Tough Time Playing In Front Of People/Busking

Hi everybody been playing a couple years now and have a repertoire of about 20 or so tunes that I can play by memory, close to that anyways. When I say play I mean in the privacy of my own space by myself.

Here is a perfect scenario, I’ll be standing next to my car filling the tank and want to pull out the harp and just play, while I am waiting for it to fill but I am a big chicken. Afraid I will sound awful and get dirty looks. Anyone else have this problem.

Good Topic, Joe!

To overcome this “stage fright” condition, play your harmonica whenever and wherever you feel like it!

Seriously, man, I understand!

I felt the same way you did! But now after playing on the “street” (meaning everywhere) as it were, the only looks you might get are smiles! [And a few good phone numbers by the ladies if you’re on the market too!]

Seriously, man, it doesn’t matter what you sound or play like as long as you’re having fun with it yourself!

Let us know how it goes for you!


Hi! This is from mikepipe. I’m just starting the harmonica but have been playing bagpipe for some years.
Yes,its hard to play in front of others and the pipes are hard to ignore. However after some initial timidness of public playing my confidence grew and it became easy. Playing in a band with the support of other pipers and a drum corps was a good experience,too. We’ve played to parade a festival crowds. The Tucson Day of the Dead draws about 40,000 people. It felt unbelievable to hear all those people cheering us on. I’ve only had one confrontation in public playing. I suggest if you play tunes people recognize you’ll be accepted. All this from a supremely timid person. The band I play with can be seen on You Tube under sevenpipers.

The Tucson Day of the Dead draws about 40,000 people.

Ah, Los Dias el Muerte <<>> harkens me back to my time living south of the border!

And real mescal, not exported tequila, makes anyone forget their fears!

Way t’go! :wink:

Do you feel like you have confidence in your music? You say you have a rep of about 20 songs, does this imply that you play by tabs? If you do, consider this (if you don’t, ignore everything that follows):

When playing from memory, there really aren’t a lot of room for mistakes. You have to follow a strict pattern, this is hard work, very hard! What you want to do is develop an ear and improvisation skills, that way whenever you do a mistake you can just alter the song a little, improvise your way back in. You don’t ever have to worry about sounding bad.

When I was playing this way, memorizing songs, I would never have had the balls to play infront of other people, and it was for good reasons. I couldn’t really play music, I just memorized patterns and copied them on the harp.

Thanks everyone, I think I will just play I can improvise a little but I really enjoy playing tunes I’ve memorized, alot.
I think I will start by playing simple tunes that I know very very well. My best would be BOB DYLAN’s “Blowing in the Wind”
I play that pretty well. So well I am able to use my hands cupping and forming the sounds without messing up. And use vibrato also
without messing up.

Hey Joe,

I’ve been through that “chicken” phase. ;D I know exactly what you mean. When I started playing, I would lock myself in my bedroom while practicing. I wouldn’t let anyone enter. :slight_smile: And if I were practicing outside on a street, and saw someone coming my way…I would stop playing and hide my harmonica in a pocket! haha

I’ve realized that you cannot overcome this fear by avoiding it. You have to confront it, face to face. We are afraid of playing in front of people because we are worried what people would think. We have a desire to play flawlessly in front of people and prove a point. This desire is what creates fear. There is no need to prove anything…and there is nothing wrong with mistakes. A mistake is an opportunity to learn. So, just close your eyes and forget about everything. Become ONE with your instrument. When you become one with your instrument, you will also become one with everyone and everything around you. This is called playing in the zone (in street player’s words). Soon everyone will melt into your music, and clap to the rhythm. And even if they don’t…who cares? You are having fun, and that’s the important thing. :wink:

Wow that Ashish is good good advice just close my eyes and focus in on the harp. It doesn’t have to be a 15 min medley of tunes even if its just one tune close my eyes and focus. And your right the fear will not go away if I avoid it. Time to face it.

thanks for some very good advice.

When playing from memory, there really aren't a lot of room for mistakes. You have to follow a strict pattern, this is hard work, very hard!

Well, this may be one of those times I just might have to disagree with God! Well God/God yes maybe lots…But God/here just a little bit! Hehe!

Thing is, I believe it was in a Tom Ball book where he said it was hard to write down old harmonica players tunes note-by-note, because instead of playing note-for-note, they would do what’s called: “playing through the song!”

He said that learning a lick here and there (even if one had to struggle with it for awhile) was still a lot easier than transcribing a whole song.

I didn’t fully comprehend what he was saying, until I had one of my, albeit small little, Aha-Eureka moments!

I found this virtually by accident when I was comparing two tabbed songs from two tabbed books next to each other. Meaning, without getting into the keys and such that you can play on only one harmonica – Instead here, was the same song virtually note-for-note alike, with just a few minor differences! Yet those minor differences really made a major difference in how I played the song itself!

Here’s the song and the exact written tablature for both:

Version One

3B 4B 4B 4B 4D 5B 5D 6D 6B

7B 7D 6D 6B 6D 6B 5B 6B

6B 6D 6D 6D 5B 6B 5B 4D 4B

[i]3B 4B 3B 4B 6D 6B

4B 4D 5B 4B 4D 4B[/i]

Version Two

3B 4B 4B 4B 4D 5B 5D 6D 6B

7B 7D 6D 6B 6D 6B 5B 6B

6B 6D 6D 6D 5B 6B 5B 4D 4B

[i]3B 4B 4D 5B 6D 6B

7B 8D 8B 7B 8D 7B[/i]

As you will notice, the song is the same until the last two lines on each!

