Music of the Mouth: Harmonica Resources and Info

The harmonica is a popular instrument that is played using the mouth. It is most commonly heard in blues, country, and folk music. The harmonica has become increasingly popular in recent years as an instrument for rock n' roll bands as well. The sound that comes from harmonicas comes from small reeds that are inserted into the housing, and when air passes through, it makes that unmistakable sound.


The harmonica was originally created in Europe, and records show it was first played and used around the beginning of the 19th century. The country of Vienna is credited for the first place to discover and use the harmonica. Soon, the instrument's popularity spread to Asia and later the United States. It was brought to Japan in 1898. World War II saw a shortage of harmonicas in the US mainly due to the need for woods and metals, which are used to manufacture harmonicas. In the 1950s, the popularity of the harmonica grew thanks to the blues movement, mostly in the southern states. During this time harmonicas were mass-produced and had become a commonly seen and used instrument. Even the Beatles helped to make this reed-based instrument famous. Today, the harmonica can be seen in use all over the stage, varying from small country bars to huge rock arenas.

Harmonica Types

There are several different types of harmonicas, and each one depends on how it is played along with other variables. Most differences can be assessed by how many notes the harmonica contains, or how they sound. A chromatic harmonica uses a slider that moves the air from the mouthpiece to various reeds in order to produce different notes. A diatonic harmonica is designed to only produce one key. The tremolo harmonica has two reeds for each note. One note is sharp and the other is extremely flat. An orchestral harmonica is made to play for large orchestra settings, and a chord harmonica can play up to 48 different chords, making it the most musically diverse type of harmonica. Some consider pitch pipes to be harmonicas, although they are actually used as musical tools for various instruments.

Parts of the Harmonica

There are three basic parts to the harmonica. These parts are the reed-plates, cover-plates, and the comb. The comb is the main portion of the harmonica. This part is designed to hold the different air chambers and the reeds. The term comes from this part's similarity to hair combs. Most traditional combs are made from wood, however newer models can be made of metal or hard plastic. The reed-plate is designed to house several reeds in one place. Brass is usually used to make reeds, however steel and aluminum is also used. The cover plate is placed over the reed-plate. This part can be customized to create various sounds, and many modern manufacturers have created their own versions to give them a distinct sound and/or look.

Harmonica Resources