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English Harmonica (coll .: Harp )
Italian Armonica a bocca
French Harmonica
Spanish la Armónica
Template: Infobox musical instrument / maintenance / parameter image is missing

classification Aerophon
tongue instrument (self-sounding interruption aerophone with piercing tongue)
range mostly three octaves
Sound sample Audio file / audio sample Pumping sound on a Hohner Marine Band ? / i
Related instruments

Accordion , Shō , Sheng

Larry Adler , Norton Buffalo , Paul Butterfield , Carlos del Junco , Bob Dylan , Big Walter Horton , Howard Levy , Jason Ricci , Sonny Terry , Toots Thielemans , Little Walter , Sonny Boy Williamson II , Stevie Wonder
List of harmonica players
Diatonic harmonica, here: octave and judge harmonica

The harmonica is a musical instrument from the group of accordion instruments with punch blades of metal in parallel air channels. The air channels are blown directly with the mouth.

Overview and repertoire

Compared to most other musical instruments, the harmonica is small, inexpensive and also less sensitive, although care must be taken with it too. By the 19th century in diatonic accordions used Richter Tuning is suitable diatonic harmonicas to simple melodies at the same time accompanying to inferior chords; but not all chromatic tones are available. The chromatic instruments developed later have all the chromatic tones, but generally no longer allow accompanying chords.

The harmonica made one of its most famous appearances in modern pop culture in Ennio Morricone's soundtrack to the film Spiel mir das Lied vom Tod (1968). The famous main theme is still popular today and is often used in advertising, television and film, especially for the scenic portrayal of western themes, duels and in general when danger is imminent. From a music theoretical point of view, the topic is as simple as it is ingenious; it mostly only consists of the two tones E and Dis (which form the very tense / dissonant interval of a small second), which play alternately.

There are also several uses in television music, such as in the theme music to Ein Grieche conquers Chicago , or in German-speaking countries in the theme music to the series Der Landarzt .

The harmonica also occupies a special position in European folk music and in the blues ( blues harp ).

In classical music, on the other hand, the instrument is a marginal phenomenon with only a few major appearances: the Brazilian composer Heitor Villa-Lobos wrote a concerto for harmonica and orchestra , as did Malcolm Arnold , and there is also a Romance for harmonica and strings by Ralph Vaughan Williams .


For the technical history see:

Invention of the harmonica

From the history of the resounding reed it can be seen that organ builders, mechanics or music box makers such as Friedrich Kaufmann in Dresden or other comparable mechanics in Nuremberg, Paris, Vienna and Prague, for example, already had the necessary knowledge and prerequisites for aeolines or harmonica around 1800 to make. In the field of vision, however, were the machines and organs, with which more attention could be achieved. It is therefore possible that the first individual copies were made before the 1820s. Although there is no evidence whatsoever, the fifteen-year-old Christian Friedrich Ludwig Buschmann, who is portrayed as the inventor in many writings, could have made a similar instrument as early as 1820 - but this is not very likely. Ultimately, it remains unclear who was the first to come up with the idea of ​​marketing it as a by-product or whether several different places brought similar products into circulation, and from today's point of view there is no single person who can be described as the inventor of the harmonica. Above all, the harmonica does not seem to have received any special attention at the beginning, as no special patents for the harmonica are known from the early days and the musical newspapers in German-speaking countries from the period from 1800 to 1824 do not contain any references to the instrument. Only appearances with the harmonica are reported several times, although this is not the present day harmonica; what is meant is the Jew's Harp or - as the Jew's Harp was still called back then - the humming iron. In Vienna from 1810 to 1822 the prominent choir director Franz Xaver Gebauer performed with the harmonica (jew's harp).

Secured reports on the harmonica

Harmonica first appeared in the early 1820s and then spread throughout German-speaking countries. In 1823 Johann Georg Meisel bought a harmonica at the Braunschweig trade fair. There is evidence of harmonica sales in Vienna from 1825 onwards.

