“Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day.
Teach a man to fish and you feed him for
 a lifetime.”

Note: This short-but-focused music course is for anyone, young or old, male or female, who wants to earn part- or even full-time income as a "grass-roots street musician" playing the harmonica. The course was first designed to help substance abusers get clean and do something more productive than panhandling or shoplifting, so expect some "tough-love" shots along the way, but anybody (and I mean "anybody" ... even if you've never even touched  a harmonica) with an interest in the "harp" and the concept of street performing can have some fun with the course ... and make money, too.

The lesson plan is complete in its purpose, even to the extent of including short segments on instrument funding for the financially challenged and entertainment psychology for the timid. Suggestions about brands and types of harps (from someone who isn't trying to sell you anything, so you'll have a truly objective viewpoint) and some helpful music terms and principles are also covered. If you've ever wished there were a "speed course" for performing, this is it, Babalu.

Relax. There is absolutely nothing for sale on this website; no offers for additional lessons, memberships, etc. Just COMPLETELY FREE, PROFITABLE MUSICAL PERFORMANCE INSTRUCTION!

Mickey Parker  cool  Las Vegas


There's no gimmick, no trick, no joke, and no charge. I'm going to teach you how to earn tips - good ones, folding money - playing the harmonica as a street musician, and I'm going to do it in less than five minutes! Here we go ...
1. LOOK LIKE A PRO. That means cup the "harp" (the word you'll generally use for "harmonica" from now on) in both hands, not by the ends like an ear of corn. This lets you open and close your hands to get "wah-wah's" and vibratos ... that lets you also SOUND like a pro.
2. PLAY "CHORDS" NOT SINGLE NOTES. Any three holes, favoring slightly left of center and avoiding the extreme ends, gives you beautiful, foolproof harmonic tones on a common "diatonic" harp. Don't try to look and "zero in" on them, just have the basic image in your mind and go for the general area: "234, 345, 456," etc. 
Don't worry about "spill-over" to adjacent holes; truth - and the beauty of it - is, chord playing on diatonic harp can actually be pretty sloppy and still sound primo. You'll hear and feel that very quickly, even learn to instinctively adjust to it and use it to your advantage.
3. THOSE THREE CHORDS ARE YOUR THREE BASIC TONES. Blowing and drawing gives you six tones - an easy, great-sounding framework. Remember this little rhyme: "HOME po-SI-tion STARTS on 'TWO' (234 chord); THAT is HOW we PLAY the BLUES." That sentence has the same syllables and cadence of the "Hoochee Koochee" lyric below.
4. MEMORIZE THIS SIMPLE LYRIC (to say to yourself) FOR RHYTHM, CHORD  AND BREATHING PRACTICE: "HOO-chee KOO-chee, GOT no SHOES; (Pause a beat.) HOO-chee KOO-chee, GOT the BLUES." Syllables are crisp and equal in duration, last one gets an extra beat. Capitalized means "BLOW," lower case means "draw."
5. Practice that until you can play it fast, smooth, automatic, going a little lower (to your left), a little higher (to your right) ... Finish with "waaay (two beats) COOL" repeated three times with a silent beat between each phrase, slowing it down on the final one. You're there, Babalu!
You don't need talent to play beautiful chords on a diatonic harp, make nice tips and possibly fall into some other opportunities along the way. But you do need the motivation to get cleaned up, sobered up, plan for weekends and holidays, learn where the best crowds are, etc. You can do this ... if you want to.

The biggest point is, don't start out trying to play single-note melodies. 
They’re difficult to play on the harp, especially for beginners, and no one is going to tip you for struggling with uninspired campfire songs or ice-cream truck tunes, anyway … although they might pay you to stop. Just relax and play the tunes as you remember them in your head as chordal melodies, two - usually three - or even four holes at a time. True mastery of the harmonica, like any instrument, can take years, but you can learn enough to "fake it" during your lunch break.

Lee Oskar, in an interview for Ben Marks' excellent article in the July 2015 issue of Craftsmanship Quarterly titled "The Return of the Harmonica," had this to say in that regard: "The harmonica was originally designed for the musically hopeless. It's one of the few instruments you can just breathe in and out of and sound like you're making music. I failed music in school, in Denmark, as a kid. But when I was six years old and put a harmonica in my mouth, it sounded like a symphony."



