Harmonicas are essential instruments of various musical genres such as country, blues, jazz, folk, and even rock and roll. Even though expert harmonica players take years to perfect their musical ability, harmonicas are simple enough instruments that anyone can pick one up and play it. If you learn to hold the instrument and articulate your hands, you are already halfway to playing perfectly tuned notes and beautiful melodies.
Part 1 of 2: Holding the Harmonica
Step 1. Place the harmonica between the index finger and the left thumb
Hold your thumb and forefinger parallel as if you were about to pinch. Place the harmonica between the two fingers, pushing the left end into the space formed by both fingers (the skin between the index finger and the thumb).
Step 2. Position the instrument so that the lowest note is on the left side
To play a harmonica correctly, make sure the lowest note is on the left side. If the notes are not recorded on the deck of the instrument, blow both ends to find the lower side.
Step 3. Leave the mouth of the harmonica exposed
To allow room for your mouth, make sure about half of the harmonica is exposed. When blowing, keep your thumb and index finger back, so you don't have trouble handling the instrument.
Step 4. Place your right hand around the harmonica to create an air chamber
While holding the harmonica, place your hands next to each other so that they are straight with the knuckles facing down. Move your right hand up so that the tip of your left ring finger is aligned with the tip of your right little finger. From this position, move your hands to create a closure in the air chamber between the harmonica and your palms.
- Make sure to close off any large, noticeable gaps, especially on the back of your hands and around the harmonica itself.
- There is no way to create a completely tight air chamber seal using your hands; therefore, don't worry about the small air slots.
Step 5. Place your right thumb in front of the harmonica for control or comfort
If your thumb is uncomfortable or you have trouble controlling the harmonica, try placing your right thumb in front of the high notes of the instrument. Just be sure to move it when you play the harmonica at the top of the scale.
Part 2 of 2: Change the sound of the notes
Step 1. Hold your right elbow in
When playing the harmonica, make sure to keep your right elbow level with your side. This will help prevent arm, shoulder, and neck strain. It will also give you more control over hand techniques.
Step 2. Slide the harmonica to change the notes
To switch from one note to another, slide the harmonica left or right in your mouth. Most harmonicas will have between 10 and 16 notes to create sound, although special harmonicas can have more notes. Most consumer harmonicas are created in specific keys and with note variations that change according to the way you blow them.
Step 3. Keep your hands closed to create low tones
Play the harmonica with your hands fully closed to create low notes. The tighter your hands are, the lower the note will sound. This technique is used a lot in the blues music genre.
Step 4. Open your hands to create sharp tones
To play higher-pitched, brighter-sounding notes, spread your hands so more air can escape. Instead of sad and muted tones, you will get bright and dynamic tones used in all music of the folk genre.
Step 5. Open and close a part of your hand to create the “wah wah” effect
To create the tremulous melodies harmonicas are known for, move your right hand to create a small duct where air can escape. When you quickly open and close this conduit, you will create wah wah sounds. Some areas to open your hand include:
- Behind the harmonica, when turning the right hand.
- On top of the harmonica by extending the fingers of the right hand.
- Below the harmonica, when taking off the right wrist.