If you want to learn to play the harp and are planning to take instruction, you should understand the different types of harmonicas that are available. The leading makers of harmonicas include Suzuki, Hering, Hohner, and Bushman. Beyond brands, though, there are other differences you should know about.
When you think of a harp, the image in most people’s mind is the grand, gilded harp of the symphony orchestra. So it used to be. The popularity of Celtic music, and relaxing harp music, now widely available in recorded form, is replacing that image with ones much closer to the real ancestors of this beautiful instrument. Harps and lyres shown on coins, carvings, inscriptions and manuscripts are of the smaller, common, garden-variety of harp.
The harmonica that most people are familiar with is the ten-hole “Blues harp.” Each of the holes has two reeds, which are tuned to play different notes. Blues harps come in virtually every key, and each harmonica can play 19 musical notes.
Blues harps are a subcategory of diatonic harmonicas, so named because of the two reeds in each hole. Diatonic harmonics generally play only one key. Another type of diatonic harmonica is the octave harmonica, which is tuned so that each hole plays the same note, only an octave apart from one another. The tremolo harmonica also has two reeds, but one plays a slightly flat note and the other plays a slightly sharp note.
A different category of harmonica is the chromatic harmonica. These harmonicas typically have twelve, fourteen, or sixteen holes, and four reeds per hole. They also have a sliding bar that moves the air from the mouthpiece to a specific reed plate. Chromatic harmonicas are most often used in jazz and Classical music.
Since adults want a louder instrument than the Kinder Lyre, the Little Minstrel Harp is the alternative learning instrument (and relaxation agent) for those not yet ready for the larger folk harps (with their 8 note scale). Both the Kinder Lyre and the Little Minstrel encourage improvisation, so almost any plucking, stroking and strumming sounds pleasant. And combinations of all three are possible.
The Little Minstrel is a favorite with teachers, storytellers and older people who always wanted to play an instrument – but never could get around to it. Many people have told me they were drawn to the harp as a child, or they played piano as a child, but haven’t played an instrument since. The Little Minstrel is used in hospitals and schools around the country to help bring harmony into the lives of children and the elderly. This is really Harp Therapy at its most fundamental level, for both player and listener.