What key harmonica for the blues?

Aug 12, 2015 | Advanced Beginner Harmonica Lessons, Technique

Hello, today’s lesson is entirely theory-based and is in response to one of my students questions. He asked – what key harmonica for the blues?

So, I’m going to tell you what the most common keys are, how to work out what key you are playing in 2nd position and provide you with a chart with keys for 2nd position.

Click the button below to download the free 2nd position chart.

What harmonica do you get next?

Everyone starts with a C harmonica so the question is what next? There are 12 keys in music but for 90% of blues music you will not need all of them. The main thing which determines what key you will be playing in is what keys guitarists like to play in. This means you can rely on 6 harmonicas which are;

A harmonica

The A harmonica is a lot deeper than the C harmonica which makes it feel quite different play. The lower keyed harmonicas feel slower to resonate and like they require more air. They will definitely build up your stamina.

The A harmonica will let you play in the key of E (this is the easiest key for guitarists to play).

D harmonica

This is a higher harmonica and it will feel like it responds much quicker. They need less air to resonate then the lower key harmonicas.

The harmonica will let you play in the key of A (also an easy key for guitarists).

Bb harmonica

This means you can play in the key of F. The Bb is a lovely in between harmonica. It is not too high and screechy or too low and slow. Instead, most techniques will feel relatively easy on it. Indeed, traditionally Bb is the harmonica you start on to learn playing overblows.

G harmonica

This is suitable for playing in the key of D. It is a very low harmonica and sounds best when you are playing rhythmic chugging and slow melodic phrases.

F harmonica

The F harmonica allows you to play in the key of C in 2nd position. It is a very high harmonica and when you are practising by yourself it might feel like it is screechy and strident. Do not worry about this. When you play with a band, the high pitch of this harmonica will sound sweet because it is different to the lower instruments playing with you.

How do you remember all these keys?

To remember what you are playing in 2nd position just count up 5 letters from the key of the harmonica. E.g. C, D, E, F, G so a C harmonica in 2nd position is played in key of G. This works for all keys except B and Bb. B in 2nd position is F# and Bb is F.

Thank you for checking this out

Thank you so much for taking part in this lesson. I hope it was useful for you. If you enjoyed this lesson, please share it with your friends.

See you again for the next harmonica video!

Check out these other lessons…

Hohner vs Lee Oskar

Hohner vs Lee Oskar

In this video I’m going to compare the Lee Oskar and Hohner Special 20 harmonicas and explain why the Special 20 works better for the Blues.   Students ask me all the time what I think of Lee Oskar harmonicas and to be honest I am not a fan. But, the reason for...

Is the Hohner Special 20 Still worth it in 2024?

Is the Hohner Special 20 Still worth it in 2024?

In this video I'm going to show you if Hohner Special 20 is still the best harmonica for beginners. I’ve been recommending the Hohner Special 20 for Beginner harmonica players for years and years now BUT it’s starting to get quite expensive and the competition is...

Learn Blues Harmonica