“Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way;
in the present moment, and
– Jon Kabat-Zinn
I watch a lot of harmonica videos online where players are trying to copy a song or a style, often quite poorly. Likewise, one of the most frequent questions I come across in forums is some variation on, “How do I sound like [ ____ ]?” It is a valid question, true, but today I’d like to plant in your mind the idea of mindfulness so that you, yourself, can move beyond emulation and begin improving your style based on your appreciation of what you hear.
Sometimes when I’m playing the harmonica, I get so wrapped up in what I think I should sound like that I fail to pay attention to what I actually sound like. I had a particularly bad habit of this when I first started playing. I would listen to a song and try to emulate that player’s style. When I could not fully do so, I considered myself inadequate and either kept trying to copy that one song or gave up altogether and moved on. After many, many such expeditions into others’ styles I came to realize one day that I had created my own style in the meantime and that it wasn’t half bad! It was when I began to focus mindfully – that is, intentionally and nonjudgmentally – on my own sound that I really began making headway towards becoming a good musician.
Mindful harmonica is about listening to your sound at a very deep and personal level. It is about hearing your volume and your pitch, your timbre and tone. It is about hearing that instant between changing notes and that silence after a note ceases. It is about listening to your playing with an open ear and an open mind. But it is about being critical while not being judgmental. There is no good or bad, only description. Are you playing loudly or softly? Is your tone full or is it thin? When you change notes, is it crisp or is it smooth? When you end that final note in your song, does the sound end abruptly or does it fade out into the aether? The beauty of music is that it is made for and judged by the human ear. Most likely, you have two of those!
So try being mindful as you play this week. Hear your music for what it is and improve your style based on your own criteria of beauty instead of your favorite antiquated hit.
Image is a detail taken from a Carmen Guedez painting titled Meditation. Thanks Carmen! Great work!