What Kind of Harmonica Should I Start With? The Guide to Finding the Perfect Instrument!

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If you’re just starting out with harmonica and wondering “What kind of harmonica should I start with?”, then you’re in the right place! This article will help you make an informed decision as to which type of harmonica is best for you. I’ll provide an overview of the different kinds of harmonicas available, their features, and what types of music they are best suited for, so that you can choose the right harmonica to begin your musical journey.

History of the Harmonica

History Of The Harmonica

The harmonica is a free reed aerophone musical instrument, also known as a mouth organ. Its origins can be traced back to the early 19th century, when Christian Friedrich Ludwig Buschmann invented the instrument in Berlin, Germany.

The harmonica was popularized in the United States by immigrants from Germany, Ireland, and other countries, who brought the instrument with them when they arrived. The instrument first gained popularity in the United States during the 1840s and 1850s, when harmonica manufacturers began mass-producing the instrument.

Harmonicas of the 19th century were typically made of brass or nickel-plated metal reeds, and consisted of two sets of reeds, one set for the lower notes and one set for the higher notes. Later models, however, were made with plastic reeds, which allowed for greater durability and a wider range of tones.

In the early 20th century, the harmonica became popular in folk, blues, and country music, and manufacturers began producing harmonicas in a variety of keys and tunings. The most common harmonicas today are 10-hole diatonic models, which are tuned to play the same notes as the white keys on a piano, as well as 12-hole chromatic models, which are tuned to play any note on the chromatic scale.

Type Description
Diatonic Play the same notes as the white keys on a piano
Chromatic Play any note on the chromatic scale

Different Types of Harmonicas

Different Types Of Harmonicas

Type Number of Holes Keys
Diatonic 10 7 major keys
Chromatic 12, 14 or 16 12 keys
Orchestral 8 2 major keys
Tremolo 10 7 major keys

Harmonicas come in a variety of shapes and sizes, each suited for a different musical style. The four most common types are diatonic, chromatic, orchestral, and tremolo.

The diatonic harmonica is the most popular type of harmonica and is used for a wide range of musical styles, including blues, folk, and rock. It has 10 holes and is available in 7 major keys.

The chromatic harmonica is a more advanced type of harmonica that is used primarily for classical, jazz, and other styles of music. It has 12, 14, or 16 holes and is available in 12 major keys.

The orchestral harmonica is a smaller type of harmonica with 8 holes. It is designed to be used as an accompaniment instrument and is available in 2 major keys.

The tremolo harmonica is a type of diatonic harmonica with a unique sound. It has 10 holes and is available in 7 major keys.

Each type of harmonica has its own unique characteristics, so it is important to select a harmonica that is suitable for the type of music you want to play.

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  • Ideal for playing melodies, as it has a single key and single scale.
  • Best for blues and rock music, gives a clear and consistent sound.
  • Great for beginners, as it’s relatively inexpensive and easy to learn.
  • Often comes with 10 holes, but can also be found with 8 or 12.



  • Ideal for experienced players.
  • Uses a button-activated slide to change the pitch of the instrument.
  • Play in all 12 keys by adjusting the slide.
  • Can play melodies, chords, and single notes.
  • Requires a more advanced technique.



Type of Harmonica Pros Cons
Tremolo Good for beginners as the reeds are tuned in unison, giving a pleasant sound. Easy to play compared to other harmonicas. Limited range of notes, fewer chords and keys than other harmonicas.

Tremolo harmonicas are diatonic harmonicas, with two sets of reeds tuned slightly apart. This creates a vibrato effect that is often used in folk music. They are typically offered in 10, 12, 14, 16, and 20 hole models, with the 10 hole model being the most common. Tremolo harmonicas are good for beginners, as the reeds are tuned in unison, giving a pleasant sound. They are also easy to play compared to other harmonicas. However, they have a limited range of notes, with fewer chords and keys than other harmonicas.



