beginner forum: for novice and developing blues harp players > 15 min practice sessions?
15 min practice sessions?
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20 posts
Dec 07, 2016
1:15 PM
Some advocate multiple short practice sessions, rather than one long practice session.

I enjoy practicing so my sessions are likely longer. But after hearing mention of this I have tried to have shorter practice intervals, focused on differing skills, within my long session. I seem to enjoy this and it seems to reduce fatigue, mental and muscle. And it keeps things fresh.

What are your thoughts on practice durations?
If you don't cut it while it's hot......
4323 posts
Dec 07, 2016
3:54 PM
I'm all for it, even shorter actually. 5 minutes is enough.
But this is for specific stuff.
It's how I approached blow bending.
Every morning when I went to the shower I would first turn on the heater and then play my harp for 5 minutes before I turned the water on. Because I shower first thing every day, I practiced my blow bending every day too. And it wasn't onerous. I wasn't distracted by anything else. And I made great progress.
I still played harmonica at other times during the day, but I could definitely track my progress in respect of blow bending to those morning sessions.

Last Edited by SuperBee on Dec 07, 2016 4:21 PM
1980 posts
Dec 07, 2016
9:15 PM
Honestly, i dont practice.

I just play. I play everday. Whenever i feel like it. Always while I'm diving (some people don't agree with this, but sometimes i drive for hours a day. That's alt of playing time. Focused or not.)

Maybe i pick the harp around the house up and A few hours passes. Maybe i pick the harp up and after 10 mins. Im just not feeling it and things arent coming out right. Ill put it down and pick it up again in a bit.

I play acoustic rhythms. Or i play to records. Either over the record or trying to work out a song or lick.

I kinda just work things into my playing that i want to learn. If its a new technique i work it in a little at a time and before you know it, your getting better at it. I only work something until it gets boring. Harp playing is never work for me.

I try not to think about it too much. Just change my sources of what im listening to and trying to emulate. Ill get on sonny boy style for a while, then shellist, then mix it up with someone new like piazza or Wilson or Clarke, then back to Horton.

I learn most from studying other players. I would say i STUDY more than i practice.

You can learn a TON by studying and listening to only one player for months at a time.

Last Edited by Killa_Hertz on Dec 07, 2016 9:27 PM
1981 posts
Dec 07, 2016
9:39 PM
Sorry, i realised i didn't really answer your question in all that rambling. Lol.

Well i would say Do Not ONLY do 15 min. Sessions.

I do lots of quick sessions.
Short playing sessions can be beneficial, but i Also find that sometimes when playing for a long period of time, I reach a weird place that kinda unlocks things. Hard to explain, but its sort of where ..... your well warmed up, but your brain is starting to drift. Im not sure what to call it, but it's hard to get there in a 15min session.

So keep it mixed up
Just my opinion.
21 posts
Dec 08, 2016
8:23 AM
Thanks guys, it's good to hear how others get there. Just as you gentlemen have mentioned, I've felt both durations have strong merit. I guess really, for the obsessive types, it just comes down to playing as much as possible whenever possible.
Killahertz-i listened to sb2 for probably 3 months, but my skills weren't, aren't there yet. Now I'm on a Howlin' Wolf fix! My ears are picking things up much better these days but my skills are lagging. It will happen. A friend recently gave me Jerry Portnoy's discs, they have been tremendous!

SuperBee and killahertz thanks for your help. It's great to have guys to talk harmonicas with!
If you don't cut it while it's hot......
If you don't cut it while it's hot......
47 posts
Dec 08, 2016
9:09 AM
I reckon i play about 4 hours a day. Maybe a bit less. What i've been working on is taking a major scale through the cycle of fourths. Every key. It's really hard when you get to weird keys like Eb or Db. You have to do a lot of overblows with normal notes. Sometimes it sounds really bad in those weird keys. But it's good practice. I tend to work on technique rather than trying to learn licks and stuff other folks have done. I don't know if that's the right way or not.

As far as just playing; i find doing that too much leads to noodling aimlessly. I think it's better to work on your technique. I think scales are the key.

Last Edited by Bike&Harp on Dec 08, 2016 9:12 AM
1984 posts
Dec 08, 2016
7:17 PM
Noodling is key imo. If your going to play with a band you cant just stand there and play scales. (Unless your jason ricci) But if you have material for any rhythm thrown at you ..... your killing it.

