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Learn to play tunes by ear on harmonica - no written music

Classic harmonica pieces for you to learn including Chicago blues, country music (bluegrass) and Irish reels by ear.
4.3 (2 ratings)
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65 students enrolled
Created by Ben Hewlett
Last updated 3/2014
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If you ever wanted to learn the harmonica this course is for you!
I will hold your hand all the way through the videos with my 'infectious and humourous' (I'm told) style of teaching. I am right with you talking to you personally in a one to one lesson showing exactly you how to do it, and encouraging you to become confident and go it alone.
This course gives you a series of basics in 12 easy lectures. If you take one lecture per week that's three months, although you can fast track and do it all in a weekend if you like.
It's designed to be fun, friendly, easy for anyone to learn - even non-musical people! It is designed to help you succeed and lead you on to the next in the series.
There are pdfs and mp3 downloads with every lecture so you can read the tablature and play along with the audio music written especially for learning harmonica. Look in 'View resources' in the top right of your screen. The download tab is second in from the left - the one with the arrow.
Please be sure to visit the Questions area and Forum to interact with other students. It's a great way to learn more and helps you apply what the course gives you.
I check my messages daily where possible if you want to arrange a call or skype please message me.
'Ben Hewlett is the UK's most respected harmonica teacher and most prolific author. He will lead you through the ins and outs of harmonica playing through a series of short video lessons. His teaching style is confident, practiced, humorous, skillful, knowledgeable and packed with information in bite sized chunks.
Ben is used to teaching all over the world at prestigious harmonica festivals and is delighted to offer his services to you.'


Who is the target audience?
  • This course is for people who have played harmonica a bit before. The best preparation is to take all my Udemy courses from the start or the Beginners or Intermediates sections depending on your level.
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What Will I Learn?
This course is all about playing tunes. By the end you will be able to play two Irish pieces, one country piece, a country blues, and parts of two classic blues numbers.
View Curriculum
  • A 10hole diatonic harmonica in the key of C and A
Curriculum For This Course
Expand All 15 Lectures Collapse All 15 Lectures 01:55:04
Promotional Video
2 Lectures 03:37

This course is all about tunes. If you want to play tunes on the harmonica step inside - you are in the right place!

BUT...we are actively learning by ear here so I'm not giving you the chart or lead sheet. This is intentional because it is another way of learning music. The aural tradition is as important as the written music tradition so I'm teaching you both methods and this one is aural.


Don't worry when I say 'welcome to lecture 3' and you are looking at lecture 5 - you might think something has gone wrong but fear not, it's all in sync and you are not seeing things! Those are the lecture numbers as I planned and filmed them.

But later, when I added the Indroductory videos they appeared as lectures and displaced the numbering system.

Preview 01:22
Country Music
3 Lectures 26:38

Today we are learning the Fire Ball Mail. And when I say we of course I mean you. Actually I have learnt more about playing harmonica by teaching it than by playing it so as I teach, I learn.

Here are the lyrics and chords - there are only 2, G and D7:

Recorded by Roy Acuff
Written by Floyd Jenkins (aka Fred Rose)

[G] Here she comes - look at her roll
There she goes - eatin' that [D7] coal
Watch her [G] fly - look at her sail
let her by, by, [D7] by - it's the Fireball [G] Mail.


Let her go - look at her steam
Hear her blow - whistle and scream
Like a hound - waggin' his tail
Dallas bound, bound, bound - the Fireball Mail.

Engineer - makin' up time
Tracks are clear - look at her climb
See that freight - clearin' the rail
Bet she's late, late, late - the Fireball Mail.

Watch her swerve - look at her sway
Get that curve - out of the way
Watch her fly - look at her sail
Let her by, by, by - the Fireball Mail.

Preview 07:48

Please see previous lecture for the main details.

Here is a nice backing track, but without the B section -

Learning Fireball Mail Part 2

Last section of the tune now.

Remember we are actively learning by ear here so I'm not giving you the chart or lead sheet.

Roy Acuff's thoughts:

"It's a very good number, and it's done very well for me. A lot of the boys are still doing it today. I recorded it in 1943 in the key of A, but when I do it now, I have to do it down a couple of notes. [that would be the key of G] I first thought it was written by a lady who was connected with Mr. Art Satherley, but I found out later, after I recorded it, that Fred [Rose] wrote it under the name Floyd Jenkins. I didn't know at first who 'Floyd Jenkins' was; it's easy to fool a country boy." —Roy Acuff

Wikipedia says a train song is a song referencing passenger or freight railroads. Trains have been a theme in both traditional and popular music since the first half of the 19th century and over the years have appeared in all major musical genres, including folk, blues, country, rock 'n roll, jazz, world, classical and avant-garde. While the prominence of railroads has faded in recent decades, the train endures as a common image in popular song.

