Ever since those melancholic hums, chants, and melodies rang out from the Mississippi Delta, the harmonica has been much revered in blues music, providing a light, portable, and unique sounding tool for rhythm, harmonies, or musical accompaniment.
Before that, the harmonica was used as driving force in European waltzes and marches, invented in Germany as a portable means of producing guide tracks for formal or traditional dances.
Somewhere in between these two periods, the harmonica played a pivotal part of folk music (and it still does today), forming the iconic early sounds of players such as Woody Guthrie and later, Bob Dylan.
And, after Southern American blues musicians conjured the devil in the harmonica, it was electrified in smoky New York City and Chicago blues and jazz clubs, before being used in more experimental forms that pushed the boundaries far beyond rock, blues, folk, and jazz.
The point here is: the harmonica is an instrument that is easy to store, simple to transport, can add an extra layer of sonic dimension to songs of all shapes and sizes, and if you know how to use it to your advantage, can be an incredibly versatile tool in home recording.
In this blog we explore how to play harmonica and four inventive ways that you can use it to enhance your home recordings with very little harp playing experience.
Let’s start with two areas you should spend a short while exploring to get the most from these harmonica techniques.
With the regular diatonic harmonica (the standard version most of us use, as opposed to the larger chromatic harmonicas largely used by jazz musicians), there are seven standard keys (A to G, as you might have guessed).
With folk music or most rock tracks, you will play the harmonica straight, in the key of the track (e.g. if the song’s in D, you will play a D key harmonica over it). But, for blues music or a harmonica sound that offers those edgy bluesy-leanings, you will play in position two or cross harp. To help you understand cross harp, here is a simple explanation for your viewing pleasure: