We used to attend church with a young boy who carried a harmonica everywhere he went. He kept it in his back pocket, and whenever he was in line on the playground, he’d pull it out and play a few hymns while he waited for his turn to play four-square or knock-out.
It always made me happy to hear him play, and I loved all those beautiful old hymns in his repertoire. I eventually bought a harmonica of my own and asked my young friend to teach me the basics.
That was over a decade ago. Playing it wasn’t quite as easy as he made it look, but wasn’t terribly difficult, either. After just an hour or two of practice, I was able to pick out the tunes of a lot of those old hymns myself.
My harmonica tutor is all grown up now. He graduated from college with a degree in engineering and was working in New York City, last I heard. But I still picture him as the kid with a smile on his face and a harmonica in his fingers.
Many Christmases ago, I bought harmonicas for all my children, hoping one of them might like playing it as much as our friend did. We still have a drawer full of them, all individually labeled with each owner’s name. Most of the kids learned to play at least a few songs and will occasionally pull out the harmonicas to practice, but none of them tote it around in their pocket.
But wouldn’t you know it? Gabriel got up while I was typing this post this morning, saw the harmonicas laying out on the end table, and volunteered to do a duet with me of “God is So Good.”
Admittedly, we both need a little more practice to polish the song and refine our technique. Ha! Here’s the “sheet music” we were reading off of:
You need to be familiar with the hymns already, as there is no rhythm marked on these musical scores. I just printed up the notes I made for myself and my children when we were first learning. Since the holes on a harmonica are numbered 1-10, low to high, the numbers in the music correspond to those holes. Plain numbers mean you should blow through the hole; numbers in parenthesis mean air should be sucked through the hole. We’d encourage you to print it out and give it a try yourself or challenge your kids to learn to play this summer.
There aren’t many instruments as inexpensive and portable as a harmonica…. maybe that’s why it has it’s own national holiday!