You might be interested in other 'train songs' so I'll add a link here to some others you might want to look at. There's quite a few of them!

Learning Fireball Mail Part 3
Irish Music
5 Lectures 46:22

Today we are learning the Maids of Michelstown. It is also known as The Maids of Mitchellstown / Maids of Mitchellstown / Gearrchaile Bhaile Mhistéala / Maids of Castletown / The Chicken in the Saucepan.

It is a 16 bar AB structured reel in 4/4 or 2/4 in dorian mode which is best played in 3rd position on the harmonica and is perhaps best known as a regular piece by the Bothy band so you could look out for that to help you learn. They play it quite slowly in the same key as us so you can play along.

I thought I had better put this in as the tune is played by Brendan Power who is the guy who taught ME to play it. He also tells you about a book he has written with this tune and many others inside, and about one of the harmonicas he makes which is half valved and has a different tuning. I think he uses a G harp on this track.

And here it is played by the super wonderful P.J. Hayes, Martin Hayes & Dennis Cahill - the last two being my favourite Irish duo. They play it in the key I'm teaching you so once you have it up to their speed you can join in.

Learning The Maids of Michelstown Part 1

More Maids of Michelstown. Please follow the video.

If you REALLY want the dots or want the play the B section why not get it from the maestro Brendan Power as I did. You might want to get this book - I did and I recommend it.

Maids is halfway down this public domain sample page Brendan has published:


Learning The Maids of Michelstown Part 2

Today we learn the Red Haired Boy.

Also known as An Carrowath, An Giolla Ruadh, The Auld Rigadoo, The Beggar Man, The Beggarman, Danny Pearl’s Favorite, Gilderoy, Guilderoy, Injun Ate A Woodchuck, The Jolly Beggar, The Jolly Beggarman, The Journeyman, The Little Beggar Man, The Old Rigadoo, The Old Soldier With The Wooden Leg, The Red Haired Lad, The Red Headed Irishman, The Rigadoo.

It is another reel in 4/4 with a structure of AABB as you will see in the video.

It is in the Mixolydian mode so has the flattened 7th and a prominent and characteristic part of the tune, and this puts it squarely into 2nd position for harmonica players thereby giving it a bluesy edge and feel.

So enjoy learning it with me and see how you get on.

Learning The Red Haired Boy Part 1

Further studies on the Red Haired Boy.

Learning The Red Haired Boy Part 2

Final studies on the Red Haired Boy.

Learning The Red Haired Boy Part 3
Chicago Blues
3 Lectures 26:55

Today we will learn the start of Juke.

I will talk you through the piece and we will learn the first 12 bar chorus. It can be played puckering but Little Walter was a tonbue blocker so it's best to use that embouchure if you can.

It starts with a beautiful phrase which I call a 'ramp'. It gets you from the low part of the harmonica to the middle area and can be repeated as an excercise an octave higher. In other words the tab is 2draw 3draw 4draw 5blow 6blow (twice) and then 6blow 7draw 8draw 8blow 9blow (twice).

Practice this first then join me on the video.

Juking was a raunchy dance you would find in Juke Joints which were informal establishments featuring music, dancing, gambling, and drinking, primarily operated by African American people in the southeastern United States from the early 1900s. The term "juke" is believed to derive from the Gullah word joog, meaning rowdy or disorderly. A juke joint may also be called a "barrelhouse".
Classic juke joints found, for example, at rural crossroads, catered to the rural work force that began to emerge after the emancipation. Plantation workers and sharecroppers needed a place to relax and socialize following a hard week, particularly since they were barred from most white establishments by Jim Crow laws. Set up on the outskirts of town, often in ramshackle buildings or private houses, juke joints offered food, drink, dancing and gambling for weary workers. Owners made extra money selling groceries or moonshine to patrons, or providing cheap room and board.

Juke boxes would later put musicians like Little Walter out of business in the Juke Joints.

Learning Little Watler's Juke Part 1

More study on Juke.

This lecture looks at the last part of the first chorus and shows you how to play the notes and the rhythms.

It would be good for you to get a copy of the piece to study.

I would recommend you put it into 'Transcribe!', slow it down. This will help you learn all the complicated parts.

There is also a book by David McElvy called Blues Harmonica Collection where the solo is written out for you - it might help.

