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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia


A harmonica is a free reed musical wind instrument. It has multiple, variably-tuned brass or bronze reeds, each secured at one end over an airway slot of like dimension into which it can freely vibrate. Doing so interrupts an airstream repeatedly to produce sound.

Unlike most free reed instruments (such as reed organs, accordions and melodicas), the harmonica lacks a keyboard. Instead, the player selects the notes by placement of his or her mouth over the proper airways, usually made up of discrete holes in the front of the instrument. Each hole communicates with one or more reeds, depending on the type of harmonica. Because a reed mounted above a slot is made to vibrate more easily by air from above, reeds accessed by a mouthpiece hole often may be selected further by choice of breath direction (blowing, drawing). Some harmonicas, primarily chromatic harmonica, also include a spring-loaded button-actuated slide that, when depressed, redirects the airflow.

The harmonica is commonly used in blues and folk music, but also in jazz, classical music, country music, rock and roll and pop music. Increasingly, the harmonica is finding its place in more electronically generated music, such as dance and hip-hop, as well as funk and acid jazz.

The harmonica is also known as a mouth organ, mouth harp, Hobo Harp, French harp, harpoon, tin sandwich, blues harp, Mississippi saxophone, or simply harp.

Parts of the harmonica

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

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. Combs were traditionally made of wood, but plastic (ABS) and metal combs are more common nowadays. The comb contains the air chambers which cover the reeds — the name "comb" comes from the fact that in simple harmonicas it does indeed resemble a hair comb. In some designs, however, the comb is in fact very complex in arranging how the air is directed, particularly in more modern and experimental designs.

There is much debate about whether the comb's material has an effect on the tone of the harmonica or not. While this has traditionally been the assumption, several recent attempts at blind testing have not been able to show that people can hear a difference when comb material is the only variable, and the main advantage one comb material truly have over another one is usually its durability. In particular, a wooden comb can absorb moisture from the player's breath and contact with the tongue, causing the comb to expand slightly, making the instrument uncomfortable to play. Conversely, some players used to deliberately soak their wooden-combed hamonicas to cause a slight expansion which was intended to make the seal between the comb, reed plates and covers more airtight. More modern wooden-combed harmonicas however, are less prone to swelling and contracting.


Reed-plate is the term for a grouping of several free-reeds in a single housing. The reeds are usually made of brass, but occasionally steel and aluminium have been used, as well as plastic. These individual reeds are usually riveted to the reed-plate, but they may also be welded or screwed in place (a notable exception 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). Reeds fixed on the inside (within the comb's air chamber) of the reed-plate respond to pressure 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, however a few brands still use the traditional method of nailing the reed-plates to the comb.

Again, the Magnus design had the reeds, reed-plates and comb all out of plastic and either molded together or permanently glued together. Some experimental and rare harmonicas also have the reed-plates held in place by tension, such as the WWII era all-American models.

If the plates are bolted to the comb, it can be possible to replace the reed plates individually. This is useful, as the reeds eventually go out of tune through normal use, and certain notes of the scale can fail more quickly than others.

Cover plates

The cover-plates cover the reed-plates and are usually made of metal, although wood and plastic have also been used. As pointed out previously, the choice of these is extremely personal. As they project the sound, they determine the tonal quality of the harmonica. There two types: the traditional open designs of stamped metal or plastic are simply there to be held, while the enclosed design (such as Hohner Meisterklass and Super 64, Suzuki Promaster and SCX) offer a louder tonal quality. From these two, a few modern designs are spawned, such as the Hohner CBH-2016 chromatic and the Suzuki Overdrive diatonic, which have complex covers which allow for specific functions not usually available in the traditional design. Similarly, 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 and the like.

Other parts

Windsavers are one-way valves made from very thin strips of plastic, knit paper, leather, or teflon glued onto the reed-plate. Windsavers, typically found in Chromatic harmonicas, Chord harmonicas, and many Octave-tuned harmonicas, 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 blow reed-slot is sucked shut, preventing air from leaking through the inactive blow reed. An exception is the recent Hohner XB-40 where valves are placed not to isolate single reeds but rather to isolate entire chambers from being active.