You can play one version, the other version, anyway you want to once you learn the song!

Why? Because on the very last lines of each I add:

4B 4D 5B 4B 4D [u]4D 4B and/or

7B 8D 8B 7B 8D 8D 7B

Why? Because it simply sounds good to me, that’s why! And if it works, by all means I use it!

And once you know the song and tune, if you find what works for you, by all means use it too!

I’d like to share a few of these other similar Aha-Eureka moments with you as well, but later!

And yes, I know I purposely left the name of the song off of this post!

So by all means try these versions out for yourself! And let me know what you think!



Playing it would help if I knew the tune, can you tell what it is curiousjavascript:void(0)

Ah, what’s in a name, Joe? That which we call this tune by any other name would still sound as sweet! So c’mon, Joe, give it a try…Am sure others will know it too on the by-and-by! :wink:

Gimme a little time I’ll figure it out… ??? >:(

[font=Verdana][size=10pt][size=10pt][size=10pt][size=10pt] Shenandoah [/size][/size][/size][/size][/font]
I knew I could figure it out…ah but I cannot tell a lye A fellow harp player I know who also plays piano His name is Ed
helped me out with this one.

Yay! Give the man cigar!

Ya scairt me there, Joseph!

The song is used in many teaching harp books to demonstrate ‘hand vibrato.’ And yes too, (playing in different keys on just one harmonica aside) there are many similar yet slightly askew ‘tabbed’ versions of it as well!

So goes to show, once we learn the tune itself, we can add/subtract certain blows/draws here and there, play it any way we want because it’s the overall song that’s recognizable (for us and everyone else) not necessarily the individualized note-by-note tabulatures one might be setting themselves up to struggle with!

But was thinking ‘oh, no!’ what if most people never heard this great old song before?! What then?! ???

But you came through like a real trouper there, marine - regardless of how you did it! :wink:

Thanks & Semper Fi!

Wow. This is a great post Joe. Thanks everyone for chiming in.

Do do this topic justice I need time to reply. I have so much to say about the topic and I’m just recovering from a family visit in New York.

Back in Hawaii now and need a nap.

More soon.

Thanks Joe and everyone!


Ah, so much harpin’ to do, so little time to do it in! :frowning:

But enjoy them zzzzz’s… 8)

Laters, bro!!

I guess when I started playing I was a little fortunate. A friend of mine owned a Blues bar and they had an open mic jam every Wed. nite. I would go up there and sit in the very back away from everybody so as not to piss anybody off with my screechin’. I guess after awhile I started to get the hang of it. Some of the players would stop and listen a little on the way to the john. Then one nite as the band started playing a song my friend grabbed me and my harp, I thought he was throwin’ me out, but instead he stuck me in front of a mic. and said “Now play dammit”!!!. Been Jammin’ ever since. And still trying to get the hang of it?!?!?!

That’s pretty cool there, Player!

Truth be told too, I still have to deal in fighting off my ‘jitters’ in public as well. I just keep telling myself I’m my own worst critic. I may not be as good as I’d like myself to be - But then again, who is? I’ll keep getting better as I go along.

If anything, one of my biggest jitters comes from the idea of ‘passing the hat around’ as it were. Hey, yo, I’d like to get into being a pro one day, so that requires stamina, endurance, and everything else that goes with it. But it’s a worthy goal too.

For the time being, I’m happy when somebody actually notices, takes the effort and says, “Hey, that’s nice, keep it up!”

One of the best moments I had was when I was biking. I took a break on a bench, pulled out the harp and started playing. A kid, no more than 13, pulls up on his bike, stops, listens, then says: “Hey, mister, you’re really good at that!”

I just said, thanks, little dude, I’m trying.

He then says: “I’m sorry I don’t have any money to give you to hear you play, but please accept these.” He reaches into a pouch, smiles, and passes me over a handful of… firecrackers!

I was deeply touched by this kid. I didn’t refuse them because it would’ve been an insult to him from me to do so. I thanked him; he pulled away and said to blow them off for 4th of July or whenever, and hoped to see me again!

So wow! Got a fan there!

It’s all good! Little by little, it’s all good!

That’s a really nice story, Street. :slight_smile:

I’ve got some similar stories… :slight_smile:

I was walking down a street, playing Deford Bailey tunes in the beautiful town of Rishikesh (in the Himalayas). A village kid, who was probably around 9-10 years old, started following me. I had no idea he was right behind me. Finally, when I was done playing, he came to me and said (in Hindi): “I’ve been listening to you. You are really good! What is that small thing you were playing?” I thanked him for the compliment, and showed him my harmonica. He said he had never seen one before.

A few weeks ago, a 6 year old kid heard me doing a train imitation on a harmonica. After I was done, he came to me and said “open your mouth…I want to see what’s inside it. I just can’t believe all those sounds were coming from that small instrument”. ;D


Wow great stories I got to get out and play more…