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maybe a very silly question but a honest one!!!

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kev s
Sep 11, 2009 11:14 AM GMT

hi how's it going.

i am really new to playing the harmonica , or i should say trying to, but i have a lot of trouble with draw note's i reckon they sound like i gunna choke or something. what do you reckon i should be doing to help and improve.

also when i play a number of notes the same(maybe like 6 or 7) songs like 'ring of fire'i tend to blow all them as single notes and have trouble getting any rhythm happening even tho when i can i watch heaps of clip's on 'you tube'.

what should i be doing to help. i get as much practise as i can each day ,at least 15 to 20 min's and sometimes as much as a few hours. i do have a desire to play pretty well although at the present time i do not seem to be getting any faster playing.

some days its good but other days it seems like i am getting worse.

hey, thank you so much for your time and i hope someone can help me.

bye for now.

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Comments (11)

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Sep 11, 2009 2:03 PM GMT
Barbeque Bob M Replied:

Being a newbie, intermediate, or advanced player, in the learning process, you are gonna hit plateaus and get frudtrated, but that's part of the deal along the way to learn anything in life, and we all had problems along the way that drove us nuts, so you're far from being alone.

What you're describing is a classic problem 98% of all newbies and 50-75% of intermediate players allhave in common and that is using way, way, way, way too much breath force all the time in their playing, trying to force the issue out of frustration and that's a habit you'll need to lose ASAP because what you wind up doing is working against yourself, getting yourself winded all the time, tone gets thin, and worst of all, you will blow out your harps at an extremely rapid rate from the enormous amount of stress you're putting on the reed.

This isn't gonna be easy to stop, like any habit, and it's gonna take some work, and the time to start undoing it is right now before it becomes too heavily ingrained and it's much more difficult to break.

What it is like is that you're shouting through it, just like if you were yelling 24/7 and everyone knows if you keep that up, you'll blow out your vocal chords and cause nodes on them.

Now, don't take any of these as picking on you or being condescending because it's not and if you see me use bolds or caps, it's to make emphasis on very important points. When I was teaching, every newbie had that problem in common and most players never think they play too hard and it's ofsten because they're trying to teach themselves and aren't arounda good teacher or pro who will sit down and give them truly honest feedback (just remember, don't take any of these things personally because they're that's not the intent).

Are there defects in harps? Absolutely, but 85-95% of the time, what the real problem is nearly always playing technique and the number one problem with most players and the most highly ignored aspect of playing is breath force and breath control.

If you read reviews where it was described, "he blew his brains out," "blow so hard," well truth is, that may be descriptive writing, but to often far from being the truth, as the vast majority of music writers are NOT musicians or former musicians and of those were, 95% have never played the instrument at all.

What I'm telling you comes from 30+ years of pro playing experience.

Sep 11, 2009 3:02 PM GMT
Chris C Replied:

What is happening (although you may not be recognising it) is that you are becoming more descerning and aware of your playing. That is always the way when we feelwe areat a plateau. This is the real up side. I honestly beleive that when we feel frustrated by our progress we are infact learning at a much greater rate than the 'good' times. It is all just a trick of perception. As you say yourself 'but other days it seems like I am getting worse.'

As for the blow/suck thing. I think that many players focus too much on the draw notes. I love the sound of the blow notes. Getting a balance between the two is a good thing. This you have identified yourself. Bob is most likely right about drawing too hard. Think about a baby screaming. They have very little breath force to use but boy do they know how to use it. True projection and tone comes not just from the vibration of the reeds but also from the resonnance in your mouth/soft palate/head/body. Like the body of an acoustic guitar.