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

It should also be noted that among players, the brand that one chooses usually is based on one's ability to play, the pliability of the reeds, sound of the instrument, and, surprisingly, price. Many feel that the best harmonicas are more expensively priced, though many skilled players feel that price and quality are not related.

Harmonica types

Chromatic harmonica

Main article: chromatic harmonica
Hohner Super-Chromatic harmonica, a typical 12-hole chromatic.
Hohner Super-Chromatic harmonica, 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 desired, which allows the musician to play any keys that he desired with only one harmonica. This harp can be used for any style, be it Celtic, Classical, Jazz, blues (commonly in third position), as well as many other styles. A modern example of its use across these styles is musician Philip Achille.

Diatonic harmonicas

Tremolo Harmonica

Main article: tremolo harmonica
A tremolo harmonica.
A tremolo harmonica.

The tremolo harmonica's distinguishing feature is having two reeds per note, with one a bit sharp and the other a bit flat. This gives 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. The Asian version, which has all the notes on it, is the common variety employed in Asia, and is used in all East-Asian music, from rock to pop music.

Blues harp

Main article: blues harp
10-hole harmonicas.
10-hole harmonicas.

The 10-hole, or richter tuned harmonica, is the most widely known type of harmonica. It has ten holes which offer the player 19 notes (10 holes times a draw and a blow for each hole minus one repeated note) in a three octave range. This is the type commonly used in blues, country and rock music. The reeds of Diatonic harmonicas produce the notes of the scale to which they are tuned. For example, a diatonic harmonica tuned to the key of C would produce the natural notes of the C scale without sharps and flats (picture the white keys on a piano, without the black keys). Each hole has two reeds; one plays when breath is exhaled (blow) and the other when inhaled (draw). The individual reeds are each tuned to play a different note on the scale.

There are other ways to get more notes on the 10-holed diatonic “Richter” tuned Harmonica. One of the specialties of such a small instrument is its ability to get way more than 19 notes. The 10-holed diatonic Harmonica has the ability to get 42 notes, (including 4 repeats), ending up with a complete 3 chromatic octave range, plus an extra 2 half steps on the high end. To do this, requires using special techniques such as bending and overblowing. See the article on Harmonica techniques for a more complete discussion.

Octave harmonica

Octave harmonica
Octave harmonica

Octave harmonicas have two reeds per hole. The two reeds are tuned to the same note a perfect octave apart. Many share their basic design with the tremolo harmonica explained above and are built upon this "Wiener system" of construction. Octave harmonicas also come in what is called the "Knittlinger system". In this design the top and bottom reed-plates contain all of the blow and draw notes for either to lower or higher pitched set of reeds. The comb is constructed so that the blow and draw reeds on each reed-plate are paired side-by-side in a single chamber in the same manner as on a standard diatonic but that the top and bottom pairs each have their own chamber. Thus, in a C harmonica the higher pitched C blow and D draw found in the first "hole" would be placed side-by-side on the upper reed-plate and share a single chamber in the comb and the lower pitched C blow and D draw would be placed side-by-side on the bottom reed-plate and share a single chamber directly below the higher pitched pair of reeds' chamber. Knittlinger octave harmonicas are also called "concert" harmonicas and are almost always tuned in a variation of the traditional major diatonic with chords tuning found in diatonic harmonicas. Octave harmonicas built in the "Wiener system" may be tuned either in this traditional method or in the same manner as the Asian tremolos mentioned above.

An interesting variation upon the Knittlinger octave harmonica is the so-called "half-concert" harmonica. This is not an octave harmonica at all, but rather a single-note diatonic harmonica which is built with a single reed-plate rather than the standard two--essentially it is one half of the standard octave harmonica.

Orchestral harmonicas

These harmonicas are primarily designed for use in ensemble playing.

Orchestral Melody harmonica

There are two kinds of orchestral melody harmonica: the most common is the Horn harmonicas, as called in Asia, which are mostly 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, and the instrument mimics the layout of a piano or mallet instrument, with the natural notes of a C diatonic scale available from the lower reed-plate and the sharps/flats from the upper reed-plate in groups of two and three holes with gaps in-between (thus there is no E#/Fb hole nor a B#/Cb hole on the upper reed-plate). These are available in several pitch ranges, with the lowest pitched starting two-octaves below middle C and the highest beginning on middle C itself. These usually cover a two or three octave range. These are usually played in an East Asian harmonica orchestra, using these instruments instead of the chromatic harmonica, and often serve to function in place of brass section—hence it was called horn harmonica in Asia.

