Simple melody playing for beginners

Are you a relative beginner like me? Are you just interested in playing simple melodies on a harmonica (harp) as though it was a recorder or flute, rather than becoming a professional blues player? If so then you will have discovered that there is very little useful material on the web to help you.

Everyone seems to assume that people only play Richter tuned harmonicas and are only interested in bluesy sounding music. If you say that you just want to play melodies then the advice is often “buy a chromatic harmonica”.

So for the benefit of others like me I will share my experience.

Chromatic harmonicas are great in theory (I have 4 of them) but in practice they are overkill for most songs. There are multiple issues with them:

  • They have valves (little plastic strips over the reeds) which rapidly get wet with moisture from your breath if the harp is cold and then they stick and cause playing problems.

  • They are rarely as airtight as other types meaning you can run out of breath.

  • They have a significantly greater spacing between holes than other harps, which makes playing them and also playing harps with smaller spacing a challenge for beginners. It is difficult to consistently hit the correct notes when jumping between notes several holes apart when the hole spacing is so different.

  • They are heavy and cumbersome compared with other harps.

  • If you accidentally drop one and it lands on the slider button it will likely be damaged beyond repair

  • They sound “tinny” compared with other harps, even more expensive ones such as the Suzuki SCX-48 that I have.

There is another type of harp called a solo-tuned harp. Unlike a standard diatonic (Richter tuned) harp it has every note in every octave, for the particular key. The most common is the key of C, meaning it has all of the “white notes” on a piano, generally starting on middle C, and going up two and a half or three octaves. As with a Chromatic they are no good for playing chords other than the C chord, but are great for melodies as there are no missing notes that require bending to achieve, as with a diatonic.

I like light-and-easy love songs (Beatles, Elvis, Frank Sinatra, Olivia Newton John, Celine Dion etc.) I have transposed 165 of them for playing on a harmonica. (See list below.)

140 of the 165 songs have no accidentals (odd sharps and flats inserted in the middle of a song). That means that they can be transposed from whatever key they are in, and can then be played in full on a solo-tuned harp without any special techniques such as bends etc. Even ones with accidentals can sometimes be played by swapping between two harps without needing to use a chromatic harp (13 of of the 25 in my list).

Most common songs fit in a two and a half octave range, meaning they can be played on a 10-hole harmonica.

I have 4 Seydel Orchestra-S solo tuned harps (but really only needed 3). They are small 10-hole harps and very comfortable to play.

Harp 1: “C”. A configurable Seydel Orchestra S solo-tuned in the key of C with a tuning that starts on middle C (C4) and goes up to F6. I use it for 78 of my songs. ORCHESTRA S configurable - C.A. SEYDEL SÖHNE

Harp 2: “G”. A configurable Seydel Orchestra S solo-tuned in the key of G with a special tuning that starts on middle C (C4) and goes up to F6. Each of the 3 “F”'s is tuned to F# instead of F. Purists on the forum will roll their eyes but it complements the other harps perfectly as I explain below. I use it for 50 of my songs. ORCHESTRA S configurable - C.A. SEYDEL SÖHNE

Harp 3: “BC” (Below C). A configurable Seydel Orchestra S solo-tuned in the key of C with a special tuning that has one hole below middle C. It starts on A3 and goes up to E6. See description below. I use it for 16 of the songs. ORCHESTRA S configurable - C.A. SEYDEL SÖHNE

Harp 4: “LC”. (Low C) A standard off-the-shelf Orchestra-S LC. It runs from G3 (The G below middle C) up to C6. I only use it for 7 my songs. ORCHESTRA S - C.A. SEYDEL SÖHNE

The remaining 11 songs need to be played on a chromatic harmonica.

If you are only a casual player then you will want to be playing within a range of notes that are the easiest to play. From my experience the easiest notes to play on any harmonica are those between middle C (C4) and C6. Any notes outside that range are more difficult to play.

