Beginner Harmonica Lesson #1 (Your Very First Lesson)

For all you new, struggling or just plain ol’ rusty harmonica players here’s the lesson I wish I had when I first picked up a harmonica, in 6 simple steps:

Step #1 Right Harp

Make sure you have the right harmonica: a 10-hole diatonic harmonica, standard tuning, key of C.

If your harmonica has more than 10-holes or has a button on the side, you don’t have the right harmonica to learn on. It’s worth the $20-$60 you need to spend to get a great instrument. My article on best brands is here.

Step #2 Grip

At the beginning it REALLY DOESN’T MATTER how you hold the harp as long as you have PLENTY OF ROOM FOR YOUR LIPS to be deep on the cover plates.

I think pinching it on the sides with one or both hands is a great way to start. If you’re wanting more info, check out my explanation in the video.

Step #3 Breathing

One of the most important foundations of harmonica playing is BREATHING, and there are 2 important ideas for us to remember:

:point_right: Deep Diaphragmatic Breathing

When we’re babies, we breathe deeply into our diaphragm, the muscle in our lower bellies that pulls down on our lungs, so that the belly goes OUT when we breathe IN, and vice versa, but many of us forget this and breathe shallow, and we have to re-train ourselves.

:point_right: Breathe, DON’T Heave. (Most beginners play WAAAAY TOO HARD.)

Step #4 Mouth Position

The other most important fundamental is: The Deep Relaxed Mouth Position. This means that the moist inner part of the lips is touching the cover plates of the harmonica.

One way to get into this position is to put the harmonica between your teeth, and then pull it out just slightly away from the teeth. Voila! The deep relaxed mouth position.

Step #5 Chords

On the harmonica it’s easier to play chords than it is single notes. So let’s start by just breathing softly in and out through the harmonica on holes 123. Maybe 4 counts in and 4 counts out.

Step #6 Tone & Articulation

The spectrum of TONE can be described as either “treble” or “bass”.

Bass: Dark, Warm, Fat, Round, Mellow, Smooth

Treble: Bright, Tinny, Thin, Sharp, Harsh, Icepick

As we’re breathing in and out through the harmonica, notice this:


:arrow_right: “Ee” vowel shape produces the most treble tone (bright, tinny, thin, sharp, icepick)

:arrow_right: “Uh” or “Oo” (like in book) produces a bassy tone (dark, warm, fat, round, mellow)

We can add more attack to our chords using ARTICULATION, what I like to call

“The harmonica player’s drumsticks” = Tuh and Kuh

:arrow_right: “T” is the tip of the tongue of off the back of the top teeth

:arrow_right: “K” is the back of the tongue off of the hard palate on the roof of the mouth

We use these articulations on the harmonica to do the

Train Imitation.

:one: Breathe in “Tuh-Kuh” on holes -123

:two: Breathe out “Tuh-Kuh” on holes 123

:three: Rinse and Repeat

It may help to make the notes shorter. The musical term for this is staccato. It may help to add a “T” to the end of our articulations to help make them shorter:

Tut - Kut

Tut - Kut

Start slow, and work on accelerating, and then round it out with a train whistle, which is accomplished by drawing anywhere above holes 1 and 2.

So -34, or -345, or -45 all sound great.

Try this articulation for the whistle: “dwah”. That can help get a little bend, which helps the goal of making the whistle sound as lonesome as possible.

The train imitation is the #1 BEST TECHNIQUE BUILDER for beginners.

You can see and hear all of this in action, plus check out my lesson on grooving with a band, in my Beginner Harmonica Lesson #1.