Why did you pick up the harmonica? My very long story of why

I was asking myself that question, with a follow-up question; why at such a “late” age?

My story is that I grew up in a family, where nobody when I was a child played an instrument, but we did listen to a lot of music. I remember singing songs in English, long before I even learned the language, and not understanding what I was singing.

But I always wanted to learn to play the piano, but - I was very much discouraged to do so because I “wouldn’t be good at it”

So my only ways of playing the piano, was by either finding online pianos, when I got internet back in 2000, or by buying a cheap piano from a toy store, and then I would play Itsy Bitsy Spider, which was the only song I could play.

I also would buy a cheap toy harmonica at one point and play the same song on that one to (although I had to block the holes with my fingers because I didn’t have proper embouchure at that time), but I was pretty proud that I could play a song on a harmonica, albeit a very cheap one.

But in 9th to 10th grade in school, something bad happened to me. I’ve always been an avid reader, and artist (even though I was never the best at it), and I would read and draw every day. But I noticed that I started having trouble reading, and around the same time I gave up on books, my interest in doing art dissapeared as well. And it was gone for 10 years.

Later on in 2015, I thought to myself, I’m going to get that piano, I’ve always wanted, and I actually learned to play a few more songs than just Itsy Bitsy Spider, and it felt so satisfying, to know that I could actually combine my fingers in ways that made sense.

But again something came in the way. As I mentioned earlier I lost my interest in the things I used to love doing, and I was generally very depressed about everything, plus I had these weird imaginations and thoughts, that if I told you what they were, you would think I was crazy. So I went to several psychologists, who basically shrugged, except for one, who took me seriously, and that lead me to being diagnosed with schizophrenia. Suddenly everything made sense to me! My weird thoughts, and my lack of interest in the things I used to love doing.

With that new knowledge came medication, and I got on one that helped take away 95 % percent of my psychotic symptoms, but it also gave me akathisia for about a year. For those who don’t know akathisia is a moving disorder, in which you HAVE to move all the time, or else you’ll feel like your body is burning, and if I hadn’t been psychotic, I would say it’s the worst feeling in the world.
It also gave me another problem, the piano playing, was pretty much out of the question, because I simply could not stand the sensation I was feeling in my body long enough to play properly, and I gave up on the piano

Eventually the akathisia went away, and luckily (with therapy) my interest for art came back but I still wanted to learn an instrument. So I thought about which one, and then it hit me, the harmonica! I had felt very proud that I was able to play a children’s song on one when I was a kid, so not very long ago, I bought a harmonica again, and I’ve been at it ever since. Not only is the harmonica easy to carry around, but as someone who’s not good at combining hands and feet (which is partly why I don’t drive a car) I think the harmonica offers great possibilities.

So, that’s basically my long story which lead me to the harmonica.

What is yours?

3 Likes

Hey Vibe - thanks for sharing! I’m so happy to hear your story about overcoming.

I always asked for drums every year from the time I was like 3 years old, but my parents never sprang for a drum set - my mom was always very sensitive to loud noise, lol - so finally when I was 10 I was like, “ok the drum set isn’t happening…how about guitar?”

So I started studying guitar. Finger dexterity came slow for me but I was very passionate about it.

A friend who I played in Blues bands with in high school encouraged me to pick up harmonica, and taught me enough to get going. I loved it because I could play it easily on my lunch breaks at work.

Then I went to college at Oberlin and there were so many guitar players there who were so much more advanced than me, I started practicing guitar for hours every day from a place of fear and frustration, and eventually I developed repetitive stress syndrome in my fingers, and had such bad pain that I could no longer play.

Since guitar wasn’t an option, I really started putting A LOT of time into the harmonica. It saved me from having my musical dreams otherwise be broken. That was about 25 years ago.

That’s my story. Rock on @vibe!

