So you want to play harmonica. You have viewed a few YouTube videos and have seen some great players and teachers and you are now excited and ready to get started.
I want to welcome you to the guild of Harmonica Players. We need more of you.
So you go see your local professional harmonica player and he brings a case of 30-40 harmonicas to a gig. You watch him carefully as he skillfully plays by pulling out one or another one.
Then on some songs you watch amazed as he sometimes holds two harmonicas in his hand and alternates between the two as he plays.
And then you begin to wonder, just how many harmonicas do I need to play?
Well, the Diatonic Harmonica is designed to play in one key. Now you can use different positions to play that one harmonica in multiple keys, that is definitely not a beginner or even intermediate move.
So how many do I need?
Well you are gonna want to play in all 12 keys so that means 12 harmonicas right?
And then you are going to need some backups for all of them, or at least for your most used keys for when you blow out a reed or something.
So you got 12 harps and then 12 backups. That’s 24…
Hold on wait..don’t go yet…You probably don’t need that many right now….
OK, that brings us back to our question, How many do I need?
Well, the answer to that question is….
Depends on what?
I’m glad you asked….
It depends on what you are going to do in the foreseeable future.
The cool thing about harmonica is that there are multiple ways to play the harmonica. There are essentially three ways to play the harmonica. There is self accompaniment (including accompanying yourself singing)
There is accompanying others (like playing in a band’s rhythm section)
And there is Solo Harp (This is where most of the training is but the least amount of work for us harmonica players)…
Now each of these have different styles and different needs
To Play By Yourself?
OK, so lets look at self accompaniment. This is where you playing backup for your singing and/or for your harmonica. Often you will bounce back and forth between chords and single notes and perhaps use different dynamics to give the impression that there is more than one player.
In this kind of playing you alone grab the harp and go at it.
Now, how many harmonica’s do you need for this kind of harmonica playing. Where it is only you, no other accompaniment. No other players. Just you.
So since it is just you. You don’t have to coordinate the key you play in with anybody else. So you can play in whatever key you want. So all you need is ONE HARP.
All you need is one for this kind of playing…
Unless you want to play in more than one key…
And you will…
But at first you can just get one.
OK, but what about playing in other styles.
Well, here you are playing behind a guitar, singer, or a band. Normally you would be playing single notes and chords that support the music. That other person or group that you are playing behind will be singing or playing in a certain key.
That key is the key that you will need for your harmonica.
Well not almost. If you playing Gospel-Blues Harmonica you are probably spending a lot of time in “Cross Harp” or Second Position, so you would need to translate the key of the song into the translated Harmonica key that you pick up and play.
But all of that is beside the point. You will have to play in the key that the other folks play in. And we don’t normally play all of our songs in one key. So the Harmonicas you will need are the keys of the songs that your (Translated Cross-Harp) songs.
So how many do you need?
More than one. Probably at least 4 or 5….
Now let’s say you playing solo harmonica. This is the largest number of training resources are in this kind of playing. They teach you how to play the melody. Or how to improvise over the melody.
You often will be playing over a backing track in certain keys, or whatever key your guitarist or band wants to play in.
Much like in accompaniment harmonica, you are gonna need a number of harmonicas that correspond to the key of the songs that you wish to play on. Remember translated into Cross-Harp if you playing Blues based harmonica.
So let’s take an example, let’s say you have 5 backing tracks you want to work on. And they are in the key of C, G, A, D, and E.
OK…that means that you are gonna need to translate them into Cross-Harp which means you gonna need to get G, D, E, A, and B harps.
5 harmonicas to play in those 5 keys. And you ready for action…
So Solo Harmonica is like Accompaniment where you have to see what your band or backing track is playing in and then play that.
So more than likely it is just one harp…
To Get Started
Ok, forget all that, Im just getting started, I ain’t good enough to be in a band and ain’t nobody inviting me to play a solo. How many harmonicas do I need to get started?
Yep…In that case.
All you need is 1. 1 harmonica to learn on. A lot of training online is for the C harmonica so I would strongly suggest that you get one of those if you wish to learn from the web.
In addition, another key that is often used in training is A. Get one of those.
So how many do you need to get started? 1. How any do I suggest you get? 2 The C and the A harp.
Incidentally, don’t get one of those cheap harps. Get a 20-50 dollar model like a Special 20 a Lee Oskar or maybe even a Golden Melody.
OK, how many harmonicas do I need? Probably 24…you know 12 and 12…
How many do I need to get started though? 1. any key.
But what if I also want to play along to the training that is available online and in books – 2 get a C and an A
OK, but what if I want to play in a band or play along to may backing tracks – Multiple and it depends on what the keys the band wants to play in.