Do you remember playing the harmonica for the first time? All those feelings that fill you up the moment you breath in your initial note? Well, I remember my experience vividly. I was really young and was just starting getting into musical instruments when my friend showed up with this tiny fella, all excited about the new purchase. I got really interested right away and attempted to play. It was the love from the first sight. I acquired my own harmonica the next day and have never let go of it since then. As you have probably guessed, I absolutely adore this instrument, that is why I decided to write a dedicated article about it. So, let’s dig into the details and find out what types of harmonica are there on the market.
But first, let me introduce you to the specifics of this instrument. Also known as French Harp or mouth organ, this bad boy is played using the lips and tongue in order to direct the wind going in or out of the holes. The air that goes into the holes makes the reed vibrate, which results in a certain sound. There are quite a few variations and now I am going to discuss each of them briefly, so that you know which one is the best fit for you.
This type of harmonica has a small button on the side, which slides the bar. This bar enables you to transfer the air from the mouthpiece to the specific reed plate. What this means is that you can play both major scale and half-step notes with just a click of a button. This gives you a lot of flexibility and allows you to play in any desirable key and scale. Chromatic harmonicas can be used with any style, including jazz, blues, classical music and etc.
Unlike chromatic harmonicas, diatonic ones allow you to play in single key (from any 12 keys). Standard ten-hole models provide you with the option of producing 7-note major scale tones. In order to get the half-notes, you have to “bend”: draw (inhale) and blow (exhale) the notes. Many professionals play diatonic harmonica, since it is quite versatile and can be utilized with any genre of music.
Tremolo-tuned harmonicas differ from others in the sense that they have double reeds per note. One is a bit sharper, while the other is softer. The two reeds are slightly out of tune from each other, which results in a warbling sound. The intersection of waveforms creates a certain vibration, which is subsequently a tremolo effect. This type of harmonica is not as ubiquitous as others and is only used when the player wants to produce special audio effects.
Orchestral harmonicas are designed for playing with an ensemble. There are several types of them, including orchestral melody, chord and pitch pipe harmonicas. Orchestral types enable the player to combine various sounds, such as bass, treble and others of that ilk and create a diverse sound.
This type of harmonica resembles a tremolo one in design, but has a different sound. This is due to the variations in design. As you already know, a tremolo harmonica has double reeds that are tuned in accordance with each other. Well, with octave harmonicas, each reed (from the double) is tuned an octave apart from each other. This creates a thick, rich sound that does not have a tremolo effect and is rather unique in nature.
Special Tuned Diatonic Harmonica
If you are someone who is not completely content with the sonic possibilities of classic diatonic harmonica, but does not want to play a chromatic one, special tuned diatonic harmonica might be the way to go. It provides you with additional notes and scales. Common tunings are as follows: natural minor scale, harmonic minor scale, major scale 2nd position tuned (a.k.a. country tuned), “high octave” and “low octave”. Special tuned diatonic harmonicas give you more versatility and sonic options compared to classic diatonic ones.
As you can see, there is an abundance of choices on the market. You can pick out any type your heart desires and experiment with different playing techniques. You can also choose several ones and employ them in different scenarios. One way or another, a harmonica will change the way you perceive music and will crank your performance up a notch if you pair it with your guitar. This small instrument adds a touch of uniqueness and dimension to any music style. So what are you waiting for? Grab your chosen harmonica and let its notes turn your world upside down.