It always interest me when harmonica enthusiasts talk about a player’s “technique.” Let’s face it, the general music listener doesn’t care about technique. All he/she cares about is what they hear. Either they like it or they don’t.
Most people play the harmonica as a solo instrument. They don’t accompany it with a guitar, piano or whatever. When they play the harp, solo style, they almost always cup their hands around it because that is the accepted way, as taught by harmonica “experts.” We almost never see their mouths, which also means we can’t see their “technique.” With the hands as a blocking force, we don’t see how they move up and down the scale. We don’t see how they inflate their cheeks at certain times. We miss them either “pursing their lips” or “tongue blocking.” No we can’t see “tongue blocking” but we can imagine that it’s being done if we don’t detect “lip pursing.” There’s a lot we can learn by watching the harp player putting his “technique” on display for us all to see.
Even when the harmonica is played as a solo instrument, it can be left open to view. It will have to be held in a different way, obviously, in violation of prescribed methods. However we hold it, it has to feel natural to us. That’s the only way we can truly create our own “technique.”
When the harp is played with the guitar or piano, then “technique” is on full exhibition. That’s how I prefer to watch harmonica players, great and small. There are many great harp players, past and present. Sadly, far too many sound just like each other. What goes into their playing, sounds like what comes out of it. Some stands out, but most doesn’t. It’s “cookie cutter music”, if it’s music at all.
Music has to be “unique” in order to be long lasting. Whether we play just for family and friends or in front of large crowds, we, as players, have to create our own ''mechanics." This, I believe, is the first step in a long journey to create actual music. We, as players, shouldn’t be trying to impress our listeners with our “technique.” We should be trying to produce “music” and we can’t do that unless we have our own individual style that’s true to us. Whenever someone hears our song and it touches them, they are honoring our special “technique.” Without it, we would have no song, no music. If each of us just wrote one song in our lives, a song which our family and friends would still play and sing fifty years after we were gone, how neat would that be? It would be a testament to our love for this little instrument called the harmonica. It would be true “harmony”, indeed!