The other type of orchestral melodic harmonica is the Polyphonias, which are designed with all twelve chromatic notes laid out on the same row; usually, both blow and draw will have the same tone. This allows songs that require a rapid pace, such as Flight of the Bumble Bee, to be played (as one does not need to switch airflow), but more commonly it was used to make glissandos and other effects very easy to play--few acoustic instruments can play a chromatic glissando as fast as a Polyphonia.

Bass harmonica

The Bass harmonica consists of two separate combs joined together one atop the other with moveable connectors at their ends. These are all-blow instruments covering much the same range as the viola family Double Bass. Those made today are all octave tuned, in that each hole has two reeds one of which plays the bass note and the other a note an octave higher. The lower comb contains the notes of the C major diatonic scale, while the upper comb contains the notes of a C#(Db) diatonic scale.

See the fuller description at:

Chord harmonica

The chord harmonica has 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, but less expensive models often have only one reed per note.

In addition to these, quite a few orchestra harmonicas are also designed to serve both as a bass and chord harmonica, with bass notes next to chord groupings. There were also other chord harmonicas, such as Chordomonica (operate similar to a chromatic harmonica), and junior chord harmonicas (Typically provide 6 chords)

ChengGong Harmonica

A recent innovation in the harmonica is the ChengGong 程功 (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. It has two parts: the 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 available). Yet, the ChengGong is still capable of playing single note melodies and double stops over a range of three diatonic octaves, all the while maintaining a small profile, not much larger than a 12-hole chromatic. Also, unlike conventional harmonicas, blowing and drawing produce the same notes. In this way, its tuning is closer to the note layout of a typical Asian tremolo harmonica or the Polyphonias. [1]

The Pitch Pipe

Main article: pitch pipe

The pitch pipe is essentially a specialty harmonica which is designed not for playing music as such but for giving a reference pitch to singers and other instruments. Notably, the only difference between some early pitch-pipes and harmonicas is the name of the instrument, reflecting the maker's target audience.

Harmonica techniques

Main article: Harmonica techniques

There are numerous techniques available for harmonica; some are used to provide additional tonal dynamics. Some, however, are used to increase playing ability, allow what originally is a diatonic instrument that can play one key properly, into a versatile instrument. Techniques used include bending, overbending, overdrawing and position playing.


The harmonica developed from the intense interests in free-reeds which arose in Europe in the early 19th century. While free-reeds had been fairly common throughout East Asia for centuries (see the Sheng) and relatively well-known in Europe for some time before this period, around 1820 there was a virtual eruption of new free-reed designs in Europe and North America. While Christian Friederich Ludwig Buschmann is often cited as the inventor of the harmonica in 1821, it was almost certainly a case of simultaneous development amongst several inventors working independently but knowing from each other to some extent with mouth-blown free-reed instruments appearing in the United States, the United Kingdom and on the continent at roughly the same time. Early Aeolines had no jet chambers added.

Early harmonicas

In Vienna, harmonicas with chambers were sold before 1824 (see also Anton Reinlein and Anton Haeckl). In Germany Mr. Meisel from Klingenthal did buy a harmonica with chambers (Kanzellen) at the Exhibition in Braunschweig in the year of 1824 Meisel und Langhammer. He and Langhammer in Graslitz copied the instruments and by 1827 they had produced hundreds of harmonicas. Many others followed in the same region of Germany and nearby in what would later become Czechoslovakia. In 1829 Johann Wilhelm Rudolph Glier also began making harmonicas. Richter tuning was in use nearly from the beginning. In 1830 Christan Messner from Trossingen, a cloth maker and weaver, copied a harmonica bought to Trosisngen from Vienna by his next door neighbor. He had such success that eventually his brother and some relatives also started to make harmonicas. From 1840 on, his nephew Christian Weiss was also involved in the business. So by 1855 two registered businesses were in existence, Christian Messner & Co. and Württ. Harmonikafabrik Ch. WEISS. See German wikipedia page about Christian Messner [2].

