What are the notes on a harmonica?
As a beginning harmonica player, you may be confused about the notes on the instrument, especially if some of them appear “missing.” This article will cover the notes on a C harmonica and the reasoning behind their layout.
Harmonicas come in various keys, but the most common key is C.
C harmonica notes are based on the “Richter tuning” system, which is used for most harmonicas. The blow and draw notes for a C harmonica are shown in the diagram below:
If you look at holes 4 to 7, you’ll notice that the notes from these holes form a C major scale:
C, D, E, F, G, A, B, C.
However, holes 1 to 4 differ, and the lower notes do not form a major scale. But, if you look at the blow notes from holes 1 to 4 (C, E, G, C), they form a C major chord. So, when you blow into these first 4 holes, you’ll hear how these notes seem to “agree” with each other when played together.
The blow notes from holes 4 to 7 (C, E, G, C) also form a C chord, and the blow notes from holes 7 to 10 (C, E, G, C) form yet another C chord. This is no coincidence and why all the blow notes come from the C Major chord on the C harmonica.
Similarly, the draw notes from holes 1 to 4 (D, G, B, D) come from the G chord, an important chord in the key of C. So when you blow and repeatedly draw on holes 1 to 4, you’ll hear how the two chords match each other.
Providing these chords in the bottom 4 holes while allowing a major scale in the middle holes is the fundamental reasoning behind the Richter tuning system used on most harmonicas.
Is 1 on a harmonica the highest note or lowest?
The first blow note on the first hole is the lowest harmonica note and should be on your left side.
The Missing Harmonica Notes
As you can see from the notes on the lower and upper octaves, we have some missing notes. On the lower octave, the missing notes are F and A.
And the missing note on the upper octave is B.
The Richter tuning system, used on most harmonicas, is based on the idea of having chords on the lowest four holes and a major scale on the middle ones. Consequently, some notes are not available, especially at the bottom, but “bending” is a technique that enables the player to access these missing notes.
Produce the missing notes on the lower holes.
Bending harmonica notes involves changing your tongue position, mouth shape, and breath pressure, and it can be quite challenging for beginner harmonica players.
Bending a note lowers its pitch and is mostly done on draw holes 1, 2, 3, 4, and 6 and blow holes 8, 9, and 10. The note layout below shows the standard bend notes on a C harmonica:
How to Memorize Notes on Blues Harp?
When memorizing the notes on the harmonica, it’s okay to memorize some of them, especially for the less frequently used keys. Here is a simple way to memorize the notes.
As shown below, memorize the blow notes as the shown blocks:
[C E G] [C E G] [C E G] C
For the draw notes, memorize the notes as the shown blocks:
[D G] [B D F A] [B D F A]
The Richter tuning system, which is used on most harmonicas, is based on the idea of providing chords in the lower four holes and a major scale in the center holes. In order to do this, some notes are not included, especially in the lowest holes. However, this deficiency can be countered by using a technique called “bending,” which allows these absent notes to be played.
In conclusion, understanding the notes on a harmonica can be a bit confusing at first, but with some practice, you can master them. Remember, it’s not necessary to remember all the notes, and you can focus on scale degrees instead. With dedication and patience, you can progress in your harmonica playing skills.
If you are a beginner in playing the harmonica and looking for guidance on how to properly hold it, refer to this article:
Happy Harmonica Playing 😊
Your harmonica instructor,