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Free Harmonica Lessons

Type of Harmonica

  • The type of harmonica that these lessons are intended for is, a ten hole "diatonic harmonica". It is often referred to as a Blues Harp by players. It's the one that all the cool Bluesy stuff is played on. Blues Harps come in about 12 different keys, depending on the manufacturer or brand name. For the purposes of learning, it is better to begin with a Key "C" harmonica. This is because all beginners instructional material for harmonica tends to be in the key of "C"

  • Some popular brands of Harmonica are ; Lee Oscar, Hohner, Suzuki, Bushman.

  • The diagram below represents the front of your harmonica, the lowest pitch note being number 1

Ten Hole Diatonic Harmnica

 

Explanation of Tablature

For the purposes of learning and if you are not familiar with reading sheet music we are going to use Harmonica Tab or tablature to describe the notes or holes we are playing on the harmonica. This pictorial form of notation is used to tab harmonica a lot of songs in the List of Songs to Learn but a more conventional form is used throughout the rest of the site.

  • The symbol Six Blow Note means blow into hole number six.

  • The symbol Four Blow Note means blow in to hole number four.

  • The symbol Six Draw Note means inhale from hole number six.

  • The symbol Five Six Draw Chord means inhale from both five and six.

  • The symbol Six Draw Bend means inhale and bend the note by a semitone.

  • The symbol Three Draw Double Bend means draw bend number three by a full tone, and so on, and so on.

The more conventional form for tabbing harmonica is to use plus and minus sings and to use commas to indicate bends

  • -6 would mean inhale on hole 6.

  • +4 would mean blow into hole number 4.

  • -4' would mean a half tone bend on hole 4.

  • -2" would mean full tone bend on hole 2.

  • -3"' would mean bend hole 3 down one and a half steps.

  • +8' means blow bend hole 8 down one semi tone.

How to hold your Harmonica

 

  • Hold the harp between the index finger and thumb of your left hand and use your right hand to create a sealed sound box at the back of the harp.
How to Hold the Harmonica

 

  • With your hands closed tight around the harp you will notice that this dulls the sound coming from the harp or that the harp can't be played as loud.
Holding the Harp

 

  • Now allow an opening at the back of your hands (this is not visible in this picture, I should have put a mirror behind my hands) This opening will allow the sound to escape. When you have this opening the right size, you will notice that your hands magnify the sound of the harp and your hands will be acting like the bell end of a trumpet.
Cupping the Harmonica

 

  • These next two pictures demonstrate the Wah-wah effect created by opening and closing the hands. In this picture the right hand is closed against the back of the harmonica.

 

Hand Effects

 

  • In this picture the right hand is opened away from the harmonica.

 

Wah-wah effect for harmonica

 

What Notes are on a Key "C" Harmonica

  • There are two notes in each hole, a blow note and a draw note. Study the diagrams below and you will notice that some notes are missing.

notes on your harmonica

lower notes on your Harmonica

Upper Notes on your Harmonica

  • "F" and "A" on the lower octave, and "B" on the upper octave are missing. These notes can be played by bending the higher pitched note in that hole, but don't worry about this technique for now.

How to Play a Single Note

  • Put your mouth over the front of the harmonica covering holes 2 to 4. Then put your tongue on the separator bar between holes 2 and 3. This should block holes 2 and 3, leaving hole 4 open. Blow or inhale on hole number 4.

Tongue Blocking

  • You should get a clear single note, no double notes. Practice this until you get clear single notes every time. And then practice the "C" scale below.

mp3

C scale up     C scale down

  • Notice the change in direction at holes 6 and 7.

 

 

Some Basic Music Theory

  • The C major scale goes like this:

C     D     E     F     G     A     B     C 

  • This means the same as:

do     re    me    fa     sol     la    te   do

  • And it looks like this on sheet music score:

Music Scale

  • There are also a lot of half notes or semi tones in between these notes. These half notes or semi tones are also known as sharps and flats.

C#  =  C sharp          Bb  =  B flat

  • C#, is a note half a tone above C   and   Bb, is a note half a tone below B. So from this we can figure out that, C# is the same note as Db

 

  • The full range of notes and semi tones on a c scale are:

C, C#, D, D#, E, F, F#, G, G#, A, A#, B, C 

  • This can also be written as:

C, Db, D, Eb, E, F, Gb, G, Ab, A, Bb, B, C

  •  And this full range of notes and semi tones looks like this on sheet music score:

C scale

  • Notice that there is only a semi tone between E and F, same as for B and C. And now look at the G major scale.

G     A     B     C      D     E     F#   G

  • And the A major scale:

A    B    C#     D     E     F#    G#    A

  • Study these scales and compare them with the full possible range of notes and semi tones. There is a pattern or sequence for major scales, the notes go up in steps.

whole-step, whole-step, half-step, whole-step, whole-step, whole-step, half-step

  • See if you can write out some other major scales yourself.

  • For some more advanced music theory check out MusicTheory.net

 

Cross Key Playing

  • This simply means playing your Harmonica in a different key than it was designed for. Blues on Harmonica, is most commonly played in second position. This means that you will play your "C" Harmonica in the key of  "G".

Harmonica Key Change Table

Harmonica 1st Position 2nd Position 3rd Position

Straight Harp

Commonly used for simple melodies and a folk-rock style. Your basic starting and/or ending place would be hole 4 blow.

Cross Harp.

The most common position for blues, country, and rock. Your basic starting and/or ending place (point of resolution) would be hole 2 draw.

Third position

Great for songs in minor keys and minor blues. Your basic starting and/or ending place (point of resolution) would be hole 4 draw.

If the song is in the you could play a harmonica in second position, or you could play a harmonica in third position.

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