I would like to talk about five most common mistakes made by harmonica players.
1) Blowing and Inhaling too hard
Most likely, after you’ve picked up a harmonica for the first time and started playing the first bottom notes, I’m sure you probably thought your harmonica was broken and you were ready to ship it back to Amazon. Well, it was probably your drawing technic which wasn’t right.
This is what happens when you draw more air than it is necessary and as a result, you’ll end up choking the reed and over-stressing it. So my first piece of advice is to start out playing gently, breathing naturally, relaxed, and use less air.
2) Having the harmonica too far from your lips
If you hear a windy sound coming out when you breathe in, it simply means that the harp is too far from your lips and the air can escape out. That’s why your lips should overlap a good part of the cover plate to create a tight fit.
Here is a very simple tip to implement right away and improve your sound and single note technique. Try to blow as many holes as possible at the same time, then slowly push out your lips until you finally hear a single note. After doing this exercise a few times you’ll remember the shape you had to form with your mouth. Always keep the same lips shape when blowing, drawing and moving from one hole to another. If you open a bit too much you’ll blow or draw into the adjacent notes.
3) Gear is secondary
I see a lot of people spending too much time focusing on which harmonica, microphone or amplifiers to buy. No expensive harmonica will replace hard work and will surely not provide any shortcuts. Though it’s a joy to possess a beautiful instrument, just know that it will not make you a better musician.
My advice is to focus on the stuff that really matters. Get a decent chromatic harmonica, it doesn’t matter if you chose Suzuki, Hohner, Eastop or Seydel, they are reliable brands. Work on your sense of rhythm, learn new tunes, expand your knowledge of harmony, theory and play with other people.
4) Over-focusing on harmony and melody
One of the major difficulties we go through when playing jazz harmonica is to play a regular stream of eight notes. It’s easy to rush and lose the pace as we alternate between drawing and blowing notes. You’ve probably heard it from me in another post. So I’ll say it again: rhythm and time is of the essence. side note: “Time is of the Essence”, is a Michael Brecker album released in 1999. It is one of my favorite organ quartets.
5) Missing a note is okay
Don’t get exasperated if you miss a note. The harmonica might be the only instrument you play “blind”! You cannot see the notes, just “feel” where they are, unlike a pianist or guitarist. It’s only through hours of practice and memorization exercises that you will master the instrument. But the journey is amazing and with my help, there will be no boundaries.
If you liked this article you might want to read My Top 5 Toots Thielemans Albums