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harmonicawhat kind for a beginner?


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#1 Blackbird86

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Posted 24 November 2009 - 10:29 AM

i'm looking to pick up harmonica and was wondering what type i should get as a beginner looking for something that'll be versatile. i try(i emphasize try here) to play blues, jazz, rock, and folky stuff so i don't want something that'll just sound right with one style of music. also, what about one of those bob dylan neck holder things? what kinda should i get there?

#2 alexparker

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Posted 27 November 2009 - 04:47 PM

I've been looking to start playing Harmonica myself, And I did a little bit of research on YouTube. The most commonly suggested beginner Harmonica I found was a 10 hole C Diatonic harmonica. Maybe as guitarists we'd be better off buying one in G/Em. Theres plenty of videos on YouTube for people learning, From holding it to bending notes.

Am I right in the harmonica I'm suggesting first of all?
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#3 Blackbird86

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Posted 28 November 2009 - 01:49 PM

yeah, 10 hole C diatonic is the one i'm going for right now. one website i read said it was both the best for beginners and most versatile. hohner apparently is a good brand too.

#4 dadfad

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Posted 30 November 2009 - 06:43 AM

Yeah, the diatonic 10-hole is pretty much THE harmonica for most popular styles of music. Don't get a cheap one. They're harder to learn on. Get a Hohner (my preference is the Special 20, but the Golden Melody and Marine Band are also good. Some harmonica players recommend a key of C harp for beginners, but I recommend a key of A. (Easier to learn techniques like bending, warbling, etc on.)

When buying a harmonica(s) remember... in most blues and rock you use a harmonica in the key of the 4th-position of the tune. (Like for blues in E that would be a key of A harp, G-blues a C-harp, A-blues a D-harp, etc. The style is called playing in cross-harp.

For country, pop and folk (Dylan, etc) just get the same key harp as the tune. (That's called straight-harp.)


I've done a lot of harmonica posts here in the past, from tips to tunes to techniques to equipment, etc. Here are some links to them (hopefully still working links). They're worth reading if you're starting to play harp.

<!--coloro:blue--><span style="color:blue"><!--/coloro-->EDIT:<!--colorc--></span><!--/colorc-->

No, none of the old links work any more. Just do a search of this Other Instruments forum using +dadfad +harmonica for your key-words in the search box at the bottom of the forum topic page.

<!--coloro:blue--><span style="color:blue"><!--/coloro-->RE-EDIT:<!--colorc--></span><!--/colorc-->

Okay I made a few URL changes (from the old guitartabs. cc to the newer guitarzone .com) to the links and most of them seem to work now...

<a href="http://www.guitarzon...howtopic=18394" target="_blank">A</a>

<a href="http://www.guitarzon...howtopic=12264" target="_blank">B</a>

<a href="http://www.guitarzon...howtopic=10858" target="_blank">C</a>

<a href="http://www.guitarzon...showtopic=8527" target="_blank">D</a>

<a href="http://www.guitarzon...howtopic=52274" target="_blank">E</a>

<a href="http://www.guitarzon...showtopic=7456" target="_blank">F</a>

<a href="http://www.guitarzon...showtopic=4642" target="_blank">G</a>

<a href="http://www.guitarzon...showtopic=1470" target="_blank">H</a>

<a href="http://www.guitarzon...pic=64104&st=0" target="_blank">I</a>

<a href="http://www.guitarzon...howtopic=60914" target="_blank">J</a>

<a href="http://www.guitarzon...howtopic=57340" target="_blank">K</a>

<a href="http://www.guitarzon...howtopic=51189" target="_blank">L</a>

<a href="http://www.guitarzon...howtopic=51701" target="_blank">M</a>

<a href="http://www.guitarzon...howtopic=51555" target="_blank">N</a>

<a href="http://www.guitarzon...howtopic=37377" target="_blank">O</a>

<a href="http://www.guitarzon...howtopic=40504" target="_blank">P</a>

<a href="http://www.guitarzon...howtopic=27684" target="_blank">Q</a>

<a href="http://www.guitarzon...howtopic=79125" target="_blank">R</a>

<a href="http://www.guitarzon...ic=144355&st=0" target="_blank">S</a>

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#5 Blackbird86

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Posted 01 December 2009 - 07:21 PM

what about the oskar ones? and is the key of a harp as versatile as the key of c one is for different styles of play (blues, folk, country, bluegrass, country, jazz, whatever)?

