Harmonica Education Program
(Reprinted from The Harmonica Educator, Fall 2004
Note: This article is reprinted from the book, A
Handbook For Harmonica Clubs: For Forming and Running a Harmonica
Club © 2003 Richard Martin
By Richard Martin
Note. The following information is provided with suggestions
for harmonica club members, on becoming a successful harmonica
What it takes to become a successful harmonica player
Basic skills needed
Music reading ability. In the future, more and more players
will want to participate in a harmonica ensemble. Due to the
complexity of ensemble musical arrangements, players must develop
their music reading skills to be able to play 2 to 5 part musical
arrangements. Gone are the days, when by ear music in
the key of C will be sufficient for playing these arrangements.
Resistance to reading music in all keys
Realize that people resist change. No matter how sincerely
individuals may be convinced of the necessity for reading and
playing music in all keys, the natural emotional response, to
this new requirement and the changes it will bring, is negative.
No matter how acute the need to upgrade skills in musicianship
and performance, it will take a super effort on your part to
sell it, implement it and win enthusiastic cooperation to upgrade
Everyone must keep abreast of the changes in the harmonica
Harmonica periodicals, harmonica club newsletters, and seminars
are the key means for harmonica instructors, musical directors,
and harmonica players to learn about and stay on top of what
is happening in the harmonica field.
Establishing a positive environment for the harmonica
There may not be a consensus right now, but the writing appears
to be on the wall --- to change the way the public thinks about
the harmonica as not being a serious musical instrument, then
players will have to change the way they are presenting the
harmonica to the public.
Steps to be taken by the Harmonica Educator to upgrade the
harmonica players musicianship and performance skills
1. Provide opportunities for training to upgrade the soloist
and ensemble players musicianship and performance skill.
2. Focus on areas of harmonica instruction that will help upgrade
the musicianship and performance skills of the soloist and ensemble
3. Target a market of players such as beginning players and
by ear players, who are interested in playing as a soloist or
in a harmonica ensemble.
4. Present a wide range of music to the public. One factor
that will greatly influence the publics view of the harmonica,
as a serious musical instrument, is for harmonica clubs and
the musical public to hear a wide range of music from the early
musical periods to the present performed by disciplined soloists
and ensemble players. Make a practice of playing quality music
arrangements from the musical score for solo music. Include
musical accompaniment, string ensembles, vocal, recorder music
for the public, and less of the practice of playing by ear arrangements
of the same old songs in the keys of C or G. Target a market
of the musical public to hear quality music performed by disciplined
soloists and ensemble players.
5. Work at organizing the overall field of harmonica musical
education, into an efficient musical program of training, in
specialized areas of musicianship and performance for the soloist
and ensemble player. Determine the specialized categories of
6. Provide a training program for the development of harmonica
instructors and musical directors. Provide a week training seminar
for potential instructors, to become familiar with specialized
areas of harmonica musicianship and performance skills, for
the soloist and ensemble player.
7. Provide workshops and seminars for ensemble players of the
diatonic, chromatic, bass and chord harmonicas concentrating
on understanding of technique, the elements of music, articulation,
dynamics, tempo, balance, blend, intonation, phrasing, and style.
Additionally, the workshops and seminars should place emphasis
on all players listening to the music performed, and to fellow
ensemble players. Other workshops and seminars could emphasize
the same for the harmonica teacher, as well as for the artist/performer
playing with musical accompaniment (see the section on harmonica
seminars, later in this book). Once workshops and seminars have
been established, no matter how humble their beginnings, the
recognized improvement in a participants musicianship
and performance skills is normally enough to keep the workshops
and seminars going and growing.
Consider what are the important areas for study, and what
are the obstacles to overcome for the beginning player
a. Being able to play a variety of music from the score written
in all keys.
b. Playing music written for the soloist and ensemble player
for flute, recorder, oboe, voice, and barbershop music.
Encourage harmonica club members to participate in the upgrading
of musicianship and performance skills of the soloist and ensemble
Encourage club members to select individuals, who are interested
in training as harmonica instructors and musical directors.
Analyze some reasons why many players want to play the music,
by ear versus the musical score
For one thing, it is harder to play the music, from the musical
score for individual musical parts. This requires a high degree
of musical ability to play as a disciplined soloist or ensemble
player. Much of the better musical solo and ensemble arrangements
are difficult to play. It is easier for the average player to
play the harmonica by convenience, rather than by the way the
music wants us to play. It takes a lot motivation, effort, and
practice to be able to play the better musical arrangements,
for vocal, choral, recorder music, string ensembles, and solo
selections with accompaniment. Because of this, the average
player tends to occupy himself or herself with playing the music
by ear, and in the key of C or G. As a result, these players
tend to rely exclusively on their ears to learn music and get
by up to a certain level, but a lack of reading skills restricts
the level to which they could aspire.
Some final thoughts
Until a great majority of harmonica music is played from the
musical score, the future is likely to bring a mix-and-match
assortment of by ear harmonica music presented to the public.
One factor that will greatly influence the publics thinking,
about the harmonica, is for them to hear a wide range of music
from the early musical periods to the present performed by disciplined
soloists and ensemble players. Do not specialize in just one
type of music to play to the public. Make a practice of playing
a wide range of quality music arrangements from the musical
score, for solo music with accompaniment, string ensembles,
vocal, recorder music for the public, and less of the practice
of playing by ear arrangements of the same old songs in the
key of C or G. By ear novelty music selections can be added
to the repertoire. However, this is after the basic music repertoire
is established. Target a market of the musical public and other
harmonica clubs to hear a wide range of quality music, performed
by disciplined ensemble players and soloists.