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How to Play a 16 Hole Harmonica

Harmonicas come in many shapes and sizes.
harmonicas image by Claudio Calcagno from Fotolia.com

Like most harmonicas, the 16-hole harmonica is a portable, easily played musical instrument that is attractive to novice musicians as well as veterans. The advantage of this model is that it includes another octave in range below the standard 10-hole harmonica. Many 16-hole harmonicas are chromatic harmonicas, making them even more versatile for playing melodies in different keys.

Hold the harmonica between the thumb and forefinger of your left hand, with the lowest notes at the left end. Cup your right hand around the right end to support and control the harmonica.

Place your lips on the harmonica mouthpiece over the desired hole. Two notes are available at each hole of a diatonic harmonica. Four notes are available at each hole of a chromatic harmonica. Pucker your lips to send air through a single hole at a time.

Blow gently to sound the reed on the upper plate. Suck to draw air in and sound the reed on the lower plate. If your harmonica is a chromatic model, push in the button on the right side to raise the pitch at each hole by a semitone.

Blow into the fifth hole of a 16-hole harmonica in the key of C. This is the equivalent of the first hole on a 10- or 12-hole harmonica and middle C on a piano. The first four holes are tuned to the same pattern as the fifth through the eighth holes, but are one octave lower in pitch. The same pattern is also repeated in each set of four holes above, rising an octave with each set. This is called the "Solo" tuning rather than the "Richter" tuning of most standard 10-hole harmonicas.

Move the harmonica horizontally to bring the correct hole in front of your lips, and blow or draw air to sound the correct notes of the melody you wish to play. Play melodies by ear, or use the tuning chart in the resources to transpose sheet music and standard harmonica tablature for use on your 16-hole harmonica.


To obtain a bluesy effect, pronounce the syllable "yoe" and constrict the air passage in your mouth as you draw air on a note.

For a fuller accompaniment, place your mouth over four holes. Block the three holes on the left with your tongue and play melody with the hole on the right. Take your tongue off the other holes when you want a full chord to sound.

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