  • An octave harmonica is a type of harmonica with eight holes and eight reeds, tuned to produce notes one octave apart.
  • Octave harmonicas are typically larger and more difficult to play than other types of harmonicas, making them best suited for more experienced players.
  • Octave harmonicas are often used for playing in a higher range than the standard diatonic harmonica.
  • The octave harmonica is also well-suited for playing jazz, blues, and folk music.

Beginner Harmonica Selection

Beginner Harmonica Selection

The first thing to consider when selecting a beginner harmonica is the key. The key of a harmonica is the pitch, which is determined by the number of holes in the instrument and the number of reeds contained in each hole. Common key choices for the beginning harmonica player include C, G, A, and D.

Another consideration is the size of the harmonica. Smaller harmonicas are easier to hold, but they have a smaller range than larger harmonicas. Beginner harmonicas come in a variety of sizes, including 10-hole diatonic harmonicas, 12-hole chromatic harmonicas, and 16-hole chromatic harmonicas.

It’s also important to note that harmonicas come in two styles: diatonic and chromatic. Diatonic harmonicas are designed for playing in a single key, while chromatic harmonicas allow for playing in any key. Diatonic harmonicas are more suitable for beginners, but chromatic harmonicas can be a good choice for more advanced players.

Finally, the material of the harmonica should also be taken into consideration. Harmonicas are typically made of plastic, wood, or metal. Plastic harmonicas are generally lighter and less expensive, while wooden and metal harmonicas are more expensive but can offer better sound quality.

Ultimately, the best harmonica for a beginner should be comfortable to hold, easy to play, and within the budget of the player. With these considerations in mind, any beginner should have no trouble finding the right harmonica for them.



Harmonica Price
Hohner Blues Harp $25
Hohner Special 20 $45
Suzuki Manji $100+
Lee Oskar $60

If your budget for a harmonica is limited, there are several options available. The Hohner Blues Harp is a good choice for beginners and it costs only $25. The Hohner Special 20 is also a good option and is slightly more expensive at $45. If you want to spend a bit more, the Suzuki Manji is an excellent choice, but it costs more than $100. The Lee Oskar is also a good option, and it costs $60.



  • It is important to look for quality in a harmonica. The higher the quality, the better the sound.
  • Look for harmonicas with a good reed system. Good reeds will give you a clear, full sound.
  • Look for harmonicas with brass reeds. Brass reeds are more durable and produce a fuller, richer sound.
  • Look for harmonicas with solid construction. Make sure the harmonica is built well and won’t easily break.
  • Check the quality of the covers. Make sure they are airtight and won’t leak air.

Common Keys for Beginner Harmonicas

Common Keys For Beginner Harmonicas

  • C Major – the most common key for a beginner harmonica.
  • G Major – a common key for country, folk, and blues music.
  • A Major – a common key for country, folk, and blues music.
  • D Major – a common key for blues and rock music.
  • F Major – a common key for jazz.
  • E Major – a common key for blues and rock music.
  • Bb Major – a common key for jazz.

When choosing a harmonica for a beginner, the most important factor is the key. Harmonicas come in different keys, and each key is suited for different kinds of music. The most common keys for beginner harmonicas are C Major, G Major, A Major, D Major, F Major, E Major, and Bb Major.

Playing Techniques

Playing Techniques
Harmonicas are versatile instruments that can be used to play different styles of music, from folk to jazz and blues. Different playing techniques can be used depending on the type of harmonica being used. Diatonic harmonicas are usually used for playing folk and blues music and are played using single notes and chords. Chromatic harmonicas are used for playing classical and jazz genres, and are usually played using tremolo or vibrato techniques. It is important to choose a harmonica that is suitable for the type of music you want to play.