That is the first reason for my G harp being configured as it is. The second reason is so that after transposing my music into either the key of C or the key of G, all of the notes are then in the identical place on the C and G harmonicas. So middle C - C4 is hole 1 blow on both harps. D4 is hole 1 draw on both harps etc. The third reason, which follows from the second, is that it allows for easy swapping between the C and G harps mid-song for some songs as outlined below.

So how does it work in practice? Assume that you have the sheet music for a song that you want to be able to play:

  • If it is already in the key of C and has no accidentals then you need to check the lowest and highest notes. If they are between C4 and F6 then you can play the song immediately on the “C” harp.

  • If it has a couple of notes that go below middle C (a lot of songs drop down one or two notes below middle C) then you can play it immediately on the BC (or LC) harp.

  • If it has notes that go down to the G below middle C then you can play it immediately on the LC harp.

  • If the song is in the key of G, meaning it has a single sharp on the top line of the music staff, then find the high and low notes. If they are between C4 and F6 then you can play it immediately on the G harp. Failing that convert the high and low notes to the key of C and check if it fits on one of the other three harps.

  • If the song is in neither C nor G, or does not fit on the harp that matches its current key, you will have to transpose it. You first transpose the high and low notes into the key of C and check if they are between C4 and F6. If so transpose the song into the key of C and play it on the C harp.

  • If they don’t fit in the C4-F6 range in the key of C then transpose the high and low notes into the key of G and check if they fit between C4 and F6. If so transpose the song into the key of G and play it on the G harp,

Most songs can be made to fit within C4-C6 if they are transposed either into the key of C or the key of G, which are half an octave apart. (120 of my songs). That is the preferred range as it is the easiest to play. If they won’t fit or don’t sound right then they can usually be transposed so they fit on the BC or LC harp, (eg. Hey Jude, I can’t stop loving you, I’ll never find another you, My love).

Many songs can be transposed to C and played on one of the C harps, and also transposed to G and played on the G harp. Try both and see which one sounds better. Often the deciding factor is the playability of the song. Songs in G tend to have more draw notes than songs in C. Playing consecutive draw notes fills up the lungs quicker than playing the same number of blow notes exhausts the lungs, so such songs are often better played on a harp in the key of C.

A few songs have accidentals which, after the appropriate transposing, result in the song containing a bunch of F’s and a couple of of F#'s. (eg. The Last Waltz, Top of the World, You Needed Me). Those songs can be played by swapping between the G and the C/BC/LC harp at the appropriate place mid-song. I have found that that is actually easier than playing the whole song on a chromatic harmonica.

Now a bit of info about the “BC” (Below C) harp, which is in the key of C starting on A3. I hate playing the off-the-shelf LC harp. All of the notes between G3 and D4 (holes 1-3) are “uncomfortable” to play. I therefore had my “BC” harp custom-made with an uncommon tuning. Instead of having two holes below middle C it only has 1. It thus goes from A3 up to E6. It is slightly quirky in that A3 is played as a blow instead of the normal draw, leaving B3 as the usual draw and C4 does not repeat. For whatever reason it is much easier to play the notes from A3 up to D4 on that harp than on the LC harp, I therefore use it for all songs that only drop down to B3 or A3. I only use the LC harp for 7 songs that go right down to G3. The two extra low notes (A3 and B3) are much more useful than the high notes you lose (E6, F6) which are rarely needed and difficult to play.

I have just ordered another harp, my “AC” harp (key of C with a second A hole). It has a very strange layout and is designed to let me play 12 songs that after transposing have accidentals that are either G# or A#, in addition to the unsharpened G or A. (eg. Bridge over troubled waters, Release me, Killing me softly with his song).

