Speed v Accuracy

Hi Guys.
I was wondering what your thoughts are regarding speed v accuracy. I have been working on a few bits on the Harmonica for Dummies book, one of the pieces involves playing a triplet note. To start with I had trouble getting the notes right, then they started to go OK but I just can’t get the triplet note down, just can’t blow quick enough. Now is there some trick to be used here or is it a matter of practice, practice practice and concentrate on getting the notes right and the speed will follow?

I also find it hard trying to do blow, draw in various combinations. Now I am only a real beginner and think that breathing to live involves inhaling and exhaling in that order. Playing harmonica does not folllow this law, so is it, once again patience and practice, and this will come as well.

What do you think,



Howdy Geoff!

For all beginners and many intermediate players, methinks they put too much pressure on themselves by not taking enough time to develop their skills and techniques before they’re jumping on to something else.

Yeah, I admit, I’ve been somewhat guilty of that too.

Nevertheless, when it comes to speed & accuracy et al, it takes time, and only time working on them to get to where you want to go.

Being said, here’s some suggestions and tips to help one along the way. In no particular order, to wit:

  1. It takes years to develop the chops to play Bluegrass like Mike Stevens or Irish jigs etc like Brendan Power - So what’s the rush?!

  2. Play chords and chugging using a metronome, such as the one here:


Start at a comfortable pace you can handle, even if it’s lower than 60 bpms. NP.

Then increase the timings and rhythms gradually…60, 90, 110, 130+ bpms whatever.
Great teachers like Jon Gindick and even JP Allen says it takes time to develop these skills - So again, what’s the rush?

  1. Learn at least one good song that lends itself to going a little faster: Turkey in the Straw, Arkansas Traveler and Pop Goes The Weasel come to mind.

Start slow and easy; then when you feel like picking up the pace, you can.

  1. Always strive to play within your abilities at the time – As your knowledge and experience improves, so will your abilities and everything else - With Time!!

Hope these help!

Good luck!

Keep on Harpin’!

Cheers for that SPD,
That’s exactly what I wanted to hear. Accuracy first. How hard is it though for beginners to want to run brfore they can walk. I watch a few you tube vids and want to emulate these guys sraight away. I know it will take years but I suppose the fact I want to be like these guys is a good thing.

Here is a song I would love to be able to play eventually although I think he floats a bit in the middle for me but brilliant all the same.

Cheers Guys,


Slow Harmonica Blues in Black & Blue by HakanEhn well worth a listen

Slow Harmonica Blues in Black & Blue

When it comes to triplets I think it’s very important to have a vivid impression of what a triplet sounds like in your mind. Just as with bending it’s very important to hear inside your head what you are about to play, it makes timing a lot easier. Listen to a lot of Irish music, they are frequently used there. Try finding the triplets, listen to them and love them for what they are: delicious :slight_smile:

On the question of speed vs accuracy in general, my advice is to do whatever is the most fun. Given enough time you will master them both anyway.

Cheers for the reply Whiskat, some good advice there. I think maybe the thing is that it will all come in time. I’m just an impatient so and so trying to run before walking. Do you know of anywhere I can get to listen to some Irish music, is it all on youtube.

Starting here, you can learn to play your own:



Rock on, yo!

Using the Blues as a disscussion point (blues is my favorite), most would agree that Sonny Boy Williamson II is pretty good. Listen to and watch his You Tube videos and you’ll not find speed, what you will find is accuracy and single note playing. He does more with less than any of the Greats. Less can be more without speed, if it’s accurate!


I agree, Barry. Any tune played accuratly, no matter the written speed. Played cleanly, will sound nice.
Experiment for yourself, play a tune you know. Play it fast. Then play it slowly and accruatly hit every note and phrase, listen to which sounds better.

Just 2-cents from the nose bleed seats! ;D

Brendan Power is of course the best suggestion since you play harmonica, but my favourite Irish musician (the only one I frequently listen to), is Martin Hayes. He plays the fiddle accompanied by a guitar.

Brendan Power mentions sevreal other harmonica players within the Irish folk tradition in his book on the subject, when I’ll find it I’ll PM you the names of the artists.

Tongue blocking opened the door for me to develope more accuracy, one can actually feel with the tip of thier tongue where they are on the harmonica, with accuracy speed can then be developed. that said I must side with Barry and Tyson in respect to less is more. Without air/space between phrasing the listener has a much harder time participating. The listeners ear will automatically add what it thinks is going to come next, if they’re right they are thrilled, wrong and the sensation of having thier ear tricked is just as rewarding. The Great American Icon Johnny Cash summed it up thusly. “As an artist the musicians pallet from which he works is silence”. B.B. King can say more with 3 notes than Eddie Van Halen can conjure with 300.
Speed is nice and can take your audience to another place, but if you leave them there it is very difficult to get them back. All speed all the time gets boring really fast. John Popper jumped out with his speed triplets and everyone was like wow. But the act soon ran it’s course
as if people had gotten tired of the one trick pony. “Listen to the fat boy play triplets” when he tries other things people don’t get it, I think this is due to his taking everything over the top. People came to expect that.

One of the secrets of performing music its to learn the song SLOWLY.

Play it 100% perfectly, if you can’t, slow it down. If you still can’t play it 100%, play it SLOWER. Don’t worry if its the speed of a snail, you need to get your muscles to do the right thing the first time. After you can play it a few times through with out messing up, take it up a notch, then another and another until its full speed.

If you try to play it fast the first time, you’ll get bad technique, slurry notes, and your body will adjust to doing that. Just do it slower, always aim for accuracy.

Note to remember… To get a tune learnt and up to speed, you may have to play it 100’s of times!
I have a couple of tunes that I really like to play, one inparticular, the computer counter says 155 plays. There’s is still room for improvement. That’s not counting how ever many times played without backing. ;D
Just a thought…2 cents

Does anyone have tabs for Turkey in the Straw? I would like to try to work on that one and speed it up once I learn it.

I’m a gymnast, and we have a saying at our gym, “Either be patient… Or become one!”

Here you go Jon that was an easy one, Here’s the like where I found it.


Turkey In The Straw

8-8 7 7 7 5 6 6 6
A-s I was go-ing down the road

7 -8 8 8 8-8 7 -8 8 -8 -8
with a tir-ed te-am and a heav-y load

8-8 7 7 7 5 -5 6 6 6
I cracked my whip and the lead-er sprung

7-8 8 9 9 7 -8 8 -8 7
I said good-bye to the wa-gon tongue.

8 9 9 8 9 9 9 9
Tur-key in the straw, haw, haw, haw.

-9 -10 -10 -9 -10 -10 -10 -10
Tur-key in the hay, hay, hay, hay.

10 10 10 10 9 9 9
Roll 'em up and twist 'em up

9 8 8 7 -8
a high tuck-e-haw,

7 -8 8 9 9 -10 9 8 7 -8
A-nd hit 'em up a tu-ne cal-led

8 7 -8 -7 7
Tur-key In The Straw.