Forced trough the staring competition of harmonica Factory's in Trossingen and Klingenthal the first machines ware invented to punch Covers for the reeds. In 1857 Matt. Hohner, a clockmaker from Trossingen, started the production of Harmonicas, he was the first one who orders the wooden middle part from other firms that had machines to cut the parts. By 1868 he could deliver the first order to USA. Matthias Hohner became the first person to mass-produce it. Sometime by the 1820s, the diatonic harmonica had more or less found its modern form and the other diatonic and chromatic types followed soon thereafter (the various tremolo and octave harmonicas). By the late 19th century, harmonica production was big business and had evolved from a handcraft into mass-production with figures well into the millions, a status which continues to this day. New designs continued to be developed in the 20th century including the chromatic harmonica (first made by Hohner in 1924), the bass harmonica, the chord harmonica and others. Even in the 21st century radical new designs such as the Suzuki Overdrive and Hohner XB-40 continue to be brought to market.

The harmonica's massive success is attributable to many factors. First, it is a fairly easy instrument to begin to play some simple songs. Of course, some talent is necessary to play. The diatonic harmonicas were designed primarily for the playing of German and other European folk musics and are extremely successful for that. However, probably unintentionally the basic design and tuning was extremely adaptable to other types of music such as the blues, country, old-time and similar. Second, the majority of harmonicas are quite small--often small enough to unobtrusively fit in a pocket. Third, harmonicas are cheap - amongst the most inexpensive of musical instruments available while not being intended as a toy. Fourth, harmonicas are fairly easy to manufacture and their simple construction allowed for industrial level production without sacrificing the quality of a hand-crafted instrument, unlike most string instruments or other wind instruments. For these reasons the harmonica was a success almost from the very start of production, and while the center of the harmonica business has shifted from Germany the output of the various harmonica manufacturers is still very high indeed. Major companies are now found in Germany (Seydel, Hohner - once the dominant manufacturer in the world, producing some 20 million harmonicas alone in 1920 when German manufacturing totaled over 50 million harmonicas), Japan (Suzuki, Tombo, Yamaha), China (Huang, Leo Shi, Suzuki, Hohner) and Brasil (Hering). Ironically, as the demand for higher quality instruments which respond to more demanding performance techniques has increased, there has been a resurgence in the world of hand-crafted harmonicas which cater to those wanting the absolute best without the compromises inherent in mass manufacturing.

Europe and North America

Shortly after Hohner began manufacturing harmonicas in 1857, he shipped some to relatives who had emigrated to the United States. It rapidly became popular, and the country became an enormous market for Hohner's goods. President Abraham Lincoln carried a harmonica in his pocket [3], and harmonicas provided solace to soldiers on both the Union and Confederate sides of the United States 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 harmonica were made in the U.S. in the 1920s. These recordings are mainly 'race-records', intended for the black market of the southern states. They consist mainly of solo recordings (DeFord Bailey), duo recordings with a guitarist (Hammie Nixon, Walter Horton, Sonny Terry) or 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 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 the Afro-Americans started to become increasingly different there. The main difference is the electric amplification of the instrument: first the guitar and then the harp, double bass, vocals, etc. The original Sonny Boy Williamson is one of the most important harmonicist of this era. Using a full blues band, he became one of the most popular acts in the country due to his weekly broadcasts on the King Biscuit Hour, originating live from Helena, Arkansas. He also installed for good the cross-harp technique, opening the possibilities of harp playing to new sky. It is hard to imagine how much influence he would have had on the blues, if he had lived longer.

But the harmonica didn't die with him. A young harmonicist by the name of Marion "Little Walter" Jacobs would completely revolutionize the instrument. He had the idea to play the harmonica near a microphone (typically a "Bullet" microphone marketed for use by radio taxi dispatchers, giving it a "punchy" midrange sound that can be heard above radio static, or an electric guitar) and cup his hands around it, thus tightening the air around the harp, giving it a powerful, distorted sound, sometimes reminiscent of a saxophone. This technique, combined with a great virtuosity on the instrument made him arguably the most influential harmonicist in history. It is almost impossible nowadays to find a harp player who wasn't influenced by Walter. Unfortunately, Little Walter also died young, from injuries suffered in a fight.

