harmonica new year

Setting targets for the New Year

From “Harmonica World” Feb-March 2011

As we become older, Xmas is less about presents, more about family. New Year’s Eve a chance to stay out late at least once. New Year itself is a time to review the last 12 months and to look ahead. As a harmonica player I like the New Year. Here’s why.

Playing an instrument is a journey. Most are near the start, some are further along, a few are specks in the distance. This latter group are on our CDs. Regardless of where you are, improvement lies ahead. The New Year is a good time to set bearings for the trip.

I start by looking at the previous year. What can I do now that I couldn’t 12 months ago? For me, the list is:

– 3rd position blues on country tuned diatonics

– Fiddle tunes on Asian tremolo harmonicas

I also did a major kit upgrade, and bought many new instruments. Bought cases as well.

For any player there should be something to work on. Maybe getting two hole and 3 hole bends into blues solos (beginning players struggle with this). Maybe first position blues. Experienced players may have nothing at all. This should be cause for thought: no-one is beyond improvement.

Having considered what went right, then look at what didn’t. What went on to the list a year ago but went no further? For me it’s transferring blues guitar solos to the harmonica, specifically Hollywood Fats, Peter Green and Johnny Guitar Watson. Nothing happening in 2010. Or 2009. No matter. This one goes back on to the 2011 list for me.

Now the wish list. The fun part. What do you want to be able to do 12 months from now? Perhaps spend an evening on this. Go through some lesson books, listen to some tracks, have a look online. Dream a little, but come up with a list.

Now do some more work. Extract a set of SMART goals from your list (see “Its Your Life. What are you going to do with it?” by Anthony Grant and Jane Greene). SMART goals are Specific. Measureable. Attractive. Realistic. Time framed. In other words, SMART.

Your list may have one item only. “Play Great Blues” Worthwhile, but not a SMART goal. Let’s turn it into one.

Specific: Little Walter only.

Measurable: All the licks from the excellent “Sourcebook of Little Walter/Big Walter Licks for Blues Harmonica” by Tom Ball.

Attractive: Sounding more like “the man”. Turning some heads at blues jams.

Realistic: Your bends are under control, but you can’t do tongued octave yet. Leave those licks out for 2011.

Time framed: Tom’s book has 24 pages of Little Walter licks. A page and a half every month, or two licks per week.

Now you have a SMART goal. Write it down, paste it somewhere you can see it. Get whatever equipment you need (the fun part). Start work.

Review progress as the year unfolds. For most of us, little happens. Take time to reflect why. Don’t beat yourself up. A common reason is lack of practice opportunities. Small children, work, TV, stuff gets in the way. Set some space for yourself, however small. Revise the time frames for your SMART goals, get back on to them.

So. What lies ahead for me in 2011? I’m looking at Tom’s book right now, I have the Little Walter Chess Master series. Maybe I’ll take it on. Other SMART goals for me are

– 50 bluesgrass tunes up to 132 beats per minute in first position. I’ve got around 40 so far, sitting OK at 124. If I get there, I’ll make myself a T-Shirt with the tunes on it.

– Develop better technique on the Asian tremolo. Specifically, scales and other exercises, also up to 132. I’m around 120 right now.

– Learn 20 blues guitar solos in 3rd position on Country tuned diatonics.

This makes 4 SMART goals for me, including the Little Walter one. I’d be delighted to achieve all of them, I’d be happy with any of them, I might achieve none.

The New Year may also prompt those who have given up the instrument, or are close to. If this is you, then come back on board.