You work on your techniques as you noodle. Try to keep it from getting too repetitive and boring. Therefore you need more licks and more ways to transition them into other things. And visa versa. If you get a nice new lick/run to use , mess with it until you can easily work it into what your playing on a whim. Also come up with multiple ways of transitioning out of the lick/run. Play with it here and there until its muscle memory.

Theres a HUGE difference between
Constructive Noodling and Aimless Noodling.

It all depends on how and what you want to play. Aswell as what style you have in mind. If you wanna play like jason ricci, scales are where its at. I love jasons playing. And I steal some of his stuff, but ultimately. ... that's not me. I like the chicago stuff and even some of the more Raw Mississippi blues. And i feel that most of those greats likely didnt sit around learning scales and stuff. They probably Just learned by listening to others play and playing the harp constantly. Figuring out new material.
1928 posts
Dec 09, 2016
12:35 AM
Interesting point about scales Killa. Very well put.

Often the subject of scales comes up and the answer is 'of course'. And learning any other instrument you always do scales and arpeggios as standard, no question. All kinds of good reasons, but IMO there are two immediate paybacks that make it feel like it's worth the effort:

1. On a conventional chromatic instrument, you're building the ability to play in different keys, without thought.

2. Lots of written music of all genres use scales runs and arpeggios as standard - so you can play whole phrases from your memory bank with having to read or think individual notes. Very satisfactory.

But my experience with the traditional blues harp is that I don't often hear scales run like that. And because it's diatonic you don't need to switch keys on the same instrument. The 'harp position' concept is what's needed practically.

...but as you point out, if you want to play JR style, he DOES uses scales in that more conventional way. Part of the magic of his playing is combining both approaches.

I do know the scales on the diatonic, but it's more from a harmony point of view i.e. knowing the scale degrees and the kind of effect they have over each chord.

Good point Killa.

Last Edited by MindTheGap on Dec 09, 2016 12:41 AM
4326 posts
Dec 09, 2016
1:56 AM
Big Walter used scalar patterns quite a lot. It's one of the distinctive points of his playing in my mind. That piece, I think it's called Walter's boogie? He plays a descending scale over the 1chord.
Anyway, the point of practicing scales is not so much to play scales, but to know them. And practicing scales isn't just do re mi fa so la ti do it's also making patterns like do re mi re mi fa mi fa so fa so la so la ti la ti do or whatever. I do a minor pentatonic that goes 7b O 5 7b 4 5 3b 4 T 3b 7b (below) T 5 (below) 7b (below) 4 (below) 5 (below) and back up playing 5 below 4 below 7b below 5 below Tonic 7below 3b Tonic 4 3b 5 4 7b 5 Octave 7b. It's cool and you can use it like that but you can also grab chunks of it as you move between chords. Also that little piece descending which starts the first time you hit the tonic is a neat riff in its own right.
In holes it's 2 3' 2" 2 1 2" +1 1
You can build a chorus around that.
Anyway, scales are cool and will take you a long way. They give structure to noodling and lead you to move around the harp in interesting ways. Once you start thinking in terms of scales I think your idea of the harp becomes more formed as well. The mental image such as Lee sankey's 'brainstrument'
Just my opinion of course. There are plenty of paths
1929 posts
Dec 09, 2016
3:08 AM
I agree that learning scales is a good thing. But I'm going to repeat that what I've found is that the benefits are different with practical blues harp than with other instruments.

For my trumpet learning, scales are a must-have because of the need to play in multiple keys, and scale runs appearing in the music all the time. Same when I learnt piano.

Of course I play some scale runs on the blues harp, and I copy lots of BW phrases. But overall it feels more like that rhythm and texture are dominant over scale runs. In classical music you spend loads of time playing actual scale runs and arpeggios. Piano, your left hand spends half it's time arpeggiating chords - flesh and blood sequencer. Conventional blues harp is dominated by short repetitive phrases. You genuinely don't need to be able to play two-octave scale to play them.

...but I come back to the trad/modern styles. The modern styles DO use scale runs a lot more. Not just the JR mastery, think of Adam's runs up and down the harp using a handful of overbends. In the trad style they are more (as you say Superbee) for short transitions between locations.