Don't forget to breathe both in and out.
Yeah, there will be people who bark back, saying, "Anybody knows that." Well, smarty-pants, Rod Stewart, by his own admission in his autobiography, played harp for a year before he got that (he described the sound as that of a chicken being strangled repeatedly). So, if you're more musically inclined than Rod Stewart, bark away; otherwise just accept the fact that we're all starting from a different knowledge base and lighten up.

Jonathon E. Brickman has written some brilliant material on harmonica instruction, including the tremelo harmonica mentioned later on, a significant part of which - to me - was the advice to just pick up the harmonica and start experiencing the location of the notes by ear, as opposed to trying to learn from charts and written material. That approach will not only help you learn faster, it will help keep it interesting and fun, a huge consideration.

Whether you're playing single notes or chords, don't "jump and peck" (does anybody remember the In Living Color episode where Jim Carrey is hypnotized to act like a chicken and the hypnotist, played by David Alan Grier, dies of a heart attack before snapping him out of the trance? Poor guy is stuck pecking at everything like a chicken! Hilarious mental image of a "Chicken Man" pecking at a harp like that, but definitely not good technique); keep your lips moist and glide very lightly from one note or chord to the next and, basically, move the harp back and forth while keeping your head still, as opposed to constantly moving your head back and forth, which can give you a sore neck.

Many songs won't work at all in chordal style; a few that will work quite well are listed below. Some are cool, some are corny, trite, etc., but starting with familiar tunes helps learn your way around the instrument by ear and helps you build improvisational skills without having to concentrate so heavily on the melodies themselves.

Remember, many very lively and familiar jazz tunes - When the Saints Go Marchin' In, is a fine example - were once very somber spiritual songs. Louis Armstrong made that his trademark song and musicians have been "tearing it up" ever since! Pete Seeger totally changed the character of Down By The Riverside, another fairly mundane spiritual song, when he began playing it as a Vietnam protest song in the 60s.

When you play a tune, it can be anything you want it to be - with all the grace notes, ghost notes, run-ups and turnarounds your music teacher or your parents wouldn't let you use ... just as fast as you feel like playing them! The harmonica is the perfect instrument to do just that, even if you have no musical training, or some you'd rather forget about (accordion). Here we go ...

Red River Valley
(up-tempo, jazzy, choppy: "dit-dit-dit-dit" not "daaaaah daaaaah" droning; it's more fun for you, more entertaining for your listeners, and imperfections and adjustments are a lot easier to just gloss over and keep going)

When The Saints Go Marchin' In (same as above - tear it up - use it for experiments on embellishments you can use on other tunes)

He's Got The Whole World in His Hands

Ob-La-De, Ob-La-Da

Piano Man

Camptown Races

Down By The Riverside (played up-tempo this becomes your "generic fiddle-type music" - see articulation below)

Turkey In The Straw (same as above)

Ode To Joy (instead of thinking of this as boring, public-domain music-lesson stuff, think: "How would Louis Armstrong play this song?" Played up-tempo and combined with your articulations, some quick trills, and the right attitude, this tune can become a weapon, no kidding!)

Sentimental Journey (same as above - up-tempo - lots of trills and articulations)

For He's

a Jolly Good Fellow (use this if you're asked to play "Happy Birthday," not a good chordal tune)

Row, Row, Row Your Boat (for participation and excitement at a children's party, etc.)

Funeral March For A Marionette (Alfred Hitchcock theme - best with minor key harp)

This Old Man (simple, familiar tune, excellent for precision breathing and articulation drills; kids - and mommy and daddy - will love you)

Angels We Have Heard On High and

Sixteen Tons (your "main attraction," this song works best with a minor key harp, as mentioned later on, but it can work with a major key, too). You can actually sing the words of the chorus while playing the simple tune (see articulating below) as chords - piece o' cake - singing or speaking the verses, depending on your vocal skills. It's a familiar song that everybody can identify with; easy to make up new verses. Here's how it goes, first verse as originally written, mine to follow (feel free to use them):

First verse:
Some say a man is made outta mud,
Poor man's made outta muscle and blood,
Muscle and blood, skin and bone,
A mind that's weak and a back that's strong.

