The harmonica is an ideal instrument for travelers. Unlike guitars, trombones, violins etc, whose mere possession creates expectations of performance, the harmonica can hide unobtrusively in a pocket. Harmonica practice can then be done almost anywhere, and in particular, during the many idle moments which occur when traveling. Indeed, an extended trip provides a great opportunity to learn an instrument, particularly for those who missed out when young. I’ll talk a little about grasping this opportunity, and how the harmonica can help.
Just about everyone wishes (at least privately) to play an instrument, however most of us don’t get there, for one reason or another. A common misconception is that its too late to start as an adult. This is simply not true (I started at 20). What is true however is that adult lives seldom allow time for the practice needed to learn an instrument. Traveling breaks this cycle, and provides an opportunity to start as a musician.
While travelers may have time to practice, they usually can’t lug an instrument around. Bad news for budding pianists and tuba players, however a harmonica easily fits into the luggage (even for backpackers). The secret of course is to keep it in your pocket, and play while waiting for buses, for billies to boil, and for tents to be erected.
The key to success for beginners is daily practice, with fifteen minutes generally enough to ensure progress. What often happens is that once some rudiments have been absorbed, beginners become obsessed with their instrument, and play constantly. My old friends have clear memories of this with me. It is important not to treat this practice as performance, or to be offended if people don’t warm to it! We don’t criticize toddlers who stumble whilst trying to walk, beginning musicians are the same. Again, the harmonica allows this practice: you can remove yourself from your fellow travelers, pull the instrument from your pocket and begin.