Steve Baker : Interactive Blues Harp Workshop

Although he's been a major player in the european blues harp scene for over two decades and has a 14 hole Hohner marine band named after him, Steve Baker's main claim to fame in the in the harmonica world is his book "The Harp Handbook", a milestone of mouth organ literature for the wide range of topics that it deals with. The book goes from simple topics to very advanced techniques and offers a very detailed explanation of the physics involved (and at the heart of) bending and overblowing.

Steve Baker doesn't take this reputation for granted and offers today on CD-ROM a new tutorial "The interactive blues harp workshop".

As expected from him, Steve Baker offers here a very complete product. Here are the main tpoics featured :
- Layout
- Holding the instrument
- Pucker vs. tongue blocking
- Breathing / resonance
- 12 bar blues
- Bending
- Vibrato
- Positions
- Tongue blocking
- Octaves et intervals
- Circle of fifths
- " Overblows "
- Tuning
- Amplification

All these topics are dealt with in a very progressive way that wasn't the approach of "The Harp Handbook". There's nothing revolutionary in the way this material is presented and explained compared to all the other instructional books or CDs but we notice a definite will to go beyond the bare minimum that most of these methods stick to.

From a practical point of view, the program is composed of a main window split in 2: pictures and other diagrams on the left and text with scrolling bar on the right. As the user goes through the material and scrolls down, new graphics and soundclips appear on the left side accordingly. Each chapter can also be accessed through the "Theory" menu.

If you start browsing through the main window menus, you will discover the "exercises", "jam it !", "tuning" and other modules, most of them using a secondary window.

The exercise module is composed of a wide range of exercises of increasing level and sorted by category (beginners, bending, effects, blues licks, tonguing techniques, overblows). Each exercise is made of a tab, a sound clip and some explanation in a text window.

The "Jam it !" module offers 6 different kinds of playalongs (boogie, II V I, slow blues, etc…) in 4 different keys. The user can develop his improvisation technique and get used to each of these 6 different styles.

The "Tunings" module presents and explains various alternate tunings, some available on the market (natural minor, country, SBS) et some fancier variations (spanish, etc…)

Although each module offers a certain level of interactivity, the main window could use a more dynamic approach: besides the menus or mouse click on the harp picture to play the sound clips, the rest boils down to a long text in a scrolling window. This approach also results in the main window / secondary modules split that sometime doesn't feel very natural. At the start of the 21st century, we could have expected a better interface where these little unpleasant details, as well as some other bugs (german messages when using the program / find word function) would have been avoided.

In the end, and despite a disputable interactivity, Steve Baker proposes a product that seems very thourough in comparison to a lot of other instructional materials. People looking for a very specific style of blues might prefer other methods (like Jerry Portnoy's for Chicago blues) but this is not the aim of this CD-ROM. Not counting the exercises (and there is quite a bunch of them !), it will take you a couple hours to read through all of the material presented here and a lot more before you master it !

To get it