12 Harmonica

Wanting to learn the harmonica?

I'm wanting to learn how to play harmonica, and I have two questions. What key do most begginers start with? And what key are most songs played in, is it the same? I'm wanting to learn really simple, like Sweet Perfection by NeverShoutNever. Thanks!

Most beginners start with a harp in C. Partly because most tutorials are in C and partly because most very low priced harmonicas only come in C. It really doesn't matter much though unless you're playing along with a tutorial or with a teacher.

"Most songs" are in any of the 12 possible key signatures. There's probably some research somewhere to tell us what is the highest percentage but reality is that it doesn't matter much unless you're playing along with a recording - you can play it in any key you'd like and it's just in a different key but still the same song.

We do know that folk songs tend to be in C - because that's an easy key to record them in western notation in and because many folk instruments play in C and because it's the easiest key to transpose from at sight.

We know that guitar players like to play in G D E and A and fiddle players (therefor bluegrass) like E and A a lot.

Horn players like to play in F and Bb and so a lot of jazz music is in the simpler flat keys.

It seems to me that blues likes E and A a lot too. Though D isn't all that unheard of either.

Now, a kink in your decision process. We tend to play tunes/melodies like folksongs in straightharp (first position) so whatever the harp is marked is the key it's in. BUT we play blues, country, rock, etc... (three chord trick) in crossharp (second position) so whatever key your harp says we play a perfect fifth above that. ie: a C harp is used for playing in G crossharp and a D harp is used for playing in A crossharp.

So, if you want to play crossharp in E then you need a harp in A. If you want to play crossharp in C then you need a harp in F.

There are other positions too - we can play a relative natural minor for example such that a C harp gives us A minor. (the major sixth of the straight harp is the relative minor) and then there are modes... TMI at this point.

Bottom line (though many people won't agree for a variety of reasons) is to get a decent harp (Marine Band, Special 20, Blues Harp, Lee Oskar) in C to start and grow your set from there according to what you need for what you want to play. C plays G crossharp and guitar players like that key a lot - they can play along for you. You need 12 harmonicas (or a chromatic) to play in every key but some keys are pretty scarce indeed.

straight = cross (commonness of the crossharp key in performance)
G=D (very common)
Ab = Eb (not uncommon)
A=E (very common)
Bb=F (not uncommon)
B=F#/Gb (rare)
C=G (very common)
Db/C# = G#/Ab (fairly rare)
D=A (very common)
Eb=Bb (not uncommon)
E=B (uncommon)
F=C (very common)
F#/Gb = C#/Db (rare)

Notice that the C harp is in the middle of the range too - it's neither low and hard to blow or high and hard on the ears. But D is right there too and it has similar tone properties. Some people say it's easier to bend.

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