Updated: Nov 16, 2020
A strategy for Practicing the harmonica
Are you stranded in a sea of scales or ready to throw your metronome at the wall?
I'd like to suggest a strategy for thinking about practice in 3 levels to help
As musicians, teachers and students, we are always asking the question of how to practice.
This is a complex topic as we all have individual goals, so practice content must be tailored to achieve the smaller objectives that will assist in reaching our goals.
You may be taking an online course with heavily prescribed content or self-learning from You tube etc, in which case you’ll essentially be choosing your own content.
With this in mind, assuming you or your teacher has decided the content of practice, I'd like to suggest a strategy for viewing practice in 3 levels.
Highly focused, methodical practice with predictable outcomes and limited creativity. You could view this as ‘nasty but necessary’ practice- a little boring and monotonous but as with learning any new skill, it’s sometimes the most efficient way to make significant progress, especially in the execution of technique.
*Practice of a particular scale to a metronome.
*Perfecting a bend i.e 3 hole full step bend with a chromatic tuner in a series of exercises.
*A new technique such as throat tremolo.
*Transcribing repertoire ‘note for note’ and reproducing.
Slightly less focused and more varied with room for improvisation and creativity with some variety in outcomes- maybe even a little fun :)
(This practice occupies the ‘half-disciplined’ ground between levels 1 and 3).
*Playing set licks or repertoire pieces/songs and employing different techniques for variety and incorporating some improvisation.
*Using licks in a structured way- I.e taking a ‘chordwise’ approach to a chord progression by playing certain licks over particular chords - with use of theory or by ear as you wish.
Much less focused and structured with a strong emphasis on creativity, improvisation, freedom and fun.
( This level of practice can be great after a period of intense level 1 practice for some light relief!).
*Jamming along to some favourite tracks and experimenting with new ideas and mixing of techniques in a non-structured way.
*Improvising whist trying not to think of scale structures and technique but reflecting the emotion the music brings out in you.
A few thoughts to leave you with....
Remember practice is a long-term skill that requires cultivating and a good teacher will aim to strike a balance based on your Goals, personality and learning preferences.
As a student you may wish to assign different levels of practice to certain times of the day or week, or have a reward system where you have to do a certain amount of Level 1 before you can move on ( I recommend this if you don't like level 1 practice).
As you progress and become an experienced learner, you’ll be able to pick and choose from all 3 levels or even incorporate all of them into a single session to satisfy your aims, objectives and your mood- this is the art of practice.
I hope you enjoy the journey!