The AC harp has an extra hole inserted between the normal 3 and 4 holes, So hole 3 plays G4 and A4 and hole 4 plays G4# and A4#, then hole 5 plays B4 and C5. It will no doubt take a bit of getting used to that extra spacing of the other holes. but it means it will allow me to play those 12 songs that I would otherwise have to play on a chromatic harmonica

If your budget will not stretch to multiple harps then I would recommend ordering the “BC” tuning (my terminology) so as to be able to play the greatest number of songs most easily (87 of those below). Buying the unmodified LC harp is also a good option and will play all of those songs plus 4 others, but it is significantly more difficult to play the lower notes on. I don’t consider that extra G3 note to be worth the loss of playability.

If you can afford a second harp then it should be the same layout as the BC but in the key of G (with F#'s instead of F’s.) If I was starting out again then that is what I would order. You will then be able to play 133 of the songs below, plus a large percentage of any other songs you fancy.

As an interesting aside, I have also purchased several tiny harmonicas, the Hohner Little Lady 4-hole ($AUD24), a generic 4-hole ($2), the Suzuki Minore 5-hole ($26) and the Suzuki Mini-5 ($9). The Little Lady and the generic 4-hole are 34mm long, the Suzuki Mini-5 is 39mm long and the Minore is 43mm long. The harps are quite playable after a bit of practice. Around 20 of my songs below can be played on the 4-hole ones and a total of around 60 can be played on the 5-hole ones. Some of the songs required slight modification to fit into the small note range.

Below is the list of all songs that I have transposed, showing which of the harps each song is best played on. If you want a copy of the songs, click the links below. I have invented my own music notation system that allows the sheet music for most songs to fit on a single A4 sheet, including lyrics. It is similar to ABC notation abc:standard:v2.2 [abc wiki] but more intuitive, and more informative than tabs in that it depicts the note lengths.

I have two versions of the songs, one intended to be printed like sheet music and one intended to be displayed and scrolled automatically on a mobile phone screen using the “PDF Reader - PDF Viewer” app by Librera:

Print version of songs: Dropbox - Harmonica Songs Print.pdf - Simplify your life
Mobile phone version of songs: Dropbox - Harmonica Songs Phone.pdf - Simplify your life

