Ronnie Shellist is responsible for some of the best instructional cd’s I’ve been fortunate enough to get my hands on. He is also responsible for getting me out of the learning rut I was in. His lessons also appear on YouTube regularly. Ronnie wanted me to pass along that all HOOT members will receive 25% off of any instructional downloads purchased from www.harmonica123.com through February 2009.
1. You have a number of great tutorials on YouTube, as well as on your website. What made you want to start teaching people how to play?
Well, I was a tutor and school teacher before I ever learned how to play harmonica so the "teaching" frame of mind has always been a part of me. I love helping others get that "Aha!" moment. For me the art of teaching is about getting in the mind of others and figuring out how they think and learn. It's fascinating to me.
2. How about you...how did you learn to play?
I took some informal classes with Michael Rubin at the Univ. of Texas when I first started learning. Those helped me understand the fundamentals of blues harmonica. I also took some private lessons from Michael and JP Allen after that.
I truly believe that most of the hard core learning came from listening to tons of blues harmonica on cd and trying to emulate and copy the sounds/techniques. I was truly obsessed from early on. I wanted to get it so badly. I played out at jams and with friends as much as possible and this really sped up my learning process. Rubin, thanks for believing in me and give me some great pointers on techniques and blues harp! JP thanks for helping me understand the importance of breathing properly
through rhythm training and more.
3. What do you think makes the harmonica a great instrument?
What attracted me to the harmonica and what I believe makes it such a unique instrument is the tone and wide range of expressiveness that it can create in the right hands. I remember listening to blues in Austin, Texas during college before ever trying to learn harmonica and seeing Guy Forsythe play at a bar called Maggie Mae’s. It was at one of his shows that I had an out of body experience while listening to him solo on the harmonica. I remember thinking "how is he getting those sounds with that tiny little instrument." I was floored and shortly after I really wanted to figure it out. For me I was attracted to blues music before the harmonica and I think that gave me an even greater appreciation of it. Of course, let's not forget that it fits in your pocket too.
4. What is a common problem for beginners, and what should they do to correct it?
The two biggest problems for beginners is airflow and embouchure. If you learn how to breathe correctly early on, it makes every single technique you learn that much easier. In addition, your tone will improve dramatically. Beginners forget to consistently breathe from their diaphragm with steady airflow.
Secondly, with good embouchure your single notes area easier and your tone is also improved as you seal off the holes properly. So, remember to push the harmonica into your pucker and put your lips over the top and bottom cover plates. Breathe easy but steady to get good tone and flow to your playing.
5. Do you only play blues harmonica, or do you play other music as well?
I mainly focus on blues as it is my passion but I can play most styles of music and I enjoy some country, rock and folk.
I have played with bands who perform country, southern rock, folk, psychedelic, rock, funk, and some jazz/blues fusion.
6. Which harp is your favorite, and why do you prefer it over others?
If were talking about out of the box harps, then I prefer Hohner Special 20's as I find them more consistent than other brands. I also like the plastic combs for comfort and playability. I should mention that I have played a couple of Marine Band Deluxe harps that I found quite nice.
If you're talking about custom harmonicas, that's an entirely different thing.
Brad Harrison of Harrison Harmonicas makes an incredible custom harp that everyone should check out.
7. Your blues licks cd's are great. What can you tell us about those, and how can readers get a hold of them?
I designed the blues licks audio instructional series for several reasons. People are always asking me for new licks and how do you play that etc...so it seemed like an obvious choice to break down some blues licks note for note, play the lick slowly, and then full speed to hear what it should sound like in the end. I also include jam tracks at the end of the cd’s with me playing the licks over a blues progression. Don't worry, I also included blank tracks with rhythm guitar for folks to practice and jam over as well.
You can find the blues licks download and other material at www.Harmonica123.com which was just recently redesigned to make the purchasing process easier. Anyone can always email me directly to inquire about instructional material and/or order downloads and cd’s.
8. Any new lessons we can look forward to?
I am constantly working on new instructional lessons which will be posted at my website. My newest product is the Intermediate Blues Harmonica Instructional Video Download and Jam Tracks Vol. 2.
The download covers bends in detail with exercises to help you practice them, vibratos, tongue techniques, position work and more. The Jam Tracks Vol.2 has new blues progressions in E good for an A harmonica in cross harp.
9. What do you think is the most effective way to practice?
That's a great question. We all learn differently and if there is one thing that I have learned from my years of teaching it is this: Approach your challenges from as many different angles as possible. Looking at things from different perspectives gives you an advantage to understanding it and inspiration. I think that practice has to be fun or else you will not be consistent. Consistency is the biggest factor for improving.
Be inspired by listening to cd’s that move you to the point of taking action. It's fun to learn new licks and listening over and over is important. I would spend 75% of your time practicing by playing and having fun and 25% of your time working on technique and fluidity of movement on the harp. Mastering airflow and bends can take you a long way. Playing live with other musicians is worth a dozen lessons. The experience you gain playing with other people cannot be acquired any other place. So, play often.
10. Last words to members of HOOT?
I now offer harmonica lessons via SKYPE (video/audio). SKYPE is free to download and free to use on your computer. All you need is a webcam. My lessons are affordable and you can even email me to find out about trial introductory prices for lessons.
Lastly, music is an energy, a spirit that we all have the ability to tap into.
The key to making good music is trusting and believing that what you play is great! It's important to hear what you want to play in your head first, shape it and fine tune the nuances before you actually put the harmonica to your lips. This way, when you play, the music you hear and feel will actually come out of you and through the instrument.
Visualize your playing to help make it more tangible and easy to remember. If you can see it in your head, you can play it! Most of all, have fun and remember to step out of your comfort zone and take chances. You will be amazed at where they take you. I am happy to correspond via email with anyone. My email is RonnieShellist@gmail.com. Thanks Alberto, and thanks to Hoot for finding me. I really enjoyed this!