16-hole chrom 10-hole diatonic.jpg
A 16-hole chromatic (top) and 10-hole diatonic harmonica
Other instrument
Hornbostel–Sachs classification 412.132
(Free-reed aerophone)
Developed Early 19th century
Playing range
For 64-reeds (16-holes) chromatic harmonica: C below Middle C (C) to the D above C5; slightly over 4 octaves
Related instruments
melodeon, melodica, Yu
More articles
List of harmonicists

The harmonica, also called harp, French harp, blues harp, and mouth organ,[1] is a free reed wind instrument used primarily in blues and American folk music, jazz, country, and rock and roll. It is played by blowing air into it or drawing air out by placing lips over individual holes (reed chambers) or multiple holes. The pressure caused by blowing or drawing air into the reed chambers causes a reed or multiple reeds to vibrate creating sound. Each chamber has multiple, variable-tuned brass or bronze reeds, which are secured at one end only, leaving the other free to vibrate.

Reeds are pre-tuned to individual tones, and each tone is determined according to the size of reed. Longer reeds make deep, low sounds and short reeds make higher-pitched sounds. On certain types of harmonica the pre-tuned reed can be changed (bending a note) to another note by redirecting air flow into the chamber. There are many types of harmonicas, including diatonic, chromatic, tremolo, orchestral, and bass versions.



Comb and two reedplates.
Reed plate.
Reedplate mounted on the comb of a diatonic harmonica.

The basic parts of the harmonica are the comb, reed-plates and cover-plates.


The comb is the term for the main body of the instrument, which contains the air chambers that cover the reeds. The term comb originates from the similarities between simple harmonicas and a hair comb. Harmonica combs were traditionally made from wood, but now are usually made from plastic (ABS) or metal (including titanium for very high-end instruments).[2] Some modern and experimental comb designs are complex in the way that they direct the air.

Comb material was assumed to have an effect on the tone of the harp. While the comb material does have a slight influence over the sound of the harmonica, the main advantage of a particular comb material over another one is its durability.[3] In particular, a wooden comb can absorb moisture from the player's breath and contact with the tongue. This causes the comb to expand slightly, making the instrument uncomfortable to play. Various types of wood and treatments have been devised to reduce the degree of this problem.[2]

An even more serious problem with wood combs, especially in chromatic harmonicas (with their thin dividers between chambers) is that the combs shrink over time. Comb shrinkage can lead to cracks in the combs due to the combs being held immobile by nails, resulting in disabling leakage. Much effort is devoted by serious players to restoring wood combs and sealing leaks. Some players used to soak wooden-combed harmonicas (diatonics, without windsavers) in water to cause a slight expansion, which they intended to make the seal between the comb, reed plates and covers more airtight. Modern wooden-combed harmonicas are less prone to swelling and contracting. Players still dip harmonicas in water for the way it affects tone and ease of bending notes.


Reed-plate is the term for a grouping of several reeds in a single housing. The reeds are usually made of brass, but steel, aluminium and plastic are occasionally used. Individual reeds are usually riveted to the reed-plate, but they may also be welded or screwed in place. Reeds fixed on the inside (within the comb's air chamber) of the reed-plate respond to blowing, while those on the outside respond to suction.

Most harmonicas are constructed with the reed-plates screwed or bolted to the comb or each other. A few brands still use the traditional method of nailing the reed-plates to the comb. Some experimental and rare harmonicas also have had the reed-plates held in place by tension, such as the WWII era all-American models. If the plates are bolted to the comb, the reed plates can be replaced individually. This is useful because the reeds eventually go out of tune through normal use, and certain notes of the scale can fail more quickly than others.

A notable exception to the traditional reed-plate design is the all-plastic harmonicas designed by Finn Magnus in the 1950s, where the reed and reed-plate were molded out of a single piece of plastic. The Magnus design had the reeds, reed-plates and comb made of plastic and either molded or permanently glued together.

Cover plates

Cover plates cover the reed-plates and are usually made of metal, though wood and plastic have also been used. The choice of these is personal — because they project sound, they determine the tonal quality of the harmonica. There are two types of cover plates: traditional open designs of stamped metal or plastic, which are simply there to be held, and enclosed designs (such as the Hohner Meisterklasse and Super 64, Suzuki Promaster and SCX), which offer a louder tonal quality. From these two basic types, a few modern designs have been created, such as the Hohner CBH-2016 chromatic and the Suzuki Overdrive diatonic, which have complex covers that allow for specific functions not usually available in the traditional design. It was not unusual in the late 19th and early 20th centuries to see harmonicas with special features on the covers, such as bells, which could be rung by pushing a button.


