Dennis Gruenling

Lesson >

Lookin' Sharp

Introduction and Performance

Hi Everyone -

I am so glad to be back here on Sonic Junction. Today I’m bringing you a little tribute to the sounds and techniques of an artist who is incredibly significant to the history of blues harmonica playing…not to mention one of my favorite artists and biggest influences: George “Harmonica” Smith. My George Smith tribute entitled “Lookin’ Sharp” incorporates all of his trademark sounds and techniques, including octaves, vibrato, effective use of repeated riffs, and lots of tremolo.

This tribute is also unique in that we will be utilizing not only 2nd position, but also 3rd position, which George really helped to evolve for generations to come. This is in the key of A, with a minor feel on the I chord, using a D harmonica for 2nd position, and then a G harmonica for 3rd position in the second portion of the song.

I hope you dig it!

- Dennis Gruenling




Topics and/or subjects covered in this lesson:
Key of A
D Harp
G Harp
Dave Gross
George Harmonica Smith
Lookin Sharp
Dennis Gruenling

Backing Track

Print Print Chords & Tab

D Harp and G Harp in the Key of A

Loop 0:00 Introduction to George "Harmonica" Smith

Loop 4:23 Lookin' Sharp - Full Song

Loop 4:23 Intro and First Verse

Loop 4:57 Second Verse

Loop 5:23 Third Verse

Loop 5:49 Fourth Verse

Loop 6:15 Fifth Verse

Loop 6:41 Sixth Verse

Loop 7:07 Seventh Verse

Loop 7:33 Eighth Verse

Loop 7:59 Ninth Verse and Ending





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klaus meyer
klaus meyer Mar 22, 2019

Thank you Dennis !  Booked  my flight so see you live on stage in Madrid in june ;-))

Dennis Gruenling
Dennis Gruenling May 12, 2019

Looking forward to seeing you there!!

klaus meyer
klaus meyer Mar 22, 2019

Dennis Gruenling
Dennis Gruenling Mar 22, 2019

VERY nice work Klaus! Clean octaves, great execution on the licks, all around great. Thumbs Up!! If you want small things to work on, it's mainly the control of microbends on hole 3 during first section in 2nd position, and further bends on 3 draw in the 3rd position section...VERY good job!

Bob Piscura
Bob Piscura Oct 03, 2015

Mike is there a backing track for this lesson?

Mike Caren
Mike Caren Oct 09, 2015

Hi Bob --- yes --- there's a play button in the upper right corner of the page just under the webcam recorder.  If you click it --- the backing track will start.  

We put it here so you can control the track while looking at any part of the page.

Bill Blatner
Bill Blatner Sep 29, 2015

So this means that there are two different ways of creating these two effects?  I'm thinking tremolo comes from varying the air flow by the coughing or near coughing action you describe.  It comes from the throat or further down.  Vibrato comes from controlling the air flow in the way that produces bent notes.  It comes from the shape inside your mouth.  I find, when I look in a mirror, that the action that produces vibrato causes my tongue to drop back and vibrate. When I extend my tongue to block holes, as when I'm trying to play octaves, I can't get that vibrato without fluttering on the blocked holes. So to get the tremolo on octaves I should focus on near coughing approach?

Thanks for all this feedback.





Dennis Gruenling
Dennis Gruenling Sep 29, 2015

These effects can be done different ways, (for instance there is also hand tremolo - "wah-wah" effects). The tremolo is about fluctuating the air pressure back & forth so the volume goes up and down....yes a developed and controlled "coughing" type of technique will help do this. But keep in mind, that motion will help get the sound but you want to make sure you are still breathing from your diaphragm. Also keep in mind you do NOT have to drop your tongue back for vibrato or bends, as I am doing this all while tongue-blocking (which I do about 99% of the time). When you bend or do vibrato, you shouldn’t have to rely on moving your tongue to do so. It is all about how you shape your mouth/throat/air chamber according to the note and pitch you want to play or bend to....but PART of your tongue may be involved, not necessarily all of it.

Bill Blatner
Bill Blatner Sep 28, 2015

hey Dennis,


What's the difference between tremolo and vibrato?



