Frequently Asked Questions
What are the different type of harmonicas and what kind of sound do they make?
There are hundreds of different harmonicas available, and hundreds of others that are no longer made, but still being used. They commonly used ones break down into four basic categories:
1. Diatonic – These are the familiar ‘blues’ type harmonicas. They fit in your pocket and come in all different keys and special tunings. They’ve been used for blues, country, bluegrass, rock, jazz, pop, well – just about every type of music imaginable. They have their limitations though, mostly due to the tunings that skip some of the scale notes. However, a player with the ability to bend and overblow notes can fill in these missing notes and the possibilities become endless.
2. Chromatic – Most of these harmonicas have a button/slide assembly that allows the player to get all of the chromatic notes of the scale (the white and black keys on the piano). The larger ones cover more than a four octave range – more than any other woodwind instrument. Other chromatic harmonicas; the polychromatics, are set up with each chromatic scale degree in it’s own hole. These are great for glissando effects, but they are more difficult to master and are mostly suited to slow melodies that don’t have large jumps in them.
3. Tremolo and Octave tuned – The tremolo harmonicas are diatonically tuned (the familiar Do, Re, Mi, Fa, So, La, Ti, Do scale), but rather than a single reed playing, two reeds are sounding; one tuned slightly off from the other. The result is a wavering effect to the sound – like a French musette accordion. The octave harmonicas also sound two reeds, tuned an octave apart for a full, rich sound.
4. Orchestral - There’s a number of harmonicas that fall into this category. The most notable ones are the bass and chord harmonicas. Bass harmonicas play bass notes as low as a string bass or bass guitar. Chord harmonicas play full chords and are the largest of the harmonicas: up to two feet long!
At the Twin Cities harmonica Society, we play all of these different harmonicas, and many that are not listed above.
What brand or type of harmonica should I buy? Where is a good place to get them?
There’s a lot of great harmonicas being sold today, and a lot of bad ones too. Some of the better brand names are: Hohner, Lee Oscar, Hering, Suzuki, and Seydel. The “right” harmonica is a matter of personal preference and price. Harmonicas range in price from a couple dollars for a small, cheaply made one, to many thousands of dollars for a custom made chromatic.
If you’re looking for your first diatonic, We would suggest getting one in the key of C. If you’re looking to get your first chromatic, that’s more of an investment. If you’re looking for inexpensive, but still a great harmonica, try a Hering 5148 – it’s three octaves and has a plastic comb that won’t absorb moisture. Another one to look into is the Hohner 270 Super Chromonica. It’s a bit more expensive, but the tone is fabulous and with proper care can last a lifetime. Others to look at: Hohner models CX12, and 280, Suzuki Chromatix and Slider Professional models ,and the Seydel Chromatic Deluxe. As with most everything, you get what you pay for – watch out for seemingly cheap harmonicas.
The best place to get harmonicas, and the lowest prices, is online.
Locally, Groth Music in Bloomington has a nice selection of harmonicas. Also, some of our club members build and repair harmonicas and often have some nice ones available at low prices. Feel free to stop in and ask.
If you are unsure of the type of harmonica to buy, stop by a meeting and discover the different types in person. The club members are always willing to share their opinions, and indeed, the suggestions above are only opinions. If you find six harmonica players, you’ve found 7 opinions about the what is the “right” harmonica to buy!
What type of music can the harmonica play? Just about anything. You name it, the harmonica has done it.
How to become a member of the club? The first step is to simply come to a meeting. If you like it, you can pay the membership fee and voila! You’re a member!
What benefits are there to becoming a member? The enjoyment of playing music in an ensemble, camaraderie, harmonica lessons and learning opportunities, sheet music and tablature, learning how to repair your harmonica, explore the different types of harmonicas, and more...