You load sixteen tons and what-y-ya get?
Another day older and deeper in debt.
St. Peter, don't call me 'cause I can't go,
I owe my soul to the company store!
I OWE my soul to the company store!
Heep-ma diddle-diddle shippity-oo,
You gotta keep on kickin' and singin' the blues!
You gotta KEEP on kickin' and singin' the blues!

I wake up in the morning while the sun don't shine,
Grab my shovel and walk to the mine,
Work all day, move a mountain of ore,
Gotta come back tomorrow and do it some more!


Woke up this mornin' and the bed was so cold,
My woman done left me, so I been told.
She don't understand I gotta work this mine,
If I don't pay my bills, I gotta do some time!


Now I understand women and I have for a while,
Ya gotta have money and ya gotta have style.
Ain't no woman gonna follow you,
If you got no prospects - or just a few.


Now look here, mister, this could happen to you,
No more Rolex and fancy shoes.
Your good karma starts with you,
And somethin' in the bucket fo' the man with the blues!


Now if you know what you want and what you wanna do,
You gotta keep on kickin' till they give it to you!
Keep on kickin' till they give it to you,
Ya gotta keep on scattin' and singin' the blues!

(Chorus), etc.

Attitude. Expression. Growls. Sell it, man! If you don't make $50 to $80 in an hour at a high foot-traffic location with a performance like that, you're not trying. And don't tell me you make that much with that little cardboard sign! Sure, everybody's got a story or two about "lucky hits," but we also know they're few and far between. You can't buy today's needs with stories from the "good(?) ol' days."

Undoubtedly there are many more such songs, and it only takes a couple of measures to get a pretty good idea if a particular song is a contender or not. If a tune "makes the first cut," experiment, work out some refinements, etc. Along with every other part of playing the harp, you'll learn how to make certain stock changes to avoid "trouble" areas, making the whole process a little smoother each time. Oftentimes a stubborn, "sour" note can be soft-peddled or just omitted, doubling up on a previous or following note. If a song still doesn't work, dump it, go on to something else. What did you lose, a couple of minutes? It's a rush (and increased revenue [tip] potential) every time you learn a new tune, and again every time you make even small improvements to previous arrangements.

Get started by just experimenting with your harp, then, as soon as possible, and a little bit each chance you get, go to and search “harmonica instruction” video clips. Beck Wenger, one of my favorites, doesn't say a word on her video ... just lets the harp do her talkin'. And does it ever! I can't stop watching it and apparently I'm not alone. It's had over 4.7 million views!

There’s a ton of free harp videos, both performance and instruction, out there from seasoned pros to amateurs who can really wail. All available for viewing on free computers at recreation rooms, senior centers, libraries, etc. For both motivation and entertainment, Indiara Sfair's harp performances, as a soloist, with the group Milk 'n Blues, and many other well-known performers, are absolutely stunning. Hakan Ehn's Rockabilly Boogie Harmonica is a smokin' musical style for the harp that never gets old.

Again, you’re going to be playing, basically, any three holes at once; you’re going to alternate blowing (exhaling) and drawing (inhaling) to give it melody and interest. And you’re also going to articulate while you’re doing it. (Note: if you're giggling and making faces every time the word "blow" or "hole" is used . . . grow up or go away; this probably isn't for you.)

Articulating, talking or scatting (whispering), while playing the harp produces many interesting effects, and is used by harp players everywhere. Rock musicians, notably Peter Frampton, often use an electronic talk box, sometimes called a talking synth, for a similar effect. After playing a few phrases of whatever song you've chosen, whisper something like "heep-ma diddle-diddle shippidy-oo, ya gotta keep on kickin' and playin' the blues" behind your harp playing to stretch out your songs and really make them yours.

Here are some articulation/scatting licks you can use to add embellishments to your performances. They work best with a sort of up-tempo, bluegrass, square dance, fiddler-type feel and rhythm. Down by the Riverside is a perfect tune for this. You'll be blowing chords while you do them, so they're easy to learn and a lot of fun. You'll soon be making appropriate changes and improvements on the fly to mesh with whatever you're playing, wherever you want some variety and originality. (An excellent example is a chordal version of The Beatles' Ob-La-De, Ob-La-Da. Very cool and very easy to do.)

