My dog Nelly

 

About Practicing

Ok, here's the thing, you can watch and try to imitate all that you see on the tons of Youtube videos that are available on how to play this deceptively easy looking and portable instrument, but you are also opening yourself to potentially developing bad habits without knowing it, especially as a beginner player. Without immediate feedback from an experienced player, you are more prone to building into muscle memory potentially bad habits that will get in the way of everything from understanding how to produce good tone to just how you go about practicing with or without focus and intention. For example, I once had a student who was really quite good and could play very fast, but had a thin and very small tone - he had been playing for 25 years and had a difficult time redeveloping his embouchure. Of course, anything is possible if you put your attention to it; and that is what I am here for, to cater lessons to your specific needs.

This instrument is quite literally in your mouth and in your mind. You can't see what you are doing as you can with a guitar or piano- you have to intuit your way around with your emobouchure (the position and use of the lips, tongue, and teeth in playing a wind instrument) in order to coax out the sounds you want make; to make similar sounds as your favourite harmonica players.

The videos I have posted and will be posting (in no particual order in terms of beginner or more advanced videos; initially - subjects I am inspired to share, and one of the foundation series of 5 videos is about transcribing to memory here) are absolutely meant to share as much as I can and to help you understand the way I learned and to show you how I practice. But they are mostly meant to quickly demonstrate what can be played on this amazing little instrument.

No matter what level of player you are: The “how to practice” and what to focus on are a big part of the process of my teaching; if you have patience with your self and work slowly at first, you will advance much faster. I can’t emphasize this enough. Beginner harmonica players often have a tendency to skate over certain techniques that require a lot of patience to do well. I will teach you patience. I will..! :-) ...and how to get it to work for you.

For example, I say this, as all too often I have new students who say they know how to bend well, when in fact they are not really hearing the specific notes (eg, hole 3 having 3 semitone bends available). So, taking the time to develop in tune bent notes on any hole that you can bend, will pay off hugely down the road. I give really simple exercises on how to do this.

But the main thing (in whatever you are practicing) is the "how to practice well" so that you can speed up your progress. Once you develop good habits of intention and focus , you will start to grow that much faster. By watching you and how you practice something, and by demonstrating myself how I would practice a given note, riff or solo, I can correct your practice methods to get you on the right path. I can make quick audio exercises tailored to your level and email them to immediately after the lesson. I will email you written notes and impressions about what we discussed and focussed on for each lesson. This is where even just a few one on one personalized lessons can pay off hugely in the bigger picture.

I recommend taking a lesson every two weeks to start off to get you into the right method and groove of good practice. Most students need constant reminding of how to focus, and of course what to focus according to their ability. Eventually, one lesson a month will be enough to keep you on track. Again, it is your choice, you can guess at how to do something by watching “how to” videos on youtube or many other harmonica teacher web sites (and there are a lot of fantastic teaching videos out there!) or you can get on the right track quickly with customized personal one on one instruction. It is also a really good idea to take a lesson or two with different players you admire - and not just other harmonica players (you can see a list of other great harp players and teachers here on my Links page). A case in point, I eventually took one or two lessons with 3 different sax players, a jazz flute player and a couple piano players really just to see how they think and how they practiced, each in their own unique way on their respective instruments. There was always a nugget or two of wisdom I took away from each player, or a new way to approach my practicing.

So, for BEGINNERS: there are tons of basics to learn: holding the harmonica, playing singles notes, how to develop good embouchure (that is, what you do with your mouth to get good tone); basic chordal rhythms and breath control, tongue blocking vs pucker techniques - are just a few things we will cover.

For the BEGINNER/INTERMEDIATE TO INTERMEDIATE AND INTERMEDIATE/ADVANCED players: I will add some basic music theory, for example I’ll show a basic scale that can be used over blues chord changes using easy to read harmonica tablature written on PDFs that I can share with you thru email or Skype. I’ll also get you into how to listen to, and how to transcribe solos. For me, this is the really fun part of practicing. This involves committing to memory what you hear without writing anything down. When I first tell people this, they always get intimidated. There is is a way of working that makes memorization really very easy and I love seeing the light bulbs go off when my students see how easy it is to do. We use a software program called “Transcribe!” (you can purchase Windows version HERE and Mac version HERE). This is hands down the best software of it’s kind and really simple to learn.

By taking the time to learn your favourite riffs and licks yourself, rather than referring to written tablature, you will quickly start to develop your ear and sense of relative pitch between the notes and where they are on the harmonica…again, much, much easier than you think! This is also where you will be exposed to tons of harmonica technique and know how and also what my job is to help you understand what your favourite players are doing whether it is tongue slaps, trills, glissandos, or playing octaves. As soon as I was able to make some basic sounds with the ability to bend, while taking a few lessons from a few great local players in Toronto, I immediately started transcribing to ear and trying to imitate the sounds, melodies, and techniques of my favourite harmonica players. It’s what I did for a good ten years before even looking at any scales. But, by learning a few basic scales, you will greatly enhance your ability to hear what is coming out of your speakers and into your mouth. The sooner you start doing this, the faster you will start to build your vocabulary of licks and riffs and eventually build the ability to start to improvise. All the great blues and jazz players did this at one time or another when they were learning.

So, once you have a few basic harmonica techniques down, spending some time with a few basic scales and arpeggios - which also helps to think about improvising - and mostly learning your favourite licks/riffs and solos - so that you really own them(!) - is the key to becoming a more intermediate to advanced player and improviser.

Email me at cdj@carlosdeljunco.com

I hope I am able to share the gospel according to the diatonic harmonica with you!

Hope to see you on Skype!