How To Practice.

You'd think that, after having played music for over 60 years, I'd have learned how best to practice effectively, and you'd be mostly correct making that assumption. Being able to sight read anything is The Job. Not being able to sight read and still being busy, means that either you're a great player, being hired for your unique talents, OR, you are very well-connected in The Business.

That said, I've recently learned a new (for me) twist to the process, and it seems to be working out pretty well.

I'll explain that in a bit, but here are some practice tips that work for me.

Turn off The Internet.

I can't imagine how much better a player I'd be now, had my parents been smart enough to tell me to turn off the internet. My dad, head of the physics department at UCB (yeah, THAT Berkeley), never once mentioned the internet to me when I was growing up. Not once.

There were lots of "Hey Jonathan, stop throwing shoes at your sister"

There were lots of "Hey Jonathan, stop throwing shoes at your sister", and   more than a few "I should give you  FIVE dollars for a retread tire for your '51  chevy? Really?" , but nothing about The Internet, as a time-waster. The closest dad got to that was the HeathKit Television that he built, telling us we could use it for only a half hour a day, and only after we practiced. (Me, the alto sax, and my sister, the dodging of shoes.)

Secondary Issues

Most people seem to not approach the chromatic harmonica in the same way that people approach more expensive instruments. Every town has lots of things.... city hall, jail, bail bonds places etc, but not always a plethora of good chromatic harmonica players and/or teachers. That said, it might be worth checking out if there are any players in the city's jail with time on their hands and a chromatic harmonica in their pockets.

(At this  point, any of you who silently added "OR were they just glad to see you?' to that last sentence, should buy and learn a Trumpet, I'm just sayin')

There are reasons (3) that most  successful jazz chromatic harmonica players had learned another instrument before they resorted to the Chromatic Harmonica.

  1. Having a successful background in music, meant that their largest issue was The Instrument, not The Music. (Still, I occasionally find myself starting a really great sax lick on harmonica and discovering, just a bit too late, that I can't yet play it on harmonica, at which point I just cough and ruin the take, but keep my self-respect.)

  2. Some of them realized that they'd never be Stars on their particular non-harmonica instrument, so they took their talents and turned to the chromatic harmonica, where they'd be Big Fish in the smaller pond. That's not a bad thing, and can be spotted pretty easily. I've heard that from several professional, high-quality, jazz chromatic players. I, for one, was just "another" guy playing woodwinds for money, and after switching to chromatic harmonica, find myself being "the other" guy in Los Angeles, with studio experience, who reads music and knows where the best parking for the studios is.

  3. Most importantly, they had learned How To Learn. That skill is more easily learned early on, and is a life-long Positive Thing. (I remember that my daughter and I discussed Learning to Read, and decided that one big thing you really can't learn by reading is Reading. Go Figure.)

The Plan

Buy a flute study book. One I had here, from my previous life as a flute player, is "Daily Exercises For The Flute", by AndrĂ© Maquarre, published by G. Shirmer, Inc (NEW YORK CITY!!). The range is the same as a three octave harmonica, and the notes have names, which should be used most of the time, instead of using hole numbers. Try to never use numbers for the notes. I know someone very nicely etched the numbers on your cover plates, but still, resist the urge to refer to a note as "hole 4 slide out, draw". I just asked around, and it turns out that that note is your first octave B. I think that's right.

It's just better that way. Sometimes, a student will ask a question about a certain "hole" and I honestly don't know which note they're talking about. Seriously. I'm THAT willfully ignorant.

In the best of all worlds, you'll hear a note in your head, grab the chromatic harmonica from its case, put it up to your mouth, think that sound and the correct note will come out. No looking down to see what hole you're aiming for, no counting holes from a safe location...none of that.

OK, if the first step is to buy that book, the second step might be to open it. I will look a bit like this, give or take:

At least one step below Ebay's definition of "used".

Once you've learned all the pages in that book, very slowly, you'll be miles ahead of most chromatic players. So far ahead, that those who can't do that will say stuff like "Sure I read music, but not enough to hurt my playing"... lots of that kind of stuff.

Seriously, learn that book and you'll be in great shape. And, if you are really new to reading music, you'll also be a lot older.

Start Slow. Keep things even, and gradually speed things up. No secrets to this, just practice.


Here's a link that Tom Baehr sent, to make it even easier to find music that fits Chromatica harmonica:.


Just when I thought there was nothing new in Practice Techniques, I found a great resource.

Go HERE to see my condensed version, and then follow the links on that page to the site.



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