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

Thanks for the great stories!

Some of this is in my first introductory post, but this is more complete. I have trouble carrying a tune when I sing. I grew-up thinking I was tone death. When I was a teenager I wanted to learn to pray the guitar, but it was felt that since I could not sing it did not make sense (we did not know about classical guitar, etc). When I was around 40 years old (I am now 80) I started playing an Irish tin whistle and realized that I was not tone deaf (I can tell when someone else is off tune and enjoy listening to music). Subsequently, I picked up a recorder and 'fooled; with that for a while. In my late 50s I started play the harmonica. I started diatonic harmonicas, but could not seem to learn how to bend noted, so I switched to chromatics, Also, I learned to tongue block, as I just could not get good single notes puckering, It took me an awful long time just to learn to play a single note. I played, on and off, for a few years and then stopped, I resumed playing in my 70s and play most days. I use tabs and once I learn a tune, I can paly it from memory. I have a limited number of melodies that I play and every once in a while learn a new one. I mostly play for myself and my wife. However, I did play Danny Boy once with a busker on Broadway in Saratoga Springs; during the horse racing season. I don’t remember anyone putting a coin in the hat while I was paying, so I guess I am not a professional. :slight_smile:


In 1969, I was returning for my high school graduation in Baltimore on a greyhound bus From my Hometown Philadelphia. I was supposed to spend the weekend with a classmate and his brother and trip for the 1st time.
Being naive I had taken half of a tablet Of acid the night before, thinking I would just have colorful dreams. When I realized I was staying up, I took the rest of the tablet. My brother got me to the bus station.
I brought along a Marine Band harmonica, key of A and the book: "How to play blues harp ", by Little Sonny Glover. To keep from freaking out, I read this book while I was on the bus, even though the print would drift off of the page at times. He was a funny guy and wrote in a very conversational manner. For example, to answer the question of why bend notes, he wrote: ”well we all have our own little perversions, don’t we.” When I got to my friends house, I played harmonica for the very first time. They both said that I sounded great! Neither of them were in an altered state of consciousness at the time. I have been playing ever since.


Oh my gosh this story is hilarious. Love it. Thanks for sharing!


Digging up an older post, but it’s an interesting topic, and I’ve really enjoyed reading everyone’s tales of where it all began for them.
Thanks everyone for sharing your backgrounds.

I grew up in a household and family with nobody who played instruments or sung, and music was only ever played on the radio every now and then (my Dad on a Sunday would sometimes play some of his CDs - stuff like Queen, REO Speedwagon and T-Rex).
In fact I didn’t start listening to music myself until I was in my teens, buying my first CD at age 14 - Meteora by Linkin Park
(a far cry from Harmonica oriented music for sure)

It’s possible that my musical journey was not helped by my only exposure to music at school (about age 7 or 8) was me being allowed to sing in the choir for a show on the condition that I mimed; I must have sounded shocking…

Around 16 I took up the electric guitar in an attempt to be ‘cool’ (it actually kinda sorta worked… Maybe) and even briefly fronted a band for a few gigs.
Life and work (and a girlfriend - now my wife of nearly 10 years, so it all worked out) happened and playing took somewhat of a backseat, with the electric being swapped for an acoustic. Over time even this asowly faded away but I still had a desire to play at timea, though was regularly out either mountain biking or motorcycling so I went for a Harmonica purely out of practicality.
(Turns out I was so self conscious that the first time I ever played anything outside was about 4 weeks ago!)

That was about 6, maybe 7 years ago now, and after faffing around and getting nowhere I decided earlier this year to take this great little instrument more seriously and study how to play properly, alongside also learning acoustic bass guitar.
With the help of lessons by @Luke and Juzzie Smith I’ve progressed more in the last few months than all the years prior put together!!


Hey there @Vibe , I found your openness very inspiring.
I hummed and harred whether or not to reply to this, as I felt that if I did I’d have to be honest. So hear goes. My apologies in advance to anyone who is triggered by anything I say here. Where to start?