Hope this helps

Sep 11, 2009 4:35 PM GMT
kev s Replied:

thank you very much chris and barbeque bob for replying to my questions i really appreciate it that you both did that.

actually both of your answers are really good , and very very helpful too and no i would not take any offence to whatever you said as i need all the help i can get i reckon and i do have a very strong desire to learn to play pretty well,just for my own enjoyment and maybe my grandkids as well,i love me little harmonica.

yeah i never thought about how hard i blow/draw into my harp all the time either.....

may i ask you another question, i am just learning to play normal songs from some of the song tab site's on the net and where i have some problems is when there are like 5 or 6 notes(eg:'ring of fire")the same, i tend to blow/draw as like for a single note. i watched this girl on 'you tube' recently who said she had only been playing for a couple of days and even tho i could hear in places that she was new on the harp playing the group of notes the same she had pretty good rhythm and beat going , more like some of the pretty good players on 'you tube' doing the same song.

sorry to make this long.... ok the question , whatshould i be doing to help my rhythm and beat. i do get heaps of practise some days maybe 30 min's and other day's as much as 2 hours or more.

hey , thanks for your help and comments...they will help me.

Sep 11, 2009 5:44 PM GMT
Barbeque Bob M Replied:

Your question is worded a taad unclear, but it sounds like what you're trying to describe is actually playing chords (a group of 3notesplayed together, which isa overly simplistic way of putting it0 or double stops (a pair of notes played together, also a simplistic way of putting it), which means the mouth is opened up wider across more holes on the instrument.

BTW, I forgot to mention that many newbies teaching themselves often first learn the puckering method for getting single notes and often have a tendency to hold the instrument too far away and thus not making proper contact, and that alone can cause a huge air leak and wasted breath and then what often follows is the use of too much breath force.

Sep 11, 2009 8:11 PM GMT
blogward Replied:

Here's a rhythm exercise for you kev. Say the word 'banana' over and over again, but breathing in. say it to a mental count of '1 and 2 and', so that on the 2nd beat you breathe out all the air you took in 'saying' banana on the first beat - to let all the air out you will have to breathe out partially through your nose. Practise it until you can get a rhythm going, and don't have to stop to catch your breath - it should feel quite syncopated, like a sort of dog pant. This is a basic harmonica vamp.

It's also not a great idea to practise for more than an hour or so at a time - focus on learning one new thing, eg a smooth scale or that banana thing, rather than spinning your wheels repeating the stuff you already know how to do.

Sep 12, 2009 11:13 AM GMT
kev s Replied:

thank you bloqward for your reply.

i will try that rhythm long do you reckon i should do that for and should i do it like a few times a day.

i did not realise that you could practise too much....because i really love playing the harmonica i just want to pick it up all the time , even at work for 5 min's here and there.

i appreciate your comments too and thank you once again.

Sep 12, 2009 2:01 PM GMT
kev s Replied:

hey bob....sorry my question was unclear.

when i play "ring of fire" , 6 6 6 -6 5 6 5 5 5 5 -5 -4 4 (1st line) then 6 6 -6 -5 6 5 5 5 5 5 -5 -4 4 (2nd line) i have trouble playing hole 5 so many times.."dixie" is another song as that has many multiple chords similar to 'ring of fire' in fact anything so far i have found like the above i have trouble with.

i don't seem to be able to get a nice flow /beat or rhythm happening playing so many hole's the same....if the song is like "rock of ages' 6 -6 6 5 7 -6 6 (1st line) then 7 -8 8 -8 7 -7 7 (2nd line) i don't seem to have any trouble doing that with a nice flow/beat or rhythm.

any idea's or suggestion's would be great.. i am gonna do what bloqward said to do as well cause i think that will help.

hope i made it sound a bit clearer... if i made it sound worse i do apologize and i can only say i have never been a musical person so i don't know some of the words and terms used for things but i will take everything on board and will value every comment cause i do want to learn to play much better....i more than likely in the meantime tho have about 100 more dumb questions to


Sep 12, 2009 2:49 PM GMT
Jawbone K Replied:

a lot of what may be going on here is your muscles have not acquired the memory they need yet. repetition, doing everything you can to nail every note right, is going to build that muscle memory and tone. i'm talking about muscles from your torso on up to your lips and all those in between that are used to make good harp notes and music. when i started out many years ago, i had no teacher either, and when one became available i was too proud and too broke to take advantage of the opportunity. so i stumbled along in a monkey-hear monkey-play fashion for years. it was definitely the long way around!

