Mountain Dew Practice

A couple of months ago I played one of my favorite songs, Mountain Dew, for Joe Filisko and my harmonica practice crew. It was quite nerve wracking but a great experience. I felt really good afterwards. Being nervous is a good sign and by stepping out of your comfort zone is good for you.

Getting Mountain Dew up to speed

The first thing I had to really focus on was playing and singing in the same tempo. To do this a lot of metronome practice was needed. Without the metronome I was playing quite a bit slower than I was comfortable singing at. In the end it had to be a compromise where I could play with enough precision. The next goal is to play it faster. If you listen to Joe’s version with Eric Noden it is a whole lot faster.

Getting the speed up is a gradual process with a lot of metronome practice. Using both low tempo and high speed is tempo. When practicing at low tempo the focus is precision. Higher tempo practice is to then use that precision. Practicing at really high tempo is also valuable as the target tempo then will feel quite slow. I don’t really care how long this process will take, it is just fun playing the song.

Challenge and repetoire

Playing classic songs like Mountain Dew is a great way of challenging yourself into becoming a better player. It is also a great way of building a repertoire. Songs like these are often very well appreciated by audiences.

What song are you eager to learn, comment below! I would love to find more cool tunes to learn.

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Get Yourself a Harmonica Study Crew

In these strange times a lot of people spend a lot of time at home. It seems like a good time to indulge in your favorite hobby but many don’t. I have thought a lot about why people seem to miss this opportunity for extra harmonica study. In this article I give you a great option for getting more practice in.

The question that started it

Back in October of 2020 a friend of mine from Wales asked if wanted to join a weekly Zoom call he was thinking about arranging. After thinking about it for some time I replied that there was only one available option each week for me and that I wasn’t sure that I could join every week. He set up a test session one day and it all seemed to work fine. Also, the other people he had talked to was OK with the time that worked for me. A couple of days later the first session was on. Everyone in the meeting was very happy to re-connect with people they hadn’t seen for a while. Everyone who wanted played a something and the rest of the group gave feedback, we also talked about how to structure the meetings. Everyone agreed to meet up again a week later.

The beginning of something great

After a few sessions we all started realizing that this was going to be something great. Once a week we got to show off what we had been working on and get feedback from the others. From this point we have become more and more serious (in a laid-back way) about the weekly call. It gives us all a goal to shoot for every week and it is also perfectly fine to just listen and give feedback if your everyday life has prevented you from practicing. I think this is a key success factor in getting us all hooked on this. The pressure is not coming from the group, just a lot of encouragement, the pressure is more our own internal drive to become better harmonica players. What started as a simple idea has turned into our own harmonica study crew.

Later additions and success factors

A later addition that my friend made was that once a month Joe Filisko joins our calls. This gives us an extra occasion to get feedback from the best teacher in the world. It is not only great to hear your own feedback but you also learn a lot from listening to the other people getting feedback.

When thinking about why this works so well I have come to the conclusion that the fact that we gather in a setting that is but kind of serious but also very laid-back and friendly is the main thing. Not having a specific teacher leading a class is also a great thing, we all contribute with what we know. We are also on different levels when it comes to experience, technical refinement and musicality. The mix is what makes it great. The combination of hanging out with friends, learning something and having a weekly goal is perfect for me.

Summing up

All in all I just want to say, get yourself a harmonica study crew. Now is a good time to start since we are all a bit more used to being in on-line meetings now. I also think this is something that we will hang on to also when our social lives are getting back to normal. Do not hesitate, get some on-line friends together.

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Benefits of Bass Line Practice

Of of the coolest elements of blues harmonica in my opinion is playing backup. However it is not the thing most associated with the harmonica. Most people would probably say that soloing is what drew them to the harmonica in the first place. I have started appreciating playing backup more and more. In this article I will point out benefits of bass line practice.

The purpose of bass lines

A bass line is what the bass player usually plays. It outlines the chords of the song and provides the foundation together with the drums for the song. In smaller setups where there might not be a drummer and/or bass player, the harmonica can fill this roll. In order to fill this roll properly you have to do specific bass line practice. It will however improve your playing in more ways. Actually, by taking the backup role you will instantly become more involved in the song and that will carry over into your solos.

