‘I Can’t Play Harmonica’ features a seasoned musician engaging beginning performers  

On June 22, the McKeon Center for Creativity featured harmonica player Dave Bernston, a member of the Route 66 Harmonica Club and who has played and taught blues harmonica for over 30 years.  

As a part of C4C’s “I Can’t” workshop series, Bernston was the headliner for “I Can’t Play Harmonica.” He shared the basic techniques of the soulful sounds of harmonica and offered instructions on how participants could continue their musical journey, according to Bob Dylan Center’s social media page.  

When he is not teaching, Bernston is a harmonicist virtuoso member of the Mid Life Crisis Band, who are a popular local band. 

For those who attended the “I Can’t” workshop, they were given free Hohner harmonicas in the key of C. As a seasoned musician, he inspired everyone to play in rhythm on their harmonicas.  

Bernston taught the audience how to “wah-wah” with their harmonicas, a technique that involves bending the note of the harmonica down a half-step. The audience was also guided in playing the C major scale on the harmonica, and how to make each harmonica reach its tone pop with accented strikes of breath while playing the notes.  

“Initially, it was my grandfather who had a harmonica, and he worked on the railroad. He would go away on a train trip, and I would stay with my grandmother, and he would let me play the harmonica while he was away at work. And then I heard blues harmonica on television when I was your (Chase Goza’s) age, and it inspired me to play blues,” says Berntson. (Photo by Chase Goza)

Anthony Ontiveros, a student from the University of Tulsa, learned the basics of his instrument at the McKeon Center for Creativity during the “I Can’t Play Harmonica” event. (Photo by Chase Goza)

When asked how he feels about influencing the younger generation with his music, Bernston stated, “I think that the youth are the future of music in America, particularly blues music. Because blues music was very popular in the 1950s and then it was eclipsed by rock’n’roll music, a lot of Blues music is not being played. There is blues-rock, which is played a lot, but traditional blues is not played as much.  

 “I like to influence young people to go back to the roots of blues and play. Also, it is a great way to get attention if you’re young. It’s a great way to get attention in positive ways. It also feels good. It releases endorphins in your brain and can change your mood. Music can do that.” 

After attending the event, the audience was left with the ability to play in the key of C major with rhythm. The workshop taught the community and allowed them to play with one another on their newfound harmonicas. By the end of the show, the room full of Tulsans and passersby were jamming in the key of C while Bernsten played a bluesy solo over the beat.  

Local Harmonica Organization

To get more involved in local harmonica playing, individuals can join SPAH (Society for the Preservation and Advancement of the Harmonica), which is an international organization. The Route 66 Harmonica Club will be partnering with SPAH for its convention at the Hyatt Regency Downtown Hotel on Aug. 13-17. Five hundred individuals from across the world are expected to attend. Tulsa has hosted the event four times since 2017.  

Some of the best harmonicists will be participating from various countries, including China, Japan, Germany, United Kingdom, and India. Concerts will be open to the public with the price of admission on Aug. 13-14. Proceeds from the conference will be offered in the form of scholarships. For more information, see The SPAH William Rosebush Youth Scholarship.   

“At the last convention a woman from China was playing a classical piece, and she had the audience in tears,” stated Brian Walker, president of the Route 66 Harmonica Club.        

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