How Did John Popper Start Playing Harmonica?

Learn how John Popper started playing harmonica in this interview with John Popper himself.


Hi, I'm John Popper, lead singer of the band Blues Traveler. I also play harmonica, and am arguably one of the best in the world. But thank God, there really never can be an actual best, but I'm damn good. I'm gonna teach you a few things about the harmonica.

I was harmonizing in church when I was 3. You know, my parents realized I was sort of musically inclined, and we're distantly related to David Popper, this early 20th century cellist. Who was in the 1910s‚ he was a bohemian cellist. So they gave me a cello and gave me lessons and I was horrible at it, and I hated to practice. And when I was 8, they gave me piano lessons, and I hated to practice, hated learning to read, hated being told what to do. Tuba lessons later, give the fat kid a tuba. Sort of goes without saying I was a little pudgy, even at school. And guitar lessons and again hated learning to read. The great thing about the harmonica is there wasn't any literature for it, or lessons to be taught. You just kind of had to figure it out yourself. And that's really part of how I excelled at it, that and also the chord structure of the harmonica is very satisfying. When you exhale on a C harmonica you get a C major chord right away. Inhale you get a G dominant chord. All dominant means is that the 7th degree of that chord. La, la, la, la, la, la, la. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 of a major scale, is flattened and that lets you go, laa, laa, laa, laa, laa, laa‚ it lends itself to more of a bluesy thing. That is what a dominant chord transmits, so right away you're sort of, kind of playing music, something basically pleasing. So basically when I got my harmonica the first day I was going‚ I was sort of playing "Frère Jacques," kind of right out of the box. You start realizing how many songs are built on these 2 chords to some degree or another. A little fudging here and there. Its basically the structure of a lot of western music is, a major chord with some sort of a dominant chord.

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