Deet-doe deet-doe, diddle-diddle deet-doe
Dit diddle-diddle-diddle, deet doe-doe.
Di-dit-doe dit-doe, diddle-diddle deet-doe
Dit diddle-diddle-diddle deet doe-doe.
Yo-ee yo-ee diddle-diddle deet-doe
Heep diddle-diddle-diddle deet doe-doe ...
Wah-DEEEE wah-du!

Lots of "notes" from one breath, in or out, long or short as needed. Don't worry about textbook explanations and diagrams about how it works; as Mr. Brickman would say, just start practicing and aquiring muscle-memory, you'll do fine.

After a few phrases of scatting, go back to the original melody lines (chorus, verse, bridge - whatever you've got), repeat your final phrase, once, twice, maybe three times (you'll get a feel for what fits in terms of repetition), slowing it down towards the end, vibrato out your final note/chord. It's a simple formula that's actually harder to explain than it is to do, and executed correctly, you will come off as something of a sidewalk virtuoso. The more you experiment, the better you'll get; it's like a drug with no down sides. Make practicing and innovating on that two- or three-ounce harmonica your new addiction; it'll change your life.

Start right now with any harmonica you can get your hands on (but don't buy one in the toy aisle in a department store; they sound terrible and often cost more than a real instrument - a notable exception being the Swan brand, which is sometimes sold in toy departments). True beginner instruments that you can make tips with like the Suzuki Easy Rider (G) or the Swan (C) go for less than a six-pack of beer or a pack of smokes on E-bay (about $6, free shipping, brand new from dealers), so don't tell me, "Can't do it; ain't got no money." That’s crap and you know it; you've got the money, it's just earmarked for addictions. (Don't snow me; I've been there, believe me.) But if you're looking for an excuse to stay in your comfort(?) zone, that's as good as any.

If you really want to sound like a pro (for short bursts anyway) in a hurry and can come up with about $45, get a Lee Oscar harmonic minor harp (Cm, Dm, Em, Ebm) online or at a local music store like Sam Ash or Guitar Center. Skilled harp players do some breathing manipulations called note bending that creates interesting sounds, as well as filling in some missing notes on a diatonic harp; it's not easy to learn, but don't get too hung-up on it. Think of it as an additional skill, not an obligatory one; be prepared to be ridiculed by the immature and insensitive who have acquired the skill and don't be discouraged by it, as I was ...

I remember a bonehead clerk in a music store here in Las Vegas, in the late 80s, who remarked - completely unsolicited - to anyone looking at the harmonicas, "Aah kin bend eh-n-n-n-y note on eh-n-n-n-y har-MON-ee-cuh." I couldn't bend the notes - still can't - and didn't touch the harp for almost 18 years after that. Thanks for the pep talk, Jethro.

A minor key harp can give that illusion, even when played by a beginner, but it gets old - for both artist and audience - so you'll also want to work with major key harps. Nevertheless, the harmonic minor harp is an excellent start-right-now tool and a quality instrument you won't want to part with.

Don't buy a so-called "melody maker" harp, regardless of the brand. They do have merit and special applications for experts, but their altered note arrangement makes them completely inappropriate for our goals here, which are to have absolute beginners earning tips right away playing chords. The same can be said for chromatic harmonicas (they'll have a button/lever on one end to raise every note a semitone); they are expensive, bulky, fragile and difficult to play. You want a standard diatonic, Richter-tuned, 10-hole harmonica, also called a "blues harp." This is the most popular, best-selling harp and economy of scale usually means the best selection, quality and price, whatever the product.

All that said, tremelo harmonicas merit some mention here. They make playing single-note melodies easy - almost instinctive - because of the wider note spacing and have a bright, double-reed, attention-grabbing tone that is perfect for street performing. The bad news, and there isn't much of it, is you can still play chords in a pinch, but they'll sound a little busy. Meh. The really good news is that you can get one online - a darn good one - from our friends at Swan for about $10, shipping included. That's not a misprint: ten bucks. Crazy! It's a full-size 24-hole model, not some little keychain toy, comes with a nice fitted plastic case and - I'm not making this stuff up - the model name, beautifully engraved on the cover, is "INCONCEIVABLE"! How apt is that?

