For me, bending was the No.1 priority when I started. If I couldn't do that, I wasn't going to go any further with it.
I remember trying it every which way for several weeks and getting just small inflections. Then one day I got it on hole 4, and over about a week got it properly on all the draw bends. It was definitely a 'before and after' thing.
But then, getting them stable and in tune, and on all the keys. Then adding vibrato and other kinds of control - that's the long haul. Probably a life-long process.
Since you say you are new, I would say the first thing to master is a good clear single note. The basis of good playing not just one at a time but learn to hit the note cleanly while jumping around the harp, think going from 2 blow to 5 draw, or 6 draw to 1 draw, jumping around and landing on the hole you intended and playing it by it's self without side notes.
I'd say that's the foundation for everything else you may want to learn.
As for how long you should spend practicing, well it's suppose to be fun so if it stops being fun take a break, this thing aint a piano you can carry one in your pocket and practice anywhere, I play while I drive. Find somewhere nice to play, the beach, the mountains, in front of a store, under a bridge, in a stair well, in a bathroom, I know sounds weird but the acoustics can be great.
Don't hide in a room trying not to annoy the family, go outside and get every dog in the neighborhood howling. Hey have fun with it.
Although I've been taking lessons for almost 2 years, much of my lessons surround learning to read music, not just playing the harmonica. So many of my lessons discuss music practice and music theory.
However, I liken Frankie's question to "How long will it take me to be good?" And the answer to that is "who knows". I can bend some draw notes now, but not all of them and I surely cannot hit the exact pitch every time on those that I can bend. Blow bending is by accident only. But I focused a great deal of my early time learning to blow a single note and learning to play songs while reading the sheet music - again single notes at a time, clearly and consistently.
Very recently I have started trying to play to blues backing tracks and such. That is more the direction I believe I wish to go. Bending has been trying at times. Draw bending at first was an accident on Hole #1 of my Hohner Blues Harp MS, Key of C. Then I figured out what I did and am now able to repeat it on Hole #1. I can do other holes now as well, not to my liking just yet.
I simply CANNOT get Hole #3 to bend hardly at all... certainly not as much as I should be able to bend. But I'll get there.
Re: blow bending, Michael Rubin's posts under "Harmonica Meatball" over several weeks this summer on the main forum may be helpful, If you can learn from that, he may have some useful advice for draw bending somewhere too. For draw bending, Iceman has some good, although opinionated, advice on the topic.
If I read your question right. You are bending to some degree but not yet holding a long steady pitch. If that is the case I expect you will find a particular hole/harp that you can hold steady within a month or two of avid practicing. Hitting and holding a bend in tune takes mussel development and also ear skill.
Becoming skilled at each bend: steps/draws/blows and using each key with different harps, jumping from high blows to low draw bends, and tone... it's an endless pursuit.
Luckily you dont have to be a master of bending to apply the technique. Getting the hang of just the two blues scale bends will add a lot to your playing.
It’s a while since Frankie posted but the question of practice is a big one for us all.
Ive been trying to be more vigilant about consistent practice. In particular I’ve been practicing an exercise i saw advocated by Lee Sankey, which is really just a 1st position diatonic major scale pattern played in 3 octaves. I play the octaves up and back, separately, and also run them together. I found this was really having an impact on my awareness of ‘where’ i was on the harp at any moment. I also spent some time playing pentatonic scales, in particular the 12th position major/3rd position minor (same notes). Predictably i focussed on the 3rd position tonality and i believe it has improved my ability to jam in 3rd, after a fairly short time
I probably needed to have a change anyway so i wont characterise this as straying from the path; in fact its further application of 3rd position. I repaired an old super Chromonica 270 and began playing more regularly, finding my way around using the minor pentatonic plus flat 5th (button push on 3 blow) and really just playing with the scale. I also play the love theme from the godfather on the 270. There are a few button pushes in that and i regularly make mistakes but the frequency of errors is gradually diminishing
And then there is the top end. I’m happy with the way i bend 8 and 9 but my hole 10 bends are letting the side down. So i have been working on that, along with Walter horton’s ‘Trouble in mind’ from the ‘with Carey bell’ album.
Last night i picked up my Lo Eb and was jamming the top end in a way i found surprising and satisfying. The 10 blow bend on that is lower than the 9 on an A harp and i found it pretty easy and fun. Moving up to an Lo F was quite good too, and eventually i went to Lo F#, the Lo F 10 blow is semitone higher than A 9 blow,so thats the one to work for a while. Ive been hearing people like Mitch Kashmar and Sheldon Ziro work the high end and I realise i need to be very comfortable on the 10 hole bends before i can really play with good facility up there.
It's so interesting to me how different folks find different bends more and less challenging on the harmonica.
