Known by other names like French harp or mouth organ, the harmonica is a rectangular wind instrument with metal reeds within of varying thickness and length that make musical tones. Because of its affordability, portability and ease of use, the harmonica is played in a wide range of musical forms, from blues, country, folk, classical, jazz and rock and roll. You can slip one in your pocket and take it out for practice anywhere.
While it is a handheld musical instrument, the harmonica only uses fingers to shape the tone but not make any notes. It is the player's lips and tongue that produce the sound by directing air into or out of one or more holes along the mouthpiece, which is why it is also known as a mouth organ.
As simple as it may look, a harmonica comes in a variety of configurations: diatonic, chromatic, echo, bass and chord. But the main division of harmonicas, the ones that we hear in the majority of recordings, are chromatic and diatonic.
Diatonic harmonicas are the simplest and most common, and often the one used by a beginner. It has 10 holes, set up in one key (so you would need 12 of them to play in every key), with additional notes produced by 'bending': configuring your tongue, palate and throat to apply pressure to the airstream so it lowers the pitch of a note. With bending, a player is able to harness harmonica's expressive capacity, so the "cries, wails and moans" characteristic of blues and folk music are played to full effect.
Chromatic 'harps,' on the other hand, play a 12-note octave with all the sharps and flats, allowing a harmonica player to perform in any key and any type of scale. Because of its range, the chromatic harmonica is most often used in jazz and classical music. Bending doesn't work nearly as well in chromatic harmonica as it has a button that, when depressed, brings out all the half-step notes in between major scale notes.
Harmonica is a pick-up-and-play instrument, one that you can master with in home music lessons with Live Music Tutor. Breathe in and breathe out to get the chords, figure out how to get one note at a time, and learn that inside-the-mouth balancing act required for bending notes.
The harmonica is a very rewarding instrument because you can start playing songs on it once you get the basics down. 'Bending' the notes usually take a year for a diligent student to achieve. If you approach it coming from other instruments, a harmonica is very easy to learn.
Join in today at Live Music Tutor in 3 simple steps; create your profile, select your Harmonica Instructor and start learning today! Live Music Tutor is convenient – schedule lessons 24/7, customizable and user-friendly.