How to get 100x Better on Harmonica (for Real)

Luke Performing on the Harmonica

Over the last 3 decades of practicing, performing, recording, and teaching harmonica I have noticed 3 activities that ALWAYS turbo-charge my growth on the instrument.

#1 RECORDING :loud_sound:

“All right guys, here we go. Take 137…” :rofl:

LOL. Just kidding, I’ve never done THAT many takes of a song…

But, DANG! When you record yourself, it’s always humbling to discover just how challenging it is to play even the SIMPLEST musical idea REALLY WELL.

Recording is literally like putting your playing under a microscope.

(Even more-so if you’re in a recording studio with professional musicians and engineers who’ve made their living for years listening critically to music, and feel free to give you honest feedback.)

But even without ever stepping foot into a recording studio, you can take advantage of this principle TODAY.

If you have a smart-phone you can easily record yourself any time, using the Recorder app on Android or the Voice Memo app on iPhone. If you’ve never done this before, not to worry it’s very simple:

On Android:

  1. Open the Recorder app. A message will appear in notifications.
  2. Click on the record button.
  3. Start recording the desired audio.
  4. To stop the audio, press the pause button.
  5. Click Save or Delete.
  6. Name the recording for easy access.

On iPhone:

  1. Tap on your Voice Memo app
  2. To begin recording, tap
  3. Tap to finish recording.
  4. Depending on your settings, the recording is saved as “New Recording 1” or “Location/Time” of your recording. To change the name, tap the name and type a new one.

:bulb: TIP: I find that I have to listen to a recording multiple times before I can really begin to “hear” it objectively.

#2 TEACHING :boy::school:

When I was a starving artist, I taught private lessons.

One day my neighbor asked me “can you teach my son drums?” Although I’d never given a drum lesson, I immediately answered,


Although I did have basic working knowledge of the drums, I didn’t consider myself an expert. I knew I’d have to work or my student would catch up to me! :drum:

I’d always comfort myself with this mantra, “You only have to stay ONE week ahead of him!” :rofl: And guess what? It worked! (And I became a much better drummer in the process too!)

Here’s the principle: As soon as YOU KNOW something YOU CAN TEACH it.

:question: Do you know how to breathe? Teach someone!

:question: Know the deep relaxed mouth position? Teach someone!!

:question: Do you know how to isolate single notes using lip blocking? Teach someone!!!

Encourage a friend or family member to take up the harmonica. Tell them you’ll teach them how to play for free (just because you love them so much! :wink:).

Teaching what you know to someone else


in you.

Teaching also automatically makes you an advocate for what you teach.

Here’s where the real MAGIC happens: at some point your student will ask you a question that makes you think: “Hmmm? I don’t know, let me see…how am I doing such and such?” :thinking:

This is just one example of how the teacher learns from the student.

#3 PERFORMING :performing_arts:

My wife and I started and ran a non-profit called the Big Island Music Academy for 10 years, and we facilitated hundreds of student-led performances in the community. One thing we observed early on:

The fastest way to learn a song REALLY WELL is to perform it,

and totally bomb it!


The “I never wanna do THAT again” principle is powerful, lol. We used this principle strategically.

If our students were to play a big fundraiser concert, we’d find some other community event where they could perform before the big concert.

There are 2 important principles here:

:one: Once you’ve played something live, you KNOW it in a NEW way.

:two: The ONLY way to get GOOD AT PERFORMING is….TO PERFORM!

FAILING in front of people teaches you that, hey, it’s not the end of the world. It ain’t actually that big a deal! Nobody died. Nobody cares. Life goes on!

Once you can play something (ANYTHING!) on the harmonica,


It could be:

:arrow_right: an open mic

:arrow_right: playing with a church group

:arrow_right: finding a band that’ll let you “sit in” for a song

:arrow_right: or even just playing for friends or family at a party or get-together.

I challenge you to push yourself outside of your comfort zone. Performing live is THE MOMENT when a musician GIVES their gift to THE COMMUNITY. All your hard work alone in your practice room now pays off and comes to fruition. It’s special, sacred even.


Don’t get me wrong… We all HAVE to practice ALONE in order to become excellent at our instruments (and on that note, consider this: the player you are in the future is dictated by WHAT you choose to practice today…)

BUT ALSO 1 hour of

:point_right: RECORDING & critically listening

:point_right: TEACHING someone something you know

:point_right: PLAYING live in front of a group of other people

can grow us as 10x or a 100x 1 hour in the practice room, and grows us in ways that just practicing alone never can…


Good article. I’ve been thinking of recording myself just to check how my articulation and phrasing sounds. A bit wary because I don’t want to listen to how bad I sound. Might put me off.


Yes, Dai @Dai , it’s very often quite … um … shocking :confounded: But it is absolutely one of the best ways to improve when working alone. :point_left:

Great tips, Luke @Luke !

– Slim :sunglasses:


I am still “waiting for the day”, when someone says:

Hey Bobby, Blaze some harp for us!

Most people now just politely, or not so, ask me to tone it down or stop playing completely. Now I realize with this article that I need TO FIND PLACES to play and PEOPLE who want to hear me play live. :wink:

I’ve implemented your first and second suggestions previously, now it’s time to do the third and shift into overdrive where I actually play for others. So far my Grand Guys have been my most willing live audience :joy:


I took the plunge with a twist, I made a video. And I discovered that I was moving my head! Ugh! I had no idea. So now I am going to have to practice with one hand on my head to feel if I am moving my head until I break that habit. :face_with_symbols_over_mouth:


Hello @1bakingblackdog,
just nod to the rhythm and you’ll barely be able to move your head left and right and have to use your hands with your harp. :smile:

Regards Astrid :woman_in_lotus_position:


Luke - you hit the advice trifecta. Thanks!

“In a live performance, it’s a collaboration with the audience; you ride the ebb and flow of the crowd’s energy.” - Jon Batiste (Grammy Award winning composer and

“Documenting your sound is forever. It will be part of your legacy” - Steve Freund (Grammy Award winning blues guitarist and vocalist)

I’m sure there’s a student out there who knows less than I do about something - Me



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