I was speaking properly with a large vocabulary before I was twelve months old apparently. Taught myself to read at four, not little kids books. I can remember when I cracked the the code. I was playing harp since before I can remember.

My childhood though was an absolute horror film. The only safe places for me to hide were in literature and music. I could cry through the harp without showing weakness. It wasn’t safe to show any type of emotion in that bloody house. I remember every birthday blowing out the candles and wishing I was dead. When asked what my wish was I’d say if I tell you it won’t come true. I knew I’d be in trouble if they found out. My mother told me before I started school at four and a half that I couldn’t let anyone know that I was intelligent and had to hide it, which I did without question. I only realised as an adult that she didn’t want anything to attract attention to our household.

I worked in all areas of nursing for many years, except paediatrics. Children aren’t small adults. Physiologically they are a different kettle of fish. I did a lot of psych and want you to know that a good psychologist is able to help with problems like yours once stabilised by medication. Even to the point of no longer needing meds. But get a female psychologist should you go down this path.

I feel as safe with you guys as I do with books and musical instruments. Thank you for the haven. X


Since this thread is getting picked up again, I’ll tell my story. When I was about 4 or 5, I was listening to a local country radio station when a Garth Brooks song called “Ain’t Goin’ Down ('til the Sun Comes Up)” came on. I thought it was a normal country song but as soon as I heard the first warble of the song, the harmonica caught my attention. At the time, it was like nothing I’ve ever heard before. I didn’t know what was going on with the technique, I just thought the harp lines in that song were cool and lonesome sounding that I hated it. Which is completely ironic because I absolutely love the harmonica in that song now looking through a harpist’s perspective. You would never hear a wailing harmonica tone of that caliber on a country song, let alone on a popular track like that.
I never looked up who played that harp or what their name was up until I started regaining interest in the instrument. That was when I discovered the name, Terry McMillan. I didn’t look further into his work at that point because I was still apart of the general public (“GP” for short), but I noticed in a couple songs from other country artists that had him playing on their tracks, Alan Jackson and Daryle Singletary come to mind, because of one unifying aspect of his sound, his harp growl. That was what made him sound different from other modern country players other than the powerful, bluesy tone.
In 2018, my parents’s divorce was about to be finalized. My biodad was very abusive towards me, my mom, and my sister. He was physically (during the beginning of the relationship), mentally, verbally, and financially abusive towards all of us and we left his house on November 28th the year prior. This year will mark five years since we escaped a very toxic household. So it was the perfect time to try something new. I decided that I wanted to try out the harmonica because I wanted something that’ll keep my mind distracted from all of the trauma I endured and as a side project to focus on while I was still in high school. On Christmas of that year, I was given a little toy harmonica with a book on how to play it. I noticed that it barely played a note while breathing in so I grabbed all my Christmas money, went to my local Guitar Center, and got myself a key of C Hohner Special 20. The rest, they say, was history.
I absolutely love being in the harmonica community as it’s my family that’s not related by blood. There have been some challenges like being in MBH Facebook in 2021 and having to deal with stuck-up know it alls who think they know everything, but I really like taking an active role here despite those two glaring issues.


I have mentioned on another thread that 2022 was a year for me to experience different things and not hold back if an opportunity arises. I’ve climbed mountains, built a house, learning other skills but the one thing I should have done sooner was to learn an instrument. After being shaken by family illnesses and passings and the ‘big question’ I also am rapidly losing my hearing. I now have severe hearing loss in both ears within the mid to high frequencies and what residual hearing I have is drowned out by tinnitus, so I am useless in a conversation or listening to music without my hearing aids. Sadly, I cannot hear anything as it was intended to be recorded anymore as my hearing aids only relay the audio the way electronically so it is all abit synthetic. It stems from being gun-hoe when working with power tools during my working life. ALWAYS USE EAR PROTECTION NO MATTER FOR HOW LONG! My hearing will deteriorate further with age (I’m only 47). This is not for a sympathy note but it played the main part in picking up the harmonica.
My family is musical - my brother was in a military band and climbed to the top, my cousin was in a successful band Young Guns and other family members had bands - I was never musical and felt intimidated so never tried. Now, I don’t 2 hoots what people think as life is too short and I am enjoying playing to my four legged friend, I have spare harps laying around. I’ve hit the wall a couple of times with learning but who hasn’t? I’ve done the beginner to boss course and just now tinkering on playing things by ear (as well as I can) - in short, I am celebrating what I have left in the sense of hearing.


