Musical Meditation: The Blues Harmonica

One night last year, I awoke from a spectacular dream. I had been playing blues on the harmonica in the spotlight on a small stage with an audience cheering me on. Upon awakening, I immediately decided that I needed to learn the harmonica and an hour later I had signed up to group lessons. Little did I know that this decision would result in significantly increased happiness and relaxation, in the form of musical meditation.

Having majored in larger instruments, playing the harmonica was liberating. No more lugging around large cello cases on my back or having to find a room with a piano in so that I could play some music. Instead, I was learning a pocket-sized instrument that I could take everywhere with me.

There is something amazing about playing an instrument which is arguably best known for its use in blues music. The style is so free, easy going and holds a lot of soul. Improvising on the harmonica is fun – a moment of expression that is born and then dies as soon as the note sounds out. I had been a classically trained musician, and there was always something I disliked about the amount of rules that applied. I had loved music for its emotional depth and expression, but found that I was neither talented enough to pull off such performances nor disclipined enough to play ‘correctly’. After university, I quit music and over the past 10 or so years I can count on my fingers the amount of times I bothered to play the cello, which up until that point I’d dedicated 15 years of my life towards.

But the harmonica is so different. Firstly, as I mentioned, the style of the music mostly played on the instrument is made in a moment. There is nothing planned, nothing right or wrong. Minimal rules. You just play what you feel. No resurrection of timeless pieces (no matter how wonderful they are too), just your own feeling in that very moment. To play the harmonica is like meditating – you have to be in the Now. Feel the Now. Live the Now.

Secondly, what a wonder that you can make music by inhaling and exhaling! Especially when playing long notes, it makes me feel like I’m doing the deep inhalations and exhalations of meditation practice, except both are accompanied by beautiful musical notes. Even better about the harmonica is that you can play single notes and chords, a feature of which not many wind instruments can claim.

Thirdly, it requires solid practice, patience and focus. To get all the bends and techniques (some which are beyond my grasp right now), you need the same dedication as you apply to meditation practice.

Playing the harmonica has been as much a lifesaver to me as meditation. I learnt how to find happiness in music again, meet lots of great people and have the confidence to stand up on a spotlit stage and play to a cheering audience, just like I had in my dream. Admittedly perhaps not so professionally as my dream-self, but I’m improving every day and that’s all that matters.

Reawaken old dreams or start the path to achieving new ones. Do what makes you happy, even if you experienced failure or discouragement before. Your life is for you to live, so live it well and live it happily.

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