Is it the guitar? Or the drums? The keyboard, right? Not really.
This one may come out as a surprise to a lot of you, but the world’s most bought instrument is the Harmonica. Popularly known as the mouth organ, it has been in the world of music since 2500 BC.
This wind instrument has been a part of several iconic music genres and amazing classics that people will always have in their music playlist. Today we will dive into some really interesting facts, opinions, etc. regarding the Harmonica. We will also look into what makes harmonica the best selling musical instrument.
Table of Contents
- The Chronicles of Harmonica
- The Basic Body Structure
- Types of Harmonica
- Iconic Artists and Bands That Used the Harmonica
- The Best Selling Instrument: How and Why
The Chronicles of Harmonica
Harmonica’s ancient prototype, aka sheng, was created in China around the 2500 BC, specially curated for the music-loving emperors and performed by courtesans. While, centuries later, its modern form was formed in Europe during the initial part of the 19th century.
Its mass production started in the 1850s in Germany and other European countries, and its popularity rapidly spread across the United States and various portions of South America. From providing comfort to the soldiers during wartime to being a big part of the blues, jazz, and classical music genres, the harmonica has been a significant part of the music in the mid-1800s and 1900s.
Interestingly, the plastic harmonica was created during the Second World War due to shortage of material and extensive demand amongst soldiers as well as kids.
The Basic Body Structure
The harmonica has 5 parts: reed plate, comb, cover plate, wind savers and the mouthpiece. The comb is attached to the reed, which is typically made up of metals like brass, stainless steel and aluminum. The harmonica can be used to create 20+ musical notes, which is pretty cool. It can also be amplified through customized microphones, and extra features like reverb, octave and much more can be added.
Types of Harmonica
Harmonica is not just limited to the fundamental diatonic one, which can be played in a single key, but has been designed and curated for a variety of different musical needs.
- Chromatic harmonica: This is designed especially for hands-free shifting of tones. It also has various models with holes ranging from 12-16, to enable musicians to play at any key they prefer, with just one harmonica.
- Tremolo-tuned harmonica: Specially used in East Asian rock music, this has 12 semitones (a semitone is like an interval between 2 chords).
- Orchestral harmonica: these are produced for ensemble playing and include melody, chromatic and diatonic variations. Melody harmonicas are further divided into 8 categories, to produce a variety of sounds.
- Chord harmonica: This harmonica is larger than the rest, with 4 note clusters that help in producing up to 48 chords, which is again very useful in harmonica ensembles.
Iconic Artists and Bands That Used the Harmonica
Harmonica is a difficult instrument to study. There are some legendary artists who are the masters of their art and have made the harmonica an iconic part of the music culture.
Little Walter, Jimmy Reed, Bob Dylan, Toots Thielemans, John Nemeth, Paul Butterfield, Sugar Blue, Bruce Springsteen, Billy Joel and Sonny Terry have given all-time favorite bluesy, rock and jazz music to the world that are definitely worth checking out if you haven’t till yet. Not just them, but Steven Tyler from Aerosmith, Robert Plant from Led Zep and Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones have inculcated harmonica in a lot of their songs.
The Best Selling Instrument: How and Why
Since it has already been mentioned, Harmonica is the best selling instrument. The most popular is the guitar, which is a story for another day.
This instrument is different from many others due to it being so compact. This attracts a larger audience to invest in the instrument. It is not a very easy instrument to master, but people buy it and are not consistent with the amount of time they dedicate to it.
Another factor is the price of harmonica and its extensive availability. A good quality Harmonica can easily be obtained for less than $15 in both online and offline stores. The footprint or space occupied by it is very less, which means it becomes super easy to own a sophisticated collection of a variety of styles of harmonica.
People who avidly play harmonica also own at least a couple of different categories of it, serving different tones and needs.
Another interesting factor that drives people towards the harmonica is that it is easier to learn as compared to the guitar or keyboards.
Here is a fun fact: Since harmonica is a wind instrument, playing it consistently can improve your lung capacity and help you hold your breath for long. It trains the muscles of your lungs and can reduce the risk of long-term pulmonary diseases to some extent.
We tried to bring to your plate some interesting information regarding this legendary instrument, and hope that you’ll have a good time learning it or listening to beautiful pieces made using it.