When I tell people I play the harmonica, they are quite often astounded that I play such a “Hard” Instrument. So lets talk about myths about Harmonica Difficulty.
I know this is going to sound like a player saying it’s easy because I know how but the reason I took up the harp is because of how EASY it is to learn and play. There are 4 difficult things about playing the harmonica which I will address later. I’m going to start with why harmonica is EASY.
Yes Harmonica Is Easy!
First things first. Lets get rid of the confusion. You don’t play harmonica, you play HARMONICAS. There are 12 (More in fact) harmonicas. One for each key. While a piano or guitar plays all keys on one instrument harmonicas play one key per instrument.
What does this mean to you? Two things in fact. One is you choose which which harp to play based on the key so you don’t need to figure out which part of the instrument and which combinations to play to sound right. Second, you learn one way to play on harp and it’s good for all songs in all keys. Just switch harps when you get a new song in a different key and play the same way. nothing new to learn. No new scales, no new techniques. It’s like having 12 guitars all tuned to a different key. you just won’t need a panel truck to carry them around.
The next cool thing that makes harmonica easy is positions. Straight harp, cross harp, slant harp, or first, second and third position. there are more but I will stick with these. In a nutshell, different positions allow you to play the same harmonica in different scales. What does that mean to you? It’s a fancy way of saying start in a different spot if you are playing a different kind of song. If you are playing blues, start in second position, cross harp and if you are doing something in a minor key, start in third position, slant harp.
Why is this easy? You can cheat with your harmonica case. I set mine up so when I get told what key a song is in I find the key, move one to the left, use that harp and start on the 2 hole draw. If it’s minor key blues I find the key, move 2 to the left and start on the 4 hole blow. Doing it that way makes things much easier.
When you play the harmonica there are certain sweet spots to play in. 2 through 6 for blues and 4 through 9 for minor key blues. You can go outside those holes when you get to know your way around the harp but it’s hard to go wrong when sticking with those sweet spots. It works with nothing fancy.
What Are The Tough Things
One Hole Playing
You can play chords fairly easily but it gets kind of mushy. Learning to play one hole is the first tough thing you need to learn. It will take time to get you mouth to work right but once you get it, one hole just gets easier and easier. It takes practice. There is no way around it.
Bending is a pain to learn. you just have to mess with it and mess with it until you get it. There are cheats that make it a bit easier to figure out but in the end it is another thing you just need to work at.
Tongue blocking allows you to do advanced chord structures and cool techniques. You need to know it. I don’t but I’m working on it. That being said, I get paid to play harmonica and I don’t know how to do it so take from that what you will.
You can play any song on any harmonica using overblowing and bending. It’s cool. It allows you more variability and gives you some great techniques. You can also be inducted into the Overblowing Snob club. I get it, it’s great for your bag of tricks. Build on the basics first, then expand on the basics. Then work on your style and your repertoire. Then go back to basics. Then get creative with it. Then start worrying about all the cool things you can do with overblowing. Then Buy an amp and a mic and forget you ever heard of overblowing. Then when someone talks about overblowing, pull out your chromatic that you also learned how to play while they were working on their overblowing techniques.
Get to it
Why are you sitting around reading articles on how easy it is to play? Go and practice. Give it a month. I believe anyone can Learn Harmonica In 30 Days!