3 Famous Harmonica Players

Songs of 3 Famous Harmonicists

Those new to playing the harmonica may be surprised to find out just how many famous harmonica players have elevated the art over the years. Here we take a look at 3 of the most prolific.

Bob Dylan: Legendary folk singer, Dylan has been recording and performing for decades and shows no signs of slowing down. Dylan is believed to play the Hohner Marine Band harmonica, a standard usually used in folk and country genres.

He has recorded a wide range of songs and some of his more popular tunes featuring harmonica playing are “On the Road Again,” “I Shall Be Free” and “Blowin’ in the Wind”. Dylan is so well known as a harmonica player that books and websites devoted to studying his work are available. Dylan also has a signature series harmonica with Hohner.

Stevie Wonder: Wonder began playing different instruments at a young age including the harmonica. By the time he was 13, Wonder had released “Fingertips (Part 2)” which featured Wonder singing vocals and playing the harmonica. He can also be heard playing the harmonica on Chaka Khan’s single “I Feel For You”. Wonder usually plays a chromatic harmonica on his songs for a wider range of sound.

Little Walter: When it comes to harmonica players, Little Walter has been called revolutionary, legendary and innovative. The blues diatonic harmonica player defined Chicago blues and enjoyed the height of his success during the 1950s. Walter’s was noted for his use of electronic distortion the first harmonica player to utilize this technique, he is also noted for his versatility in non-standard cord changes.

Walters has the distinction of recording the only harmonica instrumental to come in at number one on the R&B charts. The song “Juke” has since become a standard performed by other harmonica players and was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame. Other popular harmonica songs released by Walters include “Mean Old World,” “Blues with a Feeling” and “Key to the Highway”.

Harmonicas Made of Gold

Materials Used to Make Harmonicas: Do Gold Harmonicas Sound Better?

A gold harmonica is not just a luxury for the rich and famous. Although harmonicas are made out of a variety of different materials, the most common materials used to construct harmonicas are wood, plastic and metals such as aluminum.

Most harmonica players believe that the type of material used in the harmonica’s construction will affect the quality of sound that the instrument produces, for instance wood is thought to have a warmer sound while plastic is believed to have a colder sound. Most experts, however, believe that any difference is sound is not distinguishable to the listener.

One problem with the materials used in harmonicas, however, is the fact that certain materials can wear over time. For instance, wood harmonicas are often preferred for playing blues music, wood instruments; however, may also leak air and the wooden comb may swell with moisture and warp overtime.

Wood can also be subject to humidity related changes in size, splintering and so on. Although plastic and wood are relatively economical to purchase, there is a concern about their durability.

For those who want to protect their harmonica against damage and want an instrument that is virtually indestructible gold is becoming the material of choice. 24-Karat Gold harmonicas provide visually stunning style appeal and can be engraved at the top and the base with the musicians name or other words for a completely unique and personalized instrument.

Gold harmonicas are useful for professional players but also work well as a gift for casual harmonica players who need a little extra encouragement to keep playing. Yes, gold will cost more upfront, but players rave that the material gives their harmonica a boost in performance providing exceptional volume, clarity and a smooth feel that is easy to grip.

Bending For A Soulful Harmonica Sound

Making It Sound Soulful

It has been said that harmonica bending, the practice of bending notes is the most important technique that a harmonica player can learn. It has also been described as the most difficult technique to master! Therefore, it is usually not recommended for beginners until they have mastered the basics.

Note bending adjusts the pitch of a note by changing the direction of the airflow and the amount of force directed at the reed. It also requires using the tongue, throat and of course, the lungs. Due to the ability to manipulate sound by blending, it is an extremely popular technique for playing notes on a diatonic harmonica, giving that bluesy soul and feeling so desirable in playing blues and rock music. Blending can also be combined with other techniques to add versatility and style to your playing such as the train whistle effect.