In 1825, Anton Reinlein extended his powers and then called himself a “bourgeois music box manufacturer and harmonica manufacturer”. In 1826 Ignaz Hotz built harmonica in Knittlingen . In 1827 the harmonica was already a fashion item in Vienna; extrapolated, 500,000 pieces of the "ear torturers" were sold in 1827. In 1827 the instrument was also recreated in Graslitz ( Klingenthal ) by Johann Georg Meisel together with Johann Langhammer . In 1829 Johann Wilhelm Rudolph Glier received a harmonica from the physical association in Frankfurt am Main as a gift and shortly afterwards built the instruments. A privilege (patent) directly for a harmonica is not known. In 1829, Jakob Kissling received Vienna's first trade license, which directly mentions the harmonica. In 1834 the harmonica factory was founded in Vienna by Fridrich Wilhelm Thie (1803–1869), who came from Rathenow , and existed until 1922. There were reports of two harmonica makers in Nuremberg in 1836.

In 1830 a book titled Systematic Review of Recent Advances in Business was published ; there is a hint that the harmonica was newly invented in Württemberg without giving any evidence for it. In 1832, Christian Messner founded the first workshop in Trossingen, Württemberg , in which harmonicas were made. This happened after he had recreated a harmonica he had brought from Vienna in 1830. The company was later taken over by Mathias Hohner AG .

Instrument making reached enormous numbers within a very short period of time, and today it is considered the most popular instrument.

In 1833 there were already seven harmonica makers in Vienna (Jakob Kissling, Wilhelm Schütz, Joseph Forstinger Uhrmacher, Michal Harig, Johann Fell, Vincenz Fischer, Johann Klein keyed accordion makers). In 1856 there were already 120 listed mouth or accordion makers in Vienna.

A harmonica maker was officially registered in Bohemia in 1839. The two harmonica manufacturers that still exist in Germany began production in 1847 ( C. A. Seydel, CASS , Klingenthal) and 1857 ( Matthias Hohner , Trossingen).

In the German-speaking area, where it quickly became popular as a pocket instrument alongside the accordion ( concertina ) and ocarina (gosling) , the harmonica was initially called the Chinese-style harmonica - in contrast to the jaw harp (humming iron), which was also called the "harmonica" at the time - or in vernacular pictorial Bavarian-Austrian Fotz (en) hobel ( Bavarian Fotzn , mouth, mouth, gosche ').

Components of a harmonica

Reed plate mounted on the comb of a diatonic harmonica
Comb and two reed plates

The basic components of a harmonica are the comb body, the reed plates with the reeds and the (sound) cover.

Comb body

The comb body is a central part of the instrument. It is popularly called "comb" because of its similarity to a real comb. Originally it was made of wood, but today it is often made of plastic ( ABS ) or metal . The comb body divides the instrument into chambers . These are air chambers (wind tunnels) that channel the breathing air to the reeds.

Reed plate and reeds

The reed plates are attached to the top and bottom of the comb and covered by sheet metal covers. The reeds are riveted to the reed plates so that they can swing freely through the cutouts in the reed plates - the tone holes - below. The dimensions leave a defined air gap between the tone hole and tongue. The longer reeds produce the lower notes . In order for the tongue to swing from the air, it has to be bent upwards a little. At each cell there is an inwardly directed pressure tongue and an outwardly directed suction tongue, which are stimulated by blowing or sucking. The inactive tongue has no influence on the sound generation during normal playing and remains in its resting position.

For a more even distribution of the bending stress, the cross-sections of the tongues taper towards the free end. In the case of deep tones, however, the profile can also look different, whereby the thinnest point is no longer at the end of the tongue. In order to reduce the notch effect at the clamping point of the tongue, the cross-sectional profile should be free of discontinuities.


