How to Play Harmonica

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aving given up my piano (temporarily ... now two years!) for reasons of time, space and marital bliss, I picked up a cheap harmonica less than a year ago to "soothe the savage breast". Though I hope to go back to my piano soon (in conjunction with my computer and composition), this diversion keeps me in tune with my musical self.

And ... it's real easy

It's like politics. Anybody can do it. Especially politicians because there are really only three things to know.
  • When to suck
  • When to blow
  • How "to bend"
Now you all know what suck & blow means. Bend means ... hmmmm ... Let's put it this way -- blow or suck on your harmonica while saying "Weee...ohh...weee". That's what bending means. What it does is bend the note a half tone lower or higher depending on the case in point.

Now you know everything there is to know that's really absolutely necessary. All the rest you can pick up on the fly.

There is one important rule:
Don't obey anyone else's rules

Just go it alone. What you really want here is to be able to play any tune you can think of as simply as you talk. In other words, you just want to develop a "device driver" for this instrument. Actually this is the hope with ANY musical instrument. But with the harmonica, it's a realistic possibility even for the casual user.
I can almost do it for many familiar tunes and I "practice" only about 15 minutes a day while returning from dropping my wife off at work. (I don't play for anyone else because the instrument itself isn't particularly pleasant to hear ... even for me ... but it's fun ;o)
Extemporize ... extemporize ...extemporize ...
The more you play, the more familiar you become with where the holes are and what they sound like. After a while you come to anticipate what your "aerations" will sound like ... then (glory, glory, glory hallelujah) you go to the hole that plays what you want to hear --------- automatically -------- without thinking. You let your device driver do the work.

You should see noticeable improvement on a bi-weekly basis. After all, this isn't a keyboard. There are 10 holes - not 88 keys. I have a double row 20 holer where the upper row is a copy of the lower which yields the "chorus" effect. Quite pleasant and as I discovered ... just as easy to play ... because the pattern is simply a repeat of the 10 hole.

You will notice that it is easier to play tunes with notes close together like cowboy tunes and religious holy-roller stuff. But you will have difficulty with something widely spaced like Tchaikovsky. The simple reason is that you will first become familiar with the closer notes ... then you will branch out into the more "daring notes" further up the scale. You will have arrived - totally - only when you can play anything "at thought" at the tempo it was made for (faster is also harder than slower).

Addendum: A helpful hint ... 03-06-00
You will have occasion to require more "air" very quickly. You don't have to 'suck in' to get it. Just open your mouth and it will rush in giving you perhaps just enough to get the job done.

What to buy

Don't get an expensive harmonica. Go to the dollar store or to the Nature store at the mall and get a cheap Chinese job. I got a more expensive one once and it wasn't half as good as the twenty holer I got at the dollar store closeout sale for 2 bucks.

There is a reason for this.

The Chinese cheapo is put together buy a guy who is thinking "Oh, how wonderful life is ... I can feed my family today ... I have work", i.e. a would-be craftsman striving to please his boss and the consumer. The expensive American made job is put together by a guy thinking, "Who cares about this crap? It's good enough for the pigs who buy it ... and ... I want more money!"

I think the Chinese are really helping to hold down prices just because of attitudes like this. Thank you people of China ... hope you are free soon and get some clean air to breathe (and stop spitting so much).

Note on cleaning your piece:
I don't know what to do so I soak it in warm water with some detergent in it ... but this isn't 100% guaranteed to "clear" all the holes of desicated spit. I suspect you have to take it apart regularly and "detail" it. Heavens!

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