Harmonica Lessons

My harmonica. Travaasa Austin. September 2012.

My harmonica. Travaasa Austin. September 2012.

Harmonicas first hit the market in Vienna sometime in the 1820s, according to Wikipedia.

I never would have figured that what seems to be such a quintessentially American instrument, tied in my mind to blues music and the Old South, came from Austria.

Not that I thought of harmonicas much at all, really.

I still wouldn't be thinking of harmonicas if I hadn't checked in for my much anticipated vacation at the heavenly Travaasa Austin and saw, on the first day's activity schedule, harmonica lessons.

All right. I'm here to shrug off the normal routine for a bit, yes?

I was the only one who showed for the lesson, which meant I had a private session with a very nice man named Michael Rubin, a professional, full-time harmonica teacher and musician. (Although it makes sense they would exist, I also hadn't thought about people being full-time harmonica-ists.)

For nearly an hour, Michael put up with a totally musically uninclined person who could barely master the simple skills needed to sound a true chord, much less a single note. (Given the way a harmonica's holes are situated, putting air into three of them at a time is easier than targeting just one.) At least, as he pointed out, it's hard to make a wrong note with a harmonica. And you can make music by breathing in and breathing out, unlike other instruments.

In other words, it would have been more painful for our four ears if he were trying to teach me another musical ability.

Did I learn how to play even one line of a song in that entire session? Nope. At least Michael is skilled enough a teacher to ensure I didn’t feel like a complete idiot—even if I were one. And I did get to keep the harmonica, so there's a chance I could play a tune someday, if I keep noodling on it at home.

A small chance.

I'll go ahead and concede that the kazoo is the only instrument I'll ever manage with bravado. (Not that I have a kazoo. I did have a nice little plastic kazoo in my youth that made the most addictive buzzing sound until my parents took it away. Why ever would they do such a thing?)

Still, it felt nice to try something new. Learning is good for the brain, after all. Harmonica or something else, I challenge you to try the same sometime soon. Aim to learn something completely different than anything you know--or think you'd be good at doing.

What'll be your harmonica?