Chromatic harmonica

Chromatic harmonica

Chromatic harmonicas allow a built-in slider to cover all semitones of Western music. Thus, all styles of music are open to you.

Chromatic harmonica
Pulpit (opening): 1 2 3 4th 5 6th 7th 8th 9 10 11 12
Blast tones: C. E. G C. C. E. G C. C. E. G C.
Blast tones with the slider pressed: C # F. G# C # C # F. G# C # C # F. G# C #
Draw tones: D. F. A. H D. F. A. H D. F. A. H
Draw tones with the slider pressed: D # F # A # C. D # F # A # C. D # F # A # C.

The cells 1–4 and 5–8 therefore already include both a complete C major scale and, if the tone slider is held down, a complete C # major scale, which can be confused enharmonically as a Db major scale. There are four reeds sealed by plastic valves in a cockpit.

The chromatic harmonica is mostly - like other wind instruments - played monotonously. The rhythmic tonguing technique, which is often practiced in other harmonica models, is not used in the chromatic harmonica for harmonic reasons.

There was also a chromatic harmonica with two slides, the Hohner Chordomonica II, based on an invention by Chamber Huang . It is said to have been taken out of production in the 80s, according to other information in the 60s.

Chromatic harmonicas of other designs enable chromatic play without a slide (e.g. Tombo Violin Scale, Tombo Chromatic Single ). To do this, they wear two rows of tones one above the other, which differ from one another by exactly one semitone. This makes it possible to play the harmonica held by a frame chromatically parallel to the guitar. For a semitone you just have to switch to the other row of holes. Some chromatic slide harmonicas can easily be converted to slide-less ones.

Diatonic harmonica

In contrast to the chromatic harmonica, the diatonic harmonica only has reeds that produce the scale's own tones of the key in which the harmonica is tuned. A diatonic C major harmonica therefore only has the notes C, D, E, F, G, A and H.

Richter Harmonica

Blues harmonica with wooden bezels

A Richter-style diatonic harmonica has 10 chambers (blow holes). It is voted in the so-called “judges' mood”. The pitch changes that result from moving up or down are not chromatic, i.e. not in semitone steps. The folk musician Joseph Richter from Haida in Bohemia laid down the tone arrangement around 1825, which has prevailed in the Richter harp, which was initially exclusively tuned diatonic , and which has been maintained to this day.

By using the harmony of the basic triad (tonic) when blowing in the area of ​​the low tones (left side of the instrument) and when drawing the tones of the upper dominant as a rhythmic accompaniment to his tones generated in the right corner of his mouth to create melodies, he initiated his along with other players Time a playing technique now practiced worldwide, the tongue-flick playing technique .

The subdominant triad (the subdominant) cannot be produced on the harmonica, which is why many harmonica players hold several instruments of the same construction in their hands at the same time, namely in different keys and alternately bring them to their mouths when making music.

Nevertheless, the diatonic judge's harp with its ten sound channels can be played fully chromatically using the bending and overbending playing techniques, which, however, usually requires lengthy practice beforehand. The metal reeds can be pulled down by a certain technique by changing the position of the tongue and the oropharynx when pulling up to three semitones (minor third) and by blowing down to a whole tone (second). Bending the built-in tone up by pulling it accordingly ( overdraw ) and by blowing it in a special way ( overblow ) can then be implemented in a game that can then be played in a very demanding manner. This makes playing and the resulting sound on the small harmonica, also known as the blues harp , particularly appealing to many active and listening friends of this genre.

The tone structure of a Richter harmonica tuned in C major
Channel hole number: 1 2 3 4th 5 6th 7th 8th 9 10
Blast tones: c e G c e G c e G c
Draw tones: d G H d f a H d f a

The half-step tones to be achieved have not been specified here for the sake of a simple overview.