Good on you @harveybabes people almost never appreciate what they have till it’s no longer there. I love your attitude. Why pave paradise huh? We take too much for granted :thinking:


@MikeyJay I used to listen to Linkin Park a lot. So you’ve bought Juzzie’s lessons? Do you like them?

@stonestone63 Thanks for sharing your story man. Glad you’re a part of the community. sorry to hear about the depression you’ve suffered, but congrats on facing it head on. I agree with you you about the value of therapists. I can’t imagine how I ever would’ve navigated my divorce without the one who helped me.

Great to hear your story @kerororinchou. I’m so happy that you are free from that toxic household, that you’re rocking the harmonica, studying with Todd, and for all the rich value you bring to our community.

@Harveybabes thanks for sharing the advice about ear protection. Good advice! And good for you for using your breath to rock and roll, my friend. ROCK ON! :metal:t3:


Thanks @Luke, but don’t get me wrong. Unless something has triggered my complex PTSD, I’m one of the happiest people on this planet. These days when I am triggered, true I don’t function well and collapse and cry a lot but I see it as an opportunity to find what is really going on inside of me. It’s telling me that I’m now strong enough or that the time is ripe to work on a particular issue. I always end up an improved version of myself. If my past has guided me to the life I have now, I would go through every horrible moment again if it was required to keep the wonderful existence that I cherish. Rock on baby :+1:


Hey @Luke i often notice later that my replies can be so self focused. I guess with 20/20 hindsight lots of us realise this.

I’m sorry about what you went through. I’m great full that you still had the presence of mind to seek help. Look at who you are now and what you have. A pair of full length waders and a nose peg get us to those unknown, unexpected beautiful places. My love to you brother :slightly_smiling_face:


So I’m brand new to the site and only 2 months into my heromonica journey. So in school I played saxophone. At first I was almost scared off by my anxiety and fear of social embarrassment. Being one player in a band of 60 convinced me to stay. I was under the naive thought that I could just blend in and wouldn’t have to play by myself. But then that bubble was busted immediately.
We assembled our instruments and The director explains how the band is set up and what role each section plays. Then starts explaining the tunning process and difference between flat and sharp. So now it’s time to tune. She’s let’s start in the front​:hushed:and work our way back making sure each individual :scream:is tuned. The order was flutes, clarinets, French horns, saxophones, :frowning_with_open_mouth: trumpets, and so on. As I saw one by one how hard some players(over 30) had at even producing a sound that was a scratch my anxiety worsened. Eventually it was my turn. :cold_sweat:Sweating, shaking, and about to puke I gave blow. Not a screech but :horse:. After five minutes of some coaching I finally had it close enough.
That’s the first time I truly felt such an overwhelming sense of vulnerability and fear. The only silver lining was that out of us 6 tearable sounding sax players I wasnt the worst. The anxiety from the tuning process got easier each day. And that was the only singles out playing at first.
Months in we got to the point of mediocrity where it was time to decide chair position. We would each go into a room and play the Bflat scale into a recording device. The director would then listen to them privately and decide our rankings. we never heard any individual play by themselves besides tunning at this point. Next day the results was posted and I will never forget the nerves walking up that paper. Praying desperately to be anything but last.
But the fear of failling immediately turned to relief and a unfamiliar sense of pride when I saw that somehow I landed 1st chair. For once I actually win something. For once I someone actually says I’m good enough. For once I have value and belong. I had never felt this amount of dopamine and serotonin release. Whatever this was I knew I liked and wanted more.

