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Harmonicas: Diatonic

Diatonic- The standard 10-hole diatonic harmonica comes in all 12 keys of music and allow you to play a complete seven-note scale of the key of the harmonica. Additional notes from outside the scale can be acquired by "bending" certain draw (inhale) and blow (exhale) notes. Most professionals primarily play diatonic harmonica. Diatonic harmonicas are typically used in blues, rock, country, and folk, but can also be found in nearly all styles of music. They are sometimes referred to as a "blues harp", "harp", "short harp", or "standard 10-hole".

The particular model and brand of diatonic played by your favorite pro is not important when choosing a harmonica, more importantly, learn to play like the pro and you will sound like them. If you are at all serious about learning to play, start with a good quality one. The cheaper ones leak air, are very difficult to learn to bend on, and can cause no end of frustration.

Please Note: All keys of standard diatonic harmonicas are layed out and played the same way. That is, if you own a standard 10-hole diatonic in a key other than the key of "C" (like an "A" or "D" for instance), it will play the same as the "C" for songs, riffs, and instruction, but the music comes out in a different key which is only important if you are playing along with guitar players or CDs.

More from "Harmonica Types Defined".

Buy Lee Oskar harmonica
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  Recommended by Harmonica Lessons.com
The Lee Oskar Major Diatonic- "Our No. 1 recommendation. The serious beginner can't go wrong with the standard Lee Oskar major diatonic in the key of "C". It is a bit more expensive than some of the other brands, but worth the price for it's consistent volume, tone, and durability. It's airtightness makes it easier to learn to bend on. Be sure to use the pulldown menu to select the key of "C" if you are just starting out. The Lee Oskar harmonicas also feature the 1st position and 2nd position keys printed on the ends of each diatonic for easy reference. You can also order Lee Oskar Replacement Reed Plates when the reeds go bad."

Buy Lee Oskar harmonica

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Hohner Marine Band Crossover Harmonica- With the new Crossover, Hohner has expanded the Marine Band series to introduce a new, top-of-the-line professional quality instrument for the discerning player in modern blues, rock, jazz, soul or funk. The revolutionary laminated bamboo comb (patent pending) is completely sealed, making it water repellent and exceptionally stable. In combination with the screw together assembly the Crossover is extremely airtight, with fast, even response and a raspy, powerful sound which is exceptionally well suited to amplified playing as well as acoustic styles....
Hohner 51101 XB-40 Extreme
Bending Harp
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Lee Oskar Harmonica 5-Pack with Case- "Includes 5 Lee Oscar Major Diatonic Harmonicas (keys of A, C, D, F, and G) and a hardshell harmonica case to carry them. The Major Diatonic Harmonicas are more airtight, easier to bend, and better sounding than most other harps. The hardshell harmonica case features a black Tolex cover, imitation leather accents with creme piping, a plush interior, and a locking latch under the handle. Holds 20 diatonic and 2 chromatic harmonicas. Removable tray, plenty of room for cables, microphone, and accessories."
Harmonica Lessons.com
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*No.1 Online Instruction: Start learning now!
Harmonica Lessons.comô (website)- "Over 425 pages of harmonica instruction and information. LEARN IMMEDIATELY !! Includes over 150 of the most popular and requested tabs and songs anywhere -- Learn to play the blues -- Play Techniques like Single Notes & Bending. Can't find or afford a teacher? Besides the text-based instruction and MP3 audio examples, use the Members Forums for help. Theory, Blues Riffs, Complete Beginners Section, and much more. Free samples available."
Buy Hohner Special 20
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  Recommended by Harmonica Lessons.com
Hohner Special 20- This is our favorite Hohner diatonic for price and quality. This model is "Just Intonation" tuned so that your chord playing sounds a bit smoother and richer. Be sure to use the pulldown menu to select the key of "C" if you are just starting out. See bottom of this page for "Low-tuned" Special 20's.

