Hello and welcome to this week’s harmonica lesson which covers a question I get asked a lot – “What is the best way to practice harmonica?”
You won’t need any specific harmonica key for this lesson because this is general strategy for you. You will find this particularly useful if you feel that you are spending lots of time practicing but not actually improving on the instrument.
Click here to download lesson resources
Harmonica practice can be broken down intro three main areas; technique, repertoire and improvisation. Each area requires the same level of work so however much time you have to practice should be split evenly between these three things.
I always start my practice session with technique practice. This means working on anything that can be considered a building block of your playing. For example: clean notes, the blues scale, rhythm, accurate bending, chugging, overblows, blow-bending, tongue-blocking, vibrato, glissandos etc.
At any given time you should only be really focusing on one or two specific technique elements.
– Novices; practicing playing the blues scale using 1/4 notes with a metronome at 60bpm
– Advanced players; the 6 overblow
What you choose to work on in your technique practice is specific to what you need to work on personally. At the moment I am working on refining my high-end harmonica blow bends.
Once you have worked on your technique, it is time to work on some repertoire. This means working on music.
Repertoire can be as simple as learning a lick or a whole song if you have time. Once you pick something to work on you should keep it as part of your practice until it is perfected rather than jumping around all over the place each day.
– Novices; learning how to play a simple 12 bar blues like this one – Easy 12 Bar Blues
– Advanced players; try to transcribe one of your favourite licks or tunes by ear
Revisit old repertoire
Once a week I think it is a good idea to go through your old repertoire and play it. See what has become easier and practice anything that has become a little rusty.
Improvisation is an essential part of being a great blues player and it is something you should start working on right from the beginning. It can be as easy as improvising around the ‘I’m a man’ riff or as complex as practicing using chord tones over a 12 bar blues.
The most important thing with improv is getting over the initial fear hurdle. Just do it!
– Novices; play simple licks with the ‘I’m a man’ riff like this – Excellent Improvisation Exercise
– Advanced players; using chord tones to improvise like this – Chord tones over 12 bar blues
Final thoughts about practice
If you incorporate all three of these elements into your daily practice you will advance on all fronts and become very competent much faster.
An important to distinction to make is between ‘Play’ and ‘Practice’. ‘Play’ is fun and light without worrying about getting better. ‘Practice’ is difficult and uncomfortable. The two should never cross over!!
Click here to download lesson resources
Edinburgh Harmonica Workshop
Don’t miss out on the Edinburgh Harmonica Workshop – 21st to 23rd July. There will be classes and performances from Liam Ward, Will Wilde, David Barrett and me!!
Find out all about it here – Edinburgh Harmonica Workshop!
Joe Calomino says
As always, thanks for breaking it down! Even the simplest reminders are helpful during the constant effort to be better today than yesterday!
I’m really enjoying your lessons. I’ve been playing the drums for 50 years and recently discovered an old harmonica in my desk, began playing with it and now have five in C,D,A, and G. I take one with me wherever I go.
BTW – My grandfather was from Edinburgh (Leith actually). I live in California and greatly appreciate seeing such an accomplished Scot teaching the world how to play this under-rated instrument. I’ve got a very long way to go, but it’s been fun.
Richard Hayes says
This is a very good summary for practice (in any field). I particularly note distinguishing between play and practice. Rewarding yourself with some “play” after practice is good. I will certainly think about the 3 practice areas, technique, repertoire and improv. That sums it up! Looking forward to Edinburgh!
Peter Collins says
I am interested in learning how to record myself. What types of equipment are required?
A short, but heartfelt “thank you”.
I would like to thank you for these free lessons I’m sure my harmonica would be a dust catcher in stead of a music maker if it wasn’t for your great assistance.( Music maker my observation there are some who would disagree)
Thank you Tom for the practise tips I play alone and I’m sure
I do many things wrong
David l says
Really appreciate this vid. People just play n think they will get better. We need structure. U put it in writing
Thanks Tomlin again. Good lesson
The link wouldn’t work for me
Can you pls send the “follow up “to the How to Practice, for Advanced Beginner and Intermediate thanks
It depends what kind of recording you want to do.
– to record your practice sessions I would just use a smartphone or dictaphone and record a voice memo
– to record higher quality audio you will need a higher quality microphone to plug into your computer either via USB or with an audio interface.
Hope that helps.
Hi Buck – that is awesome to hear – harmonica is much more portable than drums although I always seem to end up helping the drummer carry their gear.
What a small world that your Grandfather was from Leith – I love it here!!
Hi Robin apologies for missing this note. I’ve emailed you the checklists.