About Your Instrument

Harmonica Holes 1-4

My teaching and playing is on the standard 10 hole diatonic harmonica, also known as harp, blues harp etc. This small, convenient and traditional instrument is one of the most important voices in blues, country, folk, rock.

When I started out in the 1960s, there was one harmonica manufacturer, Hohner, and almost all blues players played Marine Bands. Today, many manufacturers of harmonica put out fine instruments. These include Hohner, Lee Oskar, Seydel, East Stop, Suzuki, Fender and more. When you start out, you’ll find that your technique adjusts slightly to the chosen harmonica. I personally play customized Special 20’s Hohner harmonica, mostly because that’s the harp I’m used to. It comes down to being a matter of personal choice.

The online harmonica stores such as Harmonicaland, Rockin’ Ron’s Music provide you with a complete catalog of harps and sell, usually at a discount. They are operated by harp players and these family businesses have been in business for years and provide the best harp prices, superior service, product reviews and much more.

As a beginner, you will most likely buy an out-of-the-box instrument. My recommendations would be a Hohner, a Lee Oskar or a Seydel. Truthfully, all the mid-priced $50 harmonicas will work fine. DO NOT play a cheap harp. It will be airy and unworthy of your time. DO remember that the real harmonica is your body, breath, and brain.

Secret: l If you do it right, you can make any decent harp sing.

However, If you want to make your out-of-the-box harmonica a little bit more responsive, consider having it customized or learning to adjust the reeds and doing it yourself. You have to know what you are doing. Reeds are filed and tolerances adjusted to give the intermediate player optimum performance. Recommended guys in the harmonica community are Joe Spiers, Joe Filisko and Richard Sleigh.

If, like me, you love playing harp and guitar simultaneously, I recommend the magnetized Gecko Neck Rack. If you want a good cup with a mic in it, get the Rack-It Harp Holder. Ask the seller to ensure that the Rack-It Harp Holder has a metal strip that can be used to connect to the magnet in the Gecko.

What Key Harp Do I Need?

Almost all harmonica instruction is on a C harmonica. This is the key almost every harp player gets first. It is a very useful key.
One would think that a C harmonica plays in the C, and yes, simple folk songs do well in the key playing that C harp in the key of C. However, if you want to play blues, you’ll play that C harp in the key of G, which my lessons, books, audio and videos show you how to do.

Which Keys Should I Buy?

Although you will eventually buy all 12 keys of harmonica, the first harps you should get are usually C, G, A, F, D and B flat. These key harps will get you through almost all jamming situations and also jamming with the classic blues songs and jam tracks.

Remember: You ask, “what key is the music in?” and you play the appropriate key harp. Our easy and essential formula is this: you count up four steps from the key the music is in. If the music is in the key of A, you count up four steps and play a D harp. If the music is in the key of E, you count up four steps and play an A harp. This, and much more, is explained in my books and videos.

See you at the jam session, and bring your harps!

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