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Types of Harmonicas

Different types of harmonicas- Before you buy a harmonica, be sure to read the following definitions to learn the differences between the types and categories of harmonicas. Other then the standard diatonic and chromatic harmonicas, most of the other varieties are for special purposes or special effects and not as commonly used. Most professionals players primarily use the diatonic harmonica, (see the HarmonicaLessons.com page of "Recommended and NOT Recommended Diatonics" for ratings of the different models and brands.

Diatonic Example Diatonic- The standard 10-hole major diatonic harmonicas come in all 12 keys of music and allow you to play a complete 7-note major scale of the key of the harmonica. Most professional players are predominantly diatonic players who use bending notes to acquire additional pitches. Diatonic harmonicas are typically used in blues, rock, country, and folk, but are found in nearly all styles of music. Diatonics 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. Learn to play like the pro and you will sound like them. If you are at all serious about learning to play harmonica, be sure to start with a good quality one. The cheaper ones leak air, are very difficult to learn to bend, and can much frustration.
Chromatic Example Chromatic- The chromatic harmonica has a button on the side, which when NOT used, allows you to play a normal major scale in the key of the chromatic (typically chromatics are in the key of "C"). With the button depressed, you can achieve all the missing half-step notes in-between the major scale notes. This allows you to play in any key and play any type of scale. The chromatic is typically used in jazz and classical music, but is found in all styles of music. If bending notes is important to you, you are best off with a diatonic. Bending doesn't work nearly as well on the chromatic as it does on the diatonic harmonica and when used, is used more for a "bending effect". In most cases, you will be doing well to bend a note a half-step down.
Tremolo Example Tremolo- Hohner tremolo harmonicas are diatonic models constructed with double holes. Each hole contains two reeds tuned to the same note, one tuned slightly higher than the other. Since both reeds are either blow or draw, when played, both will sound together and the slight difference in tuning creates a vibrating or tremolo effect. The tremolo harmonicas are primarily used for special effects. They are not made to play blues, bend notes, or do anything other than play the most simple melodies. Depending upon the particular model and brand, the major scale would begin on the 3rd or 4th set of holes, and then the pattern would be the same as a standard diatonic major scale pattern in relation to blows and draws.
Octave Tuned Octave Tuned- "Hohner octave harmonicas are similar to Tremolo models in reed layout and musical range. Instead of having reeds tuned to the same note, however, each double hole has one reed tuned an octave apart from the other. The sound is stronger and full bodied, but without the tremolo effect. This is the harmonica equivalent of a twelve-string guitar (sort-of)."
Special Tuned Diatonics Special-Tuned Diatonics- For players that do not play chromatic harmonica, but may have the need for additional notes and scales in their playing, they can pick up a special or "altered" tuned (actually re-tuned from the standard major scale tuning) diatonic. Tunings include: natural minor scale, harmonic minor scale, major scale 2nd position tuned, and "high octave" (key of "high G") and "low octave" (low D, F, and F#) tuned.
Other Types Other Types- Other types of harmonicas are available for special purposes like harmonica trios, groups, or orchestrals. Most of these are made by the Hohner Company, but other companies may carry some as well. This group includes: chord harmonicas, bass harmonicas, Polyphonias, and miniture 4-hole harmonicas.

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