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Russian Student Learns Harmonica

AW: How often to you practice?

AZ: I try to practice every day. Even if I have no time or place to do it, I try to find a few minutes to blow and draw a few notes :)

AW: In your student profile you wrote that you "gave up any musical hobbies at all for about a decade".  Understandable family life can get in the way, but why give up on music completely? 

AZ: Well, it’s hard to answer this question in a couple of words. I was and always will be, I think, the kind of person who’s credo is ‘all or nothing’. I have always had my own opinion about how to develop any skill - be it music, sports, career etc., and what the result of my efforts should look like. If I think that there is no way to do it, I’d better give up and try something else. I always wanted be the best, you know?

It was a hard decision to give up music, I always missed it, and always was dreaming of returning to it. Probably it was not the best thing to do, now I really think that I lost some good chances, but I’m happy that finally I have decided to take a more… relaxed way of thinking :)

AW:  What sparked your interest to get back into playing music? Was it hard to get back into it, were you still able to remember what you used to know or did you have to relearn it?

AZ: It came just suddenly. Really like a spark. I was walking down the street and saw a musical store, decided to come in and see what’s in there. It was like a good old time returned :) All these shiny new guitars, musical equipment and even the smell of musical store. I remembered my youth’s dreams of a good quality, expensive instrument and just could not resist buying something. So I bought a Gibson SG Faded guitar and was totally happy with it, until I understood that really I want to play something different.

I used to be a big rock and metal fan, but now this kind of music is not what I want to play anymore. I don’t know why, maybe because of the fact that I’m not 16 anymore :) So I started to search something that will fit my current interests better. After buying a guitar I signed up for Paul Gilbert’s guitar lessons here at ArtistWorks.  He is very impressive teacher and I really like the way he presents things, but as I said, something has changed in my mind so I was searching for something else. Wish I had the opportunity to study from him 10 years ago… 

I decided to give a try to Howard Levy's harmonica lessons and it finally has blown my mind. I was totally impressed at how this small instrument that can easily fit in a pocket can be so expressive. Listening to Howard play harmonica turned things upside down. I still play guitar now, but harmonica is what really captures all of my attention at the moment. It was not really hard to remember everything I have learned before. It’s really like a bicycle - you can forget something, your muscles may be out of shape, but if you managed to develop a good feeling of music - it’s not a big deal to get back. Even to study a new instrument.

AW: How has your life changed since getting back into music? What do think this says about the benefits of learning music?

AZ: It has changed of course but I don’t exactly know how to put it into words. It’s like a return to the home you grew up in: very warm and pleasant feeling. Music itself unlocks very interesting and sometimes subtle ways to express yourself. It’s one of the best ways to express something that is at your heart, directly to other people’s hearts. A pure expression. People often oversee this fact but as you start to learn music you soon find the whole new world of abilities to communicate with others. That’s really great!

AW: What would you say to someone else who hasn't played music in 10 years?

AZ: It’s never too late to start again. Life can be very tricky and someone may think that the better time is gone. Just give it a try, you will be not disappointed.

AW: How did you find out about ArtistWorks?

AZ: Google, of course :)

AW: Had you heard of Paul Gilbert before taking his guitar lessons?

AZ: Yes, of course. He is one of my favorite guitarists.

AW: Are there a lot of guitarists in Russia? What would you say in the most popular instrument out there?

AZ: I think there are a lot of guitarists everywhere, guitar is the universally popular instrument and Russia is not an exception :)

AW: What made you decide to take Howard's harmonica lessons? Had you had any experience playing harmonica before?

AZ: Well, the fact that I can learn the harmonica from such an iconic musician leaves no choice actually :) It’s a great opportunity and I’m very proud to be one of his students. Thanks to AW that this became a really easy thing to do. I had a little experience playing harmonica before, just couple of simple melodies like ‘When the saints go marching in’ and ‘My lieber Augustine’ that I learned to play by ear.

AW: Did you background knowledge of playing accordion help with learning harmonica?

AZ: Not really. 99% of what I know is a by-product of my guitar self-study. I studied accordion when I was 8 or 9 maybe, I don’t remember exactly, and the only thing that I remembered from that is the C major scale and maybe the order of buttons on the bass (left) part of accordion. So it did not help at all.

vladimir kuzminAW: In the forums, you wrote about Vladimir Kuzmin. How did he influence you?

AZ: He was a very popular Rock musician and singer in 80s and early 90s in USSR and then Russia. I was never really a fan of his music and don’t know it that well, just two or three songs maybe. But he was the first musician that I saw live on stage. When I was 7 or 8 my parents took me to a concert that he took a part in and I was totally impressed by his look, his playing and by the show he was doing. Smoke on stage, lights, actual live performance. I think he and his band were the only ones who played live that day with no backing tracks, no fake vocals etc. I had never seen I man with a distorted electric guitar and long curly hairs on stage, so that first experience was the thing that drove me to music. So his performance really blown my mind, and I decided to play a guitar and be a Rock star too :)

I coaxed my parents to take me to the exam in a musical school. I wanted to become a guitarist. Unfortunately I did not pass the exam for the guitar class. Nevertheless I had a choice of some less popular instruments - it was trumpet, violin, accordion, percussion maybe, I don’t remember what else was there, and I selected accordion. This choice was mostly driven by the fact that my dad played this instrument and I thought that it would not be bad at all if I take this class.

AW: So you started learning accordion, who are your favorite accordionists? What made you want to switch to guitar and later harmonica?

AZ: It’s shame but I don’t know any accordionists actually. My accordion experience was a fail. After 6 months of studying I realized that it was a huge mistake to start all this. I was totally frustrated. My teacher could not interest me in the instrument at all, he did not even bother to do so.

The typical lesson would be: you come in, sit and wait for him. He comes in gives you something to play and then leaves for an hour. After returning, he asks you to play what he gave to you, say something like, “it’s horrible, you just don’t get it,” and that’s it. Of course I din't get it, I'd only held this thing twice in my life, how could this be another way?

All my success in accordion playing was based on what my dad showed and taught me, not these classes. So I decided to quit the lessons and to continue to study accordion on my own, but that also slowly stopped. After some time my family moved to another city and I went to a new school. Three of my new class mates where totally addicted to Heavy Metal music and of course each of them had a guitar and tried to play Metallica, Manowar, Iron Maiden etc. and also the repertoire of some Russian Rock and Metal bands. So I quickly became a part of their gang and started to learn some basic chords and songs on my newly bought acoustic guitar (the worst piece of crap I’ve ever seen). I had no money at that time and had no ability to buy an electric guitar, or a good acoustic one - most of the guitars I owned were of a horrible quality and many of them were borrowed and returned to their respective owners, but this did not stop me at all. I felt like my childhood dream came true once I started playing guitar. I was a fanatic of a guitar, I was interested in any kind of guitar music, from flamenco to death metal.

Time passed by and suddenly my life changed… I got married. It was my last semester at the university and I was at the active search of job. It’s sad but I had no time at all to play guitar. The primarily objective was to build some career, get a house or flat and raise a child that was born after a year of married life. I decided to wait a bit and suspend my musical interests until the better time.

This better time came 7 years later. I walked down the street and saw a musical store, decided to come in and just look what’s inside. The visit was successful by all means, I bought a brand new Gibson SG Special Faded, Marshall MG15CFX and a bunch of picks. The first months were total happiness - I was terrorizing my neighbors with AC/DC and Metallica played on my new instrument and I realized that the thing that attracts me to this instrument the most is how it looks, but not my feelings about the fact that finally I have all the chances to become someone I wanted to be in my youth.

As you get older things change dramatically and the first thing changing - is you. I realized that I’m not a headbanger any more, I will not be a Rock star and don’t want to be, my musical tastes have changed and there is just no place for this kind musical efforts in my life. The music itself interests me a lot, but I want to play what I want to play, not because it looks cool or because I used to play it years ago. That kind of music [heavy metal] just doesn’t excite me anymore. I can listen to it, but I don’t want to play it. So, with these sad thoughts I started looking for something that may fit better.

