10 Different Types of Harmonicas

The harmonica is an instrument that is relatively easy to play. To do so all you need to do is inhale and exhale through its holes. In harmonica jargon, it is called blowing and drawing.

This action follows the motion usually from left to right. Blowing into the holes of you can derive the chord of C, E, and G all in the key of C. To do the other chords of D, F, B, and A you have to draw your breath.

1. Diatonic Harmonica

This member of the harmonica family, the Diatonic harmonica is the simplest of all. It also is the most common that comprises 10 holes.

The diatonic harmonica is made to play a major diatonic scale. To play different notes the technique called bending is being used.

While shifting to another scale, it can be done by playing in varied positions. Since this is the basic harmonica, it is recommendable for beginners to learn.

Top: Chromatic Harmonica, Bottom: Diatonic Harmonica

2. Chromatic Harmonica

If the diatonic is the simplest, the Chromatic harmonica is the fancier version. This type has a small button on the side. When it is pressed, the note you are playing will be higher by a half step.

This feature allows the user to play the musical notes in line with a chromatic scale. It makes this harmonica versatile but a bit harder to play.

3. Tremolo Harmonica

The Tremolo harmonicas are designed like the Diatonic type. However, the Tremolo is constructed with double holes.

The additional set of double holes produces a different type of sound. These holes contain two reads each where one is of the same note and the other is tuned a bit higher than the other.

When played the differences create a vibrating sound. This melody produced is called the Tremolo effect. This harmonica is used to add special effects to the tune.

But due to the complexity, this piece can only play simple tunes. But the effect in natural creates makes the piece sound unique.

4. Orchestral Harmonica

The Orchestral harmonicas are intended to be an accompanying instrument. As the name implies, it is used as an ensemble for the orchestra.

The most common orchestral melody harmonicas are the horn harmonica. It is a blow-only variety and has a big single comb with reed plates. Unlike the conventional left to right, this is played from top to bottom.

If you prefer to play using the blow and draw technique, the polyphonia is more fitting. It can produce twelve chromatic notes that can easily fit to support musical performances.

The notes on this instrument are all laid out in the same row. Taking the role of an ensemble is daunting, which is the reason this harmonica is only fit for professional players to use.

5. Octave Harmonicas

The Octave harmonicas are designed to have two reeds per hole. The interesting thing about this instrument when it is played there are two tunes that are an octave apart.

What does it mean? When listening intently, the sound it creates is two tunes. Playing this instrument via blowing and drawing can make different notes. But One is distinctively in a higher compared to the other.

However, putting it together the melody just works like magic. This type of harmonica is fit to be added in musical pieces that are under the genre of Gospel, folk, or jigs.

6. Bass Harmonica

The Bass harmonica is an ensemble or accompanying instrument. This piece can only be played by blowing where bass notes are produced. Since its function is to assists a certain musical performance, the Bass harmonica is not the type beginners should own.

This instrument is recommended only to experienced players. The instrument key of this type is available in C or #C.

7. Chord Harmonicas

The Chord harmonicas have an impressive range with a total of 48 chords. It consists of the major, seventh, minor, diminished, and augmented chords with a four-note cluster layout. Whenever a player blows or draws it will produce a different chord sound.

The structure of the chord harmonica can have two reeds in each hole for every note. The tunes being made are one octave away from each other giving it a distinct sound.

It also has a lower-type version, that only features one reed per note. But either way the wide chord availability of this instrument makes it versatile enough to perform.

8. Electric Harmonica

The concept of electronic harmonica has been present since 1920. A prototype was done and announced during the 1970s. However, it was not made available in the market during that time.

Fast forward to the present, a product called the Turboharp ELX electric harmonica is being marketed. It is considered to be the first fully electronic harmonica.

The said piece plays in the key of C, just like its predecessors. This revolutionary invention aims to broaden the influence of the harmonica in the music industry.

9. ChengGong Harmonica

This interesting piece has the main body of a harmonica and features a sliding mouthpiece. The body consists of a 24-hole diatonic harmonica whose chords expand from B2 to D6 and covers 3 octaves in total.

The distinct addition which is the mouthpiece has 11 holes. As it easily slides in front of the harmonica it can create a versatile range of chords and voicings.

Aside from the mouthpiece that makes it unique, the manner of playing it is also unconventional. Either blowing or drawing is fine, either way, the notes that will be created are the same. Even if it is designed to make multiple melodies, producing single tunes is also possible with this harmonica.

10. Pitch pipe

This version of the harmonica is labeled as a simple specialty. Since its role is to provide a reference pitch to other instruments and singers.

For singing applications to cater the performances for singers and choirs the chromatic pitch pipe is used. This version gives a full 12-note chromatic octave.

At the same time, pitch pipes are also being used by people who play the strings. Its application is often used in instruments like violins and guitars.

The harmonica is usually a great addition to your music pieces. It will surely contribute a unique sound to the overall tune.

In terms of bringing things together, it can take the role of an essential ensemble piece. It can also be used to do fine-tuning of performances whether it be voice or by strings.

Image Credits:
Chromatic Harmonica Image by: CC BY-SA 3.0, Link
Tremolo Harmonicas Image by: Yves Furusho, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Pitch Pipe Image by: Simon Speed, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

Chromatic and Diatonic Harmonica Image by: George Leung, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons