Suzuki Harmonicas. Frequently Asked Questions

 
 

How to Identify the different types of harmonicas.

Which key do you need to purchase?

Which material should you consider for a harmonica?

Which Suzuki harmonica is the one for you?

How to play the harmonica.

What are Special effects?

How to care and maintain your harmonica?

Further information.

 

I. Identify the different types of harmonicas

It is important to distinguish between the different types of harmonicas in order to choose the right one for you (in accordance with the style of music and the effects you want to play). There are 3 basic types: the diatonic harmonica, the tremolo harmonica and the chromatic harmonica.

   Diatonic Harmonicas This was the first type of harmonica to be created. Although they are most commonly used to play blues and country, you will be able to play all kinds of popular music with a diatonic harmonica.

   A diatonic harmonica has 10 holes and permits the player to use the tones and semi-tones equivalent to the white notes on a piano (using the scale of C major as an example) However, it is possible to play other notes by using bending and overblow techniques (see special effects). This type of harmonica is the most popular in Europe whereas tremolo harmonicas are favored more in the Far East.

   Tremolo Harmonicas: This type of harmonica is ideal for playing very traditional music because one may easily create a wonderful ‘tremolo’ effect. It is very popular with Gospel and old world; Folk, Country, Scottish and Irish music.

   Tremolo harmonicas are constructed with double holes placed vertically. each contains two reeds, one slightly de-tuned to the other. When vibrating together, these reeds produce a unique tremolo effect.

   Chromatic Harmonicas: The chromatic harmonica has been created to compensate for the missing notes on the diatonic harmonica. You will be able to play both the tones and semi-tones of a chromatic scale (a chromatic scale is when both white notes and black notes are played in succession; C, Db, D, Eb, E etc) thanks to a slide button. Using the key of C as an example, with the slide 'out' one is able to play the naturals (white notes on a piano keyboard). With the slide 'in' the sharps/flats can be played (the black notes on a piano keyboard) .

   If you wish to play popular melodies, jazz and classical music, this is the right instrument for you.

 

   Apart from these 3 basic types, there are also specialist harmonicas which are mainly used in ensemble performance: Chord and Bass harmonicas.

 

II. Which key do you need to purchase?

 

   The harmonicas are available in various keys. Therefore, when buying a harmonica, this is an important aspect to look at. When playing solo, any key will sound good, but the choice of key becomes more critical when you have to play with other musicians.

   The key of C is the most common. It is the ideal key to begin with, and you will find most of the tutorials available are made for this key. D is the best key to choose for practicing bending (and a little easier than the key of C). The key of A produces a beautiful low-pitch sound but it requires more effort on blowing. You can also choose the key in accordance with the style of music you wish to play. The F, D, A, C, G, E and Bb keys are recommended to play Blues, Rock or Country music whereas if you wish to play jazz, the Ab, Bb, Db, Eb and F# keys would be a good choice.

   If you want to try another key, you do not necessarily have to buy another harmonica. Suzuki provides replacement reed plates for selected models, which is a cost effective way to change the key as you wish.

 

III - Which material should you consider for a harmonica?

 

   Plastic and metal are the most common materials for harmonicas. Both have advantages and drawbacks:

   Plastic harmonicas: They are usually less expensive and lighter in weight but often do not sound as ‘professional’ as the more expensive metal harmonicas.

   Metal harmonicas: Normally in the middle to upper price range. The sound is generally clearer and more powerful, allowing more control with special effects (such as overblow etc).

   A beginner may well select a premium priced harmonica to start off with. However, due consideration should be given to which model they feel most comfortable with. A slightly more expensive model may allow more enjoyment in practicing and keep them motivated for longer!

 

IV. Now that you know the basic criteria to choose a harmonica, which Suzuki harmonica is the one for you?

   Suzuki manufactures all kinds of harmonicas with a large range of prices and designs.

   Now that you have taken into account all the general criteria, you can make your choice of a specific model according to your personal tastes and budget.

   Here are the instruments that Suzuki puts at your disposal:

Suzuki diatonic harmonicas

Suzuki Tremolo Harmonicas

Suzuki chromatic harmonicas

Suzuki Chord and Bass harmonicas

 

V. How to play the harmonica?

   Now that you have chosen the right harmonica for you, let’s play it! Here are a few tips that may assist you along the way:

 

1 - How to hold your harmonica?

   Hold the harmonica with your left hand with your thumb on the bottom of the instrument and your forefinger on the top. Then, put your right hand so as to form a cup with both hands. Be careful to take the harmonica in the right way, which is to say with the low notes on the left.

2 - How to play only one note?

   The first thing you have to master is to be able to isolate a note, which means to draw or blow only one hole at a time. To achieve this task, you have to purse the lips (as if you were whistling) and then you need to concentrate on a specific hole (for example the hole no 4). Try it several times and then try with other holes.

3 - Where are the notes placed on a harmonica?

    For each hole, the note varies depending on if you are blowing or drawing it. Here is a notation chart (for a standard diatonic harmonica in C) to know which hole you need to blow or draw to play a specific note.

 

VI - Special effects

Bending: Bending a note is a way of altering the note from its standard pitch, usually lowering the pitch of the note. This is an important technique to master if you want to play Blues music. This effect is easily achieved on the MR-350V Promaster Valved.

Overblow: This is a method of altering a note up in pitch. The MR-300 Overdrive has been designed specifically with this mind, to achieve overblows and overdraws easily.

Cross-Harping: It is also called Cross Key positioning. This technique enables you to play a harmonica in all 12 keys by using bending techniques and choosing which note you want to play. To make the important notes, you will need a key that is a fifth down the scale, i.e. for playing blues style in G; you will need a harmonica in C.

Vibrato: This is a rapid wavering of the pitch of a note. This effect is achieved by cupping the hands around the harmonica and rapidly opening and closing the fingers whilst sustaining a note (see information on the PH-20, which is designed to create wonderful vibrato easily!)

VII - Care and maintenance of your harmonica

It is advisable (particularly in cold weather) to warm up your harmonica prior to playing, although this will not adversely affect the reed if you blow from cold.

Do not use harsh or abrasive cleaning materials on your harmonica and never submerge it completely in any liquid.

For the sake of hygiene and preventative maintenance, it is advisable to brush your teeth before playing, if possible.

Always shake or “tap” excess moisture from the harmonica after playing and clean with a soft cotton or lined cloth.

Store in a dry, dust free situation (the box or case is ideal) and avoid excessive temperatures.

Further information. If you want more information about playing the harmonica, Suzuki offers comprehensive tutorials with CD to help all the beginners to master this delightful instrument.

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