Tremolo harmonica

Tremolo harmonica

The decisive feature of a tremolo harmonica (also known as the Viennese tuning) is that it has two reeds per note, one being slightly higher and the other slightly lower than the target note, which creates a unique wavy or warbling sound through the beat effect. The Asian version, which includes all notes, is used in East Asian light music.

Audio file / audio sample Audio sample ? / i

Octave harmonica

Octave harmonica

Octave harmonicas (also known as Knittlinger tuning) have two reeds per blowhole, which are intoned shifted by an exact octave. Many are of the same construction as a tremolo harmonica (as described above) and are based on the "Viennese system".

Audio file / audio sample Audio sample ? / i

Special mood

A special tuning has a division of the tones that deviates from the standard. Different goals are pursued depending on the special mood. It should actually be called special tones , since it is not about the division of the octave into tones, but the arrangement of the various tones. However, the term special mood has established itself in common parlance. The standard harmonica is based in its division according to the common major keys, while the instrument is often used in ethnic music for special tunings, it must have better bending possibilities, special effects are to be achieved, etc. v. m.

More harmonica types

  • Accompanying harmonica
    • Chord harmonica
    • Bass harmonica
  • Wender harmonica
  • Cross turner
A Kreuzwender is composed of several harmonicas. Viewed from the side, it looks like a cross, as it contains four or six individual instruments. Every single instrument has a different key.

Playing technique and theory

Single tone game

In order to play clean, individually isolated notes on the harmonica, two main playing techniques are used. Both playing techniques initially take getting used to because the design of the work with the mouth in connection with the use of the harmonica may initially appear to be quite difficult.

Pointed mouth technique

The most common technique for creating individual tones is playing with the "pointed whistling mouth". As when whistling a song, the hole between the upper and lower lip is so much smaller that the air you breathe only serves a single sound channel. The name is misleading as it suggests that the harmonica is being played with the outside of the lips. However, good tone formation is not possible with this. Instead, the harmonica is played with the inside of the lips.

Playing with your tongue covered

This playing technique is also known as "tongue blocking". Here, the tongue is placed on the mouthpiece and (depending on the individual style and size of the mouth) several sound channels are constantly covered, so that a chamber is left open in the right corner of the mouth to generate the melody tone. The advantage of this style of play is that it can create advanced effects.

Tongue-flick playing technique

The tongue flicking technique is a variant of playing with a covered tongue. To put it simply, the player lifts the tongue lying on the mouthpiece, depending on the type of measure (3/4, 4/4 time, etc.) mostly for the duration of a 1/4 beat, then briefly guides it back onto the mouthpiece and then repeat this process many times until the end of the song. By using the tongue strike technique it is possible for the player to play both melody and accompaniment at the same time.

Playing chords

The following examples are based on a Richter harmonica in C major.

  • Blown chords
    • If you blow through at least three adjacent chambers at the same time, you will always hear a C major chord: C (C E G).
  • Drawn chords
    • If you pull on cell 1–4 at the same time, you will hear the major chord G (D GH (D))
    • If you pull on cell 3–5 at the same time, the diminished chord H °  (HD F) sounds
    • If you pull at cell 4–6 at the same time, you will hear the minor chord dm  (DF A).

The Richter tuning enables limited chord accompaniment. The upper panels are less suitable for accompanying chords because of their pitch. A somewhat more demanding application of the chords is, for example, to play the appropriate chord in a song after certain melody notes and then to continue with the melody.


Due to the arrangement of a blast tone and a pull tone per chamber, the pitch can be changed by changing the oral cavity while playing, deviating from your actual mood; z. B. can thereby also set the blaston reed in motion when drawing breath through the pulpit (pulling over). This results in a pitch change of at least a semitone.

Thus, a skilled harmonica player has more notes available on his diatonic blues harp that would not be available in the Richter tuning without these effects (called: blas / pull bending and blas / pull overbend).

The Bending (Engl. For bending) is a particularly at Blues widespread -Musikern play, because it can not be played with the standing of the scale to available tones (chromatic), but a moving tone-to-tone transition and playing with bluenotes and other special leading tones, as is usual with blues, becomes possible.


