How to Play the Harmonica

Play the Harmonica

How to Play the Harmonica. The harmonica is called the easiest instrument to play and the most difficult to master. It is also known as the most versatile of the wind instruments. There are different types of harmonicas you can buy and practice with. The Diatonic harmonica is the most popular one in the west, the other ones are chromatic harmonicas, Tremolo and Echo harmonicas and Orchestral harmonicas. This eHow will show you the first steps on your way to mastery and maybe one day you'll master it the way legendary musician Stevie Wonder can.

First Steps

Play breathing through the harmonica, not thinking about blowing or sucking.

Practice breathing with your diaphragm, not your lungs.

Breathe from as deep as you can get - roughly speaking, lungs equals chest, diaphragm equals stomach.

Do breathing exercises like meditation or aerobics. Pay attention to where you are breathing from.

Inhale and exhale slowly. Breath control is as important for harmonica playing as it is for singing.

Practice playing a note on the harmonica and holding it as long as possible, being careful not to get dizzy.

Practice breathing in and out as fast as you can. Think of a panting dog.

Start on a diatonic harmonica with a simple tune like "Oh, Susannah," which is usually played by ear.

Play this and other simple tunes in first position ("straight harp"), where the key of the song is the same as the key of the harmonica.

Play these songs in the middle range (middle octave) of the harmonica, which gives you the full diatonic scale without requiring any bends.

Chords and Rhythm Chugging

Play chords, covering several holes of the harmonica. They are easier to get than single notes and can be used as backing rhythms on top of melodies.

Start by using rhythmic breathing patterns blowing and drawing on holes 1 to 3 of your harmonica.

Use patterns like in-in/out-out or in-out-in-in to create different rhythms. This is called chugging.

Practice as fast as you can, but not faster than you can.

Slow down if you find yourself stumbling over the pattern.

Relax, open your throat, and breathe from your diaphragm, not your lungs or your mouth.

Single Notes

Practice playing single notes, which is a little more difficult since the holes on the harmonica are so close to each other. Therefore, a certain technique is required to get clear single notes. The way of putting your mouth around the harp is called embouchure.

Tilt the harmonica back up about 45 degrees, open your mouth wide enough to cover three holes, with your upper lip half of the way over the top cover.

Let the instrument nestle into your lower lips (lip block). Now, the lower lip naturally blocks the two side holes and lets the center hole sound clearly.

Be relaxed without tightening your lips or cheeks.


Practice the breathing patterns and make sure you can hit the single notes clearly. After that, you can go on to bigger and better things like playing the blues or cross harp.

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