Like other musical instruments, there are actually several types of harmonicas in the market which vary in terms of what music they can play, what they look like and what level they are most suited for.
Each of the models of harmonicas have varying purposes that they are outfitted for, but with some creativity, there can be some crossover. Here is a list of the types of harmonicas currently available for users to choose from:
The most commonly used harmonica types, especially by beginners, are diatonic harmonicas in different keys. Diatonic harmonicas are made to play the major scale of one specific key, but if the harmonica’s tuning is done in the usual ‘Richter’ diatonic tuning, it will be able to play in other keys by adding additional pressure to the reeds in order for it to play tunes that it could not otherwise play.
It is not unusual for avid and professional players to have a collection of multiple diatonic harmonicas, since they are limited to one key each. Even though this limitation seems like a setback, diatonic harmonicas are most often ideal, since they are the easiest to learn and master. Additionally, a majority of music, especially for beginners, is locked into one key anyways.
An example of a common style of music utilizing these kinds of harmonicas is country or blues rock. Learning different types of harmonicas and styles, like the blues harp will give a readiness to play whenever an opportunity arises, since the instrument can easily fit in your back pocket.
A blues harmonica style may be desirable because it can be played quickly or slowly and allows opportunity for bending notes, depending on your preference and skill level.
Lastly, blues rock with this type of harmonica playing simply sounds good! All Harmonica players own at least one of the diatonic harmonicas. Even with the classic diatonic harmonicas, varying techniques can yield incredibly different sounds. Different positions or trying to bend notes are fun techniques that tend to have the best creative results.
The second major type of harmonica in the market is the chromatic harmonica. Diatonic and chromatic harmonicas are by far the most popular Chromatic harmonicas have a button on their side which helps redirect air flow around the harmonica and apply it to a reed of your choice.
If by any chance you do not want to use the side button, you will be able to play the altered diatonic major scale which your harmonica has. As a result of this feature, a player with a chromatic harmonica can play all 12 notes of the Wester scale.
Users can purchase chromatic harmonicas with 12, 14, or 16 holes in them depending on the keys one wishes to cover. The most common choice for players is the key of C as it allows them to guide the more easily than with other keys.
Many players also purchase chromatic harmonicas in order to assist them in doing solo tuning. In this case, the 12-hole chromatic would have its lowest note at middle C, while the 16-hole chromatic would begin its notes with a lower octave.
The third major type is the tremolo harmonica, which has the capacity to play two reeds at the same time. It is notable that the pitch of these reeds varies as one is sharper and the other is flat. Some often consider this effect to highlight the changes in the song’s pitch despite playing the same note all over again. Tremolo harmonicas tend to be popular in East Asia as part of their folk music compositions.
Tremolo harmonicas are not seen too often in many western settings because playing a scale may be difficult and honestly quite confusing for beginners. The notes are in a different order than the piano, for instance, which makes mastering the music theory behind it all the more difficult.
That being said, if you are looking for a challenge, consider shopping around for a tremolo harmonica.
Specialized harmonicas are also available and in this case, they are only used on specific occasions. The most notable specialized harmonica is the orchestral harmonica which is only used in orchestral performances. This harmonica guides players in directing the range and pitch of the song and changing keys.
There is also an Asian type of harmonica known as the ChengGong harmonica. This harmonica also has a main body, but unlike a harmonica with a steady or permanent mouthpiece, this harmonica has a sliding mouthpiece.
This harmonica comes is a 24-hole diatonic harmonica which covers 3 different octaves. The 11th hole can slide along the harmonica to provide a variety of chords.
It is also capable of playing a single note song much like a regular harmonica. You can’t play different notes by blowing and drawing in the same position of this harmonica since it can only produce the same note each time.
Another specialized harmonica available in the market is the pitch pipe. Normally, this harmonica is used as a guide for singers and other players when it comes to which pitch to follow.
Pitch pipes are now divided into several versions: chromatic pitch pipes which can perform 12-note octaves for choirs and the pitch pipes meant for string players to help them tune the open strings on their instruments.
Glass Diatonic Harmonica
There is also a glass version of a diatonic harmonica invented in 2009 by Geoff Stengel. This harmonica is actually a diatonic harmonica made with glass components. In this case, the glass is borosilicate glass to ensure that it will not break easily.
Each of the reeds can be changed and everything is held together with brass screws. To achieve the color of each part of this harmonica, oxides and the borosilicate glass are mixed by hand to get the right effect.
Finally, electric harmonicas can also be bought in the market today. This type of harmonica doesn’t look any different to harmonicas available in the market today.
However, this type of harmonica has a microphone inside to ensure that the sound it makes is louder without needing an amplifier. This type of harmonica is made by the founder of Harmonix Harmonicas, Richard Smith, who has the patent for this design.
Among the less known harmonicas is the bass harmonica. It comes in a few variations, and it is exactly what it sounds like it would be; the bass harmonica plays those low notes, giving it a deep accordion noise rather than a chipper higher pitched noise.
They certainly are not an ideal starting point since they aren’t commonly seen or used, but bass harmonicas are mesmerizing instruments to listen to and watch people play. So if you are looking for a new party trick, perhaps this could be a fun one go to with!