Aloha,
Luke

3 Likes

I have never been musical.
At junior school age 7-11, I could manage a very bad ‘Grand Old Duke Of York’ on a cheap recorder, I was allowed in the school band out of pity and given a Tambourine to shake not bang, a Triangle for a one time ‘ding’ (which I missed and put it in at the end) finally a wooden clacker to simulate horses hooves.
Moving on to age 50+, I bought a cheap Chinese 20 hole harmonica and a very cheap Ukulele from a charity shop. The Harp gathered dust and the string tuners on the Uke broke. I never got a full tune from either.
Now 60+ I dusted of the harp and decided to give it a go…terrible. Looking online I discovered I needed a 10 hole proper harp, so after watching a few videos, bought a Hohner Bluesband to test the water.
Now I have completed the Beginner to Boss course, I can at last play a tune.
OK, I can’t bend a note yet and I can’t memorise the notes without the tabs, I have to stick to slow tunes…but I can play…wait for it!
Taps
Nearer my God to thee from Titanic
Underneath the Lamplight (ww1 song)
Dirty Old Town (Roger Whittaker version)
Theme from Allo Allo
Red River Valley
Home on the range
Ode to Joy.
By the time I’m 70+ I should be just about there (or maybe playing 'Spirit in the Sky’on a different kind of harp.

Love and Peace
Bob

6 Likes

Thanks for sharing your stories @Luke and @Bobby65 !

That’s so awesome Bob. You’re an inspiration!

Aloha,
Luke

1 Like

Great question @Vibe!

I have always been amazed by musicians who could pick up one of many instruments and play a melody after only having heard it once or twice.

I tried to play the piano but found all the theory and sheet music to be more than I bargained for, quickly getting discouraged. Since I can whistle fairly well, I decided to stick with whistling.

Then it dawned on me that a harmonica may use similar skills as my whistling so I dropped a hint to my family and low and behold, for my 59th birthday, I got my first harmonica.

Since that time, I have had it with me constantly and get a little nervous if it’s not right at hand. Unfortunately, I have to eat and do other things with my hands which prevents me from playing it all the time. I do keep it in my mouth though and just breathe in and out doing C and G chords to get the rhythm on some songs and a few don’t sound half bad just doing that.

There is so much to learn and the possibilities seem endless. The lessons here on Harmonica.Com, in particular from Luke, have been great to help me understand this amazing instrument and I’m loving every minute!

2 Likes

@Bobby65, I too plan on being pretty proficient by the time I get to 65 or 70…

Maybe we can get together and jam :blush:

1 Like

That’s amazing! Thank you for sharing your story @HarpinBobbyMcB

2 Likes

Great story Im really not sure why I picked up an interest in the Harmonica maybe cause I love the blues.My son taught himself the guitar and at deer camp we really have a great time together me just listening.So I got to thinking it might be the easiest thing for me to learn and I can also carry itin my pocket.My whole family is really into music my dad played alto sax and my mother sang.They were really good.So Im so glad I started doing this wish I would have started A long time ago but Luke is The man.great course!

3 Likes

Thanks Allan. I’m so glad you’re jamming with your son. You’re gonna be a boss before you know it, man!

Rock on,
Luke

1 Like

Yeah, Bobby! So good to see you over here man. Welcome to the forum. Thanks for sharing your story.

Rock on,
Luke

1 Like

Thanks Luke i really enjoy it maybe someday lol

1 Like

I took up the harmonica because I always loved it’s sound, and because it is easier to put in my pocket than my guitar is.

3 Likes

@Jake07712 That’s wonderful! And I agree, the sound of the harmonica is quite lovely

2 Likes

Yessah!

As a teenager, my two favorite bands, we’re, and still are , ZZ Top and George Thorogood. Later the Rolling Stones. From the beginning, my taste in music was always Blues based.
I tried guitar lessons. Couldn’t stick it.
Played drums in High School, wasn’t my thing. Then life started.
On my fiftieth birthday, I was given a harmonica. And it all came together.
All my favorite songs had harmonica riffs in them. The Theme music from Once Upon a Time in the West, has always haunted me. But bought the 8 track, and listened to it over and over.
I didn’t pick up the harmonica, it found me!

2 Likes

Nice. Great story! Love the bluesy foundations and mystical overtones. Right on. I’m right there with you. The harmonica is a spiritual thang for me too. Thanks for sharing!
Rock on,
Luke