#6 alexparker

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Posted 02 December 2009 - 06:39 AM

Thanks alot for the helpful links, I'll be certain to give them a good read through tonight smile.gif... I found a nice hohner harmonica, Sadly I'm a bit short [Here it is]

On a more serious note, The Hohner special 20 you recommended is at a price I'd happily pay. Hope to pick one up sometime soon! I'll let you all know how it goes.
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#7 dadfad

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Posted 02 December 2009 - 09:01 AM

what about the oskar ones? and is the key of a harp as versatile as the key of c one is for different styles of play (blues, folk, country, bluegrass, country, jazz, whatever.

A Lee Oskar is a good harp, but they're a little more expensive than a Hohner. They try to justify the cost by saying the reeds can be replaced when they wear out or blow, which they can, but most music-stores don't carry replacement reeds and they have to be ordered, etc. A pain in the azz when you're harp goes and you need it to work now. Not after a week or two.

Two me it's not worth the trouble of replacing reeds on a Lee Oskar. Like I said, they're good harps (I have several), but more expensive. (The Lee Oskars I have are "special-key" harps like natural-minors, etc. Keys you don't find from other companies.)

Like I said, I prefer Hohners. Just my preference. Some people prefer Oskars. Oskars have slightly bigger holes than Hohners which, when learning, can make some of the slightly more advanced techniques like tongue-blocking, separation and octave-chording easier (when learning, not really once your already good at it. Suzuki makes decent ones too. Usually a little cheaper than both Hohner and Oskar. Just a matter of preference, and mine is Hohner.

As far as versitility. No particular key of harmonica is more "versatile" than another. Any will play in basically two keys... straight harp (folk, pop, country, etc) or cross-harp (blues, rock'n'roll rock, etc). There are other more advanced "positions" (as they are called) including adaptation to minors etc, but for all intents and purposes (especially for a beginner) any regular ten-hole harmonica will play in two keys. The actual key of ther harp itself (straight-harp) and that key's 4th position (IV) cross-harp.

So a key of C harp will play straight in C and cross in G (C-folk and G-blues). No more or no less versatile than say an A harp (A-Folk or E-blues)or a D harp (D-folk or A-blues), etc, etc. So versatility-wise I guess you could get the harp more of the tunes you do or want to do are in first. But as far as overall versatility, no key is more versatile than another.

Lots of guys will say get a C harp to learn on, because that's what someone told them when they were starting to learn (just as I was told when I started). C, being sort of a "musical-constant" note (like middle-C on a piano, the basis of generic scalular work around non-#/b notes, etc etc) is often used as a "learning key" not just on harp but other instruments as well. But there's no real reason otherwise to choose C.

Now if you have a few folk/country/pop tunes you wanna do in the key of C to start off with, or a few blues tunes in the key of G, then maybe a C-harp is okay for you. To me, learning-wise for a beginner, the easiest harp to learn to work with is a key of A harp. (Actually A#/Bb, but how many tunes will that work with? :lol: Frequently used techniques, like bends and warbles, are slightly easier on an A-harp than a C-harp when learning, which is why I recommend it to guys I'm teaching. (As well as the fact that me being more of a blues-guy, as are most of the guys I teach, there are an awful lot of blues-tunes in the key of E, and quite a few more in A that use straight-harp. Like Jimmy Reed's "Honest I Do" and others.)

Anyway, as far as learning, no key is more "versatile" than another. Maybe depending on the particular tunes you tend to do, but once you learn how to play you'll probably want to have other harps in other keys as well. A guy who plays harp frequently but not necessarily as his main thing can get by pretty well with only four harps... A, C, D and G (next would probably be an F, for C-blues and rock).

If you really get into playing harmonica, you'd want one for every key (12). Some keys also have a "low" or "high" tuned harp. Minor-tuned harps; chromatic harps (as opposed to diatonic) (the kind with the little push-lever), double-note harps (like a 12-string guitar compared to a 6-string), tremolo-harps, etc, etc.

Anyway, I hope this helps a bit. And there's a lot of stuff in those links above related to playing harmonica.