Last Edited by MindTheGap on Dec 09, 2016 3:23 AM
108 posts
Dec 09, 2016
3:50 AM
One thing about only practicing 15 min at a time, is okay and what not.
but if you get a gig where they are looking for 45 min set and you run out of steam after 15 min, it would be noticeable I would think.
4327 posts
Dec 09, 2016
4:48 AM
People have different idea about practicing and that's fair because there are different functions it fulfills,
When I trained for athletic events I spent time developing different aspects of fitness: eg, endurance, speed, strength. Speed training was about short high intensity intervals with plenty of recovery time in between. But you can't train endurance that way. There is a concept of speed endurance but that comes later.
My notion of 5 minute sessions is taken from Iceman.
It's about focus on a specific topic and developing it without distraction. It's a block of time. When you have made progress you move on. Repertoire is a different sort of practice. Scales like Gary is doing is a prerequisite for a particular type of improvisation. Gary is doing the whole modern chromatic diatonic approach, I'm less interested in that but did have an interest in playing changes in songs with more than 3 chords, so learned scales and or arpeggios in 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th 11th and 12th position and dabbled in 6th and 7th. Not all scales, only those I could get without overblows. But my way into improvisation was going to be learning what the chords were and where the chord tones are for each change. You can't really do that with a bunch of rote licks based on the I chord. Of course you get a few.
However you practice, consistency is key really. That's how I see it anyway. There's too much to remember if you have to remember things. If you practice enough to know things you can apply your brain to other things.
Walter Tore says he has never practiced.
What I reckon is people tend to play s lot and sometimes they spread it too thin and don't make much progress trying to learn too much. I'm reminded of Sisyphus, there's a certain distance you have to go before you stop otherwise you are just starting at the start all the time. I'm sure I've done that a lot
Anyway, long way to get to the point that the 15 minute thing is really saying that's about an efficient amount of focus you can do. You can spend an hour but bang for buck you'd be better breaking the hour into 15 minute sessions to allow for learning and recovery to take place. I dunno whether 15 minutes is strictly the point of efficiency but I think the idea is correct. There is a point of diminishing returns.
49 posts
Dec 09, 2016
7:48 AM
Great points Bee. Yeah i got into the idea of learning to play chromatically in all keys through the cycle of fourths through a combination of watching Jason's videos and reading about Peter Madcat Ruth. Peter said he spent ages wandering through the roads and hills where he stayed going through all the keys utilizing overblows and overdraws. That's what got me into wanting to practice that.

It is a monumental task to do it. To do it well that is. i can't claim that i can do it well, no way. It's just in it's infancy with me. The weird keys on a C harp like when you get to Db and Eb are very hard. But you definitely feel yourself improving.

I love all the great blues harp players but would like to play something more personal and i feel learning the scales and stuff is the route to doing that. Much the same as someone said above it's the same for all melodic instruments. Charlie Parker, John Coltrane, guys like that practiced scales all the time. You learn where everything is and become a better player in my opinion.

But there is no one way to do something. That's important to remember as well i suppose. We're all individuals. I just feel if i sit down with the harp and just play blues licks it just ends up in playing licks but i don't think you improve all that much doing that constantly. It's like 'all play and no work makes you a dull harp player'.

Another exercise is playing all the arpeggios in a given key. I saw a video of Tinus doing that on YT. Great exercise.
231 posts
Dec 09, 2016
8:22 AM
Most of my 3rd position, just recently taken up, work has been learning that scale and moving around in it. I figured It would make it easier learning songs, and translating licks from 2nd, as the note relationships would be more ingrained. I think that's turning out to be the case, and it's helped me fake my way thru some 3rd position songs at jam. I like scales in moderation. Focus is something to be managed, sensing when it's devolving into distraction, and moving on to something else at that point, returning later. I like the athletic training analogy. Interval training for me was both endurance and technique. Focus on good technique to the point of fatigue and at which it begins to break down, rest and resume. Then there was steady state, building fundamentals and muscle memory and a base of endurance (noodling, jam tracks?), always with focus on technique. I usually put an hour and a half or so into a practice session, but rarely spend more that 10-15 minutes on any one thing...and frequently return to a technique, song, or scale I had worked on earlier in the session, often pleased that it seems better than when I left it.
Phil Pennington
Phil Pennington

Last Edited by Fil on Dec 09, 2016 8:24 AM
1930 posts
Dec 09, 2016
8:53 AM
Fil - that's what I'm trying (possibly unsuccessfully) to explain about learning scales on the harp. It seems more about getting a grip on positions, and all the notes and note-relationships in them, than traditional scales on a chromatic instrument. Not only the notes, but where the bends and inflections are to be had, which notes are there but difficult like that 3'' bend.