Happy harping

Song Harp
A World Of Our Own C
Advance Australia Fair C
All My Loving C
Always On My Mind G
Am I That Easy To Forget C
Amazing Grace C
Angel Of The Morning BC
Annie’s Song C
Any Dream Will Do C
Are You Lonesome Tonight Chrom
Auld Lang Syne C
Banks of the Ohio C
Beauty And The Beast C
Blowin’ In The Wind BC
Botany Bay C
Both Sides Now C
Bridge Over Troubled Waters AC
By The Time I Get To Phoenix G
Can’t Help Falling In Love With You C
Cecilia G
Chariots Of Fire (Full) C
Chariots Of Fire (Short) C
Click Go The Shears C
Cotton Fields G
Could I Have This Dance G
Crying BC
Danny Boy BC
Daydream Believer C
Don’t cry for me Argentina LC+G
Edelweiss C
Eine Kleine Nachtmusik C
El Condor Pasa AC
Endless Love C
Eternal Flame C
Evergreen C
Everybody’s Somebody’s Fool AC
(Everything I Do) I Do It For You G
Feelings G
For All We Know C
For The Good Times LC+G
From A Distance BC
From This Moment On C
Green Green Grass of Home C
Happy Birthday G
Have I Told You Lately That I Love You C
Hello Chrom
Hero C
Hey Jude BC
Home Among The Gumtrees AC
Home On The Range G
Homeward Bound C
How Am I Supposed To Live Without You C
I Can See Clearly Now C+G
I Can’t Stop Loving You BC
I Do It For You G
I Don’t Know How to Love Him C
I Fall To Pieces C
I Get A Little Sentimental Over You Chrom
I honestly Love You C
I Just Fall In Love Again G
I Know Him So Well G
I Still Call Australia Home AC
I Walk The Line G
I Won’t Last A Day Without You C
I’d Like To Teach The World To Sing C
If Tomorrow Never Comes C
I’ll Never Find Another You BC
Imagine C
In The Ghetto C
Isn’t She Lovely C
Jolene G
Killing Me Softly With His Song AC
King Of The Road C
Lady G
Let It Be C
Let Me Be There C
Living Next Door To Alice G
Love Changes Everything G
Love Is All Around C
Love Is In The Air AC
Love Me Tender G
Lovin’ You C
Lucille C
Making Memories Of Us C
Memory Chrom
Moon River C
Morning Has Broken C
Mull Of Kintyre C
My Heart Will Go On C
My Love BC
Nobody Does It Better C+AC
Nothing’s Gonna Change My Love For You C
Oh Susanna C
Only The Lonely G
Paper Roses BC
Piano Man BC
Ramblin’ Rose BC
Release Me AC
Rhinestone Cowboy LC
Right Here Waiting C
Ring Of Fire BC
Rock Around The Clock Chrom or C
Roses Are Red My Love Chrom
Running Bear C
San Francisco G
Save The Best For Last C
Save The Last Dance For Me G
Scotland The Brave C
Seasons In The Sun G
She’s Always A Woman Chrom
Slipping Away G
Somethin’ Stupid Chrom
Sometimes When We Touch C
Spanish Eyes AC
Stranger On The Shore LC
Strangers In The Night G
Sweet Caroline LC
Take Me Home Country Roads G
Take My Breath Away C
Tears In Heaven Chrom
Tennessee Waltz C
That’s What Friends Are For C
The Carnival Is Over G
The Entertainer Chrom
The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face C
The Great Pretender G
The Greatest Love Of All C+AC
The Last Waltz LC+G
The Lord’s Prayer G
The Most Beautiful Girl Chrom
The Power of Love C
The Rose C
The Sound Of Silence G
The Twelfth Of Never G
The Way We Were C
The Wild Colonial Boy LC
The Wonder Of You G
There Goes My Everything C
Three Times A Lady C
Through The Years G
Time To Say Goodbye G
Tonight I Celebrate My Love For You C
Top Of The World C+G
Torn Between Two Lovers C
True Love Chrom
Unchained Melody C
Up Where We Belong BC
Waltzing Matilda C
Wellerman G
What A Wonderful World AC
When I Fall In Love G
When I Need You G
When The Saints Go Marching In C
When You Say Nothing At All G
Will You Love Me Tomorrow G
Wind Beneath My Wings G
Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again BC+G
Without You BC
Wooden Heart C
You Are So Beautiful G
You Are The Love Of My Life G
You Don’t Bring Me Flowers G
You Needed Me C+G
You Raise Me Up G
You Were There C

Hi @pmolsen, I’m a beginner also but I don’t know nearly as much as you. I had not even heard of a Solo tuned harmonica. Thanks for the information, every little bit of knowledge helps.
I don’t like blues either, it’s not generally popular here in Australia, although there certainly are some devotees. I have not felt unworthy of assistance due to my preference for melodies, I’m sorry that’s been the case for you, although I suspect you’re referring to other forums. I have received a lot of generous and gracious advice without contributing much myself, as you have.
Thanks again for taking the time to provide the information.


Thanks for that. I have added the song list to my original post.


Hi @pmolsen

Quite an impressive song list! Thanks for posting it. And, of course, thank you for sharing the results of what must have been very much work!


– Slim :sunglasses:


I have a core list of tunes that I play “by ear” using a mix of diatonic, tremolo, octave and chromatic harmonicas. I can now add some from your list. Thank you :slight_smile:


I wrote a bunch of MS Word macros to help with entering and processing the music. Still a lot of work but makes it much easier. This is the process. Basically the same as I explained above but using the macros:

  • Copy and paste the lyrics from the web into MS Word

  • Find the sheet music on the web, preferably a free version.

  • Decide on the default note length. If there are lots of semi-quavers in the song then the default note will be a quaver. If not then it will be a crotchet.