And Alex... if only they made that harp you linked above in the key of Eb I'd be sure to order one today! :lol:
Yes, the Special-20 is my favorite. I prefer plastic combs to wood (like the Marine Band) as they don't swell and contract when "subjected to moisture" (get spit-soaked ) :lol: . The Golden Melody is also excellent (also plastic combs). It's larger body covers make it slightly "warmer" sounding. But a rack doesn't hold it as well. But when I'm playing strictly harp only, I like it quite a bit. Especially when playing straight "pretty harp" (as opposed to say blues-harp with an edge). (A band I was once in for several years used to do the tune "Stand By Me" on which I played strictly harp, done slightly slower than Ben E King's original version, one of our slow-dance tunes. I used two harps for the tune, both a Key of C Golden Melody and a Key of C chromatic (both having slightly different but very "warm" tones, with the chromatic having a few more notes). I'd worked out a really beautiful extended harmonica-break for the tune using mixed single-notes and chords like a sort of free-form "melody within the melody." Got me standing cheers a number of times.

In most normal situations, like playing clubs, dances, concerts, etc, harmonica is a real "crowd-pleaser" usually. And you don't have to play really great harp for them to love it. All you have to do is not play <i>bad</i> harp. (And sometimes even that'll go over. I've seen some truly horrible wah-wah-wah stuff played and people loved it.) (Usually drunk of course! :lol: )

Anyway... Later!

Un-plugged is not the same as never-was-plugged-in-to-begin-with.


 
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When the roll is called up yonder he'll be there...


#8 Blackbird86

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Posted 02 December 2009 - 09:21 PM

thanks for all the info man. do you know anything about chromatic harmonicas? some website said that they have every note so they work for any key.

#9 dadfad

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Posted 03 December 2009 - 06:17 AM

thanks for all the info man. do you know anything about chromatic harmonicas? some website said that they have every note so they work for any key.


There are different kinds of chromatic harmonicas. Most of them still come in a specific key except some very expensive models that in effect "bundle" several sets of harmonicas together into one. (Think of something like a paddle-wheel with each "paddle" being another harmonica.)

Generally a chomatic harmonica will be in a specific key, the difference being the push-buttton will allow you to have the full range of chromatic scale notes for that key, whereas a diatonic harmonica omits several other notes (basically it has repeating blow-notes of the first, third and fifth of the major scale (the three notes which form a major-chord), drawing offers other notes from the key of the harp's major scale. (Actually every major scale note is found somewhere on the harp. Think kind of like black-keys on a piano but not all consecutive.) Other notes can be found using bends and over-blows. (Which you cannot do on a chromatic harmonica.)

The harmonica below allows you to play in six different keys. It costs around five hundred dollars.

Posted Image

You can spend much more, up to several thousand dollars. Even more if you want to expand its range into bass-notes, etc, etc. A fairly basic chromatic harmonica in a single key starts at around a hundred dollars.

You can of course get whatever you want. But if you were my student I'd advise you to get a ten-hole diatonic. Key of A.

Un-plugged is not the same as never-was-plugged-in-to-begin-with.


 
John Jackson -My Teacher and My Old Friend

When the roll is called up yonder he'll be there...


#10 alexparker

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Posted 04 December 2009 - 05:04 AM

Is there a techincal name for that 6 harmonicas in 1 thingy-ma-jig? I called my preferred local music store and they didnt have any Special20s. I then called another local one and apparently they dont stock them here in England, But they can however order them. So popping down now n paying ú30 n hopefully I'll have one here soon.
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#11 dadfad

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Posted 04 December 2009 - 06:46 AM

Is there a techincal name for that 6 harmonicas in 1 thingy-ma-jig? I called my preferred local music store and they didnt have any Special20s. I then called another local one and apparently they dont stock them here in England, But they can however order them. So popping down now n paying £30 n hopefully I'll have one here soon.


Alex, there are other Hohners pretty comparable to the Special 20 as far as shape, tone, playability, etc. Basically they <i>are</i> Special 20s, but have been re-named (with maybe a minor cosmetic change, like black-oxided finish, etc) to appeal more to a "niche" musically. And usually a bit higher priced. For all intents and purposes, the Hohner Pro Harp is like a Special 20 (just a couple dollars more); and there are a few "signature" harps (the Steve Tyler comes to mind) which is usually ten or more dollars added on to Special 20's price. (Price gouging, like with most "signature" instruments.). So the Pro Harp is pretty close to the Special 20.

