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Gift Guide 2014 — Harmonicas

I love blues harmonica. I like jazz harmonica. I like the idea of harmonicas. The harmonica prices have doubled from ten years ago but you can still get many models for under $50. Compared to most instruments, that’s pretty inexpensive and makes it a great gift idea.

Why give a harmonica (or buy one for yourself)?

  • Inexpensive.
  • Fits in your pocket (or purse or briefcase or glove compartment or backpack).
  • Easy to learn (but not so easy to master).
  • Bring it anywhere.
  • Can play almost any type of music (folk, rock, jazz, blues, country, bluegrass, classical and more).
  • Children can play them (or with them).
  • Adults can play them.
  • Gender neutral. Give to girls or boys, men or women.

There are many different types of harmonicas. The type you probably want to start with is the standard (classic) 10-hole diatonic harmonica. Each hole allows you to play two notes – a blow note and a draw note. Other things to look for are a plastic comb. That’s the part the holds the reeds and forms the holes. The Hohner Marine Band, a classic harmonica, had a comb made of Pear wood. Many professionals still prefer wood combs but starting out you’ll have fewer problems with a plastic comb.

What type of music do you like? It probably has included harmonica.

The Beatles first hit was Love Me Do in about 1962.

One of the first tunes I wanted to play on harmonica was Love Me Do by the Beatles. About the same time, Bob Dylan was playing folk music with the harmonica.

My generation was also influenced by the picture of Bob Dylan wearing a harmonica holder and playing both guitar and harmonica. I owned a harmonica holder and tried to play both guitar and harmonica.

Harmonica can be a jazz instrument. The master is Toots Thieleman shown here playing his (and his wife’s) composition, Bluesette.

The harmonica has even been used to play classical and semi-classical pieces.

But the harmonica music I like best is the blues. The most important harmonica player in blues history was Little Walter Jacobs. There were other blues harmonica players before Little Walter but they played acoustically. Little Walter is credited with playing through a microphone held against the harmonica and played through a guitar amplifier to produce that same overdriven sound guitar players like. It made the harmonica sound like a sax.

A harmonica classic tune is Whammer Jammer by Magic Dick originally recorded with the J. Geils Band.

Women play harmonica and there are some great female players out there. Here’s the same tune as above, interpretted by Rachelle Plas.

Another great harmonica player is Annie Raines. She performs with her partner, Paul Richell, a great blues guitarist.

If you’re just starting on harmonica, there are great instructional videos on youtube and elsewhere to help you get started. Here’s Annie Raines again with some basic scale instruction.

Beyond basics, you must learn to bend notes on the harmonica if you want to play the blues. Of course there are videos for that too.

Finally, I’ll leave you with a few videos to help you decide which harmonica to purchase.


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