The standard bend used on harmonicas, is the draw bend, which goes down in pitch. Different holes on the harmonica also have different capacities for bending. For instance, hole #1 on a C harmonica bends down a full note or one half tone or step, going from D to #C. Note that this is the same note that is played on the fourth hole but is now being done an octave lower. Hole #2, on the other hand, can bend down an entire 3 notes or one whole step, going from G to F.

The first six holes on the diatomic harmonica are also draw bends, meaning that the player inhales to change the pitch not exhaling or blowing into the harmonica, blows are down on holes 7 and up. For beginners, the draw blends tend to be easier to become skilled at. By mastering harmonica blending, you can get pretty close to playing all the notes that appear on the piano, both black and white keys.

The Basics of Playing The Harp

Foundation For Playing Harmonica

Want to learn harmonica? Then you have some work to do! Some individuals may think that the harmonica is a difficult instrument to learn how to play. Others may think that the instrument looks so easy that it will be no problem to master. The truth, however, tends to lie somewhere in the middle.

Understanding Airflow

Before you get serious about playing the harmonica, you have to become familiar with the instrument and how it works. Practice blowing air in and sucking air out (drawing) and listen to the sounds that are being produced. During this process, you will likely notice that some holes are easier to play than others and you may run out of air on some notes. Take note of what you notice, so you can begin improving your technique.

Mouth Positioning

To play the instrument, correctly you have to form a complete seal with your lips and the instrument. This seal can be done with the harmonica on the edge of the lips with the lips tight and the mouth closed, many players however, tend to prefer to keep the harp deeper in the mouth and to leave the lips relaxed to avoid producing thin and weak tones.

While playing, the goal is usually to keep the lips somewhat puckered while also keeping the mouth and jaw relaxed. The jaw can also be moved up and down while playing to change the pitch of the sound.


After getting familiar with the harmonica, you need to learn the correct way to position it. The harmonica is usually held in the left hand with the harmonica numbers facing up. Players are usually taught to tilt the harmonica slightly down and to keep their fingers along the rear part of the harmonica. Doing so will allow you to play without blocking the playing surface and affecting the sound quality.


When you start slowly and use simple and straightforward techniques and melodies then the process of controlling small streams of air becomes easier to learn. Take your time and consider using learn harmonica books, CDs and websites to correctly learn the instrument.

What Is A Mouth Organ?

The History Of The Mouth Harmonica 

The mouth organ or mouth harmonica that is so popular today can trace its history back to Europe. Free reed instruments had been in use in East Asian countries for centuries and many of these instruments were known of in Europe as well. Small free reed instruments refers to wind instruments that produce notes by forcing air into a channel by blowing it in or sucking it out.

Some attribute Freidrich Buschmann of Berlin with inventing the harmonica in 1821; his version featured 21 blow notes and was named the Mundäoline. Other music historians, however, note that similar instruments appeared around the same time at other locations in the world including the United States.

In just a few years time, Joseph Richter, an instrument maker, created a variation featuring 10 holes and 20 reeds designed on two separate plates, his variation would become the standard enjoyed around the world today.

Today a wide number of harmonica types can actually be found. Although the diatomic harmonica, which only plays one key is the most popular type, many other kinds are also available including bass harmonicas, glass harmonicas, tremolo harmonicas echo effects harmonicas and chromatic harmonicas that can play more than one key.

The term mouth harmonica is also sometimes used as a generic term to refer to any free reed instrument. Other instruments that are commonly called mouth organs are bamboo-based instruments that are played throughout Asia such as lusheng or the sheng. In fact, the sheng is considered to be the instrument on which early European harmonicas were based and is nicknamed the Chinese mouth organ.

These instruments are composed of bamboo pipes in different lengths and use free reeds but provide a sound very different from the western instruments. Similar to the Western harmonica, however, the Asian mouth harmonica is considered relatively easy to master for those willing to invest some time.

Thielman Getting Jazzy With The Harp

Jazz Harmonica

Although many of the uninitiated to not consider the harmonica when contemplating favorite jazz musical instruments, quite a few musicians have made their name playing jazz both in the past as well as the present.