For example, in 3rd position you have access to many of the same notes as in 2nd, and some different ones. But it's the layout vs holes that dictates how people use them in real world phrases. They typically don't just hack up and down scale runs, they linger on certain notes because they are rich, and pass over others because they are awkward.

When I looked at learning chromatic, it quickly became clear that it was going to be about learning traditional scales, unless only playing the blues-in-3rd-position. Quite a different beast.

As for the OP - my suggestion is that if you have 15 minutes, then practice something difficult before going to sleep at night. In the morning it'll will often be magically easier. It's a real thing.

Last Edited by MindTheGap on Dec 09, 2016 8:58 AM
1985 posts
Dec 09, 2016
10:18 AM
Bike and Harp. I couldn't disagree more.
I feel like spending too much time on scales is what makes one a dull harp player.

Its similar to a college student coming out into the real world. They might be able to explain and even play some fancy 12th position scales. They have much book knowledge, but when it comes to real life playing, they fall flat. They have mediocre Tone, vibrato, etc. They have no idea how to play with any dynamics. And no material to speak of, so their playing gets repetitive quickly and isnt very fluid to begin with. That's just my observation ofcourse.

Bee. Your right. Scales are important. I just think focusing on them too much is time that could be better spent elsewhere. But again it depends on what you like to play and what your end goal is.

Scales are great because (as mtg says) it gives you a grasp on the positions and note relationships. Also when learning licks and studying players you can actually understand them and why they are playing what they are playing. Otherwise your just a parrot imitating what others are doing. If you truly understand the licks, it helps you to form your own ideas.

I often go back to scale work when i hit a wall and things become stale And, as you say, you can create new licks and new directions based on playing around with the basic scales. But ultimately i find them to get boring rather quickly.

I need to learn 1st position so I'm likely going to be going back to the drawing board with my scale work.

Fil. That's very well put. That's what i mean exactly. Learning the scales definitely got me to the point we're i could fake my way through some 3rd position at first. Aswell as creating my own licks and ideas. So they are great in that regard. I just think some go to the extreme with their scalework.

Mtg i get what your saying. I totally agree. I hadn't thought of the difference between harp and other instruments (scale wise), but that's a great point. I'm glad you brought it up.

What i mean by learning by playing or practicing by playing is ..

For instance I needed to get better at my 3 hole bends. So rather than practice them over and over. I learn a song with them in it and play it. A song that if you play the 3 bends incorrectly, sounds horrible. Like a standard boogie with the +1,+2,+3,3".3',3", 2, 1 ..... And while playing it I can improvise and change the other parts around, try to fit new licks into it, create new licks by messing with it, etc. All the while working on tone, vibrato, rhythm, my 3 hole bends, etc. Without ever really thinking about it.

Then , as fil said, when it gets boring i move on to another piece that serves another function. So it's not really practicing. But it kindof is.

I just want to add that this is all just my opinion. I say these things with an open mind. Im just voicing my opinion so that we can all discuss it and grow. I don't think anyone's way is right or wrong.

Last Edited by Killa_Hertz on Dec 09, 2016 11:54 AM
50 posts
Dec 09, 2016
11:43 AM
Killa: Who said anything about playing scales all the time? I spend plenty of time playing licks working on vibrato etc. But i also work on scales a lot. There's no way for you to get round it with that load of excuses. That's all it is in the end excuses. It's usually guys who either can't play a scale in intervals or who are too lazy to learn to play in multiple keys on the one harp so they resort to sitting down and blasting out the same mindless licks that a guy played 80 years ago all the while patting themselves on the back that they're playing the blues.
1986 posts
Dec 09, 2016
11:49 AM
Whoa! Touched a nerve?

I'm fine with what I can and Can't do. And I don't see any excuses. But just keep doing what you do brother. Glad your able to have a civil conversation.

Let me know when you actually play something no one else has. Unless you invent new notes, I dont see that happening. It's all been done before.

