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Top 10 myths about playing harmonica

Updated: Oct 22, 2021

It's time to debunk some common harmonica myths. These are things I see all the time in comments on YouTube and things I get asked about a lot in emails. It's all just a bit of fun so don't take it too seriously but I do think they're useful things to know!

MYTH #1: Harmonica is only good for playing blues

FALSE. There are so many great players across the world playing all sorts of musical styles on harmonica: pop, rock, jazz, classical and all sorts of folk music. There are loads of different types of harmonica available and each suits certain genres more than others. Diatonic harmonicas (the ones I play and likely the one you play too) are great for blues, but also useful for other types of music too.

MYTH #2: Harmonica is easy to play

TRUE and FALSE. It's easy to play badly! But that's true of all instruments. It's difficult to play well, which means there are lots of bad harp players out there. You'll need to put in some real work if you want to become one of the good guys.

MYTH #3: Bob Dylan is a bad harmonica player

TRUE. No questions asked!

MYTH #4: You should soak your harmonica in alcohol

FALSE. Some old-school harp players do this to make a wooden comb more airtight and help them get a full rich sound with less effort. Soaking your harp will make the wood swell and seal tightly in the short-term but once it dries the harmonica will crack and be even less airtight than before, so don't do it!

MYTH #5: Expensive harmonicas make you sound good

TRUE and FALSE. Posh harps sound awesome, but they're only needed by top players. If you're a beginner or intermediate, you're probably better off working on your technique as the extra 1% that an expensive instrument will give you won't make as big a difference as learning proper technique. Once you progress, you might find that a top-end or custom harp helps you to achieve certain techniques (e.g. overblows) more easily, or plays with very little effort.

MYTH #6: An amp will make you sound better

FALSE. Amps will only ever make you sound louder. Put shit in, get shit out. That's the simple truth of it.

MYTH #7: Reading music is a waste of time

FALSE. It's only necessary but it can be very useful, especially for more complex musical forms.

MYTH #8: Harmonicas only play in one key

TRUE and FALSE. Diatonic harmonicas are indeed built to play in one specific key. However, it's actually possible to play them in all 12 keys by learning extra techniques. Other types of harmonica (e.g. chromatic) are actually designed to play in all keys without the need for any fancy techniques.

MYTH #9: Harmonica is good for your health

TRUE. Studies show that it can help your lung capacity. The harmonica has been used as part of COPD treatment and has achieved great results. Like all musical instruments, It's also a great opportunity to expand your knowledge and connect with other people so it's great for your mental health too.

MYTH #10: Harmonica can't be taught

FALSE. I would say this otherwise I'm out of a job! This myth comes from the fact that it's difficult to see a lot of what's going on when you play the harmonica, but that's all part of the fun. An experienced teacher will help you smash through this veil of mystery and give you clear instructions on how to play harmonica.

What myths have you heard about harmonica? Let me know in the comments.

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