This song is a harmonica instrumental recorded by then 22-year-old Chicago bluesman Little Walter Jacobs in 1952. Although Little Walter had been recording sporadically for small Chicago labels over the previous five years, and had appeared on Muddy Waters' records for the Chess label since 1950, "Juke" was Little Walter's first hit, and it was the most important of his career. Due to the influence of Little Walter on blues harmonica, "Juke" is now considered a blues harmonica standard.

It was in the charts and hit the number-one spot on Billboard's R&B chart, unheard of for a harmonica instrumental; no other harmonica instrumental has ever achieved this position, before or since. Juke was not only a major success for Little Walter, it was the biggest hit record for Chess or any of its associated labels up until that time, and only the third Chess record to hit #1. Juke stayed in the #1 spot for 8 weeks, surpassing both previous Chess #1s, which had occupied the #1 position for a combined total of six weeks. The record stayed on the Billboard charts for a total of 20 weeks, and was one of the biggest R&B hits in the U.S. in 1952.

Learning Little Watler's Juke Part 2

Another self penned classic this time from Aleck 'Rice' Miller aka Sonnyboy Williamson the second released September 1955.

It's worth learning some of his songs; they come up a lot at jam sessions.

I'll teach you the beginning and the ending. These are both really good riffs to know - you can use them in any blues.

The form is interesting here, it's a 12 bar blues but the first 4 bars are extended in the verse for as long as needed. Also you have the Hoochie Coochie riff we learned in Beginners level 1 running all through the narrative so you are well, equipped to play it.

It's all done on a C harp and is not too fast so hopefully you will be able to play it.

Here are the lyrics as best I can hear them.

Well, I'm goin down to Rosie's,
Stop at Fannie Mae's.
Gonna tell Fannie what I heard,
Her boyfriend say (12 bar structure resumes here)
Don't start me to talkin,
I'll tell her everything I know.
I'm gonna break up this signifyin,
Cause somebody's got to go.


Jack give his wife two dollars,
Go downtown and get some margarine.
Gets out on the streets,
Ole George stopped her.
He knocked her down,
And blackened her eye,
She gets back home,
Tell her husband a lie (12 bar structure resumes here)

Don't start me to talkin,
I'll tell everything I know.
I'm gonna break up this signifyin,
Somebody's got to go.


She borrowed some money,
Go to the beauty shop.
Jim honked his horn,
She begin to stop,
She said, "Take me, baby,"
"Around the block,"
"I'm goin to the beauty shop,"
"Where I can get my hair a sock.” (12 bar structure resumes here)

Don't start me to talkin,
I'll tell everything I know.
Well, to break up this signifyin,
Somebody's got to go.

Learning Sonnyboy Williamson 2's Don't Start Me Talking
Country Blues
2 Lectures 11:32

As you know by now I love Sonny Terry!

In this lecture I'll teach you how to play Sitting on top of the World - or Hill as I've heard it sometimes.

Sing along as a preparation, here are the lyrics:

No need 'a runnin', holdin' up your hand
I can get me a woman, quick as you can a man
But now she's gone, and I don't worry, 'cause I'm sittin' on top of the world

I'm on top of the world, with my leg hanging down
My baby done quit me, gone out 'a this town
But now she's gone, and I don't worry, 'cause I'm sittin' on top of the world

Work all the summer and all the fall
Now, they wanna take my Christmas, and my overalls
But now she's gone, and I don't worry, 'cause I'm sittin' on top of the world

Bye, bye, baby, honey if you call it gone
It may worry me some, baby, but it won't last long
But now she's gone, and I don't worry, 'cause I'm sittin' on top of the world

Walter Vinson claimed to have composed “Sitting on Top of the World” one morning after playing a white dance in Greenwood, Mississippi in 1930.

There was a popular song by the same title - actually prefixed by 'I'm...' - recorded by Al Jolson in 1929. And so it goes on. Anyway, who cares, just play the darned thing!

I understand the song was first recorded by the Mississippi Sheiks in 1930 (on the Okeh label, No. 8784), became a popular crossover hit for the band, and was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2008.

In May 1930 Charlie Patton recorded a version of the song (with altered lyrics) called “Some Summer Day”. During the next few years cover versions of "Sitting on Top of the World" were recorded by a number of artists: The Two Poor Boys, Big Bill Broonzy, Sam Collins, Milton Brown and Bob Wills & His Texas Playboys. After Milton Brown recorded it for Bluebird Records the song became a staple in the repertoire of western swing bands.