This might be a good time to mention that harmonicas are generally not returnable unless there's a clear defect, because of the germs ("cooties") factor, so stay within the recommendations given here and buy carefully. Best bet? Buy online (through e-Bay or Amazon). The prices will be better, you'll find exactly the model you're looking for (without any pressure to buy a slow-mover) and get it faster (minor key harps will most likely be special order items at brick-and-mortar stores).

Minor key harps not only let you improvise like a pro, they also let you play interesting, familiar tunes like Summertime, Sixteen Tons (an incredible song for endless scatting and improvisational possibilities), the Alfred Hitchcock theme and Hungarian Dance No.5 (classical "gypsy" music, rarely heard on the harmonica). It will blow your mind once you realize how easy and effective simple chordal arrangements can be on the diatonic harp, even for a beginner.

All you need is about 30 seconds' worth of a familiar tune (people don't have to know those few bars are all you've got: you're busy, your job is to play little sound bites, much of which can be improvisational) to get a nice tip.

Keys can seem confusing, but aren't really. C major harps are right in the middle of the pitch range, mass-produced and easy to find. Whatever key of diatonic harp you have, make sure you have a copy of the note layout for the "C"; it will give you a clear indication of what notes are "missing," notes that are repeated, and note orders that are reversed at the high end. Regardless of the key, all diatonics are laid out the same, just apply that information to your key of harp. In fact, most manufacturers will include a "C" diagram with any key diatonic harp.

If you're buying a harp just for street performances and it's available, E or Eb (towards the high end of the pitch range) seems to work especially well for the chordal style I'm advocating here and can certainly still play single-note melodies when you get into that. If you're playing with other musicians, you'll want harps that go with the keys of the music they're playing. If you get to that point, or even think you might, don't get in a panic about the potential cost. Hohner, for example, sells a set of three keys, called "Blue Ice," "Hoodoo Blues," or some other catchy title, for about $15.

Other than relative pitch range, high or low, if you're going to play alone the key doesn't matter. But staying in the middle range (C, D, E or Eb) helps avoid the "sick moose" effects at the low end. The sweet spot - to my ear - is E or Eb major, Suzuki Bluesmaster or Lee Oskar; Cm or Em (Lee Oskar) harmonic minor for minor key tunes.

The economy harps mentioned earlier (Suzuki Easy Rider, Swan) can certainly get you started, but won't have the volume and projection of the better harps (this can be a plus if you have to practice very quietly somewhere) and won't be available in minor keys. Performance-quality harps like the Suzuki Bluesmaster (soft and mellow) and the Lee Oskars (loud and brassy and available in minor keys) come in at around $35 and $45, respectively.

Fortunately, none of these models has those horrible, protruding brass reedplate edges along the mouthpiece (sometimes refered to as "sandwich style," as if it were a virtue), which can really hurt if you're going to be playing and practicing several hours a day. Avoid any harp with such protrusions; the reedplate edges should be flush and smooth, if they can be seen at all. Seydel offers both styles but their harps are among the most expensive and their weak, muted, almost asthmatic tone makes them among the least well suited for unamplified street performing.

If you're seeking financial help from a friend or family member for "gear" remind them this isn't just a pricey toy; it's a musical instrument and, effectively, a business expense. I'm not telling you to manipulate anyone; if you get money from someone for a harp or whatever be sincere about it and follow through. But I will suggest that it might help if you actually just "happen" to get them into the music store with you ("I wonder if they have those Lee Oskar minor key [a little esoteric name-dropping usually helps, too; it's an indication that you've done your research and are serious about the project, but as I've said, use these persuasive superpowers for good, not evil, Grasshopper] harmonicas here?"), as opposed to just scoring the cash and off you go. You might get even more help than you expected, with the benefactor feeling even better about their increased involvement.

