26 January 2007

In Praise Of The Harmonica

The harmonica is the perfect instrument for me... and perhaps the most perfect musical instrument ever invented. Here's why:

Unlike the piano, it is small and easy to carry around, yet capable of producing a rich and loud sound.

Unlike drums, woodwinds, piano, stringed intruments, etc... it does not require great dexterity (or ambidexterity), nor difficult techniques in order to produce pleasing sounds.

Unlike the guitar, it doesn't hurt your fingers to play the harmonica (no callouses needed).

Unlike almost every other type of instrument, it is inexpensive.

It can play a wide range of music, from jazz to blues to pop to spiritual. It can sound playful and funny or it can sound mournful and earnest. Serious musicians like Stevie Wonder and Blues Traveler do amazing things with the harmonica.

While mastery of the harmonica (like everything) takes years, amateur-level competence on the harmonica seems well within the grasp of a dabbler willing to invest just a little bit of time.

And unlike the guitar, or even the tambourine, when you're playing the harmonica, nobody expects you to sing along...


Mark said...

One other advantage is that you can play it either as a "lead" or "accompaniment".

It does have drawbacks, though...
Not much dynamic range (difference between the loudest and softest you can play) compared to, say, a piano (full name pianoforte, meaning quiet and loud).
Not much range in pitch - not sure, but maybe a little over an octave?
Most models are built to play in only one key. So you may need a whole set of them to play in a band. There are "chromatic" versions, but I think those raise the dexterity/training bar quite a bit.

No instrument is perfect - but I do agree that the harmonica is quite handy and versatile! Now the human voice - that's probably the "most perfect", with that darn exception of requiring some natural ability that most of us lack.

Deb said...

Christopher loves to play his harmonica too. He even stomps his foot as he plays. I can't always tell what "tune" he's playing, but I love to hear him all the same.

Dan said...

My girls love playing with an old harmonica of mine too... It's fun to see them dancing around with it.

Mark -good points! The quiet / loud bit is particularly true... blowing softly does bring the volume down a bit, but it's still pretty loud... and doesn't get all that much louder if you blow harder.

Gabe said...

Ah the voice.....people often make it seem that only trained persons should sing. Alas, as the wise ole elf Buddy once said, "The best way to spread Christmas Cheer, is singing loud for all to hear."

"Thanks, but I don't sing."

"Oh, well, it's just like talking, except longer and louder, and you move your voice up and down."

Buddy is really smart. I like Buddy.

Dan said...

Great quote from Buddy the elf - wow, that's very cool (and encouraging to a guy who hasn't been particularly gifted in the singing department).