Windsavers are one-way valves made from thin strips of plastic, knit paper, leather or teflon glued onto the reed-plate. They are typically found in chromatic harmonicas, chord harmonicas and many octave-tuned harmonicas. Windsavers are used when two reeds share a cell and leakage through the non-playing reed would be significant. For example, when a draw note is played, the valve on the blow reed-slot is sucked shut, preventing air from leaking through the inactive blow reed. An exception to this is the recent Hohner XB-40 where valves are placed not to isolate single reeds but rather to isolate entire chambers from being active.


The mouthpiece is placed between the air chambers of the instrument and the player's mouth. This can be integral with the comb (the diatonic harmonicas, the Hohner Chrometta), part of the cover (as in Hohner's CX-12), or may be a separate unit entirely, secured by screws, which is typical of chromatics. In many harmonicas, the mouthpiece is purely an ergonomic aid designed to make playing more comfortable. However, in the traditional slider-based chromatic harmonica it is essential to the functioning of the instrument because it provides a groove for the slide.


Mark Wenner cups his hands around a "bullet mic" as he plays amplified harmonica.

Amplification devices

Since the 1950s, many blues harmonica players have amplified their instrument with microphones and tube amplifiers. One of the early innovators of this approach was Marion "Little Walter" Jacobs, who played the harmonica near a "Bullet" microphone marketed for use by radio taxi dispatchers. This gave his harmonica tone a "punchy" mid-range sound that could be heard above an electric guitar. As well, tube amplifiers produce a natural distortion when played at higher volumes, which adds body and fullness to the sound. Little Walter also cupped his hands around the instrument, tightening the air around the harp, giving it a powerful, distorted sound, somewhat reminiscent of a saxophone, hence the term "Mississippi saxophone".

Rack or holder

Harmonica players who play the instrument while performing on another instrument with their hands (e.g., an acoustic guitar) often use an accessory called a "neck rack" or holder to position the instrument in front of their mouth. A harmonica holder clamps the harmonica between two metal brackets, which are attached to a curved loop of metal that rests on the shoulders. This device is used by folk musicians, "one man bands" and singer/songwriters such as Bob Dylan, Tom Harmon, Neil Young, Eddie Vedder, Bruce Springsteen and blues singers Jimmy Reed and John Hammond Jr..

Harmonica types

Chromatic harmonica

Hohner Super Chromonica, a typical 12-hole chromatic.

The chromatic harmonica uses a button-activated sliding bar to redirect air from the hole in the mouthpiece to the selected reed-plate, although there was one design, the "Machino-Tone," which controlled airflow by means of a lever-operated movable flap on the rear of the instrument. In addition, there is a "hands-free" modification of the Hohner 270 (12-hole) in which the player shifts the tones by moving the mouthpiece up and down with the lips, leaving the hands free to play another instrument. While the Richter-tuned 10-hole chromatic is intended to be played in only one key, the 12-, 14-, and 16-hole models (which are tuned to equal temperament) allow the musician to play in any key desired with only one harmonica. This harp can be used for any style, including Celtic, classical, jazz, or blues (commonly in third position).

Diatonic harmonicas

Strictly speaking, "diatonic" denotes any harmonica that is designed for playing in only one key (though the standard "Richter-tuned" diatonic can be played in other keys by forcing its reeds to play tones that are not part of its basic scale; see Blues harp). Depending on the region of the world, "diatonic harmonica" may mean either the tremolo harmonica (in East Asia) or blues harp (In Europe and North America). Other diatonic harmonicas include octave harmonica.

Tremolo harmonica

A tremolo harmonica.

The tremolo harmonica's distinguishing feature is that it has two reeds per note, with one slightly sharp and the other slightly flat. This provides a unique wavering or warbling sound created by the two reeds being slightly out of tune with each other and the difference in their subsequent waveforms interacting with each other (its beat). The Asian version, on which all 12 semitones can be played, is used in a large amount of East-Asian music, from rock to pop music.

Orchestral harmonicas

These harmonicas are primarily designed for use in ensemble playing.

Orchestral melody harmonica

There are eight kinds of orchestral melody harmonica: the most common are the Horn harmonicas that are most often found in East Asia. These consist of a single large comb with blow only reed-plates on the top and bottom. Each reed sits inside a single cell in the comb. One version mimics the layout of a piano or mallet instrument, with the natural notes of a C diatonic scale in the lower reed-plate and the sharps/flats in the upper reed-plate in groups of two and three holes with gaps in between like the black keys of a piano (thus there is no E#/Fb hole nor a B#/Cb hole on the upper reed-plate). Another version has one "sharp" reed directly above its "natural" on the lower plate, with the same number of reeds on both plates.

"Horn harmonicas" are available in several pitch ranges, with the lowest pitched starting two octaves below middle C and the highest beginning on middle C itself; they usually cover a two or three octave range. They are chromatic instruments and are usually played in an East Asian harmonica orchestra instead of the "push-button" chromatic harmonica that is more common in the European/American tradition. Their reeds are often larger, and the enclosing "horn" gives them a different timbre, so that they often function in place of a brass section. In the past, they were referred to as horn harmonicas.

The other type of orchestral melodic harmonica is the Polyphonia, (though some are marked "Chromatica"). These have all twelve chromatic notes laid out on the same row. In most cases, they have both blow and draw of the same tone, though the No. 7 is blow only, and the No. 261, also blow only, has two reeds per hole, tuned an octave apart (all these designations refer to products of M. Hohner).

Chord harmonica

The chord harmonica has up to 48 chords: major, seventh, minor, augmented and diminished for ensemble playing. It is laid out in four-note clusters, each sounding a different chord on inhaling or exhaling. Typically each hole has two reeds for each note, tuned to one octave of each other. However, less expensive models often have only one reed per note. Quite a few orchestra harmonicas are also designed to serve as both bass and chord harmonica, with bass notes next to chord groupings. There are also other chord harmonicas, such as the Chordomonica (which operates similar to a chromatic harmonica), and the junior chord harmonicas (which typically provides 6 chords).

ChengGong harmonica

The ChengGong 程功 harmonica[4] has a main body, and a sliding mouthpiece. The body is a 24-hole diatonic harmonica that starts from b2 to d6 (covering 3 octaves). Its 11-hole mouthpiece can slide along the front of the harmonica, which gives numerous chord choices and voicings (seven triads, three 6th chords, seven 7th chords, and seven 9th chords, for a total of 24 chords). As well, it is capable of playing single- note melodies and double stops over a range of three diatonic octaves. Unlike conventional harmonicas, blowing and drawing produce the same notes because its tuning is closer to the note layout of a typical Asian tremolo harmonica or the Polyphonias.[5]

Pitch pipe

The pitch pipe is a simple specialty harmonica that provides a reference pitch to singers and other instruments. The only difference between some early pitch-pipes and harmonicas is the name of the instrument, which reflected the maker's target audience. Chromatic pitch pipes, which are used by singers and choirs, give a full chromatic (12-note) octave. Pitch pipes are also sold for string players, such as violinists and guitarists; these pitch pipes usually provide the notes corresponding to the open strings.

Harmonica techniques

'Vibrato' is a technique commonly used while playing the harmonica and many other instruments,to give the note a 'shaking' sound. This technique can be accomplished in a number of ways. The most common way is to change how the harmonica is held. For example, by opening and closing your hands around the harmonica very rapidly you achieve the vibrato effect. Another way is to use a 'head shaking' technique, frequently used in blues harmonica, in which the player moves the lips between two holes very quickly. This gives a quick shaking technique that is slightly more than vibrato and achieves the same aural effect on sustained notes. The vibrato might also be achieved via rapid glottal (vocal fold) opening and closing, especially on draws (inhalation) simultaneous to bending, or without bending. This obviates the need for cupping and waving the hands around the instrument during play.

In addition to the 19 notes readily available on the diatonic harmonica, players can play other notes by adjusting their embouchure and forcing the reed to resonate at a different pitch. This technique is called bending, a term possibly borrowed from guitarists, who literally "bend" a string to subtly change the pitch. Bending also creates the glissandos characteristic of much blues harp and country harmonica playing. Bends are essential for most blues and rock harmonica due to the soulful sounds the instrument can bring out. The "wail" of the blues harp typically required bending. In the 1970s, Howard Levy developed the overbending technique (also known as "overblowing" and "overdrawing".) Overbending, combined with bending, allowed players to play the entire chromatic scale.

In addition to playing the diatonic harmonica in its original key, it is also possible to play it in other keys by playing in other "positions" using different keynotes. Using just the basic notes on the instrument would mean playing in a specific mode for each position. Harmonica players (especially blues players) have developed terminology around different "positions," which can be confusing to other musicians.

Another technique, seldom used to its full potential, is altering the size of the mouth cavity to emphasize certain natural overtones. When this technique is employed whilst playing chords, care must be taken in overtone selection as the overtones stemming from the non-root pitch can cause extreme dissonance.

Harmonica players who amplified their instrument with microphones and tube amplifiers, such as blues harp players, also have a range of techniques that exploit the properties of the microphone and the amplifier, such as changing the way the hands are cupped around the instrument and the microphone or rhythmically breathing or chanting into the microphone while playing. Blues and folk players refer to the instrument with a range of less-common names including: hand reed, Mississippi saxophone, licking stick, pocket sax, toe pickle, tin sandwich, ten-holed tin-can tongue twister, and French Harp.


