Frequently Asked Questions

Here are some questions we are often asked regarding harmonicas.

How do I clean and look after my harmonica to ensure it keeps in tune longer?
In normal use, the only cleaning a harmonica requires is to be tapped on the palm of the hand to remove moisture, and to be wiped clean with a lint-free cloth. Do not poke match sticks etc into the mouthpiece as you could damage the reeds. Let you harmonica dry out naturally after playing – especially if it has a wooden comb – before putting it back in its case. Avoid the temptation of leaving it to dry near a fire or radiator. Do try to be a “dry” harmonica player – excess saliva running through your instrument will soon give it sticky reeds and valves, leading to problems with intonation and shortening the life or your harmonica. Avoid playing your harmonica just after eating (or cleaning your teeth). Food particles and harmonica reeds do not co-exist well! Avoid sweet or alcoholic beverages while playing – the sugary content will eventually build up on the reeds, causing sticking and tuning problems. Don’t oil or grease the slide on you chromatic harmonica as this attracts dust and dirt and will make any problem worse. Don’t ever soak a harmonica in water, beer or whisky – although it might seem to make you harmonica more airtight at first, as soon as it begins to dry out, it will have the opposite effect. A wooden comb will shrink and possibly split, and the reed plate and reeds will rust. Smoking while playing the harmonica can seriously damage the harmonica reeds and block the valves on a chromatic harmonica.

Why doesn’t hole two of my harmonica sound right? Is it broken?
Almost certainly not. The best thing we can do is show you the following:
When you first get started on the harmonica you might find the two draw and one draw difficult to play. Sour notes come from constricting your air passage; keep your mouth open and warm, say the syllable “EEE”, and notice how the back of your tongue sits below your upper molars. The air stream is now restricted to go through the passageway made from your tongue, teeth and roof of your mouth. Now say “EEE-OOO”, your tongue drops down and goes to the back of your mouth to open the air passage. The “O” is where you want to be all the time.
Taken with permission, from David Barrett’s, Basic Blues Harmonica Method.

I have found an old harmonica that my Grandad used to play. How much is it worth?
Harmonicas have been produced by the millions for more than a century, and some models have hardly changed in design. Therefore, it is unlikely that your harmonica would have a great value beyond the sentimental. However, there are exceptions to this: it could have been previously owned by someone famous or notorious (with provenance). Also, there have been special editions or unique designs manufactured over the years, and these could be of value to a collector.

What are the FIRST and SECOND playing positions?
If you want to play the tune or melody of a song, you are probably playing in the FIRST position. i.e. if the tune or song is in the key of C, you would need a harp in the key of C. If you are playing a blues tune or riff, you are probably playing in the SECOND position, which would be G, played on a C harp. This is attained by playing the G scale found within the notes of a C harp. It is possible to play six positions on a ten hole diatonic harp, however, most players won’t go beyond three. The Natural Minor and Melody Maker harps in the Lee Oskar range are labelled in the SECOND (recommended) playing position. So if you buy a C labelled Melody Maker, the actual harp is a D minor, to be played in C (second position). David Barrett has books for 1st, 2nd and 3rd positions if you would like to explore this further.

How do I play single notes?
To play a single note you need to blow one hole at a time. To achieve this you need to purse your lips (as if you are going to whistle) over one hole of the harmonica at a time. Try practicing this on one note then once you have the hang of that try playing more notes.

I want to learn to play the harmonica, but I’m confused by all the different keys, which harmonica is best for a beginner?
When beginning to play the harmonica it’s best to learn with a harmonica in the key of C. There are several makes to choice from, Lee Oskar, Hohner or Suzuki. The Blues Buddy harmonica offers very good value for money and is ideal for children and beginners.