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Half-Valved Harmonicas - What Are They & How Do They Work? | Beginner Lesson & Harp Tabs

Hello! In today's harmonica lesson, I'll tell you all about the half-valved harmonica. This is an amazing harmonica that allows you to bend every blow and draw note, giving you lots more expressive bending and allowing you to play chromatically without the need for overblows. Scroll down for some free song tabs to get you started!

What is a half-valved harmonica?

Half-valving means putting valves on 10 out of the possible 20 reeds of the harmonica. Simply put, this harmonica will allow you to bend notes that wouldn't normally be bendable.


Seydel 1847 half-valved harmonica
Seydel 1847 half-valved harmonica

Which notes can you bend?

On a half-valved harmonica, you can bend the notes on holes 1-6 blow and holes 7-10 draw (these would not bend on a standard harp). Combined with standard bending, this will give you 7 extra melodic notes plus lots more expressive bending.


If you know your normal diatonic harmonica bends, you'll realise that this means you can bend every note! It also means you can play fully chromatically without the need for overblows (and overbends are in fact impossible on this harp).


Below is a diagram of the bends available (including standard bends). Note that I haven't put a bend on hole 7 blow or 5 draw - this is because these holes will only produce microbends, not a new melodic tone. Note also that some of the new bends are repeat notes that are available already in other places:

Half-Valved Harmonica Note Layout (Key of C)
Half-Valved Harmonica Note Layout (Key of C)

What are the valves actually doing?

OK, bear with me for this as it can be a little bit confusing at first. We've added valves to 1-6 draw and 7-10 blow - yes, the opposite notes to the ones we're bending. This means when we play the opposite reed, the valve closes. For example, if you play 6 blow, the valve on 6 draw closes and 6 draw becomes inoperable. This stops the two reeds interacting together but it means you can now play a single reed bend - a new bend on 6 blow!


What does it sound like?

If you try a half-valved harmonica, you'll probably find the following: the 1-6 blow and 7-10 draw sound stronger and more responsive than on a standard harp, and, more generally, the harp sounds tighter, crisper, less breathy than a diatonic. Whether you like that or not is a matter of taste, I can't tell you what sound you like. You'll have to try it for yourself!


How do you bend a half-valved harmonica?

You can use your normal bending approach but it will need refining. Compared with normal bending, I find that to get a strong valve bend, I have to make a more subtle change to my mouth shape. On the other hand, I have to apply a bit more pressure. It takes some experimenting to get used to it. I certainly haven't mastered it yet - I’m still struggling to get the 7 draw bend down far enough without it squealing!


Half-valve bends practice exercises

I recommend you work through the following exercises to develop control of the new bends:

  1. Bend the natural note down and then back up

  2. Bend the natural note down and hold the bend

  3. Hit the natural note, then the bend, then the natural note again (without 'sliding' betwee them)

  4. Hit the bend, then the natural note, then the bend (like a reverse of step 3)

  5. Jump between all holes and bends at random (using the bends as melodic notes)


Half-valved harmonica song tabs

Here are some great song tabs to get you started on the half-valved harmonica:


Happy Birthday (2nd position) - includes valve bend on 6 blow

-4 -4 5 -4 6 6/

Happy birthday to you

-4 -4 5 -4 -6 6

Happy birthday to you

-4 -4 -8 -7 6 6/ 5

Happy birthday dear [someone]

7 7 -7 6 -6 6

Happy birthday to you


Happy Birthday (12th position) - includes valve bend on 7 draw

4 4 -4 4 -5 5

Happy birthday to you

4 4 -4 4 6 -5

Happy birthday to you

4 4 7 -6 -5 5 -4

Happy birthday dear [someone]

-7/ -7/ -6 -5 6 -5

Happy birthday to you


The Girl from Ipanema (12th position) - includes valve bends on 5 blow, 6 blow, 7 draw

6 5 5 -4 6 5 5 5

Tall and tan and young and lovely

-4 6 5 5 -4 6 5 5 5 5

The girl from Ipanema goes walking

-4 -5 -4 -4 -4 4 5 4 4 4 -3/ 4

And when she passes, each one she passes goes “Aah”


When she walks, she's like a samba

That swings so cool and sways so gentle that

When she passes, each one she passes goes “Aah”


-5 6/ -5 5/ -5 5/ -4/ 5/

Oh, but I watch her so sadly

- 6/ -6 -6/ 6/ -6/ 6/ 5 6/

How can I tell her “I love you?"

-6 -7/ -6 6 -6 6 -5 6

Yes, I would give my heart gladly

-6 -7/ 7 4 -4 5 -5 6 -6/

But each day, when she walks to the sea

-6 -7/ -3/ 4 -4 5 -5 6/

She looks straight ahead, not at me


Tall and tan and young and lovely

The girl from Ipanema goes walking

And when she passes, I smile but she doesn't see


Useful links

Here are some links I mention in the video lesson:



Thanks for following this harmonica lesson. I hope you enjoyed it!


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