The harmonica was developed in Europe in the early part of the 19th century. Free reed instruments like the sheng were fairly common throughout East Asia for centuries and were relatively well known in Europe for some time. Around 1820, free reed designs began being created in Europe. While Christian Friedrich Ludwig Buschmann is often cited as the inventor of the harmonica in 1821, other inventors developed similar instruments at the same time.[6] Mouth-blown free reed instruments appeared in the United States, South America, the United Kingdom and in Europe at roughly the same time.

Early instruments

The harmonica first appeared in Vienna, where harmonicas with chambers were sold before 1824 (see also Anton Reinlein and Anton Haeckl). Richter tuning, invented by Joseph Richter (who also is credited with inventing the blow and draw mechanism), was created in 1826 and was adopted nearly universally in the subsequent years. In Germany, violin manufacturer Mr. Meisel from Klingenthal bought a harmonica with chambers (Kanzellen) at the Exhibition in Braunschweig in 1824. He and the ironworker Langhammer in the 3-mile-away Graslitz copied the instruments; by 1827 they had produced hundreds of harmonicas. Many others followed in Germany and also nearby in what would later become Czechoslovakia. In 1829, Johann Wilhelm Rudolph Glier also began making harmonicas.

In 1830, Christan Messner, a cloth maker and weaver from Trossingen, copied a harmonica his neighbour had brought from Vienna. He had such success that eventually his brother and some relatives also started to make harmonicas. From 1840 onwards, his nephew Christian Weiss was also involved in the business. By 1855, there were at least three harmonica-making businesses: C. A. Seydel Söhne, Christian Messner & Co., and Württ. Harmonikafabrik Ch. WEISS. Currently, only C.A. Seydel is still in business.

Owing to competition between the harmonica factories in Trossingen and Klingenthal, machines were invented to punch the covers for the reeds. In 1857, Matthias Hohner, a clockmaker from Trossingen, started producing harmonicas, eventually to become the first person to mass-produce them. He used a mass-produced wooden comb that he had made by machine-cutting firms. By 1868, he began supplying the United States. By the 1920s, the diatonic harmonica had largely reached its modern form. Other types followed soon thereafter, including the various tremolo and octave harmonicas.

By the late 19th century, harmonica production was a big business, having evolved into mass-production. New designs were still developed in the 20th century, including the chromatic harmonica, first made by Hohner in 1924, the bass harmonica, and the chord harmonica. In the 21st century, radical new designs are still being introduced into the market, such as the Suzuki Overdrive, Hohner XB-40, and Harrison B-Radical.

Diatonic harmonicas were designed primarily for the playing of German and other European folk music and have succeeded well in those styles. Over time the basic design and tuning proved adaptable to other types of music such as the blues, country, old-time and more. The harmonica was a success almost from the very start of production, and while the centre of the harmonica business has shifted from Germany, the output of the various harmonica manufacturers is still very high. Major companies are now found in Germany (Seydel, Bushman, Hohner - the dominant manufacturer in the world), Japan (Suzuki, Tombo), China (Huang, Leo Shi, Suzuki, Hohner, Swan, AXL), and Brazil (Hering, Bends). The United States' only contender in the harmonica market was Harrison Harmonicas, however the company folded in July 2011 due to production issues. It was announced soon thereafter that the rights to the Harrison design were sold to another company to finish production of orders already placed. As of September 2011, it is unknown what company purchased the rights to the B-Radical, or if they intend to continue production after previous demands are met. Recently, responding to increasingly demanding performance techniques, the market for high quality instruments has grown.

Europe and North America

Early use

Shortly after Hohner began manufacturing harmonicas in 1857, he shipped some to relatives who had emigrated to the United States. Its music rapidly became popular, and the country became an enormous market for Hohner's goods. President Abraham Lincoln carried a harmonica in his pocket,[7] and harmonicas provided solace to soldiers on both the Union and Confederate sides of the American Civil War. Frontiersmen Wyatt Earp and Billy the Kid played the instrument, and it became a fixture of the American musical landscape.

The first recordings of harmonicas were made in the U.S. in the 1920s. These recordings are 'race-records', intended for the black market of the southern states with solo recordings by DeFord Bailey, duo recordings with a guitarist Hammie Nixon, Walter Horton, Sonny Terry, as well as hillbilly styles recorded for white audiences, by Frank Hutchison, Gwen Foster and several other musicians. There are also recordings featuring the harmonica in jug bands, of which the Memphis Jug Band is the most famous. But the harmonica still represented a toy instrument in those years and was associated with the poor. It is also during those years that musicians started experimenting with new techniques such as tongue-blocking, hand effects and the most important innovation of all, the 2nd position, or cross-harp.