The blow and pull bending is generated by influencing the air flow, only the air direction differs. Raising the back of the tongue restricts the airflow at the roof of the mouth. The tongue must remain relaxed at the front. Bending does not work on all panels, but on some by several semitones (see graphic). When bending, the blast tone must be at least one whole tone higher than the draw tone. The greater this ratio, the deeper the player can end.

Audio file / audio sample Audio sample ? / i


In terms of blowing technology, overbends (overblows / overdraws) are created using the same approach as bending, only on other chambers (see graphic). Physically, the bends and overbends differ fundamentally. Using the example of the Overblow Kanzelle (6), which you should start with: If you blow normally in (6), the Blaston G will sound as usual.If you lift your tongue as if you were bending strongly, the blowing tongue closes first and if you are bending even more, it starts to swing the pull tab. This only happens when the reeds are very close to the reed plates, but not too close, otherwise the reed will no longer respond. Both the blowing tongue and the pulling tongue must be optimally adjusted.

Achievable tones of a blues harmonica in C major

Using all techniques, all semitones can now be achieved. It should also be noticed that the separation of the playing techniques lies between the 6th and 7th cell, where the blast notes are higher than the draw notes.

                          Overblows        Blas-Bendings
                       D#       D# F# A#       Eb Gb H
                       C  E  G  C  E  G     C  E  G  C    ←  Blastöne
Kanzelle :     →      (1)(2)(3)(4)(5)(6)   (7)(8)(9)(10)
(Blasöffnung)          D  G  H  D  F  A     H  D  F  A    ←  Ziehtöne
                       Db Gb Bb Db    Ab    C#    G# C#
                          F  A
                         Zieh-Bendings       Overdraws

Interesting connections regarding the bending:

(BT = blast tone; ZT = pull tone; HTS = semitone step)

Kanzelle  1: ZT "D" liegt 2 HTS höher als BT "C" → Bending: Db
Kanzelle  2: ZT "G" liegt 3 HTS höher als BT "E" → Bending: Gb, F
Kanzelle  3: ZT "H" liegt 4 HTS höher als BT "G" → Bending: Bb, A, Ab
Kanzelle  4: ZT "D" liegt 2 HTS höher als BT "C" → Bending: Db
Kanzelle  5: ZT "F" liegt 1 HTS höher als BT "E" → Bending: - (da kein Halbton dazwischen)
Kanzelle  6: ZT "A" liegt 2 HTS höher als BT "G" → Bending: Ab
            Schemawechsel: (Ziehbending → Blasbending)
Kanzelle  7: ZT "H" liegt 1 HTS tiefer als BT "C" → Bending: - (da kein Halbton dazwischen)
Kanzelle  8: ZT "D" liegt 2 HTS tiefer als BT "E" → Bending: Eb
Kanzelle  9: ZT "F" liegt 2 HTS tiefer als BT "G" → Bending: Gb
Kanzelle 10: ZT "A" liegt 3 HTS tiefer als BT "C" → Bending: H, Bb

Interesting connections regarding overblowing:

(OB = Overblow; OD = Overdraw)

Kanzelle  1: OB "D#" liegt 1 HTS höher als ZT "D"
Kanzelle  2: -
Kanzelle  3: -
Kanzelle  4: OB "D#" liegt 1 HTS höher als ZT "D"
Kanzelle  5: OB "F#" liegt 1 HTS höher als ZT "F"
Kanzelle  6: OB "A#" liegt 1 HTS höher als ZT "A"
            Schemawechsel: (Overblow → Overdraw)
Kanzelle  7: OD "C#" liegt 1 HTS höher als BT "C"
Kanzelle  8: -
Kanzelle  9: OD "G#" liegt 1 HTS höher als BT "G"
Kanzelle 10: OD "C#" liegt 1 HTS höher als BT "C"

