Did you buy a harmonica lately and want to learn how to play it? Do you want to know how long will it take to start jamming with this little instrument? If yes, then you have come to the right place. In this article I'll give you 5 useful tips about how to start and manage to stay on the right track, and also get the best result from your daily practice. Follow these directions and remember them, because they can always be your guide for future moreover, these can be applied to any new skill you wish to master. The harmonica is said to be an easy instrument to be played badly and quite tough instrument to be played well. The first advice I'm going to give you comes from this sentence.
1. Do not underestimate the instrument. In the beginning when you blow into harmonica holes and you hear a familiar sound it produces you can't help thinking that playing it would be easier and this phenomenon isn't rare, owing may be to its small size. This perception is solely due to the framework of this instrument. i.e. the way it is forged. When we blow into holes 1 till 10 we always get notes that are part of a major chord, particularly the same key of harmonica. This causes the familiar and pleasant effect discussed above. For example, if we have harmonica A, blowing into the holes 1,2 and 3 gives us a major A chord, the same happens blowing into the holes 4,5 and 6, or 7,8, and 9.
The same reason justifies how notes are placed on the blue harp. When we draw in holes 1 to 3 we get another major chord, this time related to the fifth of the reference key scale, for instance, on the instrument A this will be major E. This is the reason why we feel like we can have an easy time with harmonica, when we first bring our little blues harp to our mouths. This feeling fades when we try to play on upper side of the harmonica, because the notes' layout on the draw part changes. If you play draw chords on these holes, you will immediately notice that the effect obtained 'clashes' with the rest. Remember that harmonica is a real musical instrument and not a plaything!
2. Use a metronome to practice. Maintaining a steady tempo to play is harder than it seems apparently. There are people who have studied it for years, but still find it hard to manage, especially those who are used to playing it alone. When you play on your own, it is easy to lose track of your speed, what is more observed quite often is that rather you speed up. I have also heard quite famous artists singing alone with the guitar; it can happen that they start at 90 bpm and end at almost 96. If you don't use a metronome, or you don't have a drummer to support you during the performance, this is a fairly plausible risk. In order to learn to play correctly, you ought to use a metronome and put it at a slow speed, which allows you to control all the variables that you need to take into account at the same time: like the notes to play, your body movements, rhythm and intonation. Your sense of rhythm improves significantly and you become a better musician if you apply this strategy. Whether it's a spring-loaded wooden model, a small electronic device or an app on your smart phone, get a metronome and make it your partner in learning.
3. Learn to read the notes on the staff. I know you might turn your nose up what I am just going to say, but studying a musical instrument by reading numbers is not a good practice. If you are entering the world of the harmonica you are in fact joining a class of people that are entitled as 'musicians'. A pianist reads the notes on the staff so does a violinist, even a singer will read the scores therefore, you'll have a better chance of learning and expressing yourself as a harmonica player if you learn to read the notes, the pauses and other information provided on written music. Remember! Being able to play by ear is a nice gift and being able to read music adds perfection to it. Also studying musical theory helps the ear, because when you learn certain rules, your ear only serves to confirm what the rules tell you, even before starting any other practice.
4. Do not waste time in playing songs, but dedicate it to exercises. Of course I understand the exercises can be very boring and repetitive, but they are the medicine which facilitate us grow professionally and become even better. There are things you can't do as a new harmonica player, and banging your head against a wall won't help you either. I would suggest you to focus on exercises for intonation, for the control of notes and to develop dexterity during the first few months of study and maybe for the whole first year. Don't make haste in wanting to learn songs too early, especially when you are not skilled enough to deal with the technical difficulties they come up. Imagine that a song is a metaphor of house; what is the house made of? There are floors, walls, ceiling, doors, windows and so on. Now I want to ask you a question, "If you were learning how to build a house, what would you learn first?" Your answer would be that you would learn how to lay the foundation, then how to use the bricks, afterwards how to construct a wall and so on. If you don't learn the basics first, you won't be able to create anything completely. To conclude the example you can build a house but at what cost? How much time and effort would you need and what quality would it yield? I can guarantee you that if you spend most of your time doing exercises, then by the time you would decide to focus on songs, things will be much simpler and the study will be smoother resulting in improved quality. My advice would be to choose well, something of the right difficulty and: l'm not telling you not to play any songs but, do not try to learn to play ONLY songs.
5. Listen to other musical instruments and learn to imitate their use. With this sentence I am not referring to reproduction of the sound of the other instruments, but to some execution techniques which they present. For example learn from a section of horns how to perform long chords where you change the dynamics (volume) of the sound, imitate the strumming of a guitar using a particular 'chugging' technique, or still play rhythms as the drums do. With harmonica you can even play with the intention of a bass player and still manage to produce a 'walking bass' on the left side of the instrument. If you become a good listener you can learn to reproduce a lot what only other instruments are meant for, just develop a good ear and a strong sense of rhythm.
I hope to have conveyed you good information to begin your journey to study harmonica effectively with these five tips. Remember that learning something new always takes time and effort, but the satisfaction you can get from it is really immense. Good study!
Read the article about harmonica accompaniment.