Top 10 mistakes that beginner harmonica players make

In today's lessons I'm going to talk you through the top 10 mistakes I see beginner harmonica players making.


For my money, these are the top 10 mistakes made by beginner harmonica players:


1. Being impatient

2. Underestimating the instrument

3. Bending too soon

4. Tensing up while playing

5. Ignoring timing

6. Switching harp too often

7. Looking at the harmonica while playing

8. Breathing too hard

9. Thinking the 2 draw is broken

10. Trusting music stores


Here's a bit more detail on each mistake and how to fix it:


1. Being impatient


In the modern world, we expect immediate results. This might be possible with some things, but our brains were hardwired a long time ago and can't keep up with the super fast pace of modern technology. To enjoy learning an instrument, it's crucial to be patient.


How to avoid this mistake:

  • Remember, it's a marathon not a sprint.

  • Turn off your phone, avoid social media and enjoy the learning process fully.

  • Develop a deliberate practice schedule.


2. Underestimating the instrument


The harmonica is just as difficult as other instruments. It takes a lot of work to get proficient, like any new skill. It can be frustrating but you shouldn't underestimate the work needed.


How to avoid this mistake:

  • Celebrate the little victories. Track your progress and treat yourself when you reach a milestone, no matter how small.

  • Stop speaking to anyone who says the harmonica is a toy!


3. Bending too soon


Bending is such a cool sound, but if you try to do it on Day 1, you'll probably give yourself some bad habits (not to mention a badly out of tune instrument).


How to avoid this mistake:

  • Concentrate on playing clean single notes and learning a few melodies

  • Think of your bank balance - you'll probably break the harp if you force it before you're ready!


4. Tensing up while playing


This is understandable, and we all make this mistake sometimes. But any tension in your body, especially around your mouth, will affect the sound of your playing, and will be wasted energy that you could otherwise put into sounding good.


How to avoid this mistake:

  • Before you play, breathe in and tense up your whole body; next, breathe out and let go of all the tension. Be aware of any tension that creeps in as you play.


5. Ignoring timing


Good timing is one of the pillars of music, but it is often sidelined in favour of more exciting aspects of study such as learning melodies. A melody is nothing without good timing though, so if you make an effort to perfect your timing then you will immediately improve your playing immeasurably.


How to avoid this mistake:

  • Consider playing in time at least as important as playing the right notes.

  • Buy a metronome and practice with it often.


6. Switching harp too often


This is a problem when you think the next harmonica you buy will solve all your problems. In short, it won't. Apart from the absolutely terrible harmonicas than come free with a teach-yourself book, most mid-range harps will serve you fine. I play mainly a Hohner Special 20, which is by no means a fancy harp.


How to avoid this mistake:

  • Try two or three of the most popular harps and stick with the one that feels right.

  • Watch my video on which harmonica to buy.


7. Looking at the harmonica while playing


This is a big problem because it encourages you to use your eyes rather your ears, which means your attention is taken away from listening closely. It's also an unreliable method of finding the correct note: by the time the harp gets to your mouth, you'll probably be on the wrong hole.


How to avoid this mistake:

  • Remember that music is all about trusting your ears.

  • Imagine there are no numbers on the instrument.

  • Close your eyes!


8. Breathing too hard


Most beginners force the air way too much. It's counterintuitive but even if you're playing fast, you need to be very relaxed in your breathing.


How to avoid this mistake:

  • Think "breathe, don't heave".

  • Practise mindfulness with your breath.

  • Watch my lesson on breathing properly.


9. Thinking the 2 draw is broken


This is extremely common with beginners and 99.9% of the time the 2 draw because of bad technique.


How to avoid this mistake:

  • Check the 2 draw against the 3 blow by ear until they sound the same.

  • If it sounds bad, don't pull harder - relax more!

  • Watch my lesson on playing the 2 draw.


10. Trusting music stores


This is a problem because most shop assistants will know little if anything about harmonicas. It's understandable because they make a lot more money out of other instruments, but it's frustrating to see as customers can easily go home with the wrong instrument for their purposes.


How to avoid this mistake:


Thanks for studying with me today. I hope to see you again soon for another lesson!


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