even so, i did manage to learn as i went, to use less breath force and make it more effective- a good seal at the lips, opening my "air column" in my torso, throat, mouth, head, being aware of how playing too hard inevitably ruined a reed on a harp, discovering not only the pucker method but how to do tongue block also- these things came with repetitive sessions, doing what i knew and trying new things as i went. listening to music by the guys who inspired me was a big thing too since there was nobody near me for years to ask questions of. i just had to sort of blindly strive to find the sounds on the harp that little walter, or even bob dylan or neil young, were making, and figure a way to get the harp to work for me. sonny terry sounded so good and so simple but he was a total master as i discovered when i tried to play the way he did. same with james cotton, butterfield, sonny boy w II, and a host of others.

it's said that harmonica is one of the easiest instruments to play something on quickly- like on top of old smoky or mary had a little lamb- and the hardest to learn to play well. the notes are all there to do amazing things- listen to howard levy or sugar blue, stevie wonder or john mayall- but it does take a serious level of commitment to practice and discovery to unlock the secrets of harmonica playing. for me, these secrets were revealed slowly over many years. i would guess that, thanks to my own bull-headedness, it took me an extra 25 YEARS to make the progress i see players make in SIX MONTHS or a YEAR these days!

anyone who is taking up the mantle of harp player today has tremendous resources at their fingertips, the information available is awesome. the instrument and the players have come so far and the information is all right here on the internet, it is a golden age for harp players. but the real and possibly sad fact is, many will reach just a basic level of competence and stay there, maybe for years. when the going gets tough a lot of us change hobbies. the real key to any undertaking we want badly, is to humbly ask for help and then apply ourselves to what is given us and practice as much as is sanely possible. over time this will prove out to give very good results. frustration is part of the package i think. that drives us to look deeper, calm down, try it again, until we learn what that secret is. many small modules of learning like that will evolve into good playing habits and a style one's own. it may be noted that patience and persistence are a couple of important qualities to use in this effort also.

in another thread (thanks to bob and others), the subject of playing out live with musicians better than we are came up. this can be intimidating and maybe even terrifying to us early on, but once we get to a certain level of competence, it's very important to challenge ourselves more and step out in a public arena, and work in the shadow of those we know are better than we are. the up side is, this challenges us to do more, try more, work harder, and ultimately keep improving.

start with the basic mechanics of playing, get the muscles in shape, do the repetitive exercises and work on the songs of your choice. i personally like folsom prison blues btw! always try to do some breathing exercises to get your air column working better. learn the ways we hold the harp and address it with our lips and tongue. all these things form an excellent foundation for making progress.

never skip asking that one question- there's no such thing as a "stupid question"! i can guarantee the answer is available.

Sep 12, 2009 3:30 PM GMT
kev s Replied:

hey jawbone k....thank you very much for your answer , you put a lot of things in there for me to start doing and i really appreciate it heaps.

i am pretty new on the computer and internet and it does amaze me the imformation you can find out about.

i spend a lot of time on you tube watching people play songs on the harmonica and not sure if this help's me or not , i hope so,but it is enjoyable and pretty cool.

once again thank you for your good advice.

take care..

Sep 12, 2009 3:45 PM GMT
blogward Replied:

"some days its good but other days it seems like i am getting worse."

If you want to play three hours a day, make it one in the morning, one in the afternoon, one in the evening, rather than all at once. That doesn't mean don't play for fun, but it's best to have a definite not-too-ambitious target in mind when you do practice, like learning one new tune at a time, or trying to master a lick you find tricky. When you get there, have a break. When I started (aged about 13, round about the Moon landings) I used to play ALL the time and quickly became really good at traintime and nothing else, because that's all I aimed at. Work to a target each time and the better you will be able to see what progress you are making.

As you will see, there is a lot more to it than knowing which holes to draw and blow!

Sep 13, 2009 12:50 PM GMT
kev s Replied:

hi bloqward.

hey , thank you very much for the advice and comments.

it's appreciated and i will start doing that.


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