especially effective when you're the last solo (or the only soloist) and the band is about to hit the head (or recap) tutti.

b) end by coming down and linking to the next solo. This is actually harder, and takes more finesse, but its especially effective just before a base solo or a guitar solo.


You can use a glissando from time to time for emphasis. The usual place for it is at a cadence, and on a DOMINANT CHORD. But avoid the standard harmonies and be aware of the harmony the band is playing: i.e. we're used to playing G7 glissandos with this pedal diagram: D, Cb, B, E#, F, G, A. Try flatting the A [if the chord is a flat nine chord: G7 (b9)], or flatting the D [if its a flat five chord: G7 (b5)]; or you can sharp the A for a G7 (#9), or sharp the D for a G7 (#5). Get the idea?