Basic Steps in Playing Harmonica With 48 Holes

By Steve Brachmann

The 48-hole harmonica, either the tremolo or octave-tuned variety, can produce a vastly different sound than the other, simpler form of the harmonica, also known as the “blues harp.” The many blow holes on a 48-hole harmonica require a different design layout. Proper holding techniques and knowledge of your harmonica’s style are important first steps in your ability to properly play your 48-hole harmonica.

Understanding Hole Layout

Look at your harmonica’s comb, which contains the blow holes. You should notice that, unlike smaller harmonicas with one row of fewer holes, your 48-hole harmonica contains two rows of 24 holes.

Blow through your harmonica to play a note, closing your lips off to all but one two-hole column. Note the sound this creates. If possible, find a harmonica with only one row of holes and blow through one of those holes. You’ll notice that the sound created by your 48-hole harmonica is much fuller than the sound created by a harmonica with fewer holes. Use this knowledge to experiment with the full range of sound possible with your 48-hole harmonica.

Tremolo vs. Octave-Tuned

Find out if your 48-hole harmonica is the tremolo or octave-tuned variety. This information should be included with your harmonica purchase. The vertically aligned holes on a tremolo harmonica have two sets of reeds playing off the same pitch; one set of reeds is tuned slightly sharper than the note, while the other set of reeds is tuned slightly flat. In an octave-tuned harmonica there are also two sets of reeds, but they’re tuned to the exact pitch. The only difference is that one set of reeds is an octave higher than the other.

Play your 48-hole harmonica, using only one vertical column of holes, and note the sound that results. You may need to find out your 48-hole harmonica’s style in this manner if you bought your harmonica secondhand, or if it did not come with a guide. If you hear a warbling sound, the harmonica you’re holding is a tremolo. If you hear a perfect two-note octave, the harmonica is octave-tuned.

Holding the Harmonica

Position your 48-hole harmonica so the side of the comb that you blow through is directly in front of your face. Make sure the lower notes of the harmonica’s register are on your left side. Hold the harmonica between your left index finger and thumb, so the index finger rests on top of the harmonica and the thumb rests underneath. Allow the harmonica to slide all the way into the flesh between your thumb and index finger, making as airtight a seal as possible. Cup the rest of your left hand around the back of the harmonica, and cup your right hand over your left to cover as much of the harmonica’s back as possible.