Learning How to Play Harmonica

This beginner's guide to learning how to play harmonica will teach you about the instrument, how to hold your harmonica, playing tips, tunes to start out with, and more.

| July/August 1978

  • The Construction of a Harmonica
    A harmonica is so easy to play, partly because its "innards" are more sophisticated than most people realize. One of the simplest of all mouth organ (the Hohner HH-1896 Marine Band), for instance, consists of a honeycombed resonating chamber sandwiched between two reed plates (one of which contains blow and one of which contains draw reeds) which, in turn, are sandwiched between nickeled steel top and bottom cover plates. Rivets and screws hold everything together... and a fairly complicated system of tuning the reeds makes it extrememly simple to coax 20 of "just the right" notes from the Marine Band's 10 air passages.
    MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF
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    Some of the many different types of harmonicas.
    PHOTO: MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF
  • HowToHoldHarmonica3
    A professional plays a harmonica by letting his or her lips cover four holes on the instrument and then blocking out three of the openings with the tongue. This allows the artist to produce clear single notes and then add rhythm, harmony, and chords by "merely" lifting and replacing the tongue.
    MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF
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    The Hohner Marine Band harmonica.
    MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF
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    This article teaches you how to play a harmonica.
    MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF
  • HowToHoldHarmonica1
    Hold your Marine Band in a 'ten-finger sandwhich', as shown, and you'll create a resonating air chamber that you can use to add a temolo or vibrato effect to your playing (pretend your hands are hinged together in the front and open and close them as rapidly as you like by moving onle the "outside" hand.)
    MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF
  • HowToHold2
    If you've never played a harmonice before and you don't know what a single, pure tone from the instrument sounds like : [1] place your index fingers over holes 3 and 5 on a mouth organ tuned to the key of C and [2] blow into hole 4 to [3] produce the clear sound of C, the first note on the scale.
    MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF
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    The "ten finger sandwhich" hand position for holding your harmonica.
    MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF

  • The Construction of a Harmonica
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  • HowToHoldHarmonica3
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  • 052-100-01.jpg
  • HowToHoldHarmonica1
  • HowToHold2
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Both the country homesteader and the urban blue collar worker put in long days of tough labor. And on summer evenings — when the work's finally done — both, traditionally, have recharged their weary bodies (and souls) out on the front porch in an easy rockin' chair blowin' sweet music on a mouth harp. There just is no better way to watch the sun go down and help dusk creep in across the fields and up the streets. This article will teach you how to play a harmonica so you can soon be on your way to front porch blowing and relaxing. (Click on the Image Gallery link above for illustrations and descriptions of how to hold and play your harmonica.)

The folks who keep track of such things say there are probably as many harmonicas "out there" doing their thing in the U.S. of A. and Canada . . . as all other musical instruments combined. But that's understandable because the harmonica is certainly affordable, exceptionally easy to play, highly portable, and — once you get the hang of it — mighty rewarding, expressive, and entertaining too. I reckon it comes about as close as an instrument can to being "every man's (and woman's) musicmaker."

A Bit of Harmonica History 

If, as so many others have done, you decide to take a fling at learning how to play harmonica, start by simply picking up one of the little charmers and cradling it between your palms. Hey! You're in good company already. Millions of fine folks — from little people you've never heard of to Calvin Coolidge and Bob Dylan — have all taken exactly this same step before you.

A few of those beginners, of course, have gone on from there to fame and fortune for their mastery of the instrument . . . and many others haven't. I like to think, though, that even some of the duffer harp players have risen to the heights of entirely different fields at least in part because of the solace they've been able to draw from their mouth organs.



Why, even Honest Abe Lincoln wasn't above playing a tune or two on the harmonica when the occasion demanded, as Carl Sandburg related in Abraham Lincoln: The Prairie Years . . . part of his massive study of the 16th President.

According to the story, Lincoln had just finished a particularly hard day of vote chasing during his 1858 campaign against Stephen Douglas for an Illinois state senate seat. And there he was — off by his lonesome, scrunched down in somebody's battered old farm wagon, playing a quiet tune to revive his spirits . . . when someone happened by.

jones_1
1/12/2008 4:47:03 AM

good day, my name is jones i am from nigeria a country in Africa.I have been playing the tremolo harp for sometime now(a year).i have learnt alot about the tromolo and the diationic harmonica but i will like to go into more of traditional music cos i will really want to promote Nigerian music but i am a little bit confused about the kind of harp i will use in achieving what i want but the main thing is that i want to know really what kind of harmonica to use.Actually i learn t how to play the harmonica with the tremolo 24holes.And now i want to go fully into music but i want to know the kind of harp that will give me what i want. it is my pleasure to write to you about the harp.Well i will like to know which kind of harp should i use when playing traditional music.In my country, there are different kind of music like Fuji juju.Well i will like to go into juju music this kind of music has to do with more of the drums so i will like to know which kind of harmonica to purchase either a diatonic 10holes of 24 holes. hope to hear from you soon jones.







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