Last Edited by Killa_Hertz on Dec 09, 2016 11:55 AM
51 posts
Dec 09, 2016
12:03 PM
Killa: I've heard all this anti-scale stuff before as i'm also a guitar player. All the talk about playing scales and studying scales will make your playing mechanical and dull and boring. It's a cop out taken by players who are usually too lazy to apply themselves to learning about music properly so they take a dump on scale practice. Scale practice is used by all instrumentalists and i never hear anyone say stuff like that about 'trane' or 'bird' who both practiced scales fanatically.

The great George Van Eps once said to a young man who asked him for advice about guitar, but said he didn't want to play scales, that he should maybe concentrate on watching grass grow then because he could not play music, ever.
1987 posts
Dec 09, 2016
12:32 PM
Well just as you claim not to ALWAYS play scales. I dont claim to NEVER play scales. If you read my previous post in entirety you would see that.

Also if you would follow MTG's point you will see that relating this to guitar may not exactly hold water.

I do follow your point. However using Jazz as an example doesn't work with me either. I hate listening to jazz scales. I find it actually very unmusical sounding. Inorganic. However, I follow your point.

Agree to disagree.
1932 posts
Dec 09, 2016
12:39 PM
Gentlemen, this is the Beginner's Forum where we aim to be able to have nuanced discussions without resorting to "I'm right, you're wrong".
1934 posts
Dec 09, 2016
2:47 PM
Continuing in that spirit, it's interesting what people think are the key things to focus on, given limited time to practice, say 15 mins a day? And we've got some ideas down here.

The consensus is that scales in some guise or other are fundamental. Reading this I think I should do some more that I do. But what about other aspects of music theory and practice? Voice leading, harmony, rhythms (other than 4/4 and 12/8), Counterpoint? Composition and arranging? Anyone doing those?

My guess is that you need a lot more of that to be successful in jazz than blues, but I don't know for sure.

None of this is anti learning theory, but it's also reasonable to ask how much theory did SBII or LW have, for instance, when they created the classics we know and love.

Last Edited by MindTheGap on Dec 09, 2016 2:54 PM
1988 posts
Dec 09, 2016
3:03 PM
Agreed. I hope i didn't come off that way. I just want to explain my position so that everyone understands exactly what I mean. And so we can further the discussion. Hopefully some can take pieces of everyone's practice routine in order to help their playing progress more effectively.

Now not to stoke the fire...... but i just want to follow your train of though down the rabbit hole for a minute Bike. Just so i understand. And perhaps so, as i said above, myself and others can fully understand your routine and steal the pieces we see fit to help advance our playing.

Lets say I learn the 12th position scale ... forwards and backwards. What do i do with it? Don't i now need licks to be able to use it effectively? Where does one find 12th position licks? I don't suppose 12th pos songs are very plentiful. Much less any of the other crazy scales your talking about. Do you try to transpose your licks from other positions?

Now licks don't necessarily have to be someone elses either. Pretty much any group of notes you play is a lick. So i dont know why the negative light is sometimes cast upon one who uses licks. Everything you play can be broken down into licks, no?

Anyhow, sorry, back to the point.

Bike&Harp. Take it from there. I seriously want to know. You ve not really described how any of these scales are useful. I agree the major ones are essential 1st 2nd 3rd position blues scales, etc. But other than that i see not much merit in learning to play the cycle of fourths on every harp. Unless ofcourse your doing it as a challenge to yourself. But you talk about scales with such conviction, surely you can explain their usefulness in blues.
Personally i would just use a chromatic harmonica, but that's me.

Heres your chance to change my mind and speak yours, if you like. Again, I'm really not being smart, I just want to know why and understand your meathod.

Last Edited by Killa_Hertz on Dec 09, 2016 3:05 PM
23 posts
Dec 09, 2016
3:04 PM
Great multilogue here. The passion expressed here is evidence of the love for playing the harmonica. The multiple perspectives is exactly why I'm here! Great tension posts, excellent resolution MTG!
If you don't cut it while it's hot......

Last Edited by Havoc on Dec 09, 2016 3:08 PM
1989 posts
Dec 09, 2016
3:11 PM
I thought it was a great thread too Havoc.

It seems that folks who play more than one instrument have a different angle on it than those who play only harp.