Now the 20's plastic combs are my preference. Some people prefer the wooden combs of the Marine Band. (Or the, of course, little more expensive "Blues Harp" which is just a Marine Band for two bucks more.)

I would shy away from the cheaper Hohner harps like the "Blues Band" or the "Old Standby" or "Hot Metal" which basically are the eqivelent to Hohner what Epiphone is to Gibson, cheap knockoffs. These cheaper harps can be okay, but usually a little tougher to draw smoothly or bend. And so especially for a beginner, I recommend a better quality easier to learn on harp. (It's not like a guitar and getting a beginner a new $3000 Gibson instead of a $250 Epiphone to learn on. In harps the difference is five bucks or twenty bucks, no major cash outlay!)

Those "cheap harps" are a decent bargain, once you know how to play reasonably okay and can pretty much compensate for the diffence in their quality when you play (just as a good guitarist can make even a crap-guitar sound good). Especially for more obscure keys or as "back-ups." In addition to my complete 12-key set (actually I have two complete sets) of good harps (and my specialty harps... chromatics, tremolos, octaves, high and low tuned, etc) I have quite a few cheap harps (the five dollarish ones) because they're handy to have around. (I have a few here in my desk drawer, a couple in my car's glove compartment (for harp-emergencies <img src="http://www.guitarzon...IR#>/laugh.gif" style="vertical-align:middle" emoid=":lol:" border="0" alt="laugh.gif" /> ), a few in some of my guitar cases, one in the pocket of a couple of my jackets, etc. Probably twenty or thirty in all. Not great harps, but just handy to have around. For five bucks.

But for learning, a better harp is just easier to work with.


Oh, that particular harmonica above is callled a "sextet" (six keys). They also have an octet, etc. That one's a Hohner. Hohner and other companies make lots of harps that are extremely specialized. There are harps (similar to that sextet configuration above) with so many rows of harps it's the size of a small wine-cask. Or orchestral harps two or three feet long. You can get up into the thousands of dollars for some of these more exotic specialty harps.

Un-plugged is not the same as never-was-plugged-in-to-begin-with.


 
John Jackson -My Teacher and My Old Friend

When the roll is called up yonder he'll be there...


#12 Blackbird86

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Posted 09 December 2009 - 04:27 PM

i was checking out some harmonica forum and the folks there seemed to prefer "bushman" harmonicas slightly more than hohners. ever heard of those?

#13 allisa

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Posted 10 December 2009 - 01:46 AM

* This software is designed for the ten hole Marine Band style harmonica (which comes with several names). If your harp has a single row of ten holes with the numbers one through ten engraved in the cover over the holes, then this course is for you.
* These diatonic scale harmonicas are for us musical dummies. The diatonic scale is the do-re-me-fa-so-la-te-do scale that you may have learned in chorus at school. It would include only the white keys on a piano in you were playing in the key of C.
* There are chromatic scale harmonicas which would include both the black and the white keys or all the notes in an octave. These require much more knowledge of music. However, you can play songs in all the keys on just a C harmonica.
* You do not have to know as much about music theory with the diatonic scale harmonica. But you do have to own a separate harmonica for each major key in which we plan to play. We could own as many as 12 harmonicas, though I think you will find that five or six will cover just about every song you will ever play. You can easily get by with just a C and a G harmonica if you are not going to be playing with a band.
* You should have at least two harmonicas to get the maximum benefit from this software. You should have a diatonic scale harmonica in both the keys of C and G.
* It is important that you keep in mind that you can play any song, regardless of the key in which it was composed, on any harmonica. If you only own a harmonica in the key of A, then every song you play will be in the key of A, even if it was composed in G or C. And if you pick up a harmonica in the key of D and play the same numbering system, you are playing the song in the key of D. You do not have to relearn a song for each key.

#14 dadfad

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Posted 10 December 2009 - 07:07 AM

I've seen Bushman harmonicas. I never played one. They might be fine. They say their phosphor-bronze reeds are superior. Maybe they are, but phosphor-bronze has been around for a long time and other quality makers like Hohner and Lee Oskar have stuck to using brass. I know as far as guitar strings go, phosphor-bronze offers longer string-life but isn't quite as bright sounding as brass. Use whatever you prefer. (Music stores will rarely let you try out harmonicas. Some have a little bellows type harmonica-testor, but you really can't tell much with them except that the harmonica holes work.)