:melting_face:That was it. That was the first time I ever got high. I was 11 years old. :melting_face:

As the years went on I continued getting better and held that 1st chair position. Transitioning to high school and being in the same band as upperclassmen had me slightly nervous at first. But more so I was excited at possible high from beating someone with years of experience on me. First we did open chair challenges in front of the whole class. As I heard each upperclassmen play I realized that I might actually have a chance. Although they may be more technical maybe I could put more soul and feeling. So I took the biggest breath of my life, closed my eyes and channeled my inner B.B.King. I finish the phrase and look around at somewhat surprised faces. The director is smiling with a sense of “okay I see you”. Last two sax players play and I knew I had them beat but still unsure about the others. She thanks for a second and first name spoken was mine followed by make sure you practice those runs because If not you won’t be 1chair for long.

:melting_face:All of sudden it was like uping the dose. Whole new level of high accompanied with a cocky sense of arrogance. :melting_face:

The rest of highschool was full of that feeling and with the solo performances, competitions, and a few rewards I never had to go without.
Towards graduation I was offered a partial scholarship for local college but would have to major in music. Although I loved band I was still at the age where I cared about looking cool. Played football so never had to do the dorky marching band and uniforms. I decided to go a different route and majored in film.
Getting ready for college I knew the difficulty and rudness that comes with playing sax anywhere that isn’t a band setting. It’s loud and even if you are good most of the time it annoys neighbors. Also I didn’t think it was very cool. Although now I know that its probably the coolest and sexiest. Lol so with all kf that in consideration I decided to sell it. $3200 selmer stupidly sold for $600 :nauseated_face::face_vomiting::face_vomiting::face_vomiting::face_vomiting:
That was the last time I played. It’s been over 10 years. I’m tearing up right now just thinking about it.
Unknowingly I had became accustomed to that high. As a lot of us do I experimented and partied in college. At first it was innocent. But that quickly changed. Putting my self deeper and deeper into that world I felt whole again. Not as much substance abuse as danger. Feeling drawn to moving up the ladder. Not realizing that I was trying to find another version of 1st chair.
Well like I said it’s been 10 years. Ups and downs good and bad moments. But never fully feeling satisfied. I’m at the point where the search may kill me. Although knowing that the next high may be my last I have to anyways.
Like many musicians and artists who struggle with bad times I finally have found some authentic soul and something to say. I don’t think I’m very good but starting to let go of some pain through singing. And Ive been craving another instrument. But most are to loud or inconvenient for taking on hikes and traveling.
That’s when it dawned on me. Let’s give a heromonica a try. My favorite music is blues. So the her.monica has been staring at me this whole time. Literally a perfect fit If I can learn it.
Watch some YouTube videos while waiting for it to ship. Already understand all the music theory, have a great sense of tempo, amazing lung capacity, and embouchure understanding. Sure it’s going to be different but I felt like I’ll be set up for success. Open the box and start playing. Doing it with patience and slowing everything down. Not great at first but the improvement rate has been amazing. Now I’m at a point where I can play along with any song or backing track.

:melting_face:For the first time in years I’ve found a none self destructive way to feel that high again.
I’m not saying I’m great or every will be. But I can say for a fact that one day I’ll be decent…

Sorry for the book everyone. None of you knowing me personally is what aloud the hoesty. This has just been heavy on my heart lately. Also I bet they be others out there who may have similar issues. I’m still struggling with addiction but now on those low days I can put a playlist on and play until the edge goes away. Im probably at about 6hours of playing time 3-5days a week. Which is what has drastically helped the quick progress.

Typed on phone and didnt have time to fix spelling or grammar mistakes. Hopefully it’s coherent. If you read it all thanks


Hello @LostBuzzFound,
:pray:, thanks.

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Welcome to the forum.


What an interesting musical journey!

Thanks for sharing. I played saxophone for one semester on Jr. High, but never got past that musical experience until I came upon the harmonica a cupla years back…

Welcome to the forum, hope you enjoy the ride :footprints:


@LostBuzzFound welcome to the forum my friend and thanks for sharing your story! May God continue to bless you on your musical journey! :facepunch:t3::heart::notes:

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