Know the chords

Since the bass line outlines the chords it will be very grounded in the chord tones. Bass lines are basically music theory in practice. When you get to know the chords you are playing you also start understanding how they relate to each other. Step one to this is finding the important notes for each chord. These notes are the root, the third (minor third for minor key songs), the fifth and the minor seventh. Those notes are normally enough to outline each chord.

Basing your solos on the chord tones and spicying things up with some scale tones, outside tones and blues notes is a great way of building solos.

Get the groove

To properly lay the foundation in a song you need to know the groove. With specific bass line practice you will find that the grooves you practice will become second nature to you. This will improve your timing and allow you to make small changes as you play to make the music swing even more. To get to this point the metronome is your friend.

Support yourself

Even though bass lines are usually talked about in a band context they are useful when you play solo (as in unaccompanied) as well. Whenever there is a hole in the melody you play or in between riffs, hinting at a bass line is a great way of keeping the groove alive without a band. To able to do this you need to be really comfortable with bass lines.

Find your own benefits

As you start your bass line practice your will discover even more benefits as you progress. A nice way of practicing is to listen for the bass line of a song you like and play along to a recording. This way you can also work on your dynamics to blend in nicely.

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Restarting Harmonica Practice

Some time ago I wrote about how to get better harmonica practice and benefit more from the time you spend. This is all well and good when you have a practice habit and things are going smoothly. But what do you do when you temporarily lost your habit? In this article I will give you some tips and pointers when restarting harmonica practice.

Recognize where you are

First of all, don’t feel too bad about what has happened. Most hobby players will give up practice from time to time. The reason we do it doesn’t really matter. It can be loss of interest, pressing work schedule, taking care of family etc. Just make sure to recognize that you are where you are and that you may not be able to play some things you have played before.

Start easy

There is nothing more devastating to restarting harmonica practice than to try to pick up where you left off. Go easy on yourself and start with something that you know you can do. Why not a train imitation? I have noticed that doing something fairly easy to begin with will make things much more fun.

Short and often

As with all practice, short sessions often is better than one long session per week. At this stage this is even more important. Let yourself long a bit for the next session, don’t overdo it in the beginning. Also make sure that you end your training sessions on a high note. That is, you should come away with a very good feeling inspiring you to continue.

Introduce challenges

After you get going and feel that you are on your way, it is time to work on a bit more challenging material. Have a go at what you were working on before you stopped. You may very well find that it comes back quicker than expected.

If you follow these simple steps you should have little trouble restarting harmonica practice on a more regular basis.

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Better Harmonica Practice

I recently ended a beginners harmonica course in my home town. All the students were very eager to learn and we had great fn together. They all had one challenge in common though. They never seemed to get any practice done. In this article I will give my view on why many people don’t do what they enjoy and what to do about it. Simply “how do you get better harmonica practice more often?”.

Why we don’t practice

Some people may jump to the conclusion that if people don’t practice they are either lazy or not interested enough. Although it may seem logical I would argue that it is the wrong conclusion. I find that the reason people don’t practice is the fact that they are expecting too much of themselves. Learning something new takes time and effort and is slow sometimes. Many people also think that in order to get any benefits they have to practice much longer than thay actaully have to. Somebody who has the idea that a one hour practice session is the minimum requirement will very quickly get discouraged when that time is not available due to everyday life.

How to get better harmonica practice more often

The thing you need to do to get better harmonica practice more often is to realize that practice does not have to be long and all inclusive all the time. It is far better to practice a few minutes every day if that is all you can manage, than one one hour session once a week. Spaced repetition combined with thinking about what you have practiced in-between the sessions is a great way to make progress. This of course also means that you have to focus on less things for every session. Make a short 5 minute session about one thing and concetrate on that one thing very hard.

To get going like this you can use the trick I learned from Richard Sleigh to make a promise that is so easy to fulfill that it is almost impossible to fail. Promise youtself to practice for example train imitations for 30 seconds every day. This promise is easy to fulfill and will often turn into much more practice. It will make you feel good about your practice which is another key aspect to succeed.