The post above, some okay information, some correct-but-misleading information and some incorrect information. The diatonic scale (as found on the harmonica) isn't the do-re-mi scale (although it is contained in the complete theoretical do-re-mi scale.

As far as getting by with only a C and G harp like he said.... I don't know what kind of band that would work with except maybe a folk or country band with a very limited repertoire. True, you can find particular notes from any key's scale on a key of C chromatic, and so you could use those notes in a tune in any key, but they would not necessarily work very well or be in the order you want them or sound very pleasing. (Think about it. There's a reason WHY they make chromatic harmonicas in different keys.)

I don't know who the person who posted above is. Might be a top-notch pro (although it really doesn't sound like it) or somebody who's been playing a little while, maybe knows their way around a harp a bit and now is trying to promote their site and learning-method. I really don't know.

Follow whatever advice you choose. Briefly, here's my... whateveryouwannacallit... resume. I've been playing harp over thirty years, electrically and acoustically, in both gigging bands as well as solo. My teachers include (in-person teachers, not some video or something) Snooky Prior, Howard Levi, Harmonica Phill Wiggins, Joe Filisko, Madcat Ruth, Curtis Butler, John Hammond Jr., Lazy Lester and Paul Geremia (widely acknowledged in the harp-biz as the finest rack-harp player alive). I've played with Sunnyland Slim, Bluesboy Odell, Uncle Jessie White, Michael Roach and many others, plus with several of my own bands and solo. I've designed and made electrified-harps, special harp-mics and effects and custom racks. Etc, etc.

So I'm not the greatest harp-player around by any means, but I'm not too shabby either and some people seem to think I do okay.

Audio Link


<a href="http://www.soundclic...songID=8460038" target="_blank">

Later.

Un-plugged is not the same as never-was-plugged-in-to-begin-with.


 
John Jackson -My Teacher and My Old Friend

When the roll is called up yonder he'll be there...


#15 okiejohn

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Posted 25 July 2010 - 05:17 AM

Dad, I've been down here in the Oklahoma hills on dial-up connection for about a coon's age, but I gots me sommma dat high speed technology hooked up a couple days ago, and daymn...that be some fine harp you be blowin' there.

#16 dorio

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Posted 26 July 2010 - 12:10 AM

I totally agree with Okie! Dadfad, that sure was one mighty fine performance!

#17 dadfad

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Posted 26 July 2010 - 07:44 AM

:lol: Thanks, guys. That was recorded maybe ten or twelve years ago. I haven't been playing as much harmonica for the last few years, and a couple of packs of Camels a day has started to catch up with me. I can still do okay when I need to, but if I tried to do that now I'd probably drop dead before I got half way through! And in all honesty, the "audience participation" rhythmically is what made that solo. (The guys I was playing with, being experienced, kind of set it up for me when they broke for the harp solo. They started off the clap-rhythm, which a typical audience will immediately pick up on and get that big-rhythm dynamic going. Take away that rhythm and all you have is some intermediate-level harp work!)

I don't play in a band regularly anymore, maybe stand up with a harp with somebody once in a while, but mostly just a little rack stuff now. Harp-playing has a bit of that use-it-or-lose-it thing to it. You still know the licks, and it wouldn't take long to get that together again, but that wind-thing is a little different. For me anyway, because I used to "play hard" (which quite a few truly good players say isn't good technique). (I'd go through A and D harps like toilet-paper! :lol: ) An extended solo used to wear me out even back then. I doubt I could ever get that wind back together.

I still love harmonica, but I don't take it as "seriously" as I used to!

But, thanks!



"Things that I used to do. Lord, I jus' can't do no more..."
-Eddie "Guitar Slim" Jones

Un-plugged is not the same as never-was-plugged-in-to-begin-with.


 
John Jackson -My Teacher and My Old Friend

When the roll is called up yonder he'll be there...


#18 okiejohn

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Posted 27 July 2010 - 04:30 AM

You know that you're over the hill when your mind makes a promise that your body can't fill...Little Feat. :guitar:

#19 himani123

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Posted 14 September 2010 - 10:15 PM

On a more serious note, The Hohner special 20 you recommended is at a price I'd happily pay. Hope to pick one up sometime soon! I'll let you all know how it goes.

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