If there's a secret to success here it's to not be wimpy or bashful about your performances. Cup the harp in both hands (most beginners tend to hold the harp by the ends, like an ear of corn - with their pinkies sticking straight out, no less - dead "rookie" giveaway), opening and closing them to vary the sound, and wail on that baby like you've been doing it for years! Confidence. And discretion. Let's not kid ourselves: 

most municipalities frown on or outright prohibit street performances of any type. Don't make a big show of staking out a location and making it "yours." If you're asked to move along by some authority, politely do so. Your instrument fits in your back pocket like a comb. Keeping your act mobile and avoiding any negative attention is easy.

Sure, it might be

 awkward and embarrassing at first, but it can’t be any more humiliating than panhandling! If you're drinking or snorting every dollar that passes through your hands because it's a familiar "path of least resistance" - a vicious circle by any other name - stop right now. As Dr. Phil says on his TV program, “How’s that workin’ out for ya’?"

Get it together, man; stop pushing back ("I ain't gonna do it, and you can't make me!") and looking for reasons why this won't work. People have been proving it will  work for almost a century!

Blow and draw chords using holes 3-4-5 together, 2-3-4 together, 3-4-5 together, 4-5-6 together, etc. "Wah-wahs" sound good using low to mid-range notes; vibratos work well anywhere on the board, any time you want a note to last a little longer, and can be one of your most powerful tools. Those accents and effects are where you open your cupped hand(s) and vary the sound. Depending on several factors (the key, brand and model of harp, and the skill of the user) holes #1 and #2 can honk, buzz, wheeze, go silent, etc., especially when played as a single note, so until you've had some practice, avoid them in public.  (Try softer breaths, not harder, and with just a hint of air escaping through your nose.)

Breathe in as well as out to get the sounds/notes you want and balance out your breathing so you won't be too empty or full of air. If you feel a section sounds better starting on a draw instead of a blow, by all means experiment with it that way and go with what you feel works better. Private practice is your "workshop"; the real training comes "on the job." If and when you can get constructive advice, take it. Face-to-face instruction can be a big help, but watch out for ego-trippers whose negative comments are only meant to bring you down.

Hand cupping and opening and closing creates an impressive vibrato effect, a big part of any harp performance at any level. For

 an easy trill effect and an effective end to a performance segment, roll an R, "rrrrr," while blowing and moving from one end of the harp to the other, low to high (a glissando - you'll hear musicians just call it a "gliss") in one long, smooth motion. Wherever you stop, a quick (staccato) draw chord (any three or four adjacent holes), then another quick blow chord, same location, higher, lower, it all works). Finishing with a "draw-then-blow" sequence will create "tension" then "resolution." Smile. Eye contact. That's it; tip time, Babalu!

Don't worry about the technicalities of these moves; there’s really no wrong way to do this. You've listened to music all your life, and even if you've never studied concepts like resolution, you'll know what it should sound like and improve at it quickly. You're

 not going to have a lot of material just starting out - don't let it get too repetitive in front of the same folks. After

 your best few musical phrases, another good technique involves slowing down (ritardando in music-speak) and varying the tempo (called "rubato") and resolution (end of tune); repeat your last melodic phrase, and finish with a vibrato (experiment with it: learn to watch people's reactions, responses, body language, etc.), at which point you're holding out your tip container. "Help a struggling musician, folks?" Practice the whole sequence until it feels natural and produces the result (folding money!) you're looking for. 

When you’ve got a nice jazzy rhythm going, invent more scatting sounds, accents, dynamics (change in volume), trills, shakes. You’re already getting your show “polished” and it’s only been 30 minutes or so! Stick with it - you'll be smokin' at this, able to teach others.

Couples are naturals for this and can make a bundle taking turns, one "passing the hat" while the other plays. If the one playing messes up you can just blow it off or work it into the act: roll your eyes, point at your partner, smile and say, "Can't take him anywhere!" Then it's your turn to play, the other's turn to pass the hat, make gestures, commentaries, sing, scat, etc. If one, or both, of you sound absolutely terrible, hold out the tip cup and say, "C'mon, folks, help me get this guy some music lessons!" If you entertain people they're likely to open their wallets. I'm reminded of what Jim Carrey said about the late Jerry Lewis: "I am because he was. That fool was no dummy."