In fact, traditional jazz musicians such as Benny Goodman, encouraged harmonica playing with the traveling orchestras of the day back in the late 30s and throughout the war years as well. One such musician was Toots Thielmans, a Brussels, Belgium native that Goodman encouraged to come to New York to play. Thielmans soon made harmonica history.

Carving Out a Spot

Not only did Thielemans take Goodman up on his offer to come to New York to play, the guitar-playing, whistling harmonica enthusiast soon went solo – on the harmonica. He is now credited as being one of the, if not the, greatest harmonica player from the 20th century.

Thielemans found the riveting, upbeat Bebop jazz style that originated out of Kansas City in the early ‘4os much to his liking. In fact, Thielemans is credited with bringing harmonica playing into mainstream jazz recording with contemporary stars such as Quincy Jones, Oscar Peterson and Jaco Pastorius. Now at 90, he plays occasionally in public although he recently suffered a stroke.

Passing the Torch

Although there was hardly a harmonica player that could come close to Thielemans in the 30-odd years of his popular reign, there were many who came close throughout the world such as Mauricio Einhorn from Brazil, Charles Leighton, Pete Pedersen and Les Thompson from the U.S. as well as Frenchman Glaude Garden.

Then in the 60s enters a young, soon-to-be star that produced his own individual approach to harmonica playing just as Thielmans did. The young 18-year-old phenom who even recorded with Thielemans playing the latter’s famous “Bluesette” was none other than Stevie Wonder.

Traditional Style Remains Valid

While Thielemans and Wonder were developing unique and personal harmonica playing styles that would help etch their vaulted spots in the history of the chromatic, others continued pursuing traditional swing or Dixieland styles.

Musicians like Harry Pitch or Jack Emblow have been performing for more than a half-century in the United Kingdom as the Rhythm and Reeds. Harmonica player Joe Martin has been playing with Jazz a Plenty in the US for more than 70 years. Harmonica playing styles can differ throughout the jazz landscape.

Present-Day Resurgence In Playing Interest

There’s been a recent resurgence interest in jazz harmonica playing, in short because of the popularity of the Internet. Young players are mixing use old techniques marrying these to new influences. Two of these young players that are emerging on the scene today are from the UK. One is Julian Jackson and the other is Adam Glasser, a South African born but London-based musician. Not to be outdone, the French are also producing their own crop of young artists that are led by Greg Szlapczynski, Olivier Ker Ourio, Sébastien Charlier and Frédéric Yonnet.

In the US, watch for performances by Gregoire Maret (Swiss transplant).


What Are The Different Types of Harmonicas?

Understanding Various Types of Harmonicas

A harmonica is classified into different types. If you plan to learn how to play this instrument, you may find it difficult to choose which type is best for you. This is why you need to know the types of harmonica available and see whether it is the one that fits your kind of music.

Diatonic Harmonica

This type of harmonica may sound new to you, but it is actually the most common among all types of harmonicas. It is most ideal for country, rock, blues and gospel music. It is also used for classical and folk music. Because of its versatility, it is used by many professionals.

Those who want to learn the harmonica are advised to use a diatonic harmonica. This type of instrument has ten holes that allows you to play multiple keys but focuses on playing on only one key. Because a diatonic harmonica is designed to play a single key at a time, they are available in 12 keys. However, beginners are advised to start with the key of C. You will surely find diatonic harmonicas easier to learn than other types of harmonica.

Chromatic Harmonica

Chromatic harmonicas come in 8, 10, 12, 14 and 16 holes. Just like diatonic harmonicas, chromatic harmonicas are also available in 12 keys, but the most commonly used is the key of C. However, unlike a diatonic harmonica, a chromatic harmonica has a side button used to produce semitones in order to create tones found in every octave.

