What harmonica is used in "He Ain't Heavy" performance?

Hello everyone! I am a newbie to playing harmonica but I’ve been catching on fairly quickly. I am looking to perform the Hollies song “He ain’t heavy he’s my brother” which features the harp on the intro, as well as a solo towards the end of the song. The original recording used a harmonica in the key of G. However I need to do the song a step lower. I found a YouTube live performance from 1993 where the group did exactly that. What I can’t figure out is what key harmonica the lead singer used. The transposed notes are as follows:


The original recording is fairly easy to play since all of the notes were either blow or draw without any bending. It does not sound like he’s bending any notes in the live performance but I can’t seem to find a harmonica where all of these transpose notes are blow or draw without having to do a serious bend to hit a b flat or an e note, depending on the key harmonica.

Here is the link to the YouTube video. Any help would be so much appreciated!

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Hello @Retrojoe,
I found this for you. See if it helps you. The song is really great!

Astrid wishes you lots of fun and success :woman_in_lotus_position:


Hi Astrid, and thank you for your reply. Unfortunately that is tab for transcribing the lyrics of the song in the original key to harmonica. I’m still trying to figure out what key harmonica the vocalist is playing the intro in the live performance which was one step down from what they originally did it in.

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I’m just a beginner harmonica player but I mess with some other instruments and can at least recognise that all those notes happen to be in the key of F major (F G A Bb C D E F). Based on that a harmonica that had F as the 1st position might seem a likely option? If I select an F in the “Bend It Better Tool” that shows me that C G E F & Bb are all simple draws & blows (and F would make perfect sense if the original was in G and you want to be a step lower).

If I’m wrong, or correct but there’s a better choice, I hope a wiser & more experienced player will correct me. :smiley:


@Retrojoe, Joe are you sure he’s playing a key lower?

I just listened to it again several times. For me he plays with a normal C harp without bending. My app “Harmonica Tuner” also shows this.
An F harp sounds significantly higher and I wouldn’t use it for this song.
Most players on YouTube use a G harp.
But I don’t have that much experience either :woman_shrugging:. Maybe our professional players will get in touch soon.:slightly_smiling_face:

Hi @Retrojoe

To start with he is playing a chromatic harmonica. So he is not doing any bending but does use the slider button. Although I cannot hear the long first note very well (I think it is a C) here is my quick guess as to the intro (I have not listened to the solo at the end):

+4 +7 -6 +6 -6 -3< -3<

and the notes are: C (held long) then up to the G at +7, then the three note sequence F E F on the holes

-6 +6 -6

Finally down to where the slide button is used to play Bb:

-3< -3<

I think this is correct. Have fun.

– Slim :sunglasses:


Hi David, you are correct that it is being performed in f major. I tried a diatonic f major harmonica but it didn’t sound right because it was too high of a tone. But I’m thinking Astrid may be correct when it comes to using a c harp. But I’m going to read on for some more input. Thank you!


Hi Astrid, he is playing a key lower than the original recording which the first note he played was a D. He stepped it down for this live performance which is 20 plus years after the original recording which I am posting below. I can play that easily on a G harmonica. Unfortunately I can’t sing it in the same key which is why I have to step it down like he did.

If you go to YouTube and put in Hollies he ain’t heavy he’s my brother original It should bring up a video of them performing it in the original key. I tried posting it here but it flagged at as spam

Thank you so much for that input! That seems to be the solution! I had wondered whether he was using a chromatic harp although I’ve never had one so I didn’t know what it sounded like when you used the slider button. But that makes a lot of sense. And I would assume based on your transcription that it is a chromatic harp in the key of c?

I’d also be curious what your thoughts were on the intro from the original recording. I’m guessing he may not have used a chromatic harp for that but a diatonic in the key of G. But the first note that he plays on that one has a very interesting off pitch bend in the middle of it. I’ve seen discussion about it in recording forums and most people think that he was bending the notes. But as I listen to it it almost sounds like the entire recording shifts pitch as my ear here is the piano go off as well. But maybe I’m being fooled by it. But just for fun I would love your thoughts on that… I posted the link in my reply to Astrid just above this. It’s a black and white video. It won’t let me post it on this reply for some reason.

Thanks again!


@Retrojoe, Joe, yes @Slim writes about a chromatic harp and that’s what I think too. Yesterday I saw this “typical hand gesture” briefly, but I wasn’t sure because he “hides” the harp well in his hands.
I’m curious to see how you want to, can and will play it. :grin:

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@Retrojoe Yes, normal F would be pretty high. Do you have access to a Low F harmonica?


Hello @DavidW, David,
I’ve been using a LowF for a long time, but I think it wouldn’t be an option here because it would be too low in the lower range.

Best Regards from Astrid :woman_in_lotus_position:

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+1 if you want to try and play it on a diatonic (much cheaper than a chromatic) I’d recommend trying to pick up a Low F.

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