Try it out and don’t fool yourself into thinking you’re lazy just because you don’t practice alla the time!

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Practicing Riffs

I have written before about expanding your riff bank to have more tools in your improvisation tool box. However simply memorizing a new riff is not enough. They way you are practicing riffs have a big impact on how useful they become.

Make it stick

There is no way around repetitive work to commit it to memory. However you can add to your learning by introducing variations in your practice. Practice on different key harmonicas, practice with a metronome, practice at different tempos and make sure that you can recall the riff without the need for notation. Also try using different techniques to color the sound.

Practicing riffs in context

The real killer when practicing riffs though is to put it into context. You will never just play one riff and then be done with it. You will play it as part of a bigger whole. To do that effectively you need to understand when the riff sound good and when not to use it.

A great way of getting context is to pratcie with different patterns of repetition. Repetition is an important tool to let your audience know that what you play is important, use it!

Put the repetition in relation to the 12 bar blues and practice with a jam track. The simplest form is to repeat the riff for as many times as you can over a chorus. If it is a 2 bar riff you can repeat it 6 times. Listen to how it sounds over the chord changes, where does it fit best? Maybe it is great over the I-chord, OK over the IV-chord but sounds horrible over the V-IV-I transition.

Try changing between the riff you are practicing and other riffs, play the riff over bars 1 and 2, then play a fill over bars 2 and 4. Repeat the riff again over bars 5 and 6 and another fill over bars 7 and 8. Repeat the riff over bars 9 and 10 and finish off with a turnaround riff.

Listen to how other players are using repetition and emulate what they do in your practice. David Barrett calls this chorus forms and have included a number of these patterns in his books. It is all based on what the old masters used to do. It is wise to do the same.


Simply comitting a riff to memory you need to be practicing riffs in context and basing that context on different patterns of repetition is a great idea.

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Practice Session Plan

I have previously written about how often you should practice and for how long. In this article I will outline what my practice session plan looks like. With a little bit of planning you can progress a lot faster. Depending how the duration of your session different setups are suitable.

Short sessions

If you only have time for a very short session, say 2 minutes, I recommend you spend that on train imitations. The reason for this is that you get a complete musical workout in the shortest possible time. Especially if you practice with a metronome and keep your ears open. It is also a good idea to start slow, accelerat, maintain the speed and then slow down slowly. This will give you good control over changing your tempo. This is the simplest form of practice session plan for up to 5-10 minutes.

Medium length sessions

If your session is between 10-25 minutes your practice session plan has room for a few more elements. My suggestion is a setup like this:

  1. Warm up with train imitation
  2. Scale practice or riff practice with metronome
  3. Rehersal of one song, this means playing a song you know and want to keep fresh

Longer sessions

When your sessions are longer than 30 minutes your practice session plan should be even longer. You should take advantage of being able to work on several things as well as switching your focus to keep your mind alert. I recommend something like this:

  1. Warm up with train imitation
  2. Scale practice with metronome
  3. Technique study
  4. Riff practice, use the riff you are studying during different parts of the 12 bar blues. You can also utilize the technique your are currently developing to vary the riff(s)
  5. Repetoire building. Study 1-2 songs you currently cannot play fully. Pick out the parts that give you the most problems are work on them.
  6. Song rehersal of 1-2 songs.

Summary of practice session plan setup

As you can see it is pretty natural to have a longer more elaborate practice session plan for your longer practice sessions. The goal is to keep it fun, engaging and challenging. We don’t just want to play, we want to practice! Now try it out for yourself and let me know how it goes.

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Practice Frequency and Duration

I have previously written about what I consider good rules for practice and how you can practice without the harmonica. This time I want to touch upon what frequency and duration of your sessions mean for your progress.

Practice well and often

First of all I want to distinguish between practicing and playing. If you simply play stuff you already know, you are not practicing. To actually practice you need to work on techniques and songs you don’t already know, at least not fully. That being said, playing songs you already know definately has value but it is more rehearsing than practicing.