The 12-hole chromatic harmonica is the most widely-used and highly recommended because it comes in several keys and is easy to use. It comes with three octave ranges and can produce 48 tones. The 16-hole chromatic harmonica is more complex, which is why you will need a lot of practice before you can gain full control and familiarity. Just like the 16-hole harmonica, the 14-hole chromatic harmonica also demands a lot of practice because it has a 3 1/2 octave range. Note that the larger the harmonica, the more difficult it is to learn.

The 10-hole chromatic harmonica is composed of a 2 1/2 octave range. Although it is shorter than the 12-hole harmonica, it is not always recommended for professionals because it has an incomplete octave. The 8-hole chromatic harmonica, which also offers an incomplete octave, is not very widely used because of its limitations. It only has two octaves ranging from C4 to C6.

Tremolo Harmonica

From the word “tremolo,” which also means “trembling effects,” this type of harmonica produces a trembling sound when played. This sound effect is made possible by the vertical holes in the harmonica, which have two reeds each. Tremolo harmonicas resemble the sound of an organ but they are less commonly used by professionals. One of the reasons why this type of harmonica is not widely used is that the tones that it produces are more limited compared to the diatonic and chromatic harmonicas. Tremolo harmonicas are ideal for gospel and traditional music because of the trembling effect that they produce.

How Harmonicas Have Changed Over The Past Century

Changes Over The Years

The humble harmonica has changed significantly over the past century.  What started out as an invention, has turned into the most popular instrument on the planet.

Listed below are the key changes to this instrument over the past 100 or so years.

The year was 1821

Sure this was over a century ago, but it is the humble beginnings of this amazing instrument.

It was a sixteen year old by the name of Christian Friedrich Buschmann who registered one of the first harmonica designs.

Major changes in 1857

A German clock maker by the name of Matthias Hohner began producing harmonicas full time in 1857.  With his family and friends he was able to produce 650 in the first year.  He then developed a mass production technique, and went on to create Hohner – the well know brand today.

Move to the United States

In 1862 Hohner brought the harmonica to the USA.  In 1887 his company became the leading in the world. They now produce over 90 different models of harmonica.

Early 20th century

Clutching on to the back of Hohner’s success, a range of other companies began producing harmonicas that were commercially viable.

This led to a decrease in price, as well as an increase in production.  Effectively, it made harmonicas available to everyone and started to revolutionize the music industry.

The 1930s

Larry Adler showed the versatility of the harmonica by bringing it to classical music.  This further helped to promote sales, and introduced the instrument to a whole new audience.  In the 1930s sales of harmonicas increased dramatically.

World War II and Short Supply

There was a significant shortage of harmonicas during World War II.  This was caused by less materials being available such as wood and metals, and also the fact that a lot of harmonicas were produced in Germany and Japan.

This led to the production of a plastic harmonica and again the mass production of harmonicas in the United States.

1950’s to 1970s

The increasing popularity of blues music, further increased the harmonica’s popularity.  In fact, there were people from all over the country flocking to see blues bands that featured harmonica playing.  The mix between tunes and singing really seemed to take America by storm.


Because of price, and the harmonica’s flexibility, it is still one of the most popular instruments on the planet.  Its history shows that it has stood the test of time, and that even when materials were not available, people still found a way to produce the instrument.

If history is any thing to go by, the harmonica will be popular for many years to come.  They are a fantastic instrument and put good music in the reach of almost everybody.

Things To Look For In A Good Harmonica Course

What Makes A Good Course

Choosing a harmonica course can be a daunting experience.

There are so many different options, and so many genres and types to choose from.

To help you out, the following tips are provided.  Enjoy!

Look for a course that matches in with your genre of music

There are many different music genres you can focus on.  Look for a course that matches in with the type of music that you want to play – e.g. rock, blues or country.

This way you will learn the specific styles and songs for your genre.

Choose a course that teaches you the basics, not just specific songs

While it is great to learn songs, you really need to master the basics of achieving different sounds.  You need to know how to blow, what position to hold the harmonica in, and how to breathe.

If you are new to the harmonica, then all of these things will make a difference to how well you play.

Look for a course that provides information on all of these, and doesn’t get you to focus straight away on specific songs.

