Listening Is Essential!
When learning an instrument, hearing the instrument being played is as important as playing the instrument yourself. As I describe in my previous post "Listen Up! Practicing With Your Ears," Listening to great players teaches us how to develop good tone, new techniques, and expands our mind about what is possible to do on our instrument. Taking time to find and listen to examples of the instrument being played is an important part of your practice.
This is especially true for the Harmonica because of the oral tradition of the instrument: historically, Harmonica has been learned by listening to other musicians play rather than by reading written music. Although lots of written Harmonica music is available today, many of important aspects of harmonica performance cannot be fully captured in writing.
Luckily, a massive amount of recorded music by master players is now available instantly for little or no cost through the internet. Music streaming services and Youtube are a treasure trove for the music student, the value of which is rarely discussed, but cannot be over stated. The music available on the internet is unprecedented, revolutionary resource for learning that all musicians should put to good use.
How To Listen
To play the harmonica well, especially blues harmonica, you have to have the music in your bones. To get it there, immerse yourself in these songs: listen to them in the car, while you're doing chores, and when you're in the shower, on repeat. Then find a hundred more songs* and do this all again. This type of listening is passive listening. All of us do passive listening every day so it takes no training to get started. However, musicians can also benefit from a more focused type of listening called active listening. I describe a method for this type of listening In my previous blog post "Listen Up! Practicing With Your Ears."
Another article of interest to Harmonica players that also includes some great songs to listen to is my introduction to one of the most fundamental chord progressions in music: Twelve Bar Blues: A Tutorial And Playlist
*If you're wondering how to find songs to listen to yourself it's easy: find just one album by each of the artists in this playlist and there's a hundred more songs to listen to right there. Then look up who else played on those albums (information which used to be found in liner notes, but now can be found at websites like Allmusic.com) and listen to other recordings they played on. Add in web searches and recommendations from music streaming sites, Youtube, websites and books and you can develop an encyclopedic knowledge of this music very quickly.
Eric is a musician, audio engineer, educator, and radio nerd based in Seattle, WA.