For a beginner harmonica player, slow-paced practice and drill using a metronome shouldn’t be considered optional. Before you start wondering about bending and playing notes with a terrific vibrato, or even before trying to personify all those harmonica kings of music world, just give yourself a break and relax. Take a deep breath and settle your mind, because it’s a long way to go if you really want to excel at playing harmonica, there’s simply no need to rush.
Welcome to my latest article on teaching harmonica. My name is Luciano Guida and I’m delivering harmonica lessons since I got the ‘bluesharmonica.com’ teacher accreditation in 2015. I live in a country where harmonica isn’t really a priority instrument that people wish to learn first, but I’ve noticed a gradual increase in their interest over the past few years. Growing number of my students has helped me understand some common dynamics and behaviors prevaling during this learning process.
Today’s topic: Ideal practice speeda nd how to maintain consistent tempo.
Now a days, our every day life has become fast, we’re always in a hurry and continually struggling to devise an intelligent way to save our time, money and effort. This attitude is so deeply rooted in our casual way of thinking that we can observe it in every aspect of life. Speed or acceleration is a sign of strength and capacity; on the contrary, going slow means wasting time and becoming unproductive. The same phenomeon works in quite a similar way when we talk about learning something, therefore, making haste when practising isn’t the best regime, actually this is what ultimately wastes most of our time whereby lowering our learning ratio at the same time.
A newbie who begins to play the harmonica, should develop his/her study pattern after certain time for an estimated period spanning a few years; it’ll bequite reasonable if it’s somewhere between 4 to 6 yrs. De facto, this is the actual duration required to learn playing this instrument well ONLY if you follow the right study plan, or choose the most appropriate material in there commended sequence and in the most suitable way.
Among the objectives that a student must immediately set, most important are using the metronome and practising at slow pace. Let’s see how a metronome influences music learning.
This learning tool enhances your sense of where the beat is, and how each beat is divided up. One major rhythmic problem that almost all beginner, lower intermediate, and sometimes even advanced, harmonica player have, is a lack of awareness of the beat or ‘pulse’ of the music when playing.
Ideally, you should be able to feel that pulse going on underneath anything that you’re playing. You should be able to tap your foot, nod your head, or in some way move with it. Many players can’t do that, and when asked about it they’re unable to identify exactly where the beat is even if they were playing a rhythm correctly.
Equally important is having a sense of how each beat is sub divided into smaller parts depending on whether you are playing eighth notes, sixteenth notes, triplets, and so on. Often even if a less experienced harmonica player knows what these types of notes are, they have trouble correctly laying them into the beat that they’re playing to.
Consistently practicing with a metronome forces you to pay attention to where the beat is and how all the notes are fitting in to each beat. This can be a difficult skill to develop, and sometimes I have to really work with a student to help them get a sense for how to do it.
Let’s talk about speed now. When you learn something at a slow speed, you can always easily speed it up at any time during playing but not the other way round ever. The brain absorbs repetitive gestures, and when you practise too fast in an awfully bad way, you’re just telling your mind to memorize and learn what’s being revised; the outcome, a bad practitioner. When it becomes your routine, even if you slow down later, you’ll find yourself surrounded by troubles; the reason being the mechanics which you instilled in your brain were incorrect from the beginning, and by the time you acknowledge your mistake, continuous struggle and hard work is what you need to fix it.
I have often heard the mantra, "Practice, practice, practice." But there has to be a method to it that gives you a target to the desired end. Most people are interested in speed, accuracy and style but don't always know how to get there.
Practicing slowly, and paying attention as you go, can open your awareness to how you move the harmonica when you transition from one note to the next. If you pay attention, you might even notice how you move your hands, or how you put your tongue if you play with the tongue blocking technique. Paying attention to these things will help you to see your playing in different ways. You can check your embouchure, the tone you produce and the nuances. All these aspects are there, waiting for you to improve the way you perform them. There is no need to rush, take your time, practise slow and enjoy the journey.