"Sitting on Top of the World" has become a standard of traditional American music. The song has been widely recorded in a variety of different styles — folk, blues, country, bluegrass, rock — often with considerable variations and/or additions to the original verses. The lyrics of the original song convey a stoic optimism in the face of emotional setbacks, and the song has been described as a “simple, elegant distillation of the Blues”.

Learning Sonny Terry's Sitting On Top Of The World

Conclusion and about the follow up course
About the Instructor
4.6 Average rating
913 Reviews
13,152 Students
60 Courses
Professional Harmonica Instructor since 1996 CTABRSM, NHL
  • Wow, over 12 thousand students - you could be next!!

Here's how my courses are categorised in terms of subject, purpose and content. 'Instant' courses are simple tunes; 'Learn Harmonica' is the harmonica encyclopaedia for everyone; 'Bones of the Blues', 'Get Chugging', '101 Blues Riffs', and '60 Sonny Terry Riffs' are the video taught versions of books I've written (you can google them) and the others are all about different techniques. I also have Celtic music courses for you.

If you see a course you want but don't have the cash you can talk to me. If you are a student or not earning much I will support you with a lower price, but if you are doing ok you can support me - how's that?

*Ben is the Chairman of the NHL - National Harmonica League in the UK

*Professional Harmonica Instructor since 1996

*Lousy at speelling - getting worse actually so tell me if you see a typo pleese

*Ben qualified as CTABRSM in 2002 (Certificate of Teaching - Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music)

*Certificate of Music Workshop Skills (Goldsmiths University of London) in 1995

*Accredited Diatonic Harmonica Teacher 1993 - HTAB (Harmonica Teachers Accreditation Board, supported by Lee Oskar Harmonicas, the National Harmonica League of UK and the International Harmonica Organisation).

*Ben's teaching business HarpsCool is proud to be 


'Ben Hewlett is one of the UK's most respected harmonica teachers and the UK's most prolific author on harmonica tuition. He will lead you through the ins and outs of harmonica playing through a series of short video lessons. His teaching style is confident, practiced, humorous, skillful, knowledgeable and packed with information in bite sized chunks. Ben is used to teaching all over the world at prestigious harmonica festivals and is delighted to offer his services to you.'

'You'll know Ben better as a harmonica teacher but he also studied Irish Drum - Bodhran - and tin whistle in the 1990's with the now very famous Steafan Hannigan and Marc Moggy from Renegade Rhythms. He got so into Bodhran playing he bought an expensive tuneable drum from Marc and it works better than ever to this day. Ben has played Bodhran in bands and sessions for years and even has a Senheiser bass drum microphone embedded into his drum. Check out his Bodhran teaching on Udemy'


I would recommend using 'Transcribe!' for slowing down and changing the key on my backing tracks - it's free as a trial and well worth a look in my opinion.


Join/subscribe/follow/friend my FB page to get notifications of live Facebook workshops.

I have been teaching people to play harmonica since 1996 as a full time job. I have started tens of thousands on their way to play the harmonica and I can tell you - it sure beats working!

I believe I was the first person to be a full time harmonica teacher in the UK, there are still very few of us - so there's plenty of room if you want to come and join me.

Recently I have become the Chairman of the National Harmonica League (NHL) which supports the UK harmonica players community.

Much of my time is spent writing books with Paul Lennon on how to play the harmonica, there are 20 or so with loads more in the pipeline - we have so many ideas it never stops.

I teach children near home, and with my team at HarpsCool where the team and I give 300 children weekly harmonica lessons.

My YT videos, and their success and feedback, are the reason I am teaching on Udemy; there are millions of hits on the youtube sites and thousands of subscribers. People are kind enough to say how clear the teaching is, and how it's helped them to understand aspects of harmonica playing - at last!

I run workshops at major harmonica festivals including SPAH in the US, the Bristol International Harmonica Festival in the UK, the World Harmonica Festival in Trossingen, Germany - home of Hohner, and the Harmonica Masters Workshops also in Germany.

I even use the harmonica in team building events for many international companies.

Cruise Ships have been part of my teaching life since 2002 and the combination of teaching, performing and travelling is quite a blast. Who knew teaching the harmonica would take me to the Caribbean three times, Africa, Russia, Scandinavia, and Atlantic Europe.

You will often find me performing in various venues and going to jam sessions, and I love playing with interesting groups or sitting on a number when the opportunity arises - that's one of the wonderful things about the harmonica, you can have it in your back pocket and join in with people wherever you are.

So you are in extremely competent and safe hands, so do yourself a favour and try one of my courses - in fact have a free lecture or two to suck it and see - that's a harmonica joke by the way.

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