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Your First Harmonica


Hohner Blues Band harmonicaAspiring harmonica players should start with a standard 10-hole diatonic harmonica in the key of C. There are no sharps or flats in the key of C so the music theory is a bit easier. Also, the body of the harmonica should be made of plastic. While many professional players have traditionally performed on wood-bodied harmonicas, more and more are using plastic as time goes by. Plastic is a much more constant medium and requires less maintenance. Plastic-bodied harmonicas will not swell from moisture, are less abrasive on your lips, and more airtight for greater volume. So, unless you're dead set on one of the classic wooden harmonicas, like the Hohner Marine Band or Hohner Blues Harp, start with a plastic model.

Learn to play on a budget

Hohner Hot Metal harmonicaThe choices are easy if you're going for a really inexpensive harmonica -- anything under $12, like the Hohner Hot Metal or Hohner Blues Band. Made in the Orient, these harmonicas are perfect for kids or beginners of any age. You'll be amazed at the big blues sound they deliver.

Learn to play on a professional harmonica

If you're of a more serious mindset despite being a raw beginner, the good news is that even an artist-level 10-hole diatonic harmonica is not that expensive when compared to most other instruments. Pro harmonicas, like the German-made Hohners and Lee Oskars can be had for $25 to $45. These instruments have better tone, tuning, and longer life than their cheaper cousins.

You can easily identify the better harmonicas because they're manufactured in multiple keys. But you should still start with one in the key of C, since most instructional books, videos, and DVDs will assume that's what you're using. And, since "C" is one of the four or five most commonly used harmonicas among professionals, you won't outgrow your harmonica if you do decide to begin with a pro-level.

Hohner Big River HarpWe suggest that you check out the Hohner Big River Harp, the Hohner Special 20 and the Lee Oskar Major Diatonic.

The Big River Harp is a relatively new model that is attracting the attention of pro harmonica players. It's Hohner's least-expensive German-made model. It seems to have the life expectancy of the Special 20, yet it's Hohner Special 20 harmonica several dollars cheaper. The contour of the cover is somewhat higher than Hohner's other models, giving the Big River a thick profile that's easy to hold. And, it has the advantage of having replaceable reed plates, which is a money-saving alternative to throwing away an out-of-tune harmonica.

The Special 20 is our favorite Hohner diatonic for price and quality. It's also the first choice of demanding players like Blues Travellers' John Popper. If you look closely at the cover plate, you'll see the inscription "Marine Band" in small letters. Therein lies an explanation for its broad appeal: it has the reeds, tone, and feel Lee Oskar Major Diatonic harmonica that closely resemble the world-famous wood-bodied Hohner Marine Band. However, the Special 20 has all the advantages of a plastic body. Why not make it your own first choice?

The serious beginner can't go wrong with a Lee Oskar Major Diatonic, the choice of many pros for playing blues, rock, folk, jazz and country. Constructed with a plastic body and with replaceable reed plates, its durability and tone is renowned.

Okay, you have your first harmonica. If you are ready to learn to play, go to our Tips for Beginners page.


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