First and foremost! With or without your instrument, PRACTICE TIMING! I cannot make this clear enough. Without good timing you have nothing. It’s like building a house of cards on a windy sand dune, one gust and you’re out of the game.
With a well developed sense of timing you can trip up, yet easily step right back in again with the beat. With well developed timing you can fit in with most song styles easily. With well developed timing, you’re more likely to be respected as a musician. For six months make it a habit to tap in time to anything that has a regular beat.
The radio, Television, Movie theme song, tap your toe, the CD you’re listening too, your metronome, puff air in & out in time, advertisement jingles, walk to a beat, click your fingers to a rhythm, Muzak in the elevator, irritating dripping of water, a horse walking along the road, tap your finger, the annoying click of the stone stuck in your car’s tire, click your tongue, washing machine through all its cycles… absolutely anything with a regular beat. I promise you if you make this a commitment to yourself, musicians will commend you on your timing. The overnight secret that changed me from a struggling beginner to a performing musician was that you can play a bunch of really bum notes throughout a song, but if your timing is impeccable… it will still sound great.
Breath Control is a very important part of playing harmonica well. It pretty much comes second to timing because it is so closely linked to it. But in addition your breath capacity limits how long you can hold a note or how strongly you can play a note. Your ability to control your breath limits how gently you can play a note, it controls how quickly you can play a complex pattern of draws & blows in a fast run. Without good breath control you cannot keep time and play what you want to how you want to. You must develop your diaphragm control & strength as well as increase your breath capacity so you may become a good harmonica player. Especially if you want to enjoy it! A good start is to make it a part of your morning and nightly routine when you’re waking up or settling down lying in bed: to do five minutes relaxed breathing exercises. 1.
Gently fill your lungs completely, let your chest expand in a relaxed manner until bursting.
Now sip in a few more little snippets of air relaxing your stomach to accommodate the extra air.
Hold for 30 seconds or as long as you can without straining. RELAX!
Now slowly let the air out, however do it ~ without letting your chest deflate~ * When you first let the air go it will want to come in a rush, use your gut or diaphragm to hold it back a little, as you the air comes out; like a balloon, it’ll start to slow down, * So now using your diaphragm gently push the air out of your lungs, try to keep it at a steady flow. * Keep your chest expanded. * As you reach nearly empty you’ll need to start pushing harder to keep the flow steady.
When the last bit of air is gone, your chest will still be nearly totally expanded and your diaphragm nicely tight but not straining.
Cough out the last bit of air sitting in your lungs.
Try and hold this for 15 seconds or so. Don’t let yourself get dizzy or faint though.
Keeping your chest expanded and start to slowly draw air in, don’t let it rush in though.
Use your diaphragm to draw air in continuing the steady rate.
As you get to the last bit you’ll need to accommodate more & more so relax your gut as you did the first time.
Go back to step 1 and do it again. Keep at it for about 5 minutes. RELAX and enjoy it. …..
The first few days it is quite a strange feeling breathing without moving your chest, but you’ll get used to it. You may find from time to time you need to cough up stuff. This is all the muck in your chest, its a good chance to let your body clear itself.
If you smoke, well… you know. 😉 I also find panting a good exercise for developing an ability to keep rhythm. Another one is try using your diaphragm to fill up with air through your nose as quickly as possible. Then let air out through your mouth as slowly and as evenly as possible.
After doing this a few times, try reversing it so you draw in slowly through your mouth and expel air through your nose as quickly as possible. Be careful not to block your ears doing this.
It is better to practice for 10 minutes a day, than for four hours on Sunday afternoon. Ideally the more time you can practice on a regular basis the better. There is a lot to learn and especially when you are starting out you can actually overload your body and mind and actually stop learning if you keep at it doggedly.
If you are tired, frustrated, feel soreness then stop and rest. Take it up later. Maybe intersperse your day with with short practice runs. Learning a song is a good way to give yourself an achievable goal. Start easy and work your way up in difficulty as you feel comfortable. I found keeping your chromatic with you at all times is a great way to find time to learn, you can grab a couple of minutes here and there to practice a technique or a run. After a couple of months you’ll be amazed how far you have come.