WHAT IS DIATONIC HARMONICA?
The diatonic harmonica is the most common harmonica. It’s the one you will most likely find lying around someone’s home just waiting to “rip the roof off the house”. That bluesy, soulful tone makes it both powerful and extremely popular.
The diatonic harmonica is awesome for every style of music including country, blues, rock, gospel, hymns, spirituals, folk and even classical music. That said, the chromatic harmonica is often considered best for jazz and complex classical music.
So, it is HIGHLY RECOMMENDED you start your harmonica journey with a diatonic, which is way easier to learn than the chromatic harmonica. Many harmonica teachers, JP Allen included, focus on teaching the basic 10-hole diatonic harmonica to help ensure students’ success.
Diatonic harmonicas are compact, simple, and most commonly have 10 holes . There are 12 basic keys in music. The diatonic, though capable of playing in multiple keys, focuses on playing in one key – one of the reasons they’re so easy to play. You can buy diatonic harmonicas tuned to each of those 12 keys, but beginners are often recommended to start with a harmonica in the key of C.
WHAT IS A CHROMATIC HARMONICA?
Chromatic harmonicas traditionally come with 8, 10, 12, 14 or 16 holes. The 12-hole chromatic is available in any of the 12 keys, but C is the most common key used by professionals. Chromatic harmonicas, which have a side button for producing semitones, are designed so that, like a piano, they can play every tone in every octave.
A 10-hole chromatic has 2 ½ octave range. It is short and very portable, and the same as the 12-hole chromatic but the note layout ends at different points as a result of the incomplete octave at the top.
For those seeking their first chromatic harmonica, a 12-hole in the key of C is highly recommended. This is the most common, with 3 octave ranges of 48 tones. This harmonica comes in different keys and is relatively easy to grasp and play.
Learn How to Play the Harmonica
Fun Techniques for Learning to Play the Harmonica!
So you want to learn how to play the harmonica? On this page I reveal the number one, easiest secret I know for learning how to play the harmonica with a rich bluesy tone and solid rhythm by getting your mouth position right!
Can you bend and make the harmonica sing with rich and soulful sounds or do your notes sometimes sound airy and squeaky? I’m asking because far too many intermediate level players get stuck with bad habits and find themselves frustrated, unable to play songs accurately, and discouraged when attempting to bend.
If you’ve been having a hard time learning to play harmonica, it’s likely you have not been using the Deep Relaxed Embouchure as seen in Figure 1 below.
FIGURE 1 : DO THIS
FIGURE 2 : DONT’S DO THIS
Step 1. Hold the harmonica in your right hand so the numbers are facing up (the lowest sounding note should be on your left). This is not the advanced hand technique but this will make it easier for now…first things first.
Step 2. Position the harmonica deep in your mouth. Relax and moisten your lips.
Step 3. Rotate the harmonica so that the back-side of the harmonica goes up towards the ceiling. The angling of the harmonica down into your lower lip is critical (see Figure 1 above).
Step 4. Use a mirror to check that your upper lip is deep over the harmonica as demonstrated in this picture…
STEP 4: USE A MIRROR
STEP 5: UNFOLD YOUR LOWER LIP
Step 5 (Most important). Unfold your lower lip. Notice in the photograph how the lower lip is unfolded so that the harmonica is making contact with the inner surface of the lower lip. Compare step 4 and 5’s photographs and notice how shallow the lower lip is on the cover plate of the harmonica.
Step 6. Use your fingers to pull down the lower lip to make sure that the harmonica is contacting the tender inner surface of your lower lip.
Step 7. Look in a mirror to confirm
1. The upper lip is deep on the harmonica.
2. The lower lip is shallow on the harmonica.
3. The harmonica is contacting the inner surface of your lower lip.
4. The harmonica is angled down into the lower lip.
How to Hold a Harmonica
Hold the body of the harmonica in the left hand between the thumb and index finger. The three remaining fingers will then be curved slightly, to form a small resonating space. Place the flat of your right hand over the harmonica (not the mouthpiece side!), and enclose it, forming a tight cup. Optimally, the cup should form a large resonating space.
There are quite a few variants for holding a chromatic. One is a deviation of the diatonic hold, using the right thumb to work the slide button. This is particularly used by Blues player, which often play Chromatic in 3rd position only.
The other popular variant is very similar: With the left hand, hold the harmonica somewhere around the left of the center with the thumb, index and middle fingers. Then twist your right hand along the wrist, so that the fingers point to a two o’clock position and palm facing up. Place the right palm at the bottom of the harmonica (usually sit right below the left thumb) and wrap all the fingers except the index fingers around the harmonica. If done properly, the right wrist will form a right angle. Your index finger will be touching the slide button, and will always be touching there, regardless if you use the button or not.