Different Levels of Feedback for Practice

In order to improve anything we need to understand what we trying to acheive and how close to the goal we are at the moment. To do this we need feedback when we practice to allow ourselves to judge our position. In this article I discuss the different levels of feedback we can use when practicing and how valuable they are.

The importance of feedback

levels of feedback for practice

You can use different tools to get feedback.

I would say that without feedback we cannot improve, period. Together with the end goal the feedback is what guides us through the jungle so that we can get to where we want to be. You can view yourself practicing as a control system and the input you get through various channels is the feedback signal that tell you how close to the target you are.

The different levels of feedback

The different levels of feedback you get when practicing a technique for example all have different levels of quality. Here is my classification from least valuable to most valuable.

Just playing

When we just play we may think that we are listening to what we are doing. Of course we are but we are too occupied with playing to hear the little mistakes. This is a trap many people fall into, they confuse playing with actual practice.

Practicing with a metronome

Adding a metronome to your practice routine is a huge step forward. The metronome is relentless in keeping the beat. It still puts pressure on you to really listen for how close you are to the beat and it does not tell you if you played the wrong note.

Record and review

Another step up the ladder is to use some form of recording device while practicing. This way you can review afterwards and see what you need to improve. This is best done in conjunction with a metronome. A loop pedal is a good option here as it will instantly play back what you played.

Remote offline review

If you have the option to send off a recording to an expert that reviews what you played you get even more feedback. This way you may also get feedback on things you didn’t even think about. Bluesharmonica.com offer this type of feedback in its membership. In my Udemy and Skillshare courses you get a version of this type of feedback as well.

Remote live review

Being able to consult with an expert live on something you are practicing on cuts the feedback loop shorter. It makes it easier to make corrections instantly and to ask follow up questions. Musical-U has this form of community based support.

Private lessons

At the top of the ladder of levels of feedback we have the private lessons. Having somebody listening to what you are doing, either in the room or via Skype, is the fastest way to get feedback. It is often also completmented by remote offline or remote live review to boost the results. Fo those interested in private lessons with me, please read the Courses and Lessons page.

Summary

In summary I just want to say that be mindful of how you practice and what levels of feedback you are getting. It can really make a big deffierence for your progress.

Blues Harmonica Fills

Before we get into this topic I have to be completely honest. I suck at blues harmonica fills. It is an art that so far has eluded me as player. I know however that continued study will give me result in the end. In this article I outline my view of fills and what to think of when using them in context.

The use of blues harmonica fills

blues harmonica fills

The diatonic harmonica is great for fills.

Just to give a brief definition of blues harmonica fills I would consider any riff that is used to fill the void between vocal lines a fill riff. The riff itseld is then not a part of the main melody and can often change from performance to performance. It is a way for the harmonica player to add to the excitement of the song being performed.

To add fills in a meaningful way you have to listen to what the other musicians are doing. Is the guitarist already adding his own fills? If so then you better stay away. Is there enough space in the background for you? Little Walter was a master of combining backup playing and fills and is well worth studying.

Characteristics

Typically blues harmonica fills are short in order not to interfer with the vocal lines. If your vocalist allows it there might me some room to start a fill before the last syllable comes out and to let the fills overlap a bit with the next line. When you are not sure it is better to stay off the vocalist’s turf all together.

If you want to use fills to put a specific charachter on the song your fills likely need to have some common ground. Perhaps same or very similar riff played with different techniques. If you are looking to add energy and excitement your riffs should be more aggresive and stand out.

Practicing blues harmonica fills

As you most likelty have noticed I have not given you any example tabs of blues harmonica fills like I did with turnaround riffs, V-IV-I-riffs and buildup riffs. I think it is better you find your own style for fills. Start by playing along songs you like an experiement with different shorter and longer riffs to find a good balance and build up a bank of riffs to use for fills. If you are worried about stepping on the vocal lines then practicing singing yourself at the same time as you do fills will help you develop appropriate riffs to use.

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Scales to Learn for Blues Harmonica Players

Probably the most used ways to stay in key when improvising is to use riffs already internilized and to use a scale fitting the key. For blues harmonica most players learn the blues scale and stick with that one. Perfectly fine but there are other scales that will benefit you as a player and can help you play when the song calls for something that is less bluesy for example. In this article I show you how to play two essential scales in second position.

The blues scale for reference

First we take a look at the blues scale. If you play a C harmonica in second position you will be playing in G. The G blues scale is:

G Bb C Db D F G (octave)

This root b3 4 b5 5 b7 root one octave above.

Scales Blues Scale

The blues scale.

The blue notes are the minor third (b3, Bb), flatted fifth (b5, Db) and the flat minor seventh (b7, F). These are the notes that gice us that special bluesy feeling. A cool thing about the blues scale is that it works over both minor and major keys (although people tend to stay away from minor keys in second position).

Minor pentatonic

The first alternative scale I want you to learn is the minor pentatonic scale. The blues scale is actually based on this scale. The only difference is that the minor pentatonic scale does not have the flatted fifth (tritonus) which is considered the most dissonate interval. This means that if you stay within the minor pentatonic scale you will stay clear of some of the more dissonant riffs that may not be appropriate for some songs.

The G minor pentatonic scale is:

G Bb C D F G (octave)

This root b3 4 5 b7 root one octave above.

Scales Minor Pentatonic

The minor pentatonic scale.

Major pentatonic

The second alternative scale is the major pentatonic scale. This is a bit different and does not have the blue notes of the blues scale or minor pentatonic scale. It also have the major third which means this scale is best suited for major tunes. Since the blue notes are missing this is a good choice for songs with a happier feel to them where bluesy riffs feel out of place.

The G major pentatonic scale is:

G A B D E G (octave)

This is root 2 3 5 6 root one octave above.

Scales Major Pentatonic

The major pentatonic scale.

This may require some work as A is three draw whole step bend and you want that in tune. Tricky but worth working for.

Putting the scales to use

To put these scales to use you need to internalize them so that you can stay within them when you choose to. Spend some time learning them and try using them to different jam tracks to work out where they work best for you.

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