Well-known harmonica producers




  • Sören Birke: The mouth plane, magic harp, Schnutenorgel: a cultural history of the harmonica . ISBN 978-3-940863-14-0 .
  • Kim Field: Harmonicas, Harps, and Heavy Breathers. The Evolution of the People's Instrument. Cooper Square Press, New York 2000, ISBN 0-8154-1020-4 .
  • Conny Restle : On everyone's lips. Harmonica, accordion, harmonium: a 200-year success story. State Institute for Music Research, Berlin 2003, ISBN 3-922378-20-X .
  • Christoph Wagner (Ed.): The harmonica. A musical globetrotter. Transit, Berlin 1996, ISBN 3-88747-110-5 .

Web links

Commons : Harmonica  album with pictures, videos and audio files
Wiktionary: Harmonica  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Eduard Hanslick: History of concerts in Vienna. Volume 1. 1869, p. 185, ( books.google.at ).
  2. ^ Eduard Bernsdorf (Ed.): New Universal Lexicon of Tonkunst. Volume 2. 1857, p. 122, ( books.google.at ).
  3. Österreichischer Gewerbeverein (Ed.): Wochenschrift, Volumes 1–4, Vienna, 1840, p. 29 ( books.google.at ).
  4. Description of the inventions and improvements, ... which contains privileges from the years 1821–1835. ( books.google.de ).
  5. Monthly for German cities and municipalities. Volume 3, p. 298. ( books.google.de ).
  6. Stephan von Keess, Karl Wenzel, Wolfgang Blumenbach: Systematic presentation of the latest advances in the trades…. Volume 2, 1830, p. 37: “The harmonica, newly invented in Württemberg, consists of two metal sheets in which there are narrow, elongated cutouts across the width. A spring alloyed with silver and another metal runs over each such cutout and is attached to one side of the metal sheet so that a very narrow opening remains. Each of these feathers gives a different tone, which is equal to that of the Physharmonica. The tones can be produced from the softest piano to the strongest forte. Such a harmonica costs 36 kr in Vienna. bit 4 fi. 24 kr. E. M. "( books.google.de ).
  7. a b Edgar Niemeczek: Music from the rock pocket. In: Showcase Folk Culture. No. 3/2007, Atzenbrugg; In the whole world. Exhibition catalog Technisches Museum Wien, 2002, quoted. n. pocket instruments . In: ABC on Austrian Folklore. Austria Lexicon .
  8. BF Gottfried secretary and expeditor of the imperial royal privileged wholesaling committee: trade and trade schematism of Vienna and its immediate surroundings 1856. Published by the Lower Austrian Trade Association, 1856, accessed on August 14, 2018 .
  9. Johann Gottfried Sommer: Harmonica Maker, The Kingdom of Böhmen. Volume: Budweiser Kreis. 1841, p. 5: “The commercial industry is mainly operated by the residents of Budweis and the small town of Rudolfstadt . Only the most indispensable handicrafts can be found in the villages. On July 1, 1839, in the city and the other localities ... 1 harmonica maker ... ”( books.google.de ).
  10. Joseph Focht: Fotzhobel, jaw harp and harmonica in early folk music sources. In: Josef Focht, Herbert Grünwald (Hrsg.): Konzertina, Bandonion, Akkordeon. The development of the harmonica instruments and their playing in Bavaria. With contributions by Dieter Krickeberg and Kari Oriwohl. Bavarian National Association for Home Care e. V. (Folk Music Collection and Documentation in Bavaria No. E 12), Munich 1999, pp. 5–10.
  11. The history of the harmonica, overview
  12. Steve Baker: The harp handbook . 4. revised and supplemented German edition. Bosworth, Berlin 2006, ISBN 3-86543-052-X .
  13. ^ Harmonica Ch. Weiss approx. 1895 in the MET Museum.