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.
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!
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!!
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!