The harmonica is a great instrument to learn. One of the great advantages is that it is more convenient to travel with than most other instruments. It is also known as the mouth organ, the French harp, or the Blues harp, and is commonly used in folk music, jazz music, blues, and rock and roll. There are also a number of different kinds of harmonicas, including the tremolo, chromatic, bass, and orchestral types.
How the Harmonica Works
The harmonica is part of the free reed wind family of instruments, as the player blows air into it, or sucks air out from the holes along one side. Different sounds can be made by blowing into just one hole, or into a number of holes. Each chamber in the harmonica contains a number of reeds, which are tuned, depending on the length of the reed. Short reeds make a higher sound, and long reeds make a lower sound. These reeds are held at one end and not at the other, meaning they can vibrate and produce sound.
Structure of the Harmonica
The structure of a harmonica is quite simple, consisting of three main parts. The first is the comb, which is the main body, called so because it quite literally looks like a hair comb. This is the section that holds the different chambers. Traditionally, the comb was made from wood, but modern models tend to be made out of metal or plastic. Interestingly, the type of material used affects the tone of the instrument, but these days it is also more to do with how long-lasting the instrument will be. Although wooden types are more traditional, they tend to expand because of the dampness from the instrumentalist’s breath. Also, wooden combs tend to reduce in size over a number of years, so if you’re looking for a durable harmonica, it’s best to go for a metal or plastic kind. The next component of the harmonica is the reed-plate, which is usually made from brass. The reeds are usually welded, riveted, or screwed into place. The reeds on the outside make sound during suction, whereas the inner reeds create sound when they are blown. The third part is the cover plates. This section of the harmonica covers up the reed plate. The most common material used for the cover plate is metal, but plastic and wood are also occasionally used. The type of material used affects the quality of the sound, so the material choice is very much down to the person playing the instrument. Cover plates usually come in two designs: either an open stamped metal or an enclosed model. The latter gives out a louder sound than the former.
The harmonica dates back to the early nineteenth century. Its origins were European, although similar instruments had existed in Asia for many centuries. But the design we are familiar with today was created in 1821 by Christian Friedrich Ludwig Buschmann.
Buying a Harmonica
Cheap models for children and beginners start from around £10. More advanced models can be purchased for around £35, and top-of-the-range models can sell for around £5000.