Why C Harp? And what key harp to get next?

I’ve been hearing some chatter here and there about, “why should I start with a C harmonica?” Some people complain that it is “shrill” sounding compared to lower key harmonicas, which is a valid point. I agree, lower harmonicas sound better in their higher registers. But, if you are a beginner just starting out on the harmonica, I still recommend 100% that you start your adventure with a C harmonica.

Here are the reasons to start with a C harmonica:

1.) It’s right smack dab in the middle of the range of harmonicas. The highest key is F, and the lowest regular tuning is G. Both are 4 letter names away. So learning techniques (such as bending for example) on the C harp, it will be easier to adjust the technique going up and going down.

Also, if you think the upper register of a C harp is high, just wait until you play an F! LOL.

2.) Most beginner tutorials, both free ones that you can find on YouTube, and paid ones such as my Beginner to Boss course, are all using C harmonicas. So starting with a C harmonica will enable you to benefit from all of the great beginner instruction available online.

Some times people ask me, “what key harmonica should I get after C?” My reply to this is usually, “But the key harmonica that you need in order to play along with your favorite song to play (or that you’d like to be able to play) along with on the harmonica.” I think this is a very logical way to slowly expand what keys of harmonica you own.

Of course, sometimes harmonicas are sold in sets, like the Fender Blues Deluxe Set of 7. These are great options, because you can save a little bit of money compared to buying one at a time, and they come with a case, and having a case is always helpful. Having all these keys will put you in a greater likelihood of being able to jam more songs with other musicians. And jamming with others is one of the greatest joys of being a musician.

Of course, you’ll need to know which harmonica to grab for which key song, and, if you haven’t seen it already, I have a great lesson that explains how which you can check out here.

One more thought: if you’re wanting to be able to play along with guitarist, and you’re wanting to do bluesy kind of stuff, you’ll want to get an A harmonica, as that is the key you need to play blues in E, and E is a guitar player’s favorite key.

Similarly, if you want to sit in with a band that has a lot of horns, consider and Eb harmonica plays in Bb, and Bb is a common key for horn players.

In summary, choosing what key of harmonica to buy should come from your common sense, intuition, and inspiration. The musical journey is an intuitive one. Enjoy the journey. If you’re wondering what brand of harmonica to buy, check out my article on the subject here.

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Excellent post and reasons.
As a beginner, not only in harmonica, but also general music (I’ve had very little to do with music in the past) it only makes sense for me to start with C, because I see it as being to most straightforward scale because it has no sharps or flats (or if you’re using a piano, only white keys)

I will no doubt buy harmonicas in other tunings, when I feel confident enough, and I look forward to hearing how they sound different from a C-tuned harmonica. But for now I’m happy with I have now.

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Right on!

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I have to say my G lightning blues harmonica sound is really nice compared to my C harmonica more pleasing to the ear

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I hear ya James!

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Hello, Luke.
I am a Beginner to Boss student and I have a Fender Blues Deluxe Key of C.
I bought this Harmonica because I had never played before and wanted to find out if I would like. Well, I love it! And the course is one of the reasons why I love playing the harmonica, as it allowed me to learn.
Now I wanna buy a second harmonica. Searching about keys I decided to buy a key of G, as it sounds pleasant to me.
However I am facing a dilemma and would like to listen to opinions:
I was thinking about buying a Hohner Special 20 key of G because I thought that would be good start investing in a better quality instrument.
But as I am a beginner, I was wondering if would be more recommended to buy another Fender and invest later in a better one?
Any thoughts on that subject?
Thank you in advance.:pray:t2:

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Hey Rachel - So glad you’re here on the forum. Happy to have you here. Also so glad that you love the harmonica!

In terms of which brand harmonica to get for key of G, there is no reason not to get a Hohner Special 20, or any of the other harps in that price range like Golden Melody or Lee Oskar. If you can afford it, definitely go for it!

If funds are tight, the Fender Blues Deluxe will get the job done, but I think you’ll love the feel and sound of the Special 20 even more, if it’s not cost prohibitive.

Hope that helps!

Rock on,
Luke

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That’s great, Luke, I just purchased the Special 20, super happy!
Thank you so much for your amazing lessons.

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Right on Rachel. So glad you’re enjoying the lessons.

Rock on,
Luke

I’ve started with a Hohner Marine Band and a Special 20 - both C. I also got a Big River Harp in G specifically for a Neil Young song! I’m thinking of getting a set of 7 Fender Blues harmonicas - not sure yet.

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The Fender Blues Deluxe are great harps for the money! Best budget harps in my opinion.

Rock on,
Luke

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I really like my Fender, but I must confess that it has been much easier hit single notes on the Hohner 20, not sure why. Let me know your thoughts once you get your Fender ones.

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Will do. Those single notes are still elusive! I alternate between my Special 20 and Marine Band.

Yeah, Hohner Special 20 is a huge step up from a Fender Blues Deluxe, much more responsive, so even though the wholes are the same size on the comb, I’m not surprised you’re having an easier time on it.

Rock on,
Luke

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Hi. early days but I’m finding it easier to hit single notes on the Fender! Maybe it will work well as a learning instrument and I can transfer what I learn/improve on to the Hohners. I now need to find a way of picking out the key of songs I listen to and try to play along.

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SWEET! Feel free to shoot a question about a song key here on the forum!

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Thank you. So many!

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I bought a Hohner Special 20 in Key of G. I love it. I also have a Lee Oskar LowC. It seems to ‘leak’ more air, and the holes are a little larger than the Hohner, seemingly making it harder to isolate single notes. I also own a Fender 'Blues" C, and a Hohner Hot Metal (C), A Hohner Sousa Band (C) and a Bushman Delta Frost (G). The Special 20 and the Delta Frost are by far my favorites.

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Hey Poppo - Thanks for sharing! I just want to point out here that the Low C is always going to require A LOT more air than a G harmonica. Could be a brand issue that makes it seem to “leak” more air, but it could just be the difference in registers.

Rock on,
Luke

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Most lessons are on a C, so that’s a good place to start. But I am a big believer in ‘requirements analysis’. Start with “What do I want to do with a different key harmonica?” If it’s only to hear your own playing in a different key, it doesn’t really matter what key you buy. Lower often sounds ‘better’, but listen to some Jimmy Reed (Bright Lights, Big City) for some unreal high-end harp riffs.

The harp manufacturers’ sets (usually of 5, 7 or 12) give a good indication of the popular keys, but that only becomes important when you want to play with others, or to recorded tunes. If you’ve got a guitarist mate that plays blues, an A would definitely be next (an A plays in the key of E in 2nd position (often the best position for blues), and guitarists like the open chords in E).

My family never knew what to get me for Christmas/birthdays, so I put a list of the keys I didn’t have on the fridge (in priority order of what I thought would be the most useful), and within a couple of years had all the keys – and the tribe were happy that they could get presents that were useful to me.

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