Former student shares his experience learning from Sonny Boy Terry at Houston Harmonica Lessons.
I studied blues harmonica with you during 2017 (Aug - Nov). Since moving to Canada in 2018, I have also had lessons with Carlos del Junco (2019 - 2020). I am writing this email to express my deepest appreciation for your approach to teaching me to hear music in a completely different and wonderful way.
You were the first teacher who forced me to learn music by listening, getting my ears educated. Because I previously depended on having harmonica tabs or music scores available, this was a painful removal of a “crutch” I had relied on to quickly learn songs. Carlos did the same thing as you — requiring me to listen - sing - play. Today, I spend most of my time listening and singing tunes I want to learn with the aid of slowdown software (Transcribe! and Amazing Slow Downer) - driving, walking, going to sleep. When I begin to learn segments of a tune, I’m a kid on a treasure hunt instead of a wandering blind man.
During 2021, I experienced a breakthrough similar to that which had only occurred for me in the context of martial arts. I was learning music by ear easily, however, what made the greatest impact was that suddenly I could “hear” or “sense” multiple paths of improvising, and I have not made any effort to improvise in the past. A rhythm or sequence of notes appears in my head that won’t go away, so I start playing, wandering all over my harmonica. I observe myself doing this without consciously controlling where I’m going, and I don’t care what result I get, I’m only focused on the exploration of the musical terrain (I wonder what’s over there?).
In martial arts, I used the term creative indifference to describe my mental state when I finally learned to let go of win-lose, good-bad, right-wrong. In that mental state, I dance with what’s happening in this moment without consciously thinking or clinging to any preconceived ideas. I explore with curiosity, simply noticing what happening.
Now I’m playing harp from that perspective of creative indifference. It’s like a drug! Every note I play sounds like music. I don’t know what hole I’m playing or the notes, I simply explore paths of notes that seem to appear before me. I don’t claim to be a great and skillful improviser at this time, but like a baby who starts uttering sentence, I’ve learned enough blues harmonica as a language that it’s beginning to flow out of me without conscious thought or effort.
Thank you for your teaching. I am more grateful than I can express. Oh, Hey Zydeco still sets my hair on fire with excitement.
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