The harmonica's versatility brought it to the attention of classical music during the 1930s. American Larry Adler was one of the first harmonica players to perform major works written for the instrument by the composers Ralph Vaughan Williams, Malcolm Arnold, Darius Milhaud and Arthur Benjamin.

The United States experienced a shortage of harmonicas during World War II. Wood and metal materials that were used for harmonicas were in short supply due to military demand. Furthermore, the primary manufacturers of harmonicas were based in Germany and Japan, who happened to be the Axis powers opposed to the United States and the allied forces in the war. It was during this time that Finn Harkon Magnus, a Dutch-American factory worker and entrepreneur, developed and perfected the molded-plastic harmonica. The plastic harmonica used molded plastic combs and far fewer pieces than traditional metal or wood harmonicas, which as a result made the harmonica more sanitary and far more economical to mass produce. Though these harmonicas produced a less distinctive (and, to many ears, inferior) sound than their metallic counterparts, Magnus harmonicas, as well as several imitators, soon became commonplace, particularly among children.[8]

1950s blues players

The harmonica then made its way with the blues and the black migrants to the north, mainly to Chicago but also to Detroit, St. Louis and New York. The music played by African Americans increasingly began to use electric amplification for the guitar, harp, double bass, and a crude PA system for the vocals. Alec Rice Miller, better known as Sonny Boy Williamson II, is one of the important harmonicists of this era. Using a full blues band, he became a popular act in the South with his daily broadcasts on the 'King Biscuit Time', originating live from Helena, Arkansas. He also helped to popularize the cross-harp technique, which became an important blues harmonica technique.

A young harmonicist named Marion "Little Walter" Jacobs revolutionized the instrument by playing the harmonica with a microphone (typically a "Bullet" microphone marketed for use by radio taxi dispatchers cupped in his hands with the harmonica, giving it a "punchy" mid-range sound that can be heard above radio static, or an electric guitar). He cupped his hands around the instrument, tightening the air around the harp, giving it a powerful, distorted sound, somewhat reminiscent of a saxophone.

Big Walter Horton was the favored harmonicist of many Chicago blues bandleaders, including Willie Dixon. His colorful solos used the full register of his instrument and some chromatic harmonicas. Howlin' Wolf's early recordings demonstrate great skill, particularly at blowing powerful riffs with the instrument. Sonny Boy Williamson II used the possibilities of hand effects to give a talkative feel to his harp playing. Williamson extended his influence on the young British blues rockers in the 1960s, recording with Eric Clapton and The Yardbirds and appearing on live British television. Stevie Wonder learned harmonica at age 5 and plays the instrument on many of his recordings. Jimmy Reed played harmonica on most of his blues shuffle recordings.

1960s and 1970s blues players

The 1960s and 1970s saw the harmonica become less prominent, as the overdriven electric lead guitar became the dominant instrument for solos in blues rock. Paul Butterfield is a well known harp player of the era in the blues and blues-rock arena. Heavily influenced by Little Walter, he pushed further the virtuosity on the harp. Chicago harmonica player James Cotton specialized in slow, magnificent note-bends.

Blues harmonica players who are primarily or mainly associated with the instrument include Norton Buffalo, Jerry Portnoy, Lazy Lester, Bob Dylan, Rabini Zami, Sugar Blue, Billy Branch, Charlie Musselwhite, Corky Siegel, Junior Wells, Kim Wilson, Slim Harpo, Al "Blind Owl" Wilson of Canned Heat, Jack Bruce of Cream and John Sebastian of The Lovin' Spoonful.

Musicians who are primarily known as singers or performers on another instrument who also have recorded and performed harmonica solos include Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Donovan, Taj Mahal, Mick Jagger and Brian Jones of The Rolling Stones, Huey Lewis of Huey Lewis and the News, John Mayall, Peter Green of (the original) Fleetwood Mac, Roger Daltrey of The Who, Steven Tyler of Aerosmith, Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin, Bono of U2, Rick Davies of Supertramp, and Richard "Magic Dick" Salwitz of The J. Geils Band. Billy Joel famously plays the harmonica, in addition to his piano, on his signature song, "Piano Man". includes the harmonica throughout the piece. John Lennon played harmonica on early hits as "Love Me Do", "Please Please Me", "I'll Get You" and "I Should Have Known Better" and in his solo career on songs such as "Oh Yoko!".

