Learn How to Choose A Good Harmonica
Learn How to Choose A Good Harmonica
Over 90% of all leading harmonicas producers (including German) make instruments that are not suitable for professional playing and especially for training (not counting any of Chinese harmonicas, which are available on the market in a wide variety). Once a person tries to learn playing the instrument of low quality, this can discourage from learning this instrument at all. In addition, major manufacturers of harmonicas, unfortunately, continue to “rubber-stamp” low-quality goods, since it brings them the most profit. That is why harmonica remains so rare instrument and needs to be popularized.
It is professional harmonica players, popularizers and enthusiasts of this instrument who’s main function is informing every beginning harmonica player how to choose and buy a harmonica, which harmonicas are suitable for learning, and how not to make the wrong choice, because record stores offer huge numbers of different kinds of harmonicas.
In fact, you can count good harmonicas on the fingers. In this article, you will get the list of all the good models of harmonicas, that are often used by professional musicians and that anyone interested in playing can use for learning.
If you are a beginner, remember that you need to purchase one of these harmonicas in the key of “C”. That is important because harmonicas of different keys differ from one another by the parameter of hardness. The lower harmonica key is – the more force you must apply while playing. Harmonicas in the key of “C” are standing in the middle of the list of all available keys. Also almost every lesson of playing the harmonica for beginners is made for the harmonica in the key of “C”.
Here is the list:
- Hohner Special 20
- Hohner Marine Band
- Hohner Golden Melody
- Seydel 1847
- Seydel Blues Session Steel
- Suzuki Olive
Many believe that for a start, you can choose and buy some cheap harmonica, a kind of “workhorse”, and then it will be possible to buy a harmonica of good quality. However, usually it does not happen, as people become completely disappointed in the instrument after playing a low-quality harp. Just the opposite, when you`ll learn to play on a good instrument and determine the keys you play most often, you can consider buying some cheaper, not promoted middle-quality instrument in the key you don`t usually use, just to “be armed” in case you need to jam with other musicians in this particular key. For example, Suzuki Folkmaster, Huang Silvertone and Huang Star Performer are well-made harps, which are not as comfortable to play as listed above, but they still sound pretty good.
Choosing a harmonica
Firstly, I want to help you understand the types of harmonicas. You probably could see harmonicas of different sizes and types in music stores. There really are different types of harmonicas: diatonic (10-hole), chromatic harmonicas, tremolo, octave, bass, chord harmonicas, as well as hybrids of all these. How can you still choose and buy a harmonica?
Octave, bass and chord harmonicas are most often used in harmonica orchestras, and most likely, you will not find them on sale, so we will not dwell on them. Let’s talk about diatonic, chromatic and tremolo harmonicas, and how to choose a harmonica, that is right for you.
There are two sound reeds slightly detuned to each other on each note in these harmonicas, this creates a tremolo effect. These harmonicas have only seven notes available, with no sharps or flats. If you imagine the piano keyboard, it is as if you could only play “white keys” and no “black keys”. This type of harmonica is quite primitive; anyone who has even the slightest ear for music can learn to play on such harmonica with ease. At the same time, it is very limited in capabilities due to the lack of the notes. Choosing a tremolo harmonica, you will be able to play only unpretentious children’s tunes. Also it can be suitable for some folk songs, well, and perhaps some of the hymns of different countries – unfortunately that`s almost everything you can play on the tremolo harp.
Chromatic harmonicas, in contrast, have all sounds of the chromatic scale (both black and white piano keys), but they are much more expensive. It is possible to play complicated classical compositions, jazz music, etc. on the chromatic harmonica, but for doing it right, it is very important for player to have a good musical education, to be able to read music “from the sheet” and have a good grounding of the diatonic harmonica. Almost all harmonica players, who use chromatic, learned to play diatonic harmonica first, because some techniques and skills, such as a beautiful vibrato, or bends (that theoretically cannot be done on a chromatic harmonica, but in practice are used constantly) may be well practiced on a diatonic harmonica, without damaging the reeds of the instrument.