Dennis Gruenling
Dennis Gruenling Sep 28, 2015

Hi Bill! GREAT question...many people don't understand or talk about this, but to the best of my knowledge...

Tremolo is when there is a fluctuation in volume (or air pressure which results as a fluctuation in volume).

Vibrato is when there is a fluctuation in pitch (the note bends back and forth).

...and of course it is possible to use both techniques at the same time, depennding on how they are done.


Daniel Freimar
Daniel Freimar Sep 26, 2015

I've recorded a video of Lookin Sharp but cannot figure out how to view it. Please let me know.



Mike Caren
Mike Caren Sep 26, 2015

Hi Daniel --- thanks for the message --- if you let me know the details via our Contact Us page

I would be happy to help.  

Bill Blatner
Bill Blatner Sep 21, 2015

I definitely recognize it in the 8th chorus.  I'll focus in on the other spots you've highlighted.  Pointing out how this builds tension and release is really helpful.  At some point I think Jerry said that tension and release are what really set blues apart from other musical forms so this seems to get to the heart of it.

Thanks for the response.  See if you can get a gig at the Iron Horse in Northampton!  I like the Town Crier too but it's a two and half hour drive!


Dennis Gruenling
Dennis Gruenling Sep 22, 2015

The main way that most people usually refer to creating and releaasing tension in blues music (and perhaps the way Portnoy is referring to, I'm not sure) is melodic. With flatted and bent notes...creating melodic tension. It's one of the things that brings all of us who love blues towards the blues, for sure.

The tension I am referring here to is rhythmic (since we are talking about timing), and this is created by swinging either ahead or behind the beat. Both are ways of building up and releasing tension, but these are two different aspects of the music - melodic vs. rhythmic. You can create tension either way, but they garner different results in the mood - and the listener.


Bill Blatner
Bill Blatner Sep 20, 2015

HI Dennis,

Met you briefly at the Town crier last month (terrific show!)  I wonder if you could comment more on the idea of playing behind and ahead of the beat.  I have a sense of it but it would be helpful to know where some specific examples of each are happening.



Dennis Gruenling
Dennis Gruenling Sep 21, 2015

Hi - thanks, I love perfoming at the Towne Crier!! 

For some playing/phrasing a little behind the beat, look at my third chorus here starting around 5:23. Most of that chorus has that "lazy" behind the beat feel, with my accents and notes of emphasis coming slightly after the beats. And in the eighth chorus starting around 7:30, my second phrase around 7:35 is deliberatley behind the beat to build tension...but there is a lot of the slightly behind the beat phrasing in this song. 

In the middle of the fourth chorus starting around 5:55 I push the beat delibeartely well as in the middle of the sixth chorus with the section starting around 6:48. 

Keep in mind, these things can be subtle and happen often just in small short bursts of phrases, but when done right really keep the phrases flowing and the rhythmic tension building and releasing, which in turn keeps the groove going strong.

Does that help?

Thanks - Dennis



Schaef Sep 14, 2015

Thanks, mike

Schaef Sep 13, 2015

Is it possible to get a backing track for this?

Mike Caren
Mike Caren Sep 14, 2015

Yes --- the backing track is the play button right under the webcam recorder in the upper right corner of your screen.

Boyd R
Boyd R Aug 28, 2015

Like the change in the harmonica's

Dennis Gruenling
Dennis Gruenling Aug 28, 2015

Pulled it off better than I thought - haha!

Boyd R
Boyd R Aug 28, 2015

this is some great lesson thanks

tim james
tim james Aug 28, 2015

welcome  back  to YOU  Dennis!!!

Dennis Gruenling
Dennis Gruenling Aug 28, 2015

Thanks Tim!! I'm excited about this one :) 

CD Aug 28, 2015

George "Harmonica" Smith + Dennis Gruenling? Can't get any better than this!!

Dennis sure is lookin' sharp with his jacket and the Astatic 600 Rocket mic. :D

Dennis Gruenling
Dennis Gruenling Aug 28, 2015

Thanks CD! I appreciate the kind words...thanks for noticin'!

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