Our Summer Harmonica Masterclass fell on the hottest day of the year. Not to be deterred, a group of budding harmonicists gathered at Pedlars, just off the Portobello Road, for an evening of musical riffs and refreshing gin cocktails.
Pupils brought along their hand-held, rectangular brass instruments. Our tutor Ed Hopkinson spiced his instruction with historical anecdote, for example the origination of the harmonica from one of the oldest Chinese bamboo instruments in 1100BC. He also taught some basic music theory and a spot of pop psychology.
Ed picked up on posture, embouchure (mouth position) and breathing techniques, tailoring instruction to individual requirement. He even mentioned that some doctors cite the harmonica as a way of building lung capacity to achieve greater cardiovascular fitness. Once the basics were instilled, the group embraced the simple art of playing a tune. Against a bluesey back track, the musicians gained confidence, volume and tempo with each refrain.
Pedlars provided an authentic setting to the old school Chicago sound. The venue had a nostalgic air of the secret gin joints of the roaring 20s with cocktails served from porcelain cups and saucers.
The harmonica is capable of sophisticated melodies. The instrument is often overlooked as no more than a ‘toy’ – a victim of its smallness and practicality. Ed emphasised that the harmonica is ‘no more difficult but as difficult as other instruments’ and that practice is key.
This pocket-size wonder is a tinker for satisfaction. With its worldwide and multi-genre usage, it’s never too late to give the instrument a go.
Look out for Ed’s online harmonica course, coming to the Idler Academy
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