25th February 2017: Day 37 - A New Instrument

Just yesterday I was telling someone about an experience I had as an actor. The play was Slaughterhouse 5 and the director was a man named Paddy Cuneen, who I remember so well because he was one of the most inspiring directors I worked with.  This play was his directorial debut. At the time, he was better known in the ‘business’ as a Musical Director and it was the musician in him that I found so inspiring. The play had quite a lot of music and he did interesting things with it. Turning an organ piece into a 4-part harmony, for instance. He was one of those people who believed that anyone could be taught to play a musical instrument and I remember him teaching a man who had never touched a piano before a jazz piece and I learnt how to play one song on the double bass. He loved music and it showed in his work and he contributed to my loving it even more than I did.

When I was 5, like most primary school children, I learnt how to play the recorder, the descant recorder. A couple of years later my music teacher encouraged me to learn the treble recorder and later still the glockenspiel. It was at secondary school that I started piano lessons and as an adult I taught myself how to play the guitar (I’ve forgotten that now). So it stood to reason that one of the challenges over these 50 days would be to learn to play another instrument.


I bought a harmonica several years ago and never bothered to learn how to play it. It’s a really good harmonica as well. But for the however many years I had it, it just sat, at first on my piano and then on a bookshelf and the only time I picked it up was to dust it. It’s now sitting in a box somewhere in storage. A few weeks ago, I was in a shop – okay it was Tiger and I saw a cheap harmonica for £2 (I think) with a view to learning to play something in one day which I could use for this project and here we are.


So this morning I went on to (good old) YouTube to find a tutorial. The first one I found was about 5 minutes long and it was a guy who was posting it for his friends. He confessed that he was feeling the worse for wear but really, he ought not to have bothered. I suspect he was hungover and his energy was so low it was dragging me down - I started to feel sleepy - so I stopped watching after a couple of minutes. I then found a video to teach the viewer how to play Silent Night. I watched that and kind of learnt what I was supposed to do.


Now the first lesson I got from this is that if you decide to learn a new instrument, don’t buy a cheap one. I know it may be tempting to go cheap first to see whether or not you enjoy it, but I would argue that if it’s too cheap then the playing experience may discourage you from wanting to continue learning. In the case of the harmonica -  this harmonica in particular -  the sound was variable whether or not I played the right note, especially on the higher notes. Either that or there was something I was doing wrong.  I went on to another tutorial to learn how to play single notes instead of cords, but the guy teaching that seemed more interested in showing off his skills as a player then teaching us anything. In the end I decided to keep practising and see where I got to.


Well you can see where I got to.  Not very good.  I’m not going to blame it on the instrument I’ll just accept that this is day one.


I see myself trying to get better.


I’ll post it when I do.



Taiwo Dayo-PayneComment