To get maximum benefit you should be practicing every day. The cycle of challenging your abilities followed by rest where your brain can optimized what you worked on is key. If you are interested in learning more about this I recommend the “Learning how to learn” course on Coursera. It is not focused on learning music but is still very interesting.

If you cannot fit a session in your daily session at all (I think you can), then at least make sure you have a fair periodicity of 3-4 times per week.


If you practice every day some of your sessions can be short for sure. This is the trick behind fitting daily sessions into a busy schedule. If you can only fit two minutes in some days then chose an exercise like train imitation, it will add up over time.

The optimum duration is around an hour I would say. That gives you enough time to work on both techniques and song repetoir. If this is too long then go for half an hour as the standard duration with at least one hour long session per week.

For the days you cannot fit 30-60 minutes in, then do what you can and try to be smart about what you practice. Work on your weaknesses first.


To progress as fast as possible one hour each day is what I recommend you shoot for. If this is too much then go for one hour 1-2 times per week, half an hour 2-4 times per week and do at least a few minutes the rest of the days. Let me know how it works out for you!

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Make Learning Scales a Game

This year when I was in Trossingen for the Harmonica Masters Workshops I had a discussion with my friend Hendrik, aka Bigharmonicaman, about learning scales. He wanted my opinion on what he could do to learn scales. Hendrik is a great player and has a great ear for music. I actually questioned if he needed to learn scales, I think he knows them intuitively. After discussing it for a while I understood that what he was looking for was to increase his understanding of music. Scales is definately in tool in that respect. In this article I will share what I suggested to him.

A common problem

For many musicians learning scales is a pre-requisite for more advanced studies. Often people approach it as something to pass and be done with. Like many things learning new patterns take a lot of repetitions. If you don’t enjoy those repetitions you may just skip it and move on. Later on you may find that the work you didn’t do now hinders your application of music theory for example. I suggest getting out of the blind repetition method.

Making learning scales fun and challenging

I am not saying that you don’t need to do a lot of repetitions, what I suggest is a way of making those repetitions more enjoyable. What we are looking for is a way of getting lots of repetitions and keep your interest up.

What I suggest is combining setting limitations at the same time as you use a scale. Basically you choose a subset of the scale and then improvise using that subset. You can either make up the subsets in advance or make it random. To make it random you write the scale degrees on pieces of paper and draw a few from a bowl. Whichever scale degress you get you use for solos over a number of 12 bar rounds.

This process will challenge your creativity (especially when you only have a few notes to choose from, engrain the placement of the scale degrees and teach you how the notes sound over the chords.

Go do it!

If learning scales has been a problem for you before, I now hope I have given you a reason to pick it up again. Try this method and let me know how it works for you!

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When are You Done Practicing Bending?

Many beginner harmonica players are drawn to the sound of second position and bending. A lot of the cool sounds we all love come at least partly from that combination. When I was starting out I didn’t really know which techniques I needed but I soon found out that bending was important. I remember a lot of frustration practicing bending and I just couldn’t wait to ben done. I had an idea that once I had learnet to bend notes I would be done. The question I answer in this article is: “when are you done practicing bending?”.


I will cut straight to the point, you will never be done practicing beding. Even the masters like David Barrett and Joe Filisko work on keeping their technique up to par (especially on low tuned and high tuned harmonicas). I think you should see this as something positive rather than something negative. You can always improve and you will most likely improve a lot faster when you are starting out.

The progression

I have previously written about different types of bending and these types can also be seen as steps on the ladder to mastery. The very first type, fake bending, can be accomplished with very little practice. Ornamental bending takes a little bit more practice but should be feasible to accomplish within days of starting. For proper blues and melodic bending you should allow yourself a couple of months of practice before it really sinks in. Even after this point you need to work on expanding the range of harmonicas you can bend on.

Very low tuned harmonicas and the higher range such as E, F and high G require special attention and I suggest you work on those harmonicas when you need them. Practice bending over the entire range of pitches is not strictly necessary unless you use all keys in your repetoire.


All in all, you will always keep practicing bending as long as you play harmonica. The positive note is that your level of control will improve and your ability to express yourself on your instrument will improve. Figure out what level you need to be at and practice accordingly. Also make sure that you are practicing in an efficient manner.

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