Diatonic harmonica and how to choose one
Diatonic harmonica is the most popular harmonica in the world. It is an instrument, that you can use to play any music in any style, and the sound is very rich and thick, compared to harmonicas mentioned above. It is possible to use all notes on it, but you need to acquire certain skills to play this instrument. This harmonica is also called blues harp, but that does not mean you can only play blues on it. It simply has become very popular in US in 1920th, years of active development of blues music, where it fits perfectly. It is diatonic (blues or 10 hole) harmonica, that we are going to dwell on. For me – this is one of the most beautiful sounds of a musical instrument in the world, especially amplified, and it can sometimes compete with the electric guitar in richness, beauty of the sound and drive! Here are some advises, that will help you to choose a diatonic harmonica.
One of the most important things you need to decide for yourself is what reeds do you want in your harmonica. Material of the reeds directly affects the durability of the instrument. Hohner and Suzuki companies have been traditionally using copper reeds in their harmonicas. Seydel Company, on the other hand, made an innovative breakthrough in this field and was the first company, which manufactured steel reeds for their harps. As a result, it takes more time for them to detune and it`s more difficult to break one of these.
Once again, harmonicas are produced in different keys and if you are just a beginner, you should choose a harmonica in the tonality of “C major” as your first one. Other frequently used harmonica keys can be divided in two categories: lower than “C” harp and higher than “C” harp. Lower harps usually require more power from your breathing (more air is needed to come through the harmonica reed in order to make it sound right), so it could be hard for a beginner to play them well, and especially use techniques like bend, vibrato and so on. Lower harps are more preferred for playing the blues, the most common keys in descending order are: A, Bb, G. Higher harmonicas also require skills to play them right, and, though they don`t need as powerful breathing as lower harps, the way of using basic techniques differs from the way, used for low harps. Most common higher keys are D and F.
Besides major tuning, there are harmonicas in minor, as without advanced skills it is not easy to play minor compositions on major harmonica. There are two types of minor tuned harmonicas on the market: “natural minor” and “harmonic minor”. First one serves well for playing minor blues, jazz and rock ballads, you can find Tombo harmonica by Lee Oskar and Hohner Marine Band in such tunings. Harmonic minor tuning allows playing all kinds of European folk music, romances and criminal songs, models of this tuning are the same as for natural minor.
Put simply, it will be easier for you to learn basic techniques and skills using a “middle” C major harmonica, because it has both low and high notes, you can practice on and it`s not too “tight”. If you start learning to play the harmonica in this key, it will then be easy for you to play all the rest: both higher and lower keys.
The last point in choosing a harmonica should be testing the instrument. If you are buying a harmonica in a musical instruments shop, ask for a special bellows for harmonicas. Using it, you will be able to “blow” each hole both in and out, to make sure that all of the notes sound right. Unfortunately, bellows are rare in music stores, so most likely you will have to check the harp yourself, and due to the absence of bellows in the store, this can`t be forbidden to you. It is important for you to “breath” through each hole individually, which can be very difficult, if you have never played a harmonica before. You can help yourself with fingers, by closing the holes on the left and right from the one you`re testing. Check every hole on inhalation and exhalation, pay attention to the additional sounds, like “ringing”, which can occur on some harmonicas. Ringing may mean that the reed clings the reed plate of the harmonica. In this case, ask for another harmonica. Also, on lower keys (A, G, and below), reeds can be beating on the cover plate of the harmonica with a distinctive ringing too. This happens very often with Golden Melody harmonicas by Hohner, and basically, that’s fine. Anyway try few other harmonicas of chosen model, and maybe you`ll hit the one that does not ring. With harps in the key of “C” there has to be not a sign of a ringing, so clear sound on each hole – is the best criterion in buying a harmonica in “C Major”.
Good luck in choosing and buying a harmonica that fits your needs!
We have several music centres to suggest for you
- Guitar Soul Music in Setapak, Kuala Lumpur
- VITA Music Centre in Bukit Rimau, Shah Alam
- MAX Music Centre in Cheras
- Serene Music Centre in Kepong
- Rockstar Performing Studio in Pandan Indah
- PAZZO Music Studio in Taman Suri Utara, Kuala Lumpur
- Maple Musicology Academy in Taman Taynton View, Cheras
- Children Music Education Studio in Kajang
- House of Suono in Bandar Puchong Jaya
- Carol Music & Learning Centre in Taman Permata, Kuala Lumpur
- Artistic Music Learning Studio in Taman Usahawan, Kepong
- Guidance Musical Learning Centre in Bandar Mahkota Cheras
- Lara’s Place in Seksyen 17, Petaling Jaya
- Ferris Music and Dance in Taman Bunga Raya, Setapak
- iMusic in Taman Pelangi, Johor Bahru