Hohner 560/20 Special 20 Harmonica Pack with Case and Belt
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Hohner 560/20 Special 20 Harmonica Pack with Case and Belt- This Harmonica Pack includes all natural keys: A, B, C, D, E, F and G. The Special 20 harmonicas are exceptionally warm sounding, airtight, and have bolt-on covers. The case is constructed of high-impact ABS plastic with a solid aluminum valance, creating maximum protection for harmonicas, while still being lightweight. Holds up to 12 diatonics and one chromatic. 12-3/8" x 10-1/2" x 2-3/4". The belt provides quick, easy access to harps and helps organize keys during performance.
Hohner Blues Bender P.A.C. Harmonica
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Hohner Blues Bender P.A.C. Harmonica- The new Blues Bender P.A.C. harmonica features Patented Acoustic Covers that are based on the design of the Marine Band Harmonica. The Blues Bender was designed mostly to make playing and note bending easy for entry level players, and allows everybody access to the bluesy notes needed to make any riff complete. Our Comments: We sampled a few of these models when they came out, and contrary to the advertising, found that they were not very airtight. Harmonicas that leak air actually make it much more difficult to learn to bend. Caveat Emptor.
Hohner 51101 XB-40 Extreme
Bending Harp
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*Please note: NOT a standard diatonic
Hohner 1101 XB-40 Extreme Bending Harp- The new XB-40 Harmonica was designed by Hohner USA's own Rick Epping and offers the player complete bending freedom with 10 holes and 40 reeds. Precision engineered and manufactured under the highest quality standards, the Hohner XB-40's revolutionary design permits a level of expression and note bending capability never before possible on any harmonica.
Hohner Marine Band Deluxe
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Hohner Marine Band Deluxe- This harmonica incorporates a variety of improvements on the original design which optimize and ensure greater volume and faster response, while retaining the rich and powerful Hohner classic sound. Improvements include: re-designed cover plates for greater volume and enhanced stability, assembled with 3 reed plate screws and 4 cover screws to maximize air tightness and facilitate maintenance, sealed pear wood comb for greater volume and faster response, channel openings and outer corners rounded off for greater playing comfort.
Buy Hohner Pro Harp
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Hohner Pro Harp (MS)- This is also a good choice for a Hohner diatonic. Be sure to use the pulldown menu to select the key of "C" if you are just starting out. The "MS" in the Hohner-MS refers to the Hohner Modular System which means you can use these reed plates interchangeably between all "MS" products and buy "MS" replacement reed plates.
Buy Hohner Golden Melody
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Hohner Golden Melody- This is a good choice for advanced players that are looking to venture into overblows and overdraws. These, like the Lee Oskar diatonics, are designed more for single note playing than chord style playing because of it's "equal" tuning and intonation. Be sure to use the pulldown menu to select the key of "C" if you are just starting out. *Click on the photo or name of product to make the purchase.
Buy Hohner Meisterklasse
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Hohner Meisterklasse (MS)- This is the high end of the Hohner diatonic line with an aluminum comb and MS reed plates. They look great, but frankly, play and sound about the same as some of the less expensive Hohner models recommended above. Be sure to use the pulldown menu to select the key of "C" if you are just starting out. The "MS" in the Hohner-MS refers to the Hohner Modular System which means you can use these reed plates interchangeably between all "MS" products and buy "MS" replacement reed plates.
Buy Hohner Cross Harp
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Hohner Cross Harp (MS)- This is also a good choice for a Hohner diatonic. It comes with cool black cover plates and a gold-anodized plastic comb. They look great, but frankly, play and sound about the same as some of the less expensive Hohner models recommended above. The "MS" in the Hohner-MS refers to the Hohner Modular System which means you can use these reed plates interchangeably between all "MS" products and buy "MS" replacement reed plates.
Buy Hohner Marine Band
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Hohner Marine Band - This wood-combed harmonica (which pre-1975 was the best diatonic anyone could buy), is not recommended for beginners or someone that does not plan on spending the time or money involved on customizing it to seal the pear wood comb. These harmonicas leak air and make it very difficult for beginners to learn on, especially the bending technique. A pro customizer can make Marine Bands play great, but it's not cheap. Does the wood comb make these harmonicas sound better than plastic combed diatonics? No, 99.9% of the overall sound quality comes from the player's own abilities.