I think MTG hit a good point. And im wondering how necessary some of these things are for blues harp. Maybe because they are so necessary elsewhere, when coming from another instrument, these players assume these things are just as important here?

Now I'm just thinking out loud, this is all just a theory im coming up with, Following mtgs thoughts a little further.
It way all be BS, idk. But it's interesting none the less.
145 posts
Dec 09, 2016
3:17 PM
I try to pull out the harp at odd times to keep in the game but need the mood and place. If it works that you are in right spot, do it even for short times although I would think that you would easily plateau when doing in short sections.

I like to sit down for extended sessions. 1-3 hours even. Study, listen, play, relax. Seems that only when I immerse myself do I get really musical. Different strokes ... Do what works. I try not to think I am practicing - is fun. But it is...

Scales I find a great place to mine for new stuff. Listen to Jason’s scale stuff (his simpler stuff) and you will find that much of what he does is scales. He mixes it up by leaving out notes and so on but still scale work. I like. Jason is well ... good. But easy to do the scales and not put real feeling into them. I hear you Killa but if done right - like Boris imo...

Killa’s point about noodling & doing scales is right on point imo. Is important lesson. Listen to Boris (recent post on main forum - 3rd pos) and you will hear well articulated scales that are transcribable. A good place to work from. Very clear stuff.

But also the rhythms are important too as MindtheGap is referring to. Great to get the rhythm right. Often way more important. You can miss a note and no one will notice. Miss a beat or two and the audience will usually know.

Glad Fil brought up 3rd position. Have been listening / transcribing /playing a lot lately from Ronnie Shellist Blues Licks Downloads flashdisk. He really does 3rd well. Makes it so understandable. I used to hate listening to Ronnie but he has totally converted me to a lot of how he plays. I now tab a ton of his stuff for people.
1990 posts
Dec 09, 2016
4:29 PM
Yes, Ronnie is great. I like his style alot. I Also have alot of his lessons, they are great. Worth their weight in gold.

When my playing gets stale and im stuck in a rut, i like to go back thru Ronnies and Adams lessons. I find that the more experienced i get, i get different things out of those lessons.

Thanks for the tip, ill check out Boris' 3rd pos lesson.
52 posts
Dec 09, 2016
7:11 PM
Killa: It's a personal challenge i have to try and get as comfortable in all those obscure keys as i can get. I might not get to where it feels as comfortable as first second or third position but i want to get it down. To me playing a harp and having a bunch of missing notes is infuriating so i learnt to overblow and overdraw. That then gave me the ability to move through the cycle of fourths which is massive in music.

I also don't agree with you on scales not being very applicable to blues. I think they are and you're basically copping out by saying 'i'm a blues player i don't need to learn scales' Look at the mixolydian mode which is great for blues. What is it? Nothing but a major scale with a flattened 7th. Very usable.

The idea about a chromatic harmonica: That would be the easy way out. I like the diatonic for it's bending and expression i don't think i'd like a chromatic much plus there's too much that can go wrong with them and they're too expensive.
1935 posts
Dec 10, 2016
12:58 AM
I do get that point of view. I remember when I first started being frustrated at the missing notes. And with all the info about overbends that was current on MBH and elsewhere, I thought that the path would be learning to play it chromatically - so it was a 'proper' instrument.

But I changed my mind and went back to the traditional blues harp approach, because that's the music I listen to and want to make. I do recognise it's limited. When my band started playing songs other than blues, the limitations became clear - there were some things you just can't play on the diatonic as-is. You know, classic horn riffs and actual melodies. Improvising over songs with 4 or 5 chords is a challenge, I could often find one 'wail' note to play over them.

If only I liked the sound of the chromatic more, that would be the perfect instrument for me. All the notes, relatively inexpensive, portable. But I can't ignore that it's the expressive bending powers of the diatonic (rather than the weaker inflections available on the chrom), plus that overdriven amped sound that float my boat. I couldn't do without two-hole shakes either.

I shouldn't be on "Modern" blues harmonica at all! Maybe "Old Git's Blues Harmonica". Thing is I wasn't even born when LW and the other greats were making records, so it's not just me getting stuck with what I liked when I was young.

So Bike&Harp, hats off to you - and you are much more in step with MBH and the current state of play.

