Rick Estrin

Lesson >

Nine Below Zero


Hey Sonic Junction -

I'm back and in this series we'll be working with another Sonnyboy Williamson #2 song - the number, "Nine Below Zero". As with some of my previous Sonic Junction lessons, we'll be working with my interpretation of Sonnyboy's style rather than working on any one of his recorded versions of the song.

The song is an easy, medium shuffle in E, played in crossed position on a regular, key of A Marine Band. "Nine Below Zero" is a true blues classic and learning it'll give you more ammunition in your repertoire, either for performances with your band, busting out something new at the local blues jam, sitting in with another band or just sitting around playing by yourself for the sheer fun of it.

Rick Estrin



Topics and/or subjects covered in this lesson:
key of E
A Harp
Sonny Boy II
Rick Estrin
Nine Below Zero

Backing Track

Print Print Chords & Tab

A Harp in the Key of E

Loop 0:00 Whole Song

Loop 0:00 Intro

Loop 0:31 First Vocal Verse

Loop 1:00 Second Vocal Verse

Loop 1:30 Solo

Loop 2:00 Third Vocal Verse

Loop 2:29 Solo and Ending





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Mark May 21, 2020

Hi Rick- here's my attempt at Nine Below Zero. Any tips?


Rick Estrin
Rick Estrin May 21, 2020

Hi Mark, You have a pretty good handle on the rhythm of the song - Aside from that, you seem to be more or less doing your own thing with it - I can however, offer encouragement - Have fun with it!

andre Loiselle
andre Loiselle Apr 17, 2020

Hi Andoni !! there s no backing track yet , like Rick told you , it s Mike that can put the backing track  on line ... and when it s on line , there will be an "play" sign just higher than the " +" sign , for instance go on "Chicago shuffle " and you will see the tree sign , hope that will help ??

Rick Estrin
Rick Estrin Apr 17, 2020

Thanks Andre! I have heard that the backing track will be up today! That's great news! It doesn't get any better than having a Ronnie James bass part for a guide!

Andoni Perez de Lema
Andoni Perez de Lema Apr 14, 2020

Hi Friends :

Rick's lessons are absolutely amazing, he explains so many details about the song, and the approach to perform it, I adore these lessons. I didn't find a backing track for this song, is there a possibility to upload it, so that we can rehearse with it? Thank you very much.

Rick Estrin
Rick Estrin Apr 14, 2020

Hi Androni - I'm really glad you're enjoying the lessons! I'm sure there must be a backing track for this. Mike? Can you Androni find the backing track?

Andoni Perez de Lema
Andoni Perez de Lema Apr 17, 2020

Hi Rick :

I can't find the backing track for this song yet. When you click on "+", the menu doesn´t provide an option to play a backing track. Congratulations for the quality of your lessons.

Mike Caren
Mike Caren Apr 17, 2020

Hi Andoni - the backing track is now up.  You can play it by clicking on the "play" button in the upper right corner of the screen.  Enjoy.

Andoni Perez de Lema
Andoni Perez de Lema Apr 19, 2020

Thank you. The backing track is already available, and it is very good.

Kosta Jan 02, 2020

Hello Rick and all harp students:)  Happy New 2020 Year ! And Happy Harping:)

Rick, thank you for the lesson!  I think in blues there are lot of value in the gist of the words and in the meaning of the story. And for not english speakers\listeners, often very hard to catch the meaning of blues songs, or convey it. So , I did the russian translation of the Nine below zero. And tried to tell this story to moscow blues dance audience on the dance party. So here it is.. My debute of "Minus 30"

Hope you engoy the russian story of it) 
Song from 1:30 of the video.

andre Loiselle
andre Loiselle Jan 02, 2020

Very Good Kosta !! it s really fun to see and ear your Russian version of "9 below zero" ... Happy New Year and hope to see you again !! André

Rick Estrin
Rick Estrin Apr 14, 2020

Hey Kosta - Thanks man! I love it!

Larry "The Iceman"
Larry "The Iceman" Apr 17, 2019

Hey Rick - contact me offlist about a potential gig in the middle of May...your old email doesn't work for me any longer....

Rick Estrin
Rick Estrin Apr 17, 2019

Hi Larry - I emailed you at the address I have. Hopefully that'll work.

Boyd R
Boyd R Apr 04, 2019

No backing track

Rick Estrin
Rick Estrin Apr 04, 2019

Sorry Boyd, I think there should be one - Mike? Can you help Boyd to access the backing track?

Larry "The Iceman"
Larry "The Iceman" Mar 18, 2019

Mats - it IS work to learn the harmonica and play it better than average!

An alternative to the metronome is to go for a walk while playing/practicing the harmonica. Once you start walking, usually one finds the natural tempo that works for you and it stays consistant (unless you are walking up and down hills, etc). This will become your natural metronome. Just attach playing your harmonica to your walking tempo.

You've got good tone, approach and basic understanding. Next step is to attach this to a steady tempo that even a drummer could lean on.

Rick Estrin
Rick Estrin Mar 18, 2019

Good advice, Larry! 

Mats Boll
Mats Boll Mar 20, 2019

Thx Larry, i will give this a go, too.
I´ve allready started using the metronome and trying to figure out the exact time frame  while learning the song. It offers me an additional perspective in the learning process (next to tone,riffs,feeling,...) And it is allready getting fun.
Thanks to all

Rick Estrin
Rick Estrin Mar 20, 2019

And Mats, another thing that could be helpful is to remember that the space between the licks is an important part of the music.

