Question about an approach to learning - chords


When I started learning guitar, I began by finding songs based on a few easy chords that I knew how to play. I would accompany myself singing, no individual notes, no licks, just strumming. This approach worked well, and I was pretty much able to jump into playing songs. Over time I have refined and expanded my skill set. Overall, the approach has been very gratifying.

Could a similar approach work with harmonica? I was thinking maybe I could do the equivalent of playing chords to accompany others, since I can’t exactly accompany myself singing. I gave it a try using some of my guitar tabs, but I couldn’t figure out what the harmonica equivalent of G, A, D, E, etc., chords are.

I would appreciate any thoughts by those on this board. Song recommendations would be welcome (I go to lots of old time, bluegrass, and folk jams). I have an A harmonica.



Hi Manjamian,

the diatonic harmonica is a great chord instrument, but it doesn’t offer very many of them. In any given key, the blow notes produce the tonic chord in that key over the entire range and the draw notes give the dominant 7th chord. This means with your A harp, the blow notes produce an A major chord over the entire range, and the draw notes (particularly at the lower end, the first 6 holes) give an E7th chord. This is great for chordal accompaniment of simple folk songs in A major, but is clearly limited. There is no full subdominant (in this case D major). To play in a different key, you need a harmonica in that key. So the approach which has worked for you with guitar can’t really be transferred 1:1 to the diatonic harmonica. However, if you go to old time, bluegrass or folk jams, harmonicas in G, C and D will get you quite a long way for songs in those keys.

Hope that helps