2000s blues players

Contemporary harmonicists Howard Levy, Chris Michalek, Jason Ricci, and Carlos del Junco have pushed the envelope of the instrument. Levy explored and pioneered the over blow technique in the early seventies, which enables the diatonic harmonica to play full chromatic scales across three octaves, while retaining the particular sound of the harp. Overblowing is used by Howard Levy, Frédéric Yonnet, Adam Gussow, Chris Michalek, Paul Nebenzahl, and Jason Ricci and Carlos del Junco are starting to integrate it in a more blues or rock oriented music. Richard "Magic Dick" Salwitz, Billy Branch, John Popper, Tom Ball, "Dirty" Patrick Walsh, Big Dave Perea, Joe Filisko, Miles Ryan and others are keeping the harmonica tradition alive. Peter Doherty of The Libertines and Babyshambles has also been known to use a harmonica especially during songs such as Albion and Killamangiro. Australian player Brian Cain otherwise known as Indiana Phoenix mixes a range of playing techniques with modern equipment developed by playing with traditional acoustic guitar players to heavy rock and metal bands.

Other styles and regions

European harmonica player Philip Achille, who performs Irish, Classical, Jazz, Qawali and sufi music, has won jazz competitions and his classical performances have led to appearances on the BBC as well as ITV and Channel 4. Performers include French harmonicist Nikki Gadout, and Germans Steve Baker and the late Johnny Müller (who played the title melody of the Winnetou-movies). The Brazilian Flávio Guimarães performs a variety of styles. From France Yvonnick Prene plays jazz on chromatic harmonica.

In Nashville, P. T. Gazell has an influential style, as does Charlie McCoy, an American music harmonicist. Irish stylists include John and Pip Murphy, Noel Battle, Austin Berry, James Conway, Andy Irvine, Mick Kinsella, Brendan Power, Joel Bernstein, Don Meade, Paul Moran and Rick Epping. Peter "Madcat" Ruth maintains a website that links to the sites of contemporary players around the world. Wade Schuman, founder of the group Hazmat Modine, has fused overblowing with older traditional styles and middle European harmonies.

East Asia

In 1898, the harmonica was brought to Japan, where the Tremolo harmonica was the most popular instrument. After about 30 years, the Japanese developed scale tuning and semitone harmonicas to be able to perform Japanese folk songs.

Harmonica music started to develop in Hong Kong in the 1930s. Individual tremolo harmonica players from China moved to Hong Kong to set up different harmonica organizations such as The Chinese Y.M.C.A. Harmonica Orchestra, the China Harmonica Society,[9] and the Heart String Harmonica Society. In the 1950s, chromatic harmonica became popular in Hong Kong, and players such as Larry Adler and John Sebastian were invited to perform.

Local players such as Lau Mok (劉牧) and Fung On (馮安) promoted the chromatic harmonica. In the Chinese Y.M.C.A. Harmonica Orchestra, the chromatic harmonica gradually became the main instrument. The Chinese YMCA Harmonica Orchestra started in the 1960s, with 100 members, most of whom played harmonicas.[10] Non-harmonica instruments were also used, such as double bass, accordion, piano, and percussion such as timpani and xylophone.

In the 1970s, the Haletone Harmonica Orchestra (曉彤口琴隊)[11] was set up at Wong Tai Sin Community Centre. Fung On and others continued to teach harmonica and also set up harmonica orchestras. In the 1980s, the number of harmonica learners decreased steadily. In the 1990s, harmonica players in Hong Kong began to participate in international harmonica competitions, including the World Harmonica Festival in Germany and the Asia Pacific Harmonica Festival. In the 2000s, the Hong Kong Harmonica Association (H.K.H.A.) (香港口琴協會)[12] was established.

The history of the harmonica in Taiwan began around 1945. By the 1980s, though, as living standards increased, many instruments that were once too expensive to buy could be bought by the Taiwanese in preference to the harmonica.

Medical use

Playing the harmonica requires inhaling and exhaling strongly against resistance. This action helps develop a strong diaphragm and deep breathing using the entire lung volume. Pulmonary specialists have noted that playing the harmonica resembles the kind of exercise used to rehabilitate COPD patients such as using a PFLEX inspiratory muscle trainer or the inspiratory spirometer. Learning to play a musical instrument also offers motivation in addition to the exercise component. Many pulmonary rehabilitation programs therefore have begun to incorporate the harmonica.[13][14][15][16] Harmonicist Frédéric Yonnet suffered from childhood asthma and credits the harmonica for helping him manage his asthma through adulthood.[citation needed]


The World Harmonica Festival is held in the autumn every four years in Trossingen, Germany, home of the Hohner harmonica company. The last World Harmonica Festival was in 2009, and a harmonica workshop is held every year.[17] The Asia Pacific Harmonica Festival is held regularly; in 2008 it was hosted by China.

In Hong Kong, Schools Music Festival is held every year for school students to compete in different music classes. Harmonica classes include band for primary and secondary schools, ensemble for secondary school, duet for secondary school, solo (junior, intermediate, and senior), and concert work (open).

Every August there is a harmonica contest in Idaho. The contest has been running since 1989. The contest is held in Yellow Pine about 150 miles outside of Boise, Idaho and is called the Yellow Pine Harmonica Contest.[18]

Related instruments

The concertina, diatonic and chromatic accordions and the melodica are all free-reed instruments that developed alongside the harmonica. Indeed, the similarities between harmonicas and so-called "diatonic" accordions or melodeons is such that in German the name for the former is "Mundharmonika" and the later "Handharmonika," which translate as "mouth harmonica" and "hand harmonica." In Scandinavian languages, an accordion is simply called "harmonika," whereas a harmonica is a "mundharmonika" (mouth harmonica). The names for the two instruments in the Slavic languages are also either similar or identical. The harmonica shares similarities to all other free-reed instruments by virtue of the method of sound production.

The glass harmonica has the word "harmonica" in its name, but it is not related to free-reed instruments. The glass harmonica is a musical instrument formed from a nested set of graduated glass cups mounted sideways on an axle. Each of the glass cups is tuned to a different note, and they are arranged in a scalar order. It is played by touching the rotating cups with wetted fingers, causing them to vibrate and produce a sustained "singing" tone.



Tabulature notation (often abbreviated as "tab") is a method of writing melodies by indicating where the notes are played on the instrument, rather than by indicating the pitches with circles and note heads printed on a staff, as with standard notation. One of the advantages of tab is that it can be easier for performers without formal training to learn, because the notation directly indicates where to play the note.

While tab is most often associated with fretted stringed instruments such as the guitar, tab is also used with other instruments such as the organ and harmonica.

There are many harmonica tab systems in use. A simple tab system appears as follows:

Diatonic Harmonica tab:

 2  = blow the 2 hole < Also: +2 >
-2  = draw the 2 hole
-2' = draw the 2 hole with a half bend < Also -2b >
-2" = draw the 2 hole with a full bend < Also -2bb>

Chords are shown by grouping notes with parentheses

(2 3) = blow the 2 hole and the 3 hole at the same time

Chromatic Harmonica tab:

  2 = blow the 2 hole
 -2 = draw the 2 hole
 <2 = blow the 2 hole with the button in
<-2 = draw the 2 hole with the button in

Text Tab[19] is another common type of harmonica tablature. It indicates when a player should "blow" or "draw" on a note by appending a letter suffix (B for blow or D for draw) to the appropriate harmonica hole number. Text Tab is used by harmonica instructors such as Dave Gage and Jon Gindick. It can be found on their websites and books and web forums.

Harmonica tab is usually aligned with lyrics to show the tune and the timing, and usually states the key of the harmonica required for the song.

Complete example of harmonica tab:

Cockles And Mussels (Molly Malone):
6  7  7     7    7 8   7     -8    -8  -8 -8  -9
In Dublin's fair city, where girls are so pretty,
-8 9    9   9  9     9  7     -8 8  7 -8
I first set my sight on sweet Molly Malone.
6   7   7 7   7  8    7   -8    -8     -8 -9
She was a fishmonger, and she'd stroll along,
8   8    9  8    7   9  8     7 -8   8 -8   7
Singing "Cockles And Mussels, Alive, Alive, Oh."
6 7   7 7   -8 8  7 -8  -8 -8 -8 8
Alive alive oh-oh Alive alive oh-oh
7   7   9   8   7   9  8    7 -8  8 -8  7
Singing Cockles and Mussels alive alive oh

Regular notation

Below the sheet music manuscript, there will be the number (sometimes inside a circle) with an arrow beneath that number. An upwards arrow means to blow, and a downwards arrow means to draw. Bend notes will have a curved arrow, slightly to the left for a flat half tone, and a long one for a full bend. (For a sharp bend, the arrows will point to the right).

