What's new on harmonica learning

Learning to play harmonica and wondering what it’s like to get on stage with others? Want to go to a jam session but afraid your shyness might cause you trouble? Today, I’ll be giving you some tips to help you become a better performer and face live situations.

The second topic, today is about how to memorize songs, and we'll discuss if this is it the best practice to learn.


Learning to play harmonica and wondering what it’s like to get on stage with others? Want to go to a jam session but afraid your shyness might cause you trouble? Today, I’ll be giving you some tips to help you become a better performer and face live situations.

Making music is wonderful because it can be a shared experience. It’s nice to play on your own in your room, in front of the computer, or on the armchair in the living room, but it’s even better when you find yourself on a stage playing with others – the synergy you create is magical. It’s not important how good you are – just jump on stage and the fun is assured. You just have to bring the right humility and a little skill, in addition to the desire to share.

Over the years, I’ve been lucky enough to be able to perform on prestigious stages all over the world, both in Europe and in the United States, as well as in Australia. I also played in the squares and streets of my city and other places in my country, alongside other street artists, enlivening the evenings of summer and gathering crowds of people. As you can imagine, various situations can be very different, but they all have something in common: you have to learn to play with others, and this only comes with practice.

By practicing anything, we instill in our minds the ability to do something new in the right way. So, every time you play with someone, every time you get on stage, you learn something about yourself and others and become more adept at handling the situation.

What can you do to learn to be on stage with confidence? If you play in the street in front of people passing by, you learn to handle shyness. The street is a great ‘gym’ for musicians because most people are just passing by. It’s a lot different when you’re on a stage and people are sitting watching and listening to you more carefully.

A great way to learn to play with others and gain confidence is to participate in music workshops such as those held in Germany or France, called Harmonica Master Workshops and European Music Workshops respectively. I have participated in these several times, and I must say they can be very useful to understand certain dynamics and confront other harmonica players. You’ll be able to figure out what level you’re at with your learning and where you’re positioned relative to the other players. In these situations, you learn a lot. Every person you meet in a workshop, whether it’s a teacher or fellow student, can give you something valuable of their knowledge.

As for technique, if you want to join in on jam sessions, you should work on two fronts: learn some famous songs and learn to improvise. Personally, I love to improvise, and decided to make this skill my main way of playing. When you’re able to reproduce on the harmonica everything that goes through your head, you can adapt to any situation, whether it’s a street jam or on the stage of the Buddy Guy’s Legend blues club in Chicago (I did).

What's new on harmonica learning


When you start studying the harmonica, you naturally want to play all those songs that reside in your heart, from the one that reminds you of your childhood or your first love, to the songs played by the great harmonica players of the past and today. How do you memorize songs, and what is the best way to learn, study songs, or study exercises? In this article, I want to give you some good suggestions about the study of the blues harmonica. 

Allow me to be direct: in serious learning paths, few songs are studied in the beginning, as the focus is on technical exercises that make you better and faster so you can become a good harmonica player. The reality is that those who learned to play an instrument quickly (for example, in 3-4 years) practiced many exercises before devoting themselves to their songs. A song that, in the beginning, can take months to learn, can be magically learned in just 2 weeks when you face it after acquiring the necessary tools.

Let’s start from a fundamental concept: studying a musical piece is not like studying exercises, unless the piece has been specially created to work as an exercise. Let me explain. If I wanted to teach you to play scales on the harmonica, I could make you perform a series of exercises where you play scales with different patterns, or I could create a short song where you play parts of scales. In this case, it’s an exercise presented in a more enjoyable form – a great way to keep from getting bored while learning. However, if the song you want to study is a song you listen to from one of your favorite artists, you’re not learning anything specific, but rather something that was created with a different purpose – purely to entertain .Of course, I’m not saying that if you’re trying to study a song, you don’t learn anything. I’m just saying that this isn’t the best way to learn the techniques if you’re at the beginning of your harmonica journey. On the other hand, it could also be that you’re trying to learn something that’s not yet at your level.

The other question I often hear asked is how to memorize songs. You should know that there’s no reason to memorize something if you don’t need or want to play it often. This practice of keeping a repertoire by force can actually be a waste of your time, because when you play something you already know, you’re not learning anything new. Having some songs we like to play in mind is always nice and I recommend it, but it makes no sense to continually keep a repertoire of 100 songs if you still have many things to learn.

How can you memorize songs? If you want to memorize songs, learn them by reading the tabs or the scores, and as you become able to move away from these, go by memory alone. Memorize small portions, not playing the whole thing every time but instead splitting the work into blocks of 2, 4, or 8 measures. Focus more on the difficult parts and be able to play all the parts in different sequences. Only when you’re able to start from any point in the song have you successfully internalized it. This will also help if you happen to forget a couple of notes while executing the piece.

My advice is that if you’re studying the harmonica as a beginner, you should concentrate more on the exercises and, when you do play songs, to treat these as exercises. Learn to play them in order to make the techniques hidden within them your own, and then put them aside to deal with new material.

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