The end result will be that you are a more rounded harmonica player.

Look for courses with tips

It doesn’t get simpler than a course that includes tips that will help you improve as a harmonica player.  Whether it is holding the harmonica or making the correct sound for a note, these will help significantly.

Choose a course that provides specific details of tablature

To become a good harmonica player you need to understand the specifics of the blow and draw process to achieve the best sounds.

Choose a course that specifically explains these and shows you how to do this correctly.  Many of the best courses included quick cheat sheets that you can keep by you when you are playing.  This impact that this will have on the speed you learn is amazing.

Simple versions of popular songs

There is a range of courses around that offer simple versions of some of the most popular harmonic songs around.  If you are just starting out then choose a course that includes these.

The level of satisfaction that comes from being able to play your favorite songs, even in a simple way, will keep you on track to becoming a good harmonica player.

Choose a harmonica courses that matches in with the type of harmonica that you have

Ok.  This is an obvious one, but you need a course that is matched to your particular harmonica type.

If you are just starting out, a diatonic course will be the most appropriate.

Nothing worse than buying a course and realizing that you can’t use it because you don’t have the right type of harmonica.

Consider a course with videos

Everyone learns differently.  Some people like reading, others like playing, and others prefer video.  If you learn best visually, then consider a course with videos.  This will help you to learn quickly and effectively.

As can be seen from above, there are a number of things you need to look for when choosing a harmonica course.  It really comes down to your individual needs, what you want out of the course and how you learn.  Whatever one you choose, it will help you to improve your harmonica playing quicker than teaching yourself.

Some of The Most Famous Harmonica Players

Players of Fame

While the harmonica is only a century old, it has made a big difference to the music industry.  In fact, there are several players that have made a huge difference to the music industry by playing the harmonica.

Listed below are not just harmonica players that are famous, but also players that have influenced the harmonica and more broadly the music industry.  Enjoy!

Larry Alder

Alder may not have been the inventor of the original harmonica; however he effectively invented the chromatic harmonica.  He wanted an instrument that could match in with a variety of different music types, in a variety of keys.  The chromatic was his answer.

He was also a phenomenal player and would draw large crowds whenever he performed.  From reviews, not only was he a great player, but it was almost impossible to take your eyes off him on stage.  A true advocator for the industry.

Charlie McCoy

Not many people have heard of Charlie McCoy outside of the harmonica or country music world, however he has had a huge input on the music industry.

He is credited by many to creating a genre of country harmonica music.  While there had been some players that tried before hand – Wayne Rainey to name but one – he was the one who really took it to the front.  During the 1950s, and even to the 1980s the majority of country albums featured McCoy as the harmonica player.  He truly did have a huge impact on the harmonica and music world.

Little Walter

The impact of Chicago blues on the harmonica and music world is huge.  The fantastic electronic sounds really brought the harmonica into a league of its own,  Little Walter was right there during the 1940s to 1970s making all of this happen.  A true legend of the industry.

The harmonicats

This doesn’t relate to one specific band,  in fact during the 1940sto 50s almost every city in the America has a harmonica band.

What made the difference was the actually band.  These bands again helped to make the harmonica popular and started to bring in the crowds.  Often this is what people looked forward to each week – especially when money was tight.

Stevie Wonder

While there are a few great players who focused on rock, Stevie Wonder has to be named as one of the best.  His unique style of music and his exceptional harmonica playing really brought in the crowds.  He again helped to keep the instrument popular throughout the ages.

Bob Dylan

It was because Bob Dylan was so famous that his harmonica playing became even more famous.  His legendary harmonica sounds can be heard in many of his favorite songs.

Billy Joel

Finally, Billy Joel deserves a mention.  The harmonica playing in “Piano Man” reinforced just how important the harmonica is to all genre of music.

As can be seen from above, there are many great players – and bands – that have made the harmonica a legendary instrument.  Next time you pick yours up to play, think of all the other greats who have played this humble instrument.