Notable performers

See also



  1. ^ Willy, B. "Harmonica 101". http://www.davidpatrone.com/Literature/Harmonica101.htm. 
  2. ^ a b "Mark Lavoie - Harmonica Player ... and more," The Middlebury Community Network
  3. ^ Weinstein, Randy F. and William Melton. The Complete Idiot's Guide to Playing the Harmonica. ISBN 0028642414. 
  4. ^ (a pun on the inventor's surname and 成功, or "success," pronounced "chenggong" in Mandarin Chinese) harmonica, invented by Cheng Xuexue 程雪學 of China.
  5. ^ Missin, P. "ChengGong harmonica". http://www.patmissin.com/gallery/gallery03.html. 
  6. ^ Conny Restle: In aller Munde, S. 43, Staatl. Institut für Musikforschung, Berlin 2003.
  7. ^ http://www.hohnerusa.com/ahistory.htm
  8. ^ http://books.google.com/books?id=YyEDAAAAMBAJ&pg=RA1-PA244&lpg=RA1-PA244&dq=Finn+Haakon+Magnus&source=bl&ots=kYehT3zxkD&sig=FBKN1OxaVI_PhJEjOZGp0qbPJuc&hl=en&ei=ELIXTIeKFsG88ga_5JytCQ&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=4&ved=0CCAQ6AEwAw#v=onepage&q=Finn%20Haakon%20Magnus&f=false
  9. ^ (中國口琴社)
  10. ^ The violin and viola were replaced by 12-hole and 16-hole chromonicas; cello by chord harmonica, contra bass and octave bass; double bass by octave bass; flute by pipe soprano; clarinet by pipe alto; trumpet by horn soprano; trombone by horn alto; oboe by melodica soprano; English horn by melodica alto; French horn by melodica professional.
  11. ^ http://www.haletone.com/introeng.html
  12. ^ http://www.hkharmonica.org/index.php
  13. ^ "Harmonica For Fun & Health Classes". Harmonica Masterclass. http://www.harmonicamasterclass.com/pulm.htm. 
  14. ^ "When breathing needs a tune-up, harmonica class hits all the right notes" (Press release). University of Michigan. September 28, 2005. http://www.med.umich.edu/opm/newspage/2005/hmharmonica.htm. 
  15. ^ "Pulmonologists Treat Breath Shortness with Harmonica Classes". American Institute of Physics. January 1, 2006. http://www.aip.org/dbis/stories/2006/15114.html. 
  16. ^ "Using the Harmonica in Physical Therapy. (This will be useful in cheerleading practice.)". KYW Newsradio 1060. http://www.kyw1060.com/content_page.php?contentType=4&contentId=151980. 
  17. ^ A report of the 2005 World Harmonica Festival by David Barrett.
  18. ^ Yellow Pine Harmonica Contest website.
  19. ^ http://www.harmonicalessons.com/tabs.html


External links

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • HARMONICA — Se présentant comme une petite boîte rectangulaire, de longueur variable, l’harmonica est formé de la juxtaposition d’un certain nombre de petits canaux contenant chacun deux languettes ou anches libres métalliques dont l’une vibre lorsque l’on… …   Encyclopédie Universelle

  • Harmonica — Har*mon i*ca ( [i^]*k[.a]), n. [Fem. fr. L. harmonicus harmonic. See {Harmonic}, n. ] 1. A musical instrument, consisting of a series of hemispherical glasses which, by touching the edges with the dampened finger, give forth the tones; it is now… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • harmônica — s. f. 1. Pequeno instrumento de música em que o som é produzido por lâminas de metal que se põem em vibração ao soprar e ao aspirar; gaita de beiços. 2. Órgão portátil. 3. Marimba. 4. Acordeão. 5. O mesmo que harmônio. 6. O mesmo que filarmônica …   Dicionário da Língua Portuguesa

  • harmónica — s. f. 1. Pequeno instrumento de música em que o som é produzido por lâminas de metal que se põem em vibração ao soprar e ao aspirar; gaita de beiços. 2. Órgão portátil. 3. Marimba. 4. Acordeão. 5. O mesmo que harmônio. 6. O mesmo que filarmônica …   Dicionário da Língua Portuguesa

  • harmonica — 1762, coined by Ben Franklin as the name for a glass harmonica, from L. fem. of harmonicus (see HARMONIC (Cf. harmonic)); modern sense of mouth organ is 1873, Amer.Eng., earlier harmonicon (1825) …   Etymology dictionary

  • harmonica — ☆ harmonica [här män′i kə ] n. [L, fem. of harmonicus (see HARMONIC): name altered < earlier armonica (< It, fem. of armonico, of same orig.) by FRANKLIN2 Benjamin, who developed this instrument from an earlier form] 1. a small wind… …   English World dictionary

  • Harmonica — Harmonica, s. Harmonika …   Pierer's Universal-Lexikon

  • Harmonica — Harmonica, ein aus gestimmten Glasglocken bestehendes Instrument, welche auf einer Spindel dicht an einander gereiht sind. Wenn diese Glocken angefeuchtet und in Umschwung gebracht, mit den Fingern sanft berührt werden, so geben sie einen… …   Damen Conversations Lexikon

  • Harmonica — Harmonica, ein 1761 von Benjam. Franklin erfundenes Instrument, bestehend aus einer Anzahl gläserner Halbkugeln, die vermittelst eines kleinen Loches in ihrer Mitte an einer eisernen Walze befestigt sind. Diese Glasglocken, regelmäßig an Größe… …   Herders Conversations-Lexikon

  • Harmonica —   [englisch, hɑː mɔnɪkə], Mundharmonika …   Universal-Lexikon

  • harmonica — ► NOUN ▪ a small rectangular wind instrument with a row of metal reeds capable of producing different notes …   English terms dictionary

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