The harmonica is a versatile and fun instrument to learn to play and is used in many different music genres. Also known as a mouth harp, the harmonica is an instrument that is played by musicians worldwide for the unique sound it produces. Read on to learn about the history of the harmonica, the makeup of the instrument, the anatomy of a good starter harmonica and some of the basics of how learning the harmonica for beginners. In no times, you might even learn to play the blues!
There are multiple benefits for learning how to play the harmonica. First of all, it is compact, so you can carry and play it anywhere. In addition, studies have shown that students who take music lessons score higher on memory and mathematical tests. They also tend to have higher IQ results.
More than that, there are also emotional benefits, as well. Having a talent or skill helps to build both pride and self-confidence. It might also encourage further creativity and exploration. In addition, it can relieve stress, which may lower your heart rate and blood pressure. When you are facing obstacles, playing the harmonica can take your mind off of any of your present issues. Now, there’s nothing wrong with that, is there?
History of the Harmonica
Free reed wind instruments were developed in Europe around the 1820’s. Prior to that time, similar and precursor free reed instruments were commonly used in Asia. At around the same time, free reed musical instruments were also seen in the North America and South America.
A true harmonica was first seen in 1824 in Vienna and was used in classical music. The instrument was copied soon thereafter and by the end of the 1820’s, the harmonica was being produced for commercial sale. A producer began shipping their harmonicas to the United States in the late 1850’s, and their popularity rose from there.
The Anatomy of a Harmonica
A basic harmonica is made up of three parts; the comb, reed plate and the cover plates. Each is of critical importance to the design and tune of the instrument. The comb is the main internal body of the harmonica. It is the ladder-like piece inside the instrument that has air chambers that cover the reeds, which produce the music. This vital component is named the comb because in early versions of the harmonica, this piece very closely resembled combs of that time period.
The reed plate is the piece the air passes over to make the music. Despite what the name implies, the reed plate is not made of reed, but rather most frequently from brass. It is a brass plate with appropriately spaced reeds affixed in place to align with the air chambers on the comb.
The cover plates are the more decorative pieces of the instrument which cover the reed plates and comb. Most harmonicas have metal cover plates, but wood and plastic cover plates are seen occasionally, as well. Most musicians prefer the metal cover plates because of the quality of the music it makes. Wood and plastic cover plates change that tone, often not for the better.
Choosing a Beginner Harmonica
There are many harmonica’s available in music stores today, but most teachers advise that a beginner learn on a ten-hole harmonica in the key of C, also known as a “C” harp. A harmonica that has ten holes and plays in the key that it’s tuned to, such as the key of C, is also known as a diatonic harmonica. A diatonic harmonica in the key of C generally sounds nicer and is complimentary to many styles and genres of music, allowing you to practice playing along with some of your favorite music. You will need something with the quality to help you bend notes.
When selecting a starter harmonica, always purchase a new instrument. Germs collect in the harmonica and should not be shared between two musicians. Also, resist the urge to buy the least expensive instrument. You truly do get what you pay for when purchasing a harmonica, so starting with an instrument around $20 or more will give you a much better learning experience from the start. As your learning progresses, try different styles and brands to see which suit you best and give the best sound quality. Also, it’s easier to justify spending more on an instrument when you know that you will use it to the best of its ability.
Learning to Play
Start by holding your new diatonic harmonica in your non- writing hand. Be sure the numbers are on the top of the instrument with the number one all the way to the left. Moisten and relax your lips, open your mouth and gently place the instrument between your lips. Keeping your lips relaxed and not puckered, slightly tilt the instrument so that the side not touching your lips angles slightly towards the ceiling. Be sure the harmonica is making contact with the inside of the lower lip. Imagine how impressed you would be when you can start playing easy tunes.
Begin playing by gently blowing into the instrument. Try breathing in and notice the different sound the harmonica makes. Practice this several times, noting the different sounds when you move left and right on the instrument. As you become more comfortable, you can learn the notes as well as commonly used techniques such as playing chords, tongue blocking, lip blocking and more. You can also practice breathing exercises to give more strength to your playing.
Learning to play the harmonica for beginners can be a simple, fun and relaxing hobby. After picking up the basics, one of the best ways to improve your skills is to find a group of other harmonica players and play along with them. This allows you to learn their tricks and to see firsthand how others play the instrument. In time and with practice, your skills will improve, and you’ll be the one helping new players learn harmonica basics. Not to mention, you’ll have years ahead of you to enjoy this timeless treasure of harmonica playing.