  • Harmonica case
  • Tuning wrench
  • Mouthpiece brush
  • Harmonica holder
  • Reed plates
  • Valve oil

For a beginner harmonica player, it is essential to have the necessary accessories for their instrument. These include a harmonica case, a tuning wrench, a mouthpiece brush, a harmonica holder, reed plates, and valve oil. A harmonica case provides protection for the instrument and keeps it secure when traveling. A tuning wrench is used to adjust the tuning of the instrument. A mouthpiece brush can be used to clean the air vents of the harmonica. A harmonica holder is used to hold the instrument in place when the player is not using it. Reed plates cover the reeds of the harmonica and protect them from damage. Finally, valve oil is used to lubricate the valves of the harmonica.

Maintenance & Care

Maintenance & Care

  • Clean the harmonica after each use with a damp cloth.
  • Use a soft brush to clean the reeds and mouthpiece.
  • Oil the reeds with harmonica oil or lubricating oil.
  • Keep the harmonica in a dry and temperature-controlled environment.
  • Tune the harmonica occasionally to keep it in good condition.
  • Replace broken reeds with new ones.
  • Check the screws periodically to make sure they are tight.
  • Use a case to protect the harmonica from damage.


  • If you are a beginner, start with a 10-hole diatonic harmonica.
  • If you want to practice more advanced techniques, chromatic harmonica is the best choice.
  • If you want to learn a particular song, try finding an instructional video of that song.
  • It’s important to practice regularly and to find a teacher that can help you develop your skills.
  • Most importantly, have fun and enjoy playing the harmonica!

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the best type of harmonica for beginners?

For beginners, the most recommended type of harmonica is a diatonic harmonica. This type of harmonica is the most common and typically comes in a 10-hole or a 20-hole model. It is easy to learn the basics and with a few basic techniques you will be able to play simple melodies. Diatonic harmonicas are often used in blues, country, and folk music.

How do I know which key harmonica I should buy?

When selecting a harmonica, the key is the most important factor. Beginners should start with a C-key harmonica, as it is the easiest to use for learning basic techniques. However, if you know the key of the songs you want to play, then you should go for the same key harmonica. Additionally, if you want to play with other instruments, you should make sure you buy a harmonica in the same key as the other instruments.

What is the difference between diatonic and chromatic harmonicas?

Diatonic harmonicas are single-key instruments, typically tuned to the key of C major and designed for playing in one key. Chromatic harmonicas are multi-key instruments, allowing the player to play in any key, and feature a button-activated slide that allows the player to play all 12 notes of the chromatic scale. Chromatic harmonicas also feature a special air tight design and are usually tuned to the key of C major.

How do I know if I need a 10-hole or a 16-hole harmonica?

10-hole harmonicas are generally easier to play and are recommended for those just starting out. 16-hole harmonicas are suitable for those with more experience and offer more range of notes. If you are unsure of your level of expertise, it is best to start with a 10-hole harmonica.

What are the Benefits of Starting with a Harmonica?

Harmonicas are great for those who are just starting out in music, as they are inexpensive, easy to learn and transportable. They are also a fun and versatile instrument, allowing for a range of musical styles and sounds. Learning to play a harmonica can help with developing skills such as breath control, articulation and developing a sense of rhythm. Harmonicas also provide a great entry point into the world of improvisation. As harmonicas only have a limited range of notes, they can help a beginner learn the basics of music theory and help with understanding scales, chords and progressions.


Starting out with a diatonic harmonica is the best choice for a beginner. It is the most common type of harmonica and is relatively easy to learn. They are also relatively affordable and come in a wide range of keys and styles. The diatonic harmonica is the most versatile type of harmonica and can be used for many different styles of music. With a little practice, anyone can learn to play the diatonic harmonica.


About the author

Hey, my name is John Peters, and I’m a co-founder and Jack’s co-editors. My country sole was born when I was not more than 4 years old and my dad brought several country records home. These were the records by Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Asleep at The Wheel, and Neil Young. I fell in love with the genre forever back then. Before entering the university, I managed to gather a collection of over 1200 vinyl records with both classic and modern country releases.

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