What are the benefits of having a chromatic harmonica?
Chromatic harmonicas are designed with many different keys, which sounds somehow strange. A chromatic harmonica makes it possible to play a tune in any key because it has all the 12 notes of the Western scale in each octave.
Some players specialize playing everything in the key of C. When they want to play a tune in another key, they rarely go for a different key of harmonica. Obviously, that means one has to have 12 distinct chromatic harmonicas so as to cover all the 12 keys, and it will be an expensive thing to do. Not to mention the bulk one has to carry around with them.
That said, a chromatic harmonica with its variety of keys has some major benefits. For instance, it’s unthinkable to play an E and an A simultaneously on a harmonica, but it’s pretty much possible with a chromatic harmonica in G or A. An Fm chord is not playable in a C chromatic but there won’t be a problem in a D or Eb chromatic. Perhaps you want to play a tune that was initially written for violin that uses higher notes that are unavailable on a 12-hole chromatic. Well, the G 12-hole chromatic covers they typical range of violin tunes. A 14 or 16-hole chrome can do the same too.
So a chromatic harmonica is quite versatile and will let you play on any scale and any key.
What to look for in an ideal chromatic harmonica?
Just like shopping for any other product, there are a few things that can help you pick the right product for your needs. Or, at least, help you in differentiating the best harmonicas from mediocre products.
Beginners are always advised to start with a harmonica in the key of C before advancing to complex keys. In fact, everyone needs a harmonica in the key of C because most instruction booklets will assume you have one. A C harmonica will, therefore, enable you to follow the majority of novice level harmonica levels.
When you start playing with other musicians, however, you will need a set of different key harmonicas to play to their tunes. For instance, if you join guitar players, then harmonicas in the key of C, D, F, G, and A can cover most situations.
Number of holes and reeds, and why it matters
Chromatic harmonicas are available in 8, 10, 12, 14, or 16 holes. The 12-hole chromatic is available in any of the 12 keys of the Western scale but C is the most preferred by pros. A 12-key chromatic harmonica in the key of C is also the most recommended for those seeking their first chromatic. It comes with three octave ranges of 48 tones and it’s quite easy to play.
While a 12-hole is adequate for most styles of music, a 14 or 16-hole takes things to the next level. These get down into viola, violin, trumpet, and clarinet and sax range. Note that very high or very low number of holes can have both physical and acoustic problems. Higher reeds are difficult to regulate so they speak freely, while it’s hard to get longer reeds to move. That’s why the 12-hole chromatic with 48 reeds is an ideal choice for many players.
Speaking of reeds, a 14-hole chrome has 56 reeds and the 16-hole has 64 reeds. Generally, the more holes a chromatic has, the larger the range of different sounds it can produce. Note that a 16-hole chromatic such as SWAN SW 1664 C 16H 64R in the reviews above will demand a lot of practice before becoming familiar with its full range of tones.
Harmonicas are comprised of five parts: comb, reed-plate, cover plate, windsavers, and mouthpiece. These parts are usually made of different materials for various reasons.
Harmonica combs are made of ABS (plastic) or metal but traditionally they used to be made of wood. The advantage of a particular material over the other is usually its durability, though some argue that the material may have an effect on tone. Go for plastic or metal in this case because wooden combs can absorb moisture and become uncomfortable to play over time. The reeds and cover plates are usually made of hard-wearing brass, while the windsavers may be extremely thin strips of plastic, leather, or knit paper.
We recommend you go through a few customer reviews to know about the durability of the product you’d like to buy. The Suzuki SCX-64C 64R 16H
model would be a good choice.
Ease of use
We have already mentioned that a 12-hole chromatic harmonica is a good starting point because it’s easy to use. However, things such as size and weight do matter to some extent.
You want an instrument that is ergonomic and feels nice in hand. Pay attention to the sides and edges. Are they smooth and easy to grab? What about the slide mechanism? Is it easy to work? These are the little things that determine how easy it will be to use the instrument. Most importantly, your lips need to pleasantly slide along the mouthpiece. Some harmonicas may be irritating on the lips, so check out a few reviews to know more.
A carry case is also a useful addition to take if the harmonica has one.