  • Try to find the music for the song on the web in ABC format. I found the music for a few of the songs, which made it easier.

  • Failing that type the notes for the whole song from the sheet music into MS Word using ABC notation (without the header stuff), ignoring sharps and flats. For example the second line of Hey Jude would be entered as:
    D E F2 c3 c B G A G/-F/-E5 (c3 with lowercase c means octave 5, note length is 3 times default note. A slash is short for /2 meaning divided by 2 or a half note)

  • The notes are entered in Courier New font as it is fixed width and all letters are the exact same width, unlike Calibri, Arial etc.

  • Run a macro to scale each letter using MS Word’s Font/Advanced/Scale capability (max scale value is 600%) so it ends up looking like this:

  • Hey jude L2

  • Run another macro to convert all notes from the original key into the key of C if it isn’t already.

  • Check if the song fits within the range of my preferred “C” harmonica

  • If it fits, play it to see how it sounds.

  • If it doesn’t fit or doesn’t sound right, rerun the macro to transpose it into the key of G and check that version

  • If the song has accidentals, try to transpose the song so it has only F and F# so it can be played by swapping between the C and G harmonica. Failing that see if it can be transposed so it has only A and A# and/or B and B# in octave 4 so it can be played on my AC harmonica.

  • Insert blanks between the notes and/or lyrics so they all line up

  • Find and play the actual song (by my preferred artist) on YouTube and check every note pitch and length and every word of the lyrics and correct them where necessary. I have not yet found a song where all of the notes in the sheet music and all of the lyrics matched what the singer sang. For example the sheet music for “Crying” by Roy Orbison has the second verse the same as the first, but part of it is actually an octave higher. In some cases the singer clearly sang a different word from what all of the lyrics and sheet music online indicate.

  • Use Audacity where necessary to determine the actual pitch of notes sung, especially when singers wander totally off the written music towards the end of a song.

  • Use Audacity to figure out the entire song if necessary. For example there are many versions of the sheet music for Stranger on the Shore by Acker Bilk, but none that I could find actually match the song as he played it, so I had to figure out nearly every note using Audacity.

  • Tip: He plays it in B flat. I first shifted the entire song up 2 semitones in Audacity to put it in the key of G. That made it slightly easier to transcribe each note, using Analyse/Plot Spectrum, because when there was some doubt about which note it was due to the background violin corrupting the spectrum plot, I could play my G harmonica at the same time and match the notes.

I also play a recorder type midi controller called a re.corder. I’m able to play a lot of my recorder tunes (mainly pop, folk and jazz standards but also some classical) on harmonicas either by using the songbooks or just playing by ear. I did buy a Beatles harmonica song book recently - 22 songs arranged specfically for C diatonic harmonicas. Anyway like you I do just like playing simple melodies and I really like the sound of Chromatic, Tremolo and Octave harmonicas.

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I have added another 9 songs to the two song books. New version of the books is 1.1:

Song Harp
He’ll have to go Chrom
Hold me now LC
I just called to say I love you Chrom
I’ll never fall in love again Chrom
Music of the night (Phantom) Chrom
My Way Chrom
Puff the magic dragon C
Que Sera Sera Chrom
We’ll meet again Chrom

I have also created a separate song book containing all of the songs that are playable on a mini 4-hole or 5-hole harp. It can be downloaded here: Dropbox



Ok, on reflection I realise that very few peop[e are going to spend the money on customised harps that I referred to above, so here is a cheaper solution for anyone who is a bit handy.

Buy two off-the-shelf Orchestra-S LC solo tuned harmonicas. Take one apart and use a dremel tool to grind a bit off the three F reeds to turn them into F sharp, converting it into the key of G.

You will then be able to play all of the songs in my list that do not have accidentals and any others like that of your own, plus quite a few songs that do have accidentals but which can be played by swapping between the LC and G harps mid-song.

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A YouTube video describing the music notation system in more detail is available here:

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