Remember, this isn't about being a harmonica virtuoso; it's about interacting with folks and earning some money in a pleasant, honest way - and it's much more about motivation than talent. Don't be overly self-conscious about your playing, just be enthusiastic and remember: at the end of the day, music is a subjective art-form. "Number one, please yourself. Don't learn how to play it, just enjoy it. If you do it every day and it feels good, well, then you're bound to develop technique." - Lee Oskar*

Street musician isn't a bad gig. You're not likely to be the next Bob Dylan or Stevie Wonder or Charlie McCoy, but you'll make enough to get by, you’ll still have your independence ... and who knows when somebody will stop and say, "Hey, we're gettin' a group together ... wanna sit in?" If you meet someone you like, who asks what you do, which sounds better: "I'm an entertainer" or "I'm a panhandler"? No contest. One thing's for sure: your opportunities for something positive happening in your life will be far greater than they would be just begging for spare change.

The harp has much of the same coolness of the guitar without the problems associated with that instrument's size and weight. Sure, it's a romantic and nostalgic notion, the old photos of beginning artists making their way to their next coffee house gig or just bummin' it around the country, guitar case strapped to their back. But nowadays, with so many incidents involving explosives and large firearms - using suitcases, backpacks and similar storage gear - even if you could play the guitar, its large case would not be a welcome sight in many places. The "Mississippi saxophone," as the harp has been called, on the other hand, fits in a pocket or purse - nobody's beeswax until you want it to be. (A standard harp fits perfectly, by the way, in any belt-mounted sheath meant for a 4" folding knife: convenient, protected, virtually loss-proof ... and you'll feel like a total professional!)

Questions, comments and suggestions are welcome and may be sent to:
Mickey Parker,

*Harmonicas, Harps, and Heavy Breathers,
Kim Field, 1993, Simon & Schuster

 # # #


Dental implant promotional methods, procedures need legislative review, reform, enforcement . . .

DENTAL IMPLANTS, being offered by virtually every licensed dentist in the country (and, conceivably, even some who are unlicensed), should be much more carefully regulated. At the very least dental implant procedures should be limited to installation by oral surgeons only - and even then, only those with additional, special training in the procedures and the myriad of serious potential complications involved. Even oral surgeons should be held to strict standards regarding minimum staffing and specialized equipment for implant procedures. These complex procedures cannot be safely and effectively done in small, squalid "general practitioner" surroundings by dentists who "went to a seminar" or "read a trade magazine article about it."

Allowing inadequately trained general dentists in minimally equipped, understaffed dental clinics (I believe there are even mobile dental clinics - run from large vans - doing the work) to perform these risky, invasive implant procedures is as absurd as allowing general practitioners to perform open-heart surgery on an out-patient basis. What's next? Dental implants at the mall? Dental implant "salons" at the Big Box stores? Hey, Mom can get her nails done while Dad starts his dental implants procedure "nightmare" at the booth next door! Don't laugh - under current law it could happen!

I have permanent nerve damage because a Las Vegas dentist (who claimed to have "more than 20 years of experience with dental implants") "experimented" with these dental implant procedures on me in 2010 and BOTCHED the job . . . big time. There is no effective treatment: not implant removal, not bone reduction, not fancy-sounding laser beam treatment (ridiculous in this application, as if burning the surrounding flesh would magically make the severed nerve endings mend themselves). Bottom line: there is no cure for nerve damage received during faulty dental implant procedures. Good job, Doc!

The first of three implants was drilled so deep it pierced my mandibular nerve; I wish I could return the favor ... with a rusty railroad spike! The other two were so high, there was no clearance for the necessary abutments, and they had to be removed as well (X-rays taken the next day confirm all this). So much for those "over 20 years of implant experience" the dentist claimed to have! My implant placements looked as though they were done by an auto mechanic!

Web graphics and videos in dental waiting rooms, using the most beautiful artists' renderings of colorful, even layers of tissue, bone and nerves, depicting the bad teeth flying out and dental implants "floating gracefully up and over and into the gums," are carefully crafted to make the public believe that dental implants can be done quickly, effectively and safely by any dentist. Clearly, false and misleading advertising. Why it's not subject to Fair Claims Practices Act continues to blow my mind.

