Hello and welcome to this week’s lesson which addresses an issue that is important issue for harmonica students of all levels; how much do you need to practice?
This lesson came about because of a student I was teaching last week who was struggling to speed up a short 4 note phrase and make it sound smooth. I said that he shouldn’t worry, that is was just a “1000 rep job”.
My throwaway comment led to a discussion about how I practice playing and specifically how much I practice the same thing over and over.
1000 repetitions is not an exaggeration…
Not all licks are created equal
Not all licks require this level of practice but I have found that there are certain types of short, smooth note groupings that just need to be repeated over and over; a lot!
Moving from seperate notes to one smooth movement
The purpose of repeating something over and over is so that you can merge a number of seperate micro-movements into one smooth movement. This is called muscle-memory.
For example, if I play the first four notes of ‘Have a good time’ by Big Walter Horton we have 3 draw (1/2 step bend), 4 draw, 5 blow, 6 blow. At the beginning, this is 5 different movements;
1. releasing the bent position after playing 3 draw (1/2 step bend)
2. moving to the 4 hole
3. changing breathing direction
4. moving to the 5 blow
5. moving to the 6 blow
With practice, this becomes one smooth movement which contains all these micro-movements.
Never forget how much you are actually doing while you are playing harmonica.
Hard to slow down
Often, when an accomplished player tries to slow down a phrase to teach someone else they struggle. This is because they have learnt to change micro-movements into a singular motion.
The secret to get to this stage
Now it is time for me to share the secret of how to achieve this with you. Are you ready?
You need to repeat the phrase a lot. Like a whole lot. Like at least 1000 times.
Our bodies are great at working out how to find the shortcut when you ask them to repeat a movement a 1000 times. This is what we want.
Not actually that much work
A thousand reps of a lick that lasts 2 beats is not a lot of time spent working.
Lets say you play the lick and have a beat break between repetitions at 60bpm. This means the sequence takes 3 beats. 20 repetitions a minute. 100 repetitions every 5 minutes. 1000 repetitions every 50 minutes.
If you sit and get in the zone, you can work on one of these phrases 10 minutes a day for 5 days and have it sounding a whole lot smoother and faster by the end of it.
I’ve used some examples of these kinds of phrases for you to try out.
– ‘Have a good time‘ Big Walter Horton (C harp)
– ‘Just your fool‘ Rolling Stones (D harp)
– ‘Superstition‘ Stevie Wonder (A harp)
1000 rep challenge
I challenge you to sit down and practice one of these licks or another one that you are struggling with. I want you to commit to doing a 1000 reps of it.
Record yourself at the beginning and at the end then report back to me on whether you have improved or not.
Thank you for taking part in my 1000 rep challenge. I hope you enjoyed it and would really appreciate you sharing it with your friends on Facebook and/or Twitter!