When I was searching the internet for master classes on guitar I found ArtistWorks and Paul Gilbert School, but after all the things I described above, I soon lost interest for learning Rock guitar. I just could not force myself to practice because I did not know what it was all for. But what I found also was Howard Levy and his harmonica school.

I had tried harmonica playing before but with no big success. I could play single notes and that’s it. So I decided to give Howar'd lessons a try. Firstly I ran through all the harmonica lessons and was totally impressed by the instrument itself and by Howard’s way of teaching. I always had thought that the harmonica was more for fun than for serious playing, but watching Howard’s harmonica lessons turned things upside down. And what is more important is that this instrument suits my current musical interests just perfectly. And it’s very portable - you can just go anywhere and play. No need to carry big cases or wait till you get home, just get it out of the pocket and play. It’s fantastically expressive. I feel like I did years ago when I first started playing guitar. This is amazing!


Watch Howard's Free Harmonica Lessons

AW: What's your favorite part of the online experience at ArtistWorks? 

AZ: I think the Video Exchange is what attracts me the most. It's what turns an ordinary dvd-like harmonica lesson into a full blown musical school. The ability to communicate with a teacher makes the studying process very smooth and productive. The VEs help a lot.

AW: What's the biggest improvement you've noticed in your playing?

AZ: Breathing I guess. Smooth breathing is an essential part of harmonica playing and it is the key to mastering the instrument. I never knew that my breathing when I play is so horrible :)

AW: What your favorite kind of music to play on harmonica? Any particular genres you're more interested in learning?

AZ: All of them. Blues, Jazz, Rock, Eastern, Western, Folk music. I really have no favorite genre, if music sounds good to me, I’ll be very interested in playing it.

AW: What has surprised you most about Howard's school once you became a member?

AZ: The atmosphere. It’s like a tet-a-tet conversation, you know? I never forget that feeling when I got the first video response from Howard. It’s like you have visited him in his own home. Howard is very good teacher, even in a format of a video response he tries to present everything in a way like you are sitting in front of him in a class.

online learning - harmonica lessons with howard levy

AW: Has your opinion on harmonica changed since taking Howard's harmonica lessons?

AZ: Yes, it has changed dramatically. I never thought that the harmonica is such an expressive instrument. I tried playing harmonica before but always thought it was just a fun, curious thing rather than a serious instrument. After watching Howard's harmonica lessons and listening to his playing I understood how wrong I was. 12 tunes in 12 keys played by Howard on one harmonica is kind of fantastic!

AW: What would you tell another harmonica player who was considering joining ArtistWorks?

AZ: If you want to study harmonica online there is no better place. Period.

AW: What style of music is most popular where you are?

AZ: Well, I think, here in Russia it’s not much different from US or Europe. People of one age listen to one kind of music. People like me think that Rock is most popular, older people like Folk, younger ones – Hip Hop or Pop music.

AW: Are there many of harmonica players in Russia?

AZ: No, I don’t think so. I only know a couple of them: Boris Plotnikov, Alexander Bratetsky. Harmonica is kind of exotic instrument for Russia.

AW: What is the music scene of Russia like? 

AZ: It’s very diverse in present. I think any genre is presented more or less equally fair. It’s always possible to find any kind of music performed live. It was not so in the past, especially in USSR and early 90s, Pop music was everywhere, Rock was in deep underground. Now it’s like anywhere in the world I think.

AW: Who are your favorite bands?

AZ: Iron Maiden, AC/DC, Metallica.

AW: Favorite album of all time?

AZ: Metallica’s Black album (1991).

AW: What is the best concert you've ever been to?

AZ: Iron Maiden’s "Maiden England" that they performed in Moscow on 18th July this year.

AW: Anything else you'd like to say to all the people out there?

AZ: Be optimists and don’t give up!


More Profiles In Online Learning:

harmonica lessons with Howard Levy



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