Truth be told, the symptoms only get worse: the drooling, the spitting, the lisping, the tongue and cheek and lip biting and lack of muscle control while eating (I basically have to eat with my face stuck in a bowl - like an animal - I think there's food stuck to that side of my face, and nothing's there, or I do have food stuck to my face and can't feel it), above and beyond the constant feelings alternating between numbness and electrical charges - all horrible and permanent symptoms.

My experience is not unique or even rare. The 98% success rate* cited by the implant industry sounds impressive, but that 2% failure comprises over 60,000 patients, all unfairly influenced by questionable marketing tactics, ambiguous competency standards, and subjective qualifications. Patients who experience pain, numbness, feelings of electric shock just under the skin, etc. (the collective term for which is "paraesthesia"), following implant procedures are immediately and continually told, as I was, that "it will go away - you'll be fine." And isn't is amazing that how, when pressed, they each had "one" patient with the same problem - "but it went away." Right. On one hand we're told, "this almost never happens," but then after the fact there are these supposed "professionals" who have performed myriad corrective procedures for anomalies involving dental implants. If complications are so rare, where did they get all this corrective experience? If mishaps and injuries are so unlikely, why are patients required to sign a multi-page waiver prior to the procedures?

Dental implant clinics, promoted in the most deceptive manner: "Teeth in one day," with smiling models supposedly biting into an apple immediately after the implant procedure (truth be known, you'll probably be limited to a very soft diet for a year or more), etc., ostensibly a legal and ethical violation of informed-consent obligations, are the new physician-run "pill mills" and should be approached with the same regulatory zeal as the "pushers" running those types of grey-area drug clinics. And, similar to the "feel-good clinics" that exploit the law and human weakness for the sake of obscene profits, the time can't be far off - if it's not happening already - that we're going to see implant "pushers" migrating from state to state when things get too "hot" in a particular jurisdiction.

 Anyone who thinks this doesn't affect them, because they're not senior citizens (the principle target market for dental implants) is missing the collective, downhill implications here. Traditional dental treatment as we've known it for the last several decades is being eroded by the big-buck promise of dental implants. The mantra of "Save the teeth, if at all possible" has changed to "Let 'em rot - the implant replacements will pay for my new Porsche!" (Yes, folks, a full set of uppers and lowers is $50,000+!) A local periodontist actually has "Periodontist/Implantologist" on his signage and business cards. No surprise that he wasn't "able" to do anything for my gums but "check 'em again next month" ... and suggest some implants(!) for the affected area. Is anyone so dense that they don't see the conflict of interest involved there? We're looking at a system that encourages these people to do nothing - fraudulently and deceptively - so they'll have a shot at a bigger payday on down the road. 

The current, overly permissive and irresponsible policies and actions of the dental implant industry remind me of what Harry Markopolos (chief fraud investigator and whistleblower in the Bernie Madoff case) said in his book No One Would Listen: "The health-care industry makes Wall Street look honest."

Legislators, seriously, please do what you can to introduce legislation that will re-define and restrict these dangerous procedures, especially in the hands of under-trained, under-equipped, under-staffed general dentists (or simply deem implant procedures by general dentists as "illegal practice drift" under existing regulations), and limit the negative impact on public health that will continue to rise as the current regulatory shortcomings, as well as the considerable financial incentives, make the procedures more and more widespread. Your families and friends are out there and subject to this treatment, too.

THE UNDER-REGULATED DENTAL IMPLANT INDUSTRY that continues to allow dentists to misrepresent and perform these delicate and risky procedures has caused me years of pain and suffering. The collective dental implant industry (with projected U.S. revenues - notice I didn't say "earnings" - of roughly $6.4 billion for 2018*) needs to clean up a very deceptive business model and settle my malpractice-injury claim for $3 million.

Ray Parker, Coalition for Dental Implant Reform

*Dental Facts and Figures, American Academy of Implant Dentistry

Why teeth implants may be the most painful (and costly) mistake of your life, Jane Feinmann, The Daily Mail, February 17, 2014

The hidden danger of the gray [zirconia] market, Dental Products Report, Digital Esthetics

Dental implant manufacturer Nobel Biocare to pay $1.3 million to settle $450 million lawsuit for misrepresentation of dental implant products, Law360, New York, April 16, 2013

# # #