Here are my top 5 tips for beginner harmonica players:
Remember it's a marathon, not a sprint. Enjoy the journey!
Learn a bit of theory - a little goes a long way...
Listen to other instruments. This will make you more creative and sensitive.
Study the greats and try to imitate them.
Relax your breath - if you blow too hard, you'll never sound good!
TIP #1: IT'S A MARATHON NOT A SPRINT
More than anything else, you need to remember that you're learning a real instrument just like any other. The harmonica isn't easy, even though it's cheap and portable, and often played by children. You will not be the next Stevie Wonder overnight: it will take years to master this funny little instrument that I love so much. Enjoy the journey!
TIP #2: EMBRACE A LITTLE MUSIC THEORY
I know it's scary but trust me: a little goes a long way. I only know what I need to know to get by, but the little bit I've learned has really helped with my playing over the years. It makes jamming and open mics easier, it makes it much easier to play with a band, and it broadens your creative horizons in ways you can only imagine.
TIP #3: LISTEN TO OTHER INSTRUMENTS
This has two sides to it. Firstly, if you listen to other instruments for inspiration, this will make you more creative in your own playing because you won't always be limited to what a harmonica is "supposed" to sound like. Secondly, listen to the rest of the band as well as the harmonica - you are just one colour in the full painting of the music, so you need to appreciate what the other instruments are playing in order to play appropriately, sensitively, along with whatever they're playing.
TOP #4: STUDY THE GREATS
Develop an active listening style. Get hold of as many albums by the great harp players as you can, and start trying to work out what they're doing. Don't worry if you are nowhere near their ability: it's still really good practice to try. So listen closely, and ask: What harmonica are they playing? What area of the harp are they on? Which holes? Are they bending? Can you get the notes? If not, why not? Asking these questions will mean that you get much better at hearing what is really occuring, and it will also bring you closer to bridging the gap between experienced professionals and yourself.
TOP #5: RELAX
You should never force the air. If you "blow" and "suck" rather than breathe, you will never get control of the instrument. I always say "breathe, don't heave". Relaxed breathing makes playing clean notes, bending and loads of other techniques a whole lot easier. If in doubt, relax!
Thanks for studying with me today. I hope to see you again soon for another lesson!
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