Buy Hohner Marine Band
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Hohner Blues Harp (MS)- The "MS" in the Hohner-MS refers to the Hohner Modular System which means you can use these reed plates interchangeably between all "MS" products and buy "MS" replacement reed plates. Our comments: For a Hohner with a wood-comb, this is the best one out of the box in terms of consistent air-tightness. If you're an experienced player give it a try. If you are a beginner, you are best off starting with a plastic comb model like the Lee Oskar Major Diatonic or Hohner Special 20 (listed at the top of this page).
Buy Hohner Marine Band
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Hohner "Big River" (MS) - The "MS" in the Hohner-MS refers to the Hohner Modular System which means you can use these reed plates interchangeably between all "MS" products and buy "MS" replacement reed plates. Our comments: If you insist on saving $5-$10 on your harmonica purchase, this is the one to get. It is the best of the lower-priced models on the market. But, we still recommend you pay a few more dollars and get a more consistent, airtight model. Especially if you are a beginner, you are best off starting with an overall better quality harmonica like the Lee Oskar Major Diatonic or Hohner Special 20 (listed at the top of this page).
Buy Lee Oskar harmonica
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The Lee Oskar "Natural Minor" Diatonic- Don't be confused. This is not a standard tuned diatonic and it is not what we recommend for beginners. This is a special purpose harmonica. The "Natural Minor" tuned diatonic is made specifically to be played in the 2nd position and is used for songs in minor keys. It's a little confusing, but the key of the harmonica is the key for the 2nd position playing. Typically, the key of the harmonica is the same as the 1st position playing, but not in this case (same as the "Melody Maker" listed below). The most common minor key used in music is "A" minor. This is most likely the key you would want to buy first. After that, if there is a specific song you want to play to, buy that Natural Minor keyed harmonica. Remember to play in the 2nd position.
Buy Lee Oskar harmonica
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The Lee Oskar "Harmonic Minor" Diatonic- Don't be confused. This is not a standard tuned diatonic and it is not what we recommend for beginners. This is a special purpose harmonica. The "Harmonic Minor" tuned diatonic is made specifically to be played in the 1st position and is used for songs in minor keys based on the harmonic minor scale. The most common minor key used in music is "A" minor. When available, this is most likely the key you would want to buy first. After that, if there is a specific song you want to play to, buy that Harmonic Minor keyed harmonica. Remember to play in the 1st position.
Buy Lee Oskar harmonica
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The Lee Oskar "Melody Maker" Diatonic- Don't be confused. This is not a standard tuned diatonic and it is not what we recommend for beginners. This is a special purpose harmonica. The "Melody Maker" tuned diatonic is made specifically to be played in the 2nd position and is used for songs where a complete major scale is available while playing in the 2nd position. It's a little confusing, but the key of the harmonica is the key for the 2nd position playing. Typically, the key of the harmonica is the same as the 1st position playing, but not in this case (same as the "Natural Minor" listed above). If you would like to play to a song that is in the key of "A" and use the 2nd position, you would need to buy the key of "A" "Melody Maker" and stick with only your 2nd position riffs. This is a great harmonica for playing melodies in the 2nd position so you can take advantage of the bending capabilities on the low draw notes.
Buy Hohner Special 20
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Hohner Special 20 (Low D, Eb, E, F, F#)- Don't be confused. This is not a standard tuned diatonic and it is not what we recommend for beginners. This is a special purpose harmonica. These Low-Tuned Special 20's come in the keys of E, Eb, F, F#, which are a complete octave lower than the standard Special 20's in these keys. If you enjoy playing 3rd position (holes 4-6 draw), it may work better on these lower tunings (G minor on the Low "F" is very nice).
Buy Marine Band Low Pitch
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Hohner Marine Band (Low D, Eb, E, F, F#, High G)- Don't be confused. This is not a standard tuned diatonic and it is not what we recommend for beginners. This is a special purpose harmonica. These Low-Tuned Marine Bands come in the keys of D, Eb, E, F, F#, which are a complete octave lower than the standard Marine Bands in these keys. If you enjoy playing 3rd position (holes 4-6 draw), it may work better on these lower tunings (G minor on the Low "F" is very nice).


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