So you’ve done your research, you’ve been inspired to learn a new instrument, and you’re ready to pick out and Buy Your First Harmonica. When you are first picking out a new harmonica, there are a lot of things you must first know, and keep in consideration when you do start the shopping process.
While there are many different types and models of harmonicas, they can also range drastically in price. Since harmonicas are small, easy-to-use instruments, they can actually be fairly affordable to buy, and thankfully you don’t need to spend a fortune to get professional quality harmonicas. There are many things to think about when picking out a harmonica, including what type you will be needing, know which key to buy your harmonica in, and great harmonicas to look in to if you are at the beginner level.
Right off the bat, there are Two Things you NEED to think about:
Two Major Tips for Buying a Harmonica
These may seem incredibly simple, but keep them in mind as you shop around for a Good Starter Harmonica.
Don’t Go Too Cheap
A word of caution: Unless it is your very First Harmonica, try not to find the cheapest one out there. Cheap Harmonicas are subject to busting reeds quite easily. Once your harmonica gets one or two dead notes, you can either try to repair it, or get a new one. Even if you are capable of fixing reeds, if it is cracked, there’s no help for that harmonica that will bring it back to its former state.
Don’t Spend Too Much
As great as it would be to always have the best $100+ Harmonicas loaded in your pockets and on your shelves, this might not be the best idea. While Professional Harmonicas run a bit higher in price, you certainly do not want to start there. It’s worth it in the long run to grab a cheap one, then one a bit more expensive, then one a bit more, and so on. We found what we think is the the Best Inexpensive Harmonica. It’s worth taking a look because it could be just perfect for you!
This may cost you a little more over time, but you will get to experiment with Different Brands and find which one fits your preferences best. Also, ask around to find out who bought a harmonica and never bothered to learn to play it. Would you rather spend $10 and never play it after week one, or $100? That’s a lot of coffee you might have to give up for an ornamental piece on your shelf!
While the Harmonica is cheap and astoundingly easy to play, it still requires your time to learn the basics. BestHarmonica has a Guide on the Best Advice, and it outlines a few different Tiers of Harmonicas based on skill level that determine how much you should be spending. That might be the best place you can start if you are unsure of your budget.
Set a Budget
This is just good life advice. And I will admit: it is easier said than done. BUT! You do need to set a budget. Know what kind of music learner you are, know how you will plan on learning to play, know what kind of motivations you will need, and most importantly, know how much all of this will cost!
Buying the Harmonica is step one. The next is learning, whether on your own, or with assistance from an instructor, book, or online video (Either Free or Paid). Consider past learning experiences and how you failed or succeeded to determine what might be the best approach for learning something that will take patience and practice.
Make sure to leave room for both the Harmonica and the Lessons in your budget. Be realistic about how many lessons or how expensive of a Harmonica you plan on getting.
Once everything is set, you can look into Which Harmonica You Should Buy.
Different Types of Harmonicas
There are tons of different harmonicas on the market all ranging from basic models to some with very specialized sounds. Some of them may even be constructed just slightly different than a basic model creating a unique tone, but also may come with different playing techniques. This guide will not go over all the different kinds of harmonicas, but if you want to ready about them you can read the guide by clicking here. There are three main categories that most harmonicas will fall in to which are diatonic, chromatic, and tremolo.
Diatonic harmonicas are the most common types of harmonicas on the market (1). Typically most beginners and professionals play these types of harmonicas, and you can typically find the cheap, toy harmonicas in diatonic as well. Diatonic harmonicas are a standard 10-hole, with two reed plates in each hole, one for blowing and one for drawing, making it easy to hit a wide array of notes.
Diatonic harmonicas can be bought in different keys, but typically come in the standard key of C. Many advanced and professional players have learned specific note bending and overblowing techniques in attempts to widen the diatonic musical performance to play in modes other than its original key.
Who Uses Diatonic Harmonicas?
The diatonic harmonica is great for beginners, or learning the harmonica for the first time. As you continue to get more advanced and even better at playing the harmonica, you will be able to pick up more advanced techniques such at tongue slaps, tongue blocking, and playing in other positions to mesh with different instruments. A good diatonic harmonica is among the cheapest option for harmonicas only ranging between $35-$90 in price.
This will likely be your starting point, and rightfully so! Diatonic Harmonicas are where everyone should learn to play the harmonica. They will save you a good amount of money and will be easier to start with than something with many more reeds, holes, and notes available.
The greatest thing about Diatonic Harmonicas is that no one outgrows them! Anyone who plays harmonica, from the best of the best to first time players, can pick up and play one of these and get along just fine.
Chromatic harmonicas are another very common option that many players choose to pick up. These harmonicas are very similar to diatonic harmonicas, but have one distinct feature. Chromatic has a button on the side, and when pressed, redirects the air in the chambers to two different reed plates (2). It includes every note in the 12-note Western scale, making it possible to play any scale or mode using this nifty little button on the side.
Chromatic harmonicas come with stronger, sturdier reeds resulting in strong, rich, tones. However, this does make techniques such as note bending and overblowing a little more difficult than its diatonic counterpart. They are also much more difficult to play, and is not a model that is recommended for beginners.
Who Uses Chromatic Harmonicas?
Rather, it is suggested that you learn all positions on a diatonic harmonica to create a sold base for yourself, and pick up a chromatic harmonica when you are up for the challenge. Because these harmonicas provide a much wider range and are built mush differently than the diatonic, they are more on the expensive side ranging anywhere from $120 – $250 for a good quality harmonica.
Lastly, are the tremolo harmonicas, typically the least common option. These harmonicas are unique in that comb is split down the middle providing double holes, and two reed plates per hole. These reed plates are tuned to the same key, but one reed is slightly higher and played in unison.
Really, the tremolo harmonicas are two harmonicas built in to one device, making it very different to pick up and play from a diatonic harmonica. Because of its structure, the tremolo notes cannot be bent, therefore not producing the classic blues sound we all expect from harmonicas. Tremolo is typically found played in most traditional Asian music, and is very popular among the Chinese culture.
Who Uses Tremolo Harmonicas?
While tremolo does provide a unique and specialized sound, it is not usually recommended for beginners, unless you are looking to accomplish a certain style of music that can only be obtained by learning this harmonica. They are much more affordable than chromatic harmonicas, only ranging between $30-$50 for a good quality instrument.
Determine Your Skill Level
After learning the different types of harmonicas, you must then ask yourself what your skill level is. This will be important when deciding which harmonica to purchase. If you are completely new to the instrument, and are looking to get started, it is highly recommended to start with a diatonic harmonica.
This harmonica is great for beginners, but is easy to attempt more tricky maneuvers, as you get better. Chromatic harmonicas are the next level up. If you are ready for a challenge, or just ready to play a harmonica that can produce every note in the 12-note Western scale, then this is a great harmonic to purchase. It is not a great option for beginners, but rather only if you are looking to take your skills to the next level.
In conclusion, there are many available options for harmonicas out there, all ranging in model, type, and skill level. They are each constructed different to meet the needs of every player, and some even take a specific style of playing in order to master. Once you have a solid foundation of what to look for, it’s important to find a harmonica that is high quality, but also easy on your wallet.
Hohner is a very popular harmonica brand that has been dominating since 1857. They create high quality, well-made harmonicas at a very inexpensive price. In fact, many of their beginner harmonicas are under $10. The bottom line is, you don’t need to spend a lot of money on a harmonica to get the professional quality you are looking for.