The harmonica is a wind instrument with a free reed and is usually present in blues, jazz, folk, and country music. It is also called mouth organ and harp. Air flow from drawing or blowing air into reed chambers makes reeds vibrate which produces sound. There are many varied bronze and brass reads in each chamber and these are fastened at an end and free on another end. The loose end vibrates up and down to generate music.

In the beginning of the 19th century, the harmonica’s popularity grew and was established in Europe. It is invented by Christian Friedrich Ludwig Buschmann.

Parts of the harmonica

Most modern harmonicas have 5 common parts – mouthpiece, comb, reed-plate, windsaver, and cover plate. The mouthpiece is found on the side of the harmonica between the player’s lips and the air chambers. It is mainly designed to make the player comfortable when playing except for that in the traditional chromatic harmonica which is needed for the instrument to have a slide groove.

The comb is the body of the orchestra. It includes the air chambers where the reeds are found. The comb material is said to have a slight influence on the harp’s tone but the main lead of the comb material is durability. Traditional harmonicas were made of wood while modern versions of the instrument are made of plastic or metal.

The reed plate is the collective name for reeds in one panel. Reeds could be made of steel, brass, plastic, or aluminum. Windsavers are valves used in instances wherein two reeds are in the same cell and there is frequent unnecessary air passage through the non-playing reed.

The cover plate protects the reed-plates. This could be made of wood, plastic, or metal. The two types of cover plates are those with the traditional open design and those with enclosed designs.


Harmonicas are divided into three types. These are the chromatic, diatonic, and tremolo harmonicas.

The chromatic harmonica produces semi-tones using a sliding bar. It is similarly designed with the piano which has the ability to play each tone in all octaves. Traditionally, it has eight to sixteen holes in intervals of two. The regular chromatic harmonica uses the slide to produce some of the notes in a complete chromatic scale which is recurring at each octave.

Diatonic harmonicas are intended in only play in a particular key. It is more simple to learn the C, G, and A scales. The tremolo harmonica is prevalent in traditional music because it could do the tremolo effect. This is so because it has two perpendicular holes with two reeds. One reed is sharper and one is a bit flat which creates the tremolo effect when vibrating together.

Harmonica care

Do not eat or drink while playing your harmonica and clean your mouth thoroughly before playing. Gently tap the harmonica every after playing to remove excess saliva and keep it in a box or case when not in use to avoid accumulation of dirt. Lastly, never share your harmonica with other people.

Choosing your harmonica

When choosing your harmonica, you should keep these in mind. Wood harmonicas may cost less and have a warmer sound but these are sensitive to moisture while metal harmonicas have higher integrity but are expensive and have more probability of corrosion. Plastic harmonicas are very easy to maintain and play but these can crack faster than others.

You should also know what music genre you would like to play. The tremolo is suited for folk music while the chromatic harmonica is common in classical and jazz music. Blues and country music are typically accompanied by the diatonic harmonica.