Saturday, February 6, 2010

The Different Types of Harmonicas

Whether you're an old hand who has enjoyed the harmonica for years or are just now considering picking one up for the first time it's helpful to know a bit about this instrument you play. The harmonica has been given many pet names such as the mouth organ, mouth harp, french harp, or blues harp. It has been embraced by cultures and music styles around the world. Harmonicas are all at heart an arrangement of reeds and air passages that allow breath blown into them to be channeled through specific reeds to create a harmonica note of a given pitch. Harmonicas used for different styles and types of music differ less in the construction of the instrument and more in the way they are played.

The diatonic harmonica is the configuration most people think of when they think of a harmonica. It is usually made with ten holes or air passages and ten corresponding sets of reeds that are tuned to vibrate at the pitches of notes in the scale in the key the harmonica is tuned for. The reed plates are made so one plate is intended to play when air is blown through the air passage and the other plate will play a slightly higher or lower note when air is drawn in through the same air passage. A harmonica with ten air holes will produce 20 individual notes, each reed producing a distinctive tone. There is so much music and instructional material written in the key of C that is an excellent choice for the beginner to start with.

When considering what to look for in a harmonica it is more important to buy a quality instrument than to pick one manufacturer over another. There are a number of great manufacturers such as Hohner, Suzuki, Lee Oskar and Hering who all produce top quality harps. Many people commonly find it helpful to try several models over time before they settle on a favorite.

The Chromatic harmonica is another common type of instrument, it most often will have twelve, fourteen or sixteen holes. Instead of having only two reeds per hole, you will find four reeds in each. There is also a slide mechanism that can be shifted side to side, When moved, the slide controls the flow of air into the reeds giving four notes instead of two from each hole. This allows a greater range of notes than the diatonic harmonica. This harp most often would be a good choice for a more advanced player and requires more time to master. This instrument is used extensively in the jazz and blues world. Stevie Wonder is an excellent example of a musician with great skill with this harmonica.

The Tremolo Or Echo Harp Harmonica is still another type of harmonica. It is made with two reeds per harmonica note,unlike the diatonic harmonica which has only one. There is an additional separation between the upper and lower reeds plates in this instrument creating an air passage for each reed. For each pair of reeds one reed is pitched slightly flat and the other is pitched slightly sharp. The result is a tone that appears to echo when air is passed through the reeds. It's distinctive sound gives a lot of bang for your buck, this type of harmonica is not difficult to play but is a little higher priced than the typical diatonic harp.

The person who chooses to pick up this instrument can enjoy the rewards of creating beautiful music with ease. Whatever your favorite style of music you can enjoy playing harmonica for a lifetime. You're never too old or young to start.


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