Little Walter's only contender was perhaps Big Walter Horton. Relying less on the possibilities of amplification (although he made great use of it) than on sheer skill, Big Walter was the favored harmonicist of many Chicago leaders, including Willie Dixon. He graced many sides of Dixon's in the mid-fifties with extremely colorful solos, using the full register of his instrument as well as some chromatic harmonica. A major reason he is less known than Little Walter is because of his taciturn personality and his inconsistency, and his incapacity of holding a band as a leader. Walter "Big Walter" Horton, also known as "Shakey," was also a player on arguably the most exciting 12 bars of recorded harp on the classic Jimmie Rodgers "Walkin' By Myself" on Chess (1957).

Other great harmonicists have graced the Chicago blues records of the 1950s. Howling Wolf is often overlooked as a harp player, but his 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 very talkative feel to his harp playing. A number of his compositions have also become standards in the blues world. Sonny Boy Williamson II, or Rice Miller, had a powerful sound and extended his influence on the young British blues rockers in the 1960's, recording with Eric Clapton and The Yardbirds and appearing on live British television. Stevie Wonder taught himself harmonica at age 5 and plays the instrument on many of his recordings. Jimmy Reed played harmonica on most of his iconic blues shuffle recordings.

The 1960s and 1970s saw the harmonica become less prominent as the electric guitar became the favorite instrument for solos. Paul Butterfield is perhaps the most well known harp player of the era in the blues arena. Heavily influenced by Little Walter, he pushed further the virtuosity on the harp. However, he rapidly fell into drugs and alcohol and, after his first four albums, his career became stagnant.

Two journeymen Chicago harmonica players were perhaps the most regarded of this era - both associated with the Muddy Waters Band, and both featured on the classic Vanguard release "Chicago: The Blues Today! Vol.'s 1-3" James Cotton and Junior Wells. Cotton, still playing in 2006 although with greatly diminished vocal powers, was the most energetic harp player of his time and specialized in slow, magnificent note-bends, along with vocals, heavily influenced by Bobby "Blue" Bland. Wells was the most economical of the harp masters, clearly a student of Sonny Boy Williamson II, and used the harp to create an atmosphere of tension and release. A respected blues singer, his recordings and live playing with his partner, blues guitarist Buddy Guy, defined the sixties and seventies blues scene (for a detailed account of their live performances, read "Satchmo Blows Up the World" by Penny M. Von Eschen, an account of the State Department tours that Junior and Buddy were involved in during this time).

Bob Dylan also famously played his harmonica to add a touch of blues to his folk and rock sound during this era. Dylan was known for placing his harmonicas in a brace so that he could simultaneously blow the harp and strum his guitar. George "Mojo" Buford, Jerry Portnoy, Lazy Lester, Corky Siegel, Sugar Blue, Charlie Musslewhite, Kim Wilson, Taj Mahal, Slim Harpo , Al "Blind Owl" Wilson of Canned Heat, John Sebastian of The Lovin' Spoonful (whose father was also a harmonica star in the Larry Adler classical harmonica days), and others all contributed originality and creativity to the recorded history of the blues harmonica. Many rock enthusiasts are heavily sentimental about the brief recorded harmonica life of Beatle John Lennon, who played it on the 1962 Top #1 International hit "Love Me Do". It is often said that Lennon was taught harmonica by Delbert McClinton, although McClinton says that this is not true.

Recently, newer harp players have had major influence on the sound of the harmonica. Heavily influenced by the electric guitar sound, John Popper of Blues Traveler has developed a sort of virtuosity on the instrument, although his musicality has been called into question. His electric and highly distorted solos are played at a breakneck speed. He is widely credited with many innovations in harmonica playing, such as playing through guitar effects.

Contemporary harmonicists Howard Levy, Jason Ricci, Carlos del Junco and Chris Michalek are perhaps the most innovative players since Little Walter. 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. The overblow technique was first recorded in 1927 by Blues Birdhead (real name James Simons). Overblowing has been displayed more and more in the 1990s with the emergence of players like Howard Levy, Chris Michalek, Otavio Castro and players like Jason Ricci are starting to integrate it in a more blues or rock oriented music. Examples of this style are considered to be among the most highly regarded in the harmonica circles. Levy can go one further, and play single-note piano and harmonica together in unison or harmony, performing the most difficult music including bebop, world music and other forms required outstanding technique and ability.

In every region there are great young and established players. Notably, in France, Nikki Gadout has been an outstanding player; there's Brazilian ace Flávio Guimarãe, and in Germany, there are Steve Baker and René Giessen (who played the title melody of the famous Winnetou-movies), and in Nashville it is P. T. Gazell and Charlie McCoy, American music harmonica legend. In Irish circles, it's James Conway (Howard Levy makes an appearance on Conway's first commercial recordings). Peter "Madcat" Ruth, long a master harmonicist (performing with, among others, the sons of Dave Brubeck), maintains an active website which links to the sites of great contemporary players around the world.

East Asia

In 1898, the harmonica was brought to Japan; there, the Japanese were more interested in the sound of Tremolo; however after about 30 years, they became dissatisfied with the richter-based layout of the tremolo harmonica, and thus developed the scale tuning, as well as the semitone harmonicas, in order to be able to perform Japanese folk songs. During sometime in 1924 and 1933, it was brought to other places in East Asia.

The history of the harmonica in Taiwan began sometime around 1945; due to the influence of numerous harmonica experts, as well as versatility and cheap prices of the harmonica. It became one of the standard instruments on the island, being treated as a serious instrument during its peak at the 1980s — more so than Europe and America, where it was often associated as a blues-only instrument in most cases. However, as the western lifestyle began to spread, as well as an increase in living standards, many instruments that were once too expensive to buy can be bought by the Taiwanese. Additionally due to many schools of methodologies on the harmonica, the harmonica as an instrument almost faded to obscurity in the 90s. In order to raise the appeal of the harmonica back to it what it once was, numerous harmonica lovers in Taiwan began to promote the harmonica heavily, starting with the introduction of harmonicas and methodology that are popular in the Western world (eg. Chromatic and Diatonic harmonicas), as well as participating in numerous international competitions. In 1993, the Yellowstone Orchestra won the first gold in an international harmonica competition. However, to the disappointment of many harmonica players, the resources for education are severely lacking, and many materials are not much different from those that were created 20 years ago.

Medical use

"Playing" the harmonica requires inhaling and exhaling strongly against resistance, developing a strong diaphragm, and deep breathing using the entire lung volume; It has been noted by pulmonary specialists that this resembles the kind of exercise used to rehabilitate COPD patients, more traditionally using the PFLEX inspiratory muscle trainer or the inspiratory spirometer, for instance. In addition, learning to play a musical instrument offers the advantage of being more motivational than mere exercise sessions. Therefore, many pulmonary rehabilitation programs have begun to incorporate the harmonica. [4], [5], [6], [7]


The main competition held for harmonica is held in Trossingen, Germany, home of the Hohner harmonica company. It also gives the best indication of future legends. World Open and Junior champion in 2005 Philip Achille proved to be next Larry Adler as he showed the ability to completely connect with classical harmonica playing, leaving the crowd breathless with his performances.

The National Harmonica institute holds a competitions annually in various cities around the world. In these competitions, Harmonicanist compete against each other in a "Horse" style game, trying to out play one another. A win for one's team is called a "goal", and to win an inning a team must attain a minimum of 7 goals, winning by a lead of at least 2.

The record for the most goals in one competition; being 17; is held by Cameron L. Foster, a native of Florenceville, New Brunswick. He is currently attending Dalhousie University and is Captain of their Harmonica squadron.

Related instruments

The concertina, diatonic and chromatic accordions and the melodica are all free-reed instruments which were 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", translated simply as "mouth harmonica" and "hand harmonica". The harmonica shares similarities to all other free-reed instruments by virtue of the method of sound production.

There also exists the unrelated glass harmonica, which is often confused with being a harmonica made of glass. In fact, it is a musical instrument formed of a nested set of graduated glass cups mounted sideways on an axle and partially immersed in water which is played by touching the rotating cups with wetted fingers, causing them to vibrate.

Famous harmonicists

See List of harmonicists.

External links

Wikibooks has a book on the topic of
  • Riccardo's Harmonica Tutorial Lessons on harmonica theory
  • Harmonica at the Open Directory Project
  • Chromatic harmonica reference
  • - Tablature website
  • Free blues and Celtic harmonica tablature and harmonica discographies
  • - Complete online harmonica instruction*Learning to Play Harmonica

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