What are the notes of the harmonica and how do you play them? I'm Liam Ward at LearnTheHarmonica.com and I'm going to show you. Scroll down for a video lesson plus diagrams and top tips to help you get some great harmonica sounds today!
The notes on a harmonica
So what are the notes of a harmonica? Take a look at the diagram below:
This is the note layout for a 10 hole diatonic harmonica in the key of C. For beginners it's best to start with the notes in the middle octave of the harmonica - that's holes 4 to 7. We can plays lots of great melodies on these holes without the need for any advanced techniques.
The major scale
To start with, you can play the major scale. This is a good building block for lots of melodies. These are the notes of the C major scale:
C - D - E - F - G - A - B - C
You can play the major scale by playing up from hole 4, going blow-draw-blow-draw until you reach hole 7 where you need to play the draw note first, then blow (I'll show you the tabs for this below).
Tablature (tab) is the most popular way of learning to play harmonica. It is easy because it shows you the hole number of the harmonica to find, and the air flow (inhale or exhale).
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Positive numbers are blow notes (outward breath)
Negative/minus numbers are draw notes (inward breath)
4 = hole four blow
-4 = hole four draw
So our C major scale, in harmonica tabs, looks like this:
4 -4 5 -5 6 -6 -7 7
Playing clean notes
If you try playing the scale, you'll probably get "messy" notes. To play it cleanly, you need to learn to isolate a single hole. You can then blow (outward breath) or draw (inward breath) to create clean, clear notes which can be used to build melodies or songs. There are different ways of playing single notes, but the most common is the pucker method (a.k.a. lip pursing).
The pucker method is usually the most intuitive for beginners. You simply need to narrow your mouth so that you can isolate a single hole. It can give you a great sound if you do it right. To get a great pucker sound, follow these steps:
1. Make an 'oh' shape with your mouth.
2. Keep your jaw low and your tongue relaxed.
3. Place the harmonica to your mouth and breathe naturally.
The key to getting a clean note with this technique is how narrow your mouth is. Keep your lips relaxed as you do this because any tension will affect the sound. Try to think of placing the harmonica into your mouth rather than reaching out the instrument with your lips. Your tongue should be relaxed and you should breathe freely and easily.
Here's what a pucker shape would look like if you could see through the harmonica:
Try not to look at the harp as you put it to your mouth. That leads to using your eyes rather than your ears, plus it doesn't help because you can't see the holes when you are actually playing.
Congratulations, you're playing the harmonica!
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I hope you enjoyed this lesson. Good luck and see you again soon.
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