Last Edited by MindTheGap on Dec 10, 2016 1:11 AM
1936 posts
Dec 10, 2016
1:24 AM
...again relating this back weakly to the OP, if you are going for short practice sessions it's good to know what you're aiming at, and have a pithy thing to practice that takes you in that direction.

If we were talking about the piano, I think everyone would agree that scales work be an obvious one. On the blues harp, not so sure it's top of the list for everyone.
110 posts
Dec 10, 2016
3:13 AM
Yes getting to the OP.
I think if you practice for 15 minutes you get very good at playing...for 15 minutes.

can't say I've read this thread in it's entirety as it does seem to be a bit wordy...
1991 posts
Dec 10, 2016
8:18 AM
Bike Harp.

I see, well as a challenge that makes more sense. And I do understand why the diatonic is more attractive than the chromatic, i couldn't agree more. But Brendan Power makes some pretty nice harps that are solo tuned, but also bend. I think the chromobender? Is one.

Anyhow, im not copping out at all. I do learn scales and do think they have a place in blues. Again if you read my post above you would see my thoughts on scales. I feel you are putting words in my mouth from conversations you may have had with others. I think, If you don't learn scales and atleast some theory, then you can't truly understand the music. And then learning licks is just mimicking and not really understanding why your playing what your playing. That's my opinion ofcourse. And I really do need to learn more of both.(scales and theory) I just think that in blues harp, scales arent as important as they are elsewhere. Not meaning that you dont need to learn them, but just meaning that theres perhaps not a need for so much scale oriented practice. This is partially based on MTG's post. That made aLOT of sense to me.

Anyways i don't want you to think I'm Anti Scale or Anti Theory. I just think alot of the blues can be learned by just playing and the deconstruction/study of others music. I suppose somewhere there is a happy balance of all of it. And my methods change like the weather, so I'm likely to be in here preaching about scales in a few months..... lol. So dont take what i say too seriously.

I would love to hear some pieces utilizing some of these scales.

Anyways, good chat. Sorry for dragging this so far away from OP.

To take it back to somewhat OP let me say this. I think all practice time intervals have their advantages. I do tend to think that longer intervals are most advantageous, but multiple 15 min spurts throughout the day can be very useful too. Especially for learning a new technique. Even shorter sometimes. Just 5 minutes of messing with a certain technique BEFORE doing your normal routine can be great. Either way atleast your playing.

This is another reason I wanted to take private lessons. To get professional advice on how to Make the most of my time. And perhaps actually get a "practice" routine down. Instead of just rolling with it.
54 posts
Dec 10, 2016
8:54 AM
MTG: Thanks and i'm glad i make sense to someone! I have been through the phase of giving up on overblows and overdraws and limiting my playing to more or less what the instrument can traditionally do. But then after like a day i get so annoyed at knowing those missing notes are in there and i'm not utilizing them so i go back to toughing it out and working hard again at more difficult keys and scales.

I realize the approach doesn't float everyone's boat but i tend to see guys like Jason Ricci and Howard Levy, Carlos Del Junco, Octavio Castro as real pioneers who have pushed the envelope out and i really like that. For me limiting myself and the harp to just playing bog standard blues licks is not all that interesting.
1938 posts
Dec 10, 2016
8:54 AM
Talking specifics not generalities, If you want play Bach's 48 Preludes and Fugues you'll spend a lot of time practicing scales and arpeggios as the bedrock of technique.

If you want to play what Howlin' Wolf plays on Smokestack lightening, it doesn't sound like it's based on scales work to me. It's all about chords, rhythm, vibrato and tone.
1939 posts
Dec 10, 2016
8:59 AM
B&H - our posts crossed. But following the theme of specifics, yes if you want to play like those you mentioned (and they are indeed fantastic musicians and make extraordinary music) it's scales time!

Out of those, I'd love to play even a bit like JR. Because I get the same enjoyment from listening to his work (and I mean at the gut level) as I do LW and the 'classics'. But I don't think I'm up to it.

Last Edited by MindTheGap on Dec 10, 2016 9:00 AM
1992 posts
Dec 10, 2016
3:59 PM
Hmm interesting. I feel as if the whole conversation could have been summed up by, i don't prefer to play blues, but I more enjoy playing in the style of Levi, Ricci, Del Junco, ect.

Anyways, good luck with it bro. Big shoes to fill trying to follow those cats. Hope to hear something interesting from you. Sounds like you have a great knowledge of music in general.
4331 posts
Dec 11, 2016
3:02 AM
I just played 3 hours this afternoon. I did it in 5 minute blocks, from all my 5 minute sessions. 36 of them.
Not really. We played songs. Just before I left the house I put in 15 minutes with Carey Bell and Glen Weiser and amazing slow downer learning Carey's 24 bar solo in I'm Ready. I retained enough of it to structure my own 24 bars today.
I wouldn't recommend that; I've been meaning to get to that solo all week and left it to the last minute.
In the car this week Ive been listening to 'drinkin' TNT 'n' smokin' dynamite', from which I put in a couple of 10 minute sessions copping Jrs solo in Mean Woman Blues. I used that today also, in a completely different number. I also borrowed heavily from Omar Kent Dykes when we played Big Boss Man. I spent a couple of 15-ish minute sessions with the ASD working out what he was doing, and then a few sessions practicing it to get it in my automatic replay memory.
When I park my car, it takes me about 15 minutes to walk to work. I've spent somebofvthatvtime this week playing Little Walter's 'triplet solo' from baby please don't go. I put that to use today too. 5, 10, 15 minute sessions all add up. You can do a fair bit in 15 minutes.
In fact, I think when it comes to learning pieces like this, more than 15 minutes at a time is probably unhelpful.
I spent a couple of sessions this morning with the chromatic harp, playing the love theme from the godfather. I hadn't played it for a long time and I was certainly prone to mistakes but I managed to play it all from memory. I mean, I recognised my mistakes and knew what I should have done.
Anyway, I'm just hoping folks can see that what I'm saying is that repetition and focus is the key to practice and it doesn't matter if you only have a short time, if you use it with purpose and you repeat that practice over a period so that you make progress, whatever that may be, memorisation or technique or greater understanding, you will benefit. And I stand by the notion that multiple short sessions with shorter intervals between them are more beneficial than longer sessions more widely spaced. I think that's absolutely valid.

Last Edited by SuperBee on Dec 11, 2016 4:20 AM
1993 posts
Dec 11, 2016
7:40 AM
Great Post.

I do alot of the same things. And my longer practice times are really multiple small chunks broken down really. Because i will work on something, then move to something else. I think you have a great point here.

All of my car sessions are 10-20 minutes. So perhaps i do use 15 minutes sessions more often than longer ones.

Recently ive been on a walter horton kick. Getting into alot of his deeper cuts and lesser know recordings. Studying him a bit.

In the car .. ive really been working alot this last week or two with his parts in Im Ready. Studying how he plays comp. Vs his solo albums.

I think everything you said is pretty dead on with how i do things. Actually.

Last Edited by Killa_Hertz on Dec 11, 2016 8:08 AM
70 posts
Dec 12, 2016
4:39 PM
Wish I had something to add to this thread - but I don't. Except maybe THANKS. I've learned a lot reading all your inputs - y'all have made great points - and counter points.
396 posts
Dec 13, 2016
2:16 PM
I'm all for lots of short sessions. Like killa said, just play everywhere. My playing is so much more fluid since I stopped worrying about doing an hour solid session per day.

Oh and thanks for such an entertaining thread boys.
1998 posts
Dec 14, 2016
5:34 AM
Well all in all I would say this was a pretty great thread.

We got WAY off topic, but ...

Its interesting to see how much your practice can vary based on which style you like to play.

I have fun in practicing the way I do.
But to some, its obviously quite boring.

And conversely I find scale work very boring and laborious.

So i guess the moral of the story is keep it fun and keep pushing forward. However that may be.

I started this thread thinking that I did long practice sessions quite frequently. But after reading Bees post I realised that my long sessions are really just multiple short sessions. Im always on the move so Ill do 15 min in the car, playing to an album. Either breaking down a song, studying the player, playing over/to the music or jamtrack, or just noodling and working on a specific technique(s), etc.

Then at home I will do the same to records, or play while watching tv or cooking dinner, whatever. But Im always switching up what im playing and what im workung on. Usually running through an ever chsnging list of songs/excersises. Songs in trying to learn, etc.

Anyhow im rambling and this has sll been said i think. But the point is ... i think 15 minute intervals are the way to go. Just do as many as you can in a given day. That's the best part about our little instrument. Got a free second? Play somethin! 8^)

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