What type of harmonica would be best for my 15 year old son?

I would like to get him an intermediate one rather than a beginner one. He has never played a harmonica before but he is somewhat musically talented. It would be one that he might use in Jazz Band in H.S. With his love of music I know he would learn it fast. He is a decent piano , oboe, alto saxophone and marimba player. There are 4 different types of harmonica's and that is my trouble. I do not know which type to get him for his Birthday.

1 Answer

  • CoachT
    Lv 7
    9 years ago
    Favorite Answer

    The different types of harmonica are for playing different types of music. The 10-hole diatonic that's most common is ideal for improvising the blues and is the one most commonly heard on pop recordings wailing for effect. If he'd like to be able to play along with that style then a 10-hole diatonic is the way to go. Even a really good "professional" one is under $50. Unlike his other instruments though - you need a set of 12 to play music in all keys.

    The tremolo and octave (double reeds) are for playing tunes and melodies and are especially appropriate for huge chunks of world folk music. Not only are these two different types - there are different types of these as well. The German made models (such as Hohner) are tuned to a Richter/Weiner scale whereas the Asian models (such as Suzuki) are solo or scale-tuned. This just adds to your selection issues.

    Then there's the chromatic. It's ideally suited for classical and jazz style playing but isn't as hot for wailing some blues. The other types are diatonic which means they are akin to a piano that has no black keys on it. The chromatic though has all of the black and white keys available.

    The Richter (and related Weiner) system is ideal for folks who don't know music theory and don't really read music. There's a scale pattern that's intuitive and only includes some of the notes of a scale. The 10-hole diatonic is a good example and it's easy for most non-musicians to learn because of that intuitive scale pattern. It will drive a trained musician nuts though and is why many people who already play an instrument have a terrible time learning harmonica. The usual comment is "there are notes missing!" which is true but it's by design. Without someone who plays harmonica nearby as a guide, most trained wind musicians get frustrated with them and toss it into a drawer.

    Scale-tuned and Solo-tuned though is equally frustrating for the non-musicians to learn on and you hear often "chromatic is much harder to learn" - but that is in comparison to the diatonic from the non-musician's view. People who already play an instrument will find that a chromatic (or scale tuned diatonic) is MUCH easier to learn than a Richter system harmonica. It's also more in keeping with the sorts of music (written in western notation) they already play. It's simply "blow, draw, blow, draw, blow, draw, draw, blow and you have do, re, mi, fa.... through the whole harp; throw the lever to raise the pitch a 1/2 step." Wind players "get" that real easy.

    All of that explained - I'd suggest something that is scale-tuned or solo-tuned and lean toward a chromatic if it's in the budget.

    * Chromatic - Hohner Super Chromonica model 270 in C [ http://www.musiciansfriend.com/folk-traditional-in... ] Best choice for jazz and classical music.

    * Diatonic single reed - Hohner Marine Band model 364s in C [ http://www.musiciansfriend.com/folk-traditional-in... ] - this is a Marine Band model that's solo tuned so that it has a full scale for the entire range. It's different than a Marine Band 1896 model but will do some of the things a 10-hole does (like bend for blues) and some things a chromatic does (like provide a full major scale for 3 octaves)

    * Tremolo - Hohner Echo Celeste in C or G - [ http://www.musiciansfriend.com/folk-traditional-in... ] don't let the price fool you, these are awesome solo-tuned tremolo harps. Not as good as a Suzuki Su21H but they aren't $100 either.

    * Tremolo - Suzuki Su21H in C [ http://www.musiciansfriend.com/folk-traditional-in... ] among the best examples of the Asian style scale-tuned tremolo harps.

    * Octave - Hohner Comet 2503/32 in C [ http://www.musiciansfriend.com/folk-traditional-in... ] a real classic. The design is pretty cool too. There's a larger model 2504/40 [ http://www.musiciansfriend.com/folk-traditional-in... ] that adds some range. Fantastic for playing folk songs but not scale-tuned so plenty of notes are missing in the bottom.

    And, if you think he'd like to go standard blues harp style to learn to wail some blues then:

    * Hohner Marine Band model 1896 in C [ http://www.musiciansfriend.com/folk-traditional-in... ] simply the top selling harmonica in the world for about 100 years and the choice of most professional blues style players for the incredible price of under $40

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