The harmonica has, with good reason, been regarded as an ideal instrument for beginning musicians, especially children. It is much less expensive than most other instruments, requires very little maintenance, does not have to be tuned every time you play it, and can be easily mastered with no prior knowledge of music.
But these advantages have also proved to be the harmonica’s downfall. Since it is an excellent amateur’s instrument, all too many musicians assume the harmonica is only an amateur’s instrument. Not true! Consider the number of accomplished blues and country harmonica professionals. With the same discipline and attention to detail you would apply to any other instrument, you can excel in harmonica. So where do you start?
Choosing a Harmonica
First you’ll need a harmonica; but don’t just go out and buy the first one that catches your eye. Some harmonicas have a sound that admittedly justifies the “child’s toy” stereotype. Others are very stiff and hard to play, particularly for beginners.
The Hohner Blues Harp is an excellent choice because it plays easily and has a very forgiving nature. As a beginner, you’ll find this harmonica makes learning new techniques about as simple as it gets. However, the Blues Harp also has a bright, clear sound that will take you well beyond the beginner level.
Its biggest downside is the comb, the piece sandwiched between the two metal cover plates. The Blues Harp has a wooden comb which can feel a bit rough on your tongue, but if you’ve never played a plastic-combed harmonica it probably won’t bother you.
Your next best bet when buying a harmonica is the Hohner Old Standby. While its action isn’t quite as easy, it still sounds good and strong, albeit mellower and a little more muffled than the Blues Harp. You might find that you prefer a mellow-sounding harmonica. One other feature of the Old Standby is the plastic comb, which gives you a smooth playing surface.
Finally, whatever harmonica you decide on, you’ll want to purchase one in the key of C. You will find that most instruction books are written for a harmonica in the key of C.