Hohner 10

how easy is it to learn the harmonica?

hey guys i want to learn a quick and easy instrument that i can just pick up and learn to play some of my favourite songs on relativly quickly. i am quite a musical person and have played the piano and saxophone for a long period of time in the past, but i was just wondering how easy the harmonica is to pick up and start to get relativly decent at after a while, thanks for your time, all answers appreciated, thanks :)

Since you already play an instrument, you'd think it'd come really easy. Wrong thought! The scale of a harmonica isn't the same diatonic scale pattern we're used to on other instruments. The whole bottom of the instrument is scaled to play chords so getting a melody down there isn't intuitive and causes most sax (and other horn players) to put it in a drawer out of frustration.

I'll help you eliminate a year of frustration (if you even keep it up a year while frustrated); DON'T do any blues harp or YouTube tutorials yet. Trust me - just wait. Don't read a lesson book, don't take any lessons. Yet...

Get a harmonica (any Hohner 10-hole diatonic will do) and start on hole 4. Ignore 1,2,3 for now.

Play 4 blow, 4 draw, 5 blow, 5 draw, 6 blow, 6 draw, 7 draw, 7 blow [yes, those two draw notes are next to each other]

That's a major scale in the key of your harmonica. Play it over-and-over until you get muscle memory of where those pitches are. Now hunt out every old folk song/kiddie tune you can think of. That'll further build your muscle memory. For many musicians with training already, this will take about an afternoon and for some it will take about 20 minutes.

Once you've found the scale then get hold of some lesson material about catching single pitches (I use pursing, some use tongue blocking) and about "blues harp" technique. It will all suddenly make plenty of sense. The key is that the scale you're used to finding on an instrument is on hole 4 and that the pattern is blow, draw, blow, draw, blow, draw, draw, blow (C D E F G A B C) - the other key is that the harmonica is a diatonic. You have to blow flat or sharp to get accidentals on it. (the exception is a chromatic harp that has a sharping lever for each pitch)

If you're mostly interested in playing melodies (as opposed to chord vamping the "three chord trick" and blues improv) then consider a solo tuned diatonic (Marine Band 364S or any of the Asian tremolos) or a chromatic. The solo-tuned scale follows the major scale pattern for the entire instrument from hole 1. Much better for playing melodic lines - not so hot for blowing chords (though some people do it). For now though, any 10-hole diatonic will work just fine. I personally like the Hohner Golden Melody as a great sax player melodic harp. I like the Marine Band 1896 for "blues style" playing and improv. [many folks suggest the Special 20 for beginners because it has a plastic comb. It's the same harp as a Marine Band except for the comb.]

How easy is it? It depends on whether it clicks in your head. Many wind players find it really hard because it doesn't follow the sort of intuitive pattern you're used to. Others find it very easy once your head recognizes where all of the notes are.

It was designed for exactly what you describe - quick and easy. It's a folk instrument.

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