Summer, 1993. I was in our family beach house and I went to my brother’s room; he was studying while listening to a cassette that he had recorded from the radio. I heard a song by American blues harmonica player William Clarke. It immediately caught my attention; I especially liked the sound of his harmonica, so expressive and deep. After that, I listened to the solo of the song and I noticed that I liked it more and more every time.
I said to myself: one day I will be able to play the harmonica I heard on that recording! Shortly after, back from my vacations, I got my first 10-hole harmonica; I practiced every day and after several months I was able to play the song that I learnt to love so much.
I remember that my progress was not easy at all, since I didn’t have a teacher who could guide me and there was no internet at that time to access any information. I only had a couple of cassettes (60 minutes each), with blues songs from harmonica players as William Clarke, Jerry Portnoy and Rick Estrin. I only had a harmonica in the key of C, so I could just accompany a few songs; I understood then that I needed to get some harmonicas in other keys.
I learned on my own, basically trying to imitate the harmonica melodies I was listening to as best I could, and practicing several hours a day. And so I continued, with that same constancy, during the first years.
A year after starting with the harmonica (I was 17), I had the chance to join my first rock and blues band. It was a major challenge, considering that I had only started a short time before. But it was a unique opportunity to be able to play with other musicians and apply what I had learnt. A few months after I started rehearsing with the band, I had my first gig in front of a large audience. I remember how nervous I was during that first performance, though luckily enough there were very few mistakes during my performance and the band sounded good; we received a lot of applause, it was a success!
With time, I joined more bands and grew more and more confident to play in public, while I learnt more about the harmonica.
I got books on harmonica methods in English; I also got more and more audios to listen to and I realized that I needed harmonicas in other keys, in addition to the C one, to be able to play many more songs.
Although I had learnt piano as a child, I later realized that the harmonica was my favorite instrument and then I spent most of my time discovering all of its secrets. Several years after I started, I felt that I already had a good knowledge base, so I began teaching harmonica classes, something that I continue to do to this day and that has allowed me to understand, throughout all this time, which are the greater difficulties that students face in learning the instrument.
After almost 30 years since my first contact with the harmonica, and having taught many classes, I’ve come to the conclusion that it doesn’t take much time to get good results, since after achieving some basic techniques we can play simple melodies and begin to sound really good in a few months.
We must bear in mind that although the harmonica is an accessible instrument, relatively easy to learn, it’s difficult to master it completely and play it at a professional level, as with any other instrument.