Lessons: When is Enough Enough?

One interesting thing about The Process of Learning the harmonica is that there are quite a few built-in fun and musical things that, much like the man's part in The Procreation Process, can be done with minimal effort and almost no practice.

You can pick up a harmonica, diatonic or chromatic, and, within a few minutes, you can produce sounds that won't be terrible. And they're fun. You're actually making music! 

Admittedly, this is somewhat easier on diatonic, and, judging by the trucker I heard recently at a rest stop on Highway 5, more than a few fun and fairly recognizable tunes are pretty easy to play with little practice, and a six pack of beer.

Early Onset Chromatic Harmonica players also have built-in stuff that sounds like Music, but they need to cut back on the beer and dress just a bit better.

You can go to parties, and, at any time, 'quick-draw' your instrument and play some of those 12 traditional licks.

(Handy Tip: If there are other diatonic harmonica players at the party, you won't have to play, since they'll all know what you would have played, had you played, and you can all agree to just "say no", and keep stuffing the hors d'oeuvres into your pockets for your private After Party.)

You can go to parties, and watch the 'quick draw' diatonic players do Their Thing, imagining  that you are above all that stuff, while simultaneously wishing you could do all that stuff, and go for the hors d'oevres before the diatonic guys get them all.

So, either way (Beginning Chromatic or Diatonic Harmonica), you have some built-in things that can make Life fun, with no need for those expensive and pesky Lessons.

Compare that to, say, early-stage Clarinet Students, whose parents can realistically expect at least a two-year  time period where they will be lying to their kids when they say "Yes, honey, that really sounds great!"

"WOW! I've never heard anyone do THAT on a clarinet before!"

In most cases, It does not. In the rest of the cases, it still doesn't, but Love trumps Reality at times like those.

The only thing built into a clarinet is a squeak.

A more honest parent, concerned about the effect that telling lies might have on the location and quality of his/her Afterlife, might try "WOW, Honey, I've never heard anyone do THAT on a clarinet!", but, from The Universe's viewpoint, I suspect it's pretty much the same. A technical lie: so, still, an error-with-penalty.

Heaven just got ten yards more distant.

The almost instant musical gratification is enough to allow a certain subset of budding harmonica players to just stop there, enjoy the music, have Great Fun, and concentrate on other things most of the time, like making a living, paying the mortgage. and Living Life. Living each day like it was only one of many yet to come, and, perhaps, singing "Tomorrow" from Annie.

All Good. If your goal has been met, that's just fine. You're having fun. And that's really cool. Good for you. (I am ashamed that I used to look down on people who stopped learning at the point of having fun, and were ambivalent as regards Getting Better, but, I realized recently, that that was a bad attitude on my part, and asked myself "who am I to say that everyone has to have Professional  Level Goals?..." (that's rhetorical, question-wise, so I left it unanswered, but it made my point to me, and I agree...mostly.)

ALL of which finally leads us to make a decision:

LESSONS...are they for ME ?

FLASH!!!! One can study the harmonica the way people study Regular Instruments. This can be done on both chromatic and diatonic, domestic or imported, paper or plastic?.....but it usually isn't.

By the time I started harmonica, I was old-ish, around 58, give or take some amount of DNA-related male pattern baldness gifted to me by my father, and had been a professional musician ever since I started trying to avoid paying taxes.

Therefore, the ONLY way I could study this new instrument was the way I'd done things all along.

I couldn't set lower standards based on the Manufactures' Suggested List Price of my instrument. (See sidebar on the side)

MY way to get thru this was this:

  1. Start on piano, where you'll learn to see, read music, and to listen. The Basics. The "Here's Dick and Jane and Spot The Dog" kind of musical basics.
  2. Quit piano as soon as your parents let you quit, after all...... baseball.
  3. In fifth grade, see a film of Rafael Mendez and his two destined-to-be-urologists sons playing The Flight of The Bumble Bee, and Bugler's Holiday and ask the music teacher if you can get trumpet lessons.
  4. See the very last elementary school-supplied trumpet being given to Steve Rappaport, and believe the teacher when he says "we're out of trumpets, here's an alto sax, it's JUST THE SAME!"
  5. Take private lessons on alto sax and clarinet, studying first with the High School Band Director, (a trombone player) and then with symphonically-employed players, get some assorted Prizes and Medals for Performances, until you go to college and major in math, chemistry and physics, because your father was a professor and you thought your parents expected you to go into the Family Business, which you assumed they did, but they didn't.
  6. Wait for a war. Get your draft notice.*Want to See The World? (Go East, young man?)". Quickly enlist into the Army Music program and get 'hired' to teach at the Armed Forces School of Music, and thus not have to duck Foreign bullets in a Foreign Land.
  7. Add flute to your bag of instruments, fainting the first time you try it, but gradually working up to a more Professional Level degree of Air Control.
  8. Try to add bassoon to that bag, and quickly realize that you don't have enough thumbs.
  9. Successfully add oboe, and have the Correct Answer for your (first) wife's question: "Either The Oboe goes or I go. What'll it be?"
  10. Get divorced (see above). Move to Los Angeles, (where you'll get some of that bullet-ducking experience that you missed in the Army). Become a doubler-for-hire for TV, Film, and other musical things, at which point you look for Steve Rappaport to thank him for all the extra money you earned by playing more than one instrument, instead of just trumpet, and to ask him "So, how's that trumpet thing working out, Steve?"
  11. Do  that for 45 years, retire when synthesizers and better players overtake anyone's need to hire you.
  12. Say "yes" when the Union asks if you want to take your pension.
  13. Say &quo