Boyd R
Boyd R Jun 17, 2018

I'm going to pick this tune. looks hard but fun. Have to give it a try. I can do it. if it was easy would not be fun.

Rick Estrin
Rick Estrin Jun 17, 2018

That’s the spirit! Have fun with it too!

Gagi Feb 06, 2018

Gagi Feb 06, 2018

it's not "nine below zero" but it's "the key to your door"...with my son :DDDDDD

Larry "The Iceman"
Larry "The Iceman" Feb 06, 2018

Nice cupped "wah" sound! Good groove. good job.

and the father isn't too bad, either!

Rick Estrin
Rick Estrin Feb 06, 2018

Hi Gagi - Good job! Nice bright, clear, tone. Good Sonnyboy type, vibrato too!

blair venn
blair venn Feb 01, 2018

Thanks for the comments Rick and Larry. Will keep at it.

blair venn
blair venn Jan 31, 2018

Hello Rick.

Here is a new try at Nine Below Zero. Pretty much copying your version on A harp. I have used tongue block all through except in the chug fills in the solo. Have learnt a bit while triyng to get it down. Still find the 4 draw bend a bit of a struggle on the fly, and also hitting the 3 bend on the first note of a phrase, but am pretty happy with my progress. Seems I still need to keep my face muscles as loose as possible. As i said before more 'elaxed attack'. I have been keeping this in mind while working on it.

Regards Blair  

Larry "The Iceman"
Larry "The Iceman" Jan 31, 2018

Sez Blair "Seems I still need to keep my face muscles as loose as possible"

ALWAYS relax EVERY MUSCLE not necessary when playing harmonica - including back and shoulder muscles, neck muscles, and even your lips should be loose, soft and relaxed while playing.

You certainly understand "groove", based on this example!

Rick Estrin
Rick Estrin Jan 31, 2018

Hi Blair - Good job. You’ve got a good, natural pocket and you really did your homework on those fills! Keep working with your tongue blocking and you’ll develop a more focused tone and you’ll begin discovering how to exploit more of the chordal benefits of the TB technique. Real good job overall!

Larry "The Iceman"
Larry "The Iceman" Dec 31, 2017

RELAX THAT TONGUE! Make it feel like a big ol' lump with absolutely no tension in it at all. The only muscle you need to engage is further back in the tongue - the one that pushes it forwards and brings it back.

In bending while TB'ing, you will also engage the muscle that arcs that tongue in it's back 2/3rds to aim at that "sweet spot" that engages the bend.

blair venn
blair venn Dec 05, 2017

Thanks for the advice Rick.

Ok I will stick with it for a bit. I dont think I am too far off getting reasonable at tongue block. I find it a bit tricky to get a good 4 bend and hitting the 3 and 2 bends to a lesser extent. Also getting a good clear tone on the TB is an issue. Meaning not too muffled when I want it to be crisp. Probably just need to learn to attack and relax at the same time - practice!

I played some riffs real slow today to get a bit of muscle memory happening and I reckon I will practice that for a while.

May send you something down the track.


Rick Estrin
Rick Estrin Dec 05, 2017

Yeah - If you get a better handle on that one skill, it’ll make a huge difference. All it takes is some time spent in focused practice. I’d really love to hear you once you get more comfortable tongue blocking. You already have the beginnings of a real good, natural rhythmic feel. 

blair venn
blair venn Dec 04, 2017

Hi Rick. The clip below I played on Bb and sped it up a bit. Think I need some work on the 3 half step bends, especially in the faster runs. Changed the intro and second solo to include some of your other licks. Probably 70% lip and 30% tongue block. Just dont have the time to really master the tongue block at the moment but also really like lip pursing method at times. Your comments welcome.

Rick Estrin
Rick Estrin Dec 04, 2017

Hi Blair - Overall, good job! I’m impressed with your timekeeping - You seem to have a good, natural sense of rhythm. That’s actually kind of a big deal! Additionally, you’ve done a pretty good job learning the licks. I really recommend develping your tongue blocking - It would fatten up your sound and give you the technique to exploit your natural sense of rhythm and really kick it up to the next level.

blair venn
blair venn Dec 04, 2017

Guitar Dave
Guitar Dave Dec 16, 2017

Hey Blair...  very relaxing, sonny boy for real.

harvey kail
harvey kail Jul 08, 2015

I'm excited to be starting on Nine Below Zero.  The video of Sonny Boy Williamson II is inspiriing, as, of course, is Rick's version.  I'm working on the groove!


joe markey
joe markey Jul 06, 2015

Rick, I'm really enjoyng this lesson.  The clear sound really forces one to work on the smoothness and tonality of the bends to try to match your sound.  For me its try and try an try again, but I'm getting closer. 

Rick Estrin
Rick Estrin Aug 06, 2015

It's try and try again for me too, Joe. I hope you're enjoying the series.

tim james
tim james Jun 19, 2015

yeah man

Eric Betts
Eric Betts Jun 19, 2015

One of  my all-time faves. Slobbering over my harps in anticipation... Bring me a bib!

Rick Estrin
Rick Estrin Jun 20, 2015

I could be biased, but I think this is gonna be a good one!

Boyd R
Boyd R Jun 19, 2015

A great song I'm still working on the your last song. I guess I'm slow. Thanks for being here

Rick Estrin
Rick Estrin Jun 20, 2015

Thank YOU for being here! Once the lessons start, let me know how you like this series.

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