As you may already know, the best harmonica to start out with if you are new is a Harmonica in the Key of C Major, which is by far the Most Common Harmonica Key used. This is typically the best to learn on and easiest key to play along with other instruments. But what happens if the song you’re jamming out to isn’t in the key of C?
Details to Consider
Easy, you simply pick up another harmonica! While there are many benefits to buying a harmonica in the key of C, buying harmonicas in other keys open op a whole new world of music for you. To determine which key you should buy your next harmonica in, there are a few questions you must ask your self first.
Solo or Group Setting
Ask yourself whether you wish to play the harmonica alone or in a group. If you plan to play the harmonica for your own enjoyment, stress-relief, or to maybe to just advance your skill before you choose to play with others, then you are able to use any harmonica in any key. Any song you choose to learn, can be altered to play in any key you wish, and it is encouraged as you continue to advance you skill, to eventually expand your ability to other harmonica keys.
If you wish to play in a group, a duo, or even adding a harmonica to your guitar or other instrument, then the key of your harmonica will be dependent on the key of the song that you wish the play along with. While majority of songs can be played along with the harmonica in the key of C, it is important to recognize and know when to play harmonicas in other keys. In order to know which key of harmonica to buy, you must also identify if you are playing along in straight harp or cross harp positions.
Straight harp, or first position, means that you are starting with the key your harmonica is in. For example, if you have a harmonica in the key of C, then first position would start with ‘C’. If you were playing in cross harp, or second position, then you would start with ‘G’ or the 5th hole up. Playing straight harp usually means you start with blow notes, emphasizing the notes and chords. Usually this type of music is more American folksy style of playing, and is the most common position.
Cross harp, or second position, usually means you start with draw notes, emphasizing the notes and chords. Cross harp is usually found in Blues, Country, and Pop songs, and usually starts with the 5th note up from first position. If you plan to play this style of music, you will find yourself primarily playing in second position. While these notes can be accomplished by playing first position, it does require more advanced techniques in order to accomplish, and it is typically encouraged to just play in the second position.
Patterns Will Remain the Same
One thing that is important to keep in mind is that while the notes may vary, the pattern you learn for any song will remain the same for each key of the major diatonic. This means that if you learn to play your favorite song on the harmonica, you will be able to play that song in any major key, using the same drawing and blowing breath patterns. This can be fun and exciting when first experimenting with different harmonicas and their tones.
One of the biggest selling points of buying harmonicas in other keys, is the ability to play any song in any key. The major diatonic keys in order are, C A G D E F Bb Eb, and owning these will allow you to play along with any instrument (1).
If your goal is to sit in with others, it is advised to own all 12 keys, as this will widen your ability to match any song that you may be jamming along with. However, if you are just starting out and looking to expand your collection, it is advised to own at least the first 5 keys – C, A, G, D, and E.
Things to Remember When Buying Harmonicas in Other Keys
There are many places to purchase these harmonicas when you first start shopping. Remember, while you don’t need to spend a fortune on harmonicas, you also don’t want to buy a toy that will break right away. Always look to the top makers, such as Hohner, as that will give you the professional quality you need without breaking the bank.
Many of these makers actually sell harmonicas in sets, and some sets even include all 12 keys. Deepening on the set, you can expect to spend anywhere for $50 – $120 on a harmonica set that includes all major keys, and maybe even a few one-off keys for special use. Either way, it is possible to buy the harmonicas you need in a set, rather than researching and buying each individually harmonica key separately.
Harmonicas We Like
We have included a few of the sets that we think are worthwhile to look at for your first Harmonicas other than the Key of C Major, or as upgrades to your current collection.
This Set is a great starting point for anyone looking to grab that first expansion. Fender is well-known for their guitars, and they don’t make top-of-the-line Harmonicas, but they do give the competition a run for their money.
At this price, they are certainly worth the investment early on in anyone’s harmonica career.
Swan is a little more well-known in the Harmonica world than Fender. They make great Harmonicas all the way from beginner to professional. Getting a set of 7 harmonicas is a fantastic way to learn to dabble in all the different keys, and begin to play with people no matter what key they might choose to play in.
See why we chose Swan Diatonic Harmonicas for Our Favorite Starter Harmonicas.
East Top is Easily among the Best Harmonica Brands you can buy, which is no wonder it made our lists! This set is a little more expensive than the previous two, but it will certainly last longer than the others because of the increased quality and diligent workmanship put into the instruments.
East Top is a great brand to explore investing in for your harmonica collection!
In conclusion, there are many reasons to buy harmonicas in different keys. Of course, harmonicas in the key of C will always be a standard and common choice for beginners, as well as a common piece of any harmonocist’s collection. Playing in the key of C is a great place to start.
Once you have maneuvered through different techniques, played around with first and second position, or are ready to start jamming with other musicians, then you may be ready to pick up some new additions to add to your harmonica family. Playing the harmonica in different keys, as you can see, has been positive benefits for harmonica players.
While a pianist can play scales up and down the ivory keys to match the key of other songs, harmonocists simply just pick up a new harmonica. This allows you the ability to play any song, in any key, and in any major scale. Not only will you be able to successfully jam out with other musicians, but you will also continue to expand your knowledge and sharpen your skill. As your harmonica skills continue to grow, so will your collection of harmonicas.