Someone posted recently about getting their first bend on the 1 hole and being stuck there. I'm pretty sure the 1 was the last hole that I learned to bend. I still find it easier to pucker for the 1 bend especially if it is a sustained note on a low key.
Although it took a long time, I got my first good bend on the 4 hole and it was like flipping a light switch. That week I was a bending fool and afraid to stop because I might forget how (haha). I remember waking up in the morning and grabbing a harp in a nervous panic, then wee-yoooo "yes, I still got it!"
I personally found blow bends pretty easy (reverse engineering). But I'm with B, the 10 blow is trickier than the 8 or 9. For me it's like the high key 10 holes are really touchy, especially for hitting a bent 10 dead on as apposed to bending to it.
I just finished restoring an old Hohner Official Scout (C). I had a heck of a time getting the 10 blow adjusted for stable bends. I ended up opening the gap just a hair more than it otherwise needed.
Frankie, I was thinking about specific practice and remembered making a lot of progress by following exercises in one of Christelle Berthon's Youtube videos.
I'm pretty sure it was this one. She did another one that is more of a how to bend video.
Somewhere (maybe in this video) she disagrees with using a tuner to help learn or dial in bends. I found some use of a tuner was helpful. But certainly the ear is responsible for accurate bends.
A good use of the tuner is a ear/bend test. Flip on a tuner and play the 3 hole draw. Now close your eyes and hit the half step bend, open your eyes and check your accuracy. Now do that for 1 step bend and 1.5 step. Repeat in reverse order. You will probably see why ear training is such a key part of bending. I know there are some great threads about that subject.
I’ll have to watch the video. Years ago, when Christelle was living in Australia, I took a lesson with her. It was the 1st ‘professional’ lesson I ever had and I still recall quite a lot of the things she said. Regarding use of a tuner, she was against it, based on the idea that one needs to train the ear. I think every teacher I’ve had since has been pro-tuner for learning to control bends.
one exercise she set for me was to play 'Yesterday' beginning on 2 draw.
I believe Christelle is correct about the importance of developing the ability to hear pitch, but I also believe in tuners as useful training aids.
I posted an exercise a little while back which was a G pentatonic scale in 3 different positions (thus using 3 different key harps). The purpose of this is really as an ear/bending exercise. The same scale in different positions, requiring bends on holes 2 and 3. I harvested this from Jimi Lee.
Another exercise he showed me used just the first 5 notes of a diatonic scale. Do re mi fa so fa mi re do. He would have me use an A harp, or a G harp, or even a Low F, and play that in 1st position. +1 1 +2 2” 2 2” +2 1 +1
Then play it in 3rd: 1 +2 2’ 2 3” 2 2’ +2 1. Then play it in 3rd again, but make it minor by playing 2” instead of 2’
Then play 2nd. Major: 2 3” 3 +4 4 +4 3 3” 2. Then minor: 2 3” 3’ +4 4 +4 3’ 3” 2
How about 4th? 4th position is often thought of as a natural minor but you can play the first 5 notes of a major scale 3” 3 4’ 4 +5 4 4’ 3 3” and you can make it minor just by playing +4 in place of 4’
Then 5th position. Major +2 2’ 3’’’ 3” 3 3” 3’’’ 2’ +2 Minor is easier perhaps: +2 2’ 2 3” 3 3” 2 2’ +2
For any of these you can substitute +3 for 2.
This is a great exercise for developing the ability to hear the difference between minor and major, and for playing bends in tune. The 3rd position exercise contrasts the difference between 2’ and 2”
Comparing 1st position major to 5th position major is interesting. The 5th major involves the 2’ and 3’’’ in succession, which I found rather challenging but its satisfying once you start to hear that you’re getting it right
While you’re at it, 12th position is also within scope: Major 2” 2 3” 3’ +4 3’ 3” 2 2” and minor 2” 2 3’’’ 3’ +4 3’ 3’’’ 2 2”
This is a great little exercise for familiarity with the sound of major and minor scales, checking your bends, and the starting locations of positions 12 – 5. You can play the major or minor 3rd in all but 1st position. You also learn a major and minor triad (1st, 3rd and 5th note of a scale, which makes a chord) for each of those positions, which can then be practiced as arpeggios which will really inform ability to improvise and follow chord changes, so it’s a powerful exercise.
I think I’ve convinced myself to rotate this exercise back into my routine
Great stuff SuperBee, That reminds me of another practice tip that I know you have advocated, record and play back. Scales like that are especially telling. My biggest buzz kill is even when I manage to nail the pitches I'm not happy with my bent tones. Curtis Salgado gave me top secret tip for fixing that problem "Keep practicing dammit".