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Do you need to read music to play harmonica?

Updated: Oct 22, 2021

So you're wondering if your lack of musical knowledge will hold you back as a harmonica player. Lucky for you, there is a way to learn harmonica without having to read music. Read on to find out how...

Does reading music matter?

OK, so the first disclaimer is that reading music is a really useful skill to have, whether you're learning harmonica or any other instrument, so don't take this is a reason NOT to learn some theory if you want to. However the great thing is that loads of people play the harmonica really well (to a professional standard in many cases) without ever learning to read a single note. So how can that be true?

Introducing tabs

Sheet music is just a way of interpreting sounds. It's a fantastic way of codifying and communicating melody, harmony, rhythm and tempo. But lots of musicians play "by ear" which means they can work things out my listening to songs directly, without the need for sheet music. Sound scary? It is at first, but gets easier as you do it more and it's great fun too. To help you along the way, we use tablature ('tabs') to express the notes in a simple, uncluttered way. Tabs tell us which holes to play in what order, and also the direction of airflow. This helps with learning and memorising a song and has become the most popular way of learning harmonica in the modern age. I have 100s of free harmonica tabs on my website.

If you'd like to understand more about specific symbols we use, check out this video I made:

I hope this helps you to understand a little bit more about why you don't necessarily need to read music to play harmonica. Let me know your thoughts and questions in the comments!

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