How to Play a 24-Hole Harmonica

By Matt McKay

Playing a 24-hole harmonica involves the same principles as playing any harmonica. The standard harmonica consists of one row of holes, with each hole containing a single reed. A harmonica reed is a thin metal tab that vibrates and produces sound when air is blown into the instrument. Twenty-four–hole harmonicas have a top and bottom row, each row with 12 double-reed holes. When you blow into a hole, both reeds vibrate, adding a more full-bodied sound than single-row harmonicas.

Hold the harmonica in one hand with your thumb across the bottom and index finger across the top and back of the instrument, allowing room to place your mouth and lips fully over the holes. The numbers stamped above the holes must be facing upward.

Form your lips in a loose "O" shape. Choose any hole on the harmonica and place it against your lips. Moisten your mouth and lips to help form an airtight seal with the instrument.

Blow (exhale) into one hole to play a single note. If more than one note sounds, adjust your lips. Practice until you are able to play the single note with consistency.

Draw (inhale) into the harmonica on the same hole to play the second note, adjusting your lips if necessary. Practice blowing and drawing on the hole until you can play the two notes without adjusting your lips.

Move the harmonica across your mouth to the right, until the first hole (the lowest note) is against your lips. Blow and draw into the first hole. Proceed to the second through the 12th hole to play the entire scale. Play slowly, adjusting your lips as necessary. The goal is to play the two notes on each hole clearly.

Tip

Practice altering air pressure by breathing and drawing harder and softer. This exercise will allow you to get the "feel" of the harmonica's action, and will help in adding expression and special effects to your playing.

After you have perfected single notes, practice blowing and drawing on multiple holes to form chords.

Harmonicas are available in every musical key, so the actual notes you are playing will vary according to the key. The most common key for beginners is "C"; most advanced players and professionals will own one harmonica for every musical key.

Drink plenty of room temperature water before and during playing to keep your mouth moist. Cold drinks stiffen mouth muscles; alcoholic and caffeinated beverages cause dryness.

Warning

Clean the harmonica during and after every session by tapping the hole side against your hand or into a cloth to remove excess moisture and saliva. Failure to do this can result in internal rusting of the reeds and bacterial buildup. Regular wiping with a clean cloth moistened with alcohol is recommended.

For sanitary reasons, do not allow anyone to use your harmonica, nor should you use someone else's.

Take care not to drop or bang the harmonica, as it can easily become damaged and unplayable.

About the Author

Matt McKay began his writing career in 1999, writing training programs and articles for a national corporation. His work has appeared in various online publications and materials for private companies. McKay has experience in entrepreneurship, corporate training, human resources, technology and the music business.