Chromatic Harmonica

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The chromatic harmonica is a woodwind instrument that uses a reed encased in a metal chassis to create sound. The chromatic harmonica is distinctive from its much more common cousin, the diatonic harmonica, due to its slider button that gives the player an ability to switch notes and play chromatically. This movement is like being able to play both the white and black keys on a piano.
History of the Chromatic Harmonica
The chromatic harmonica’s early history is often attributed to China and the invention of the similar free reed instrument the sheng. This ancient aerophone dates back to over a 1000BC. In the 18th century, Dutch physicist Christian Gottlieb Kratzenstein would create a reed organ that uses similar principles for creating sound, and instruments like the harmonium also followed. However, none of these instruments were as portable and lightweight as the harmonica. A pocket size mouth organ would eventually arrive in Europe and a bohemian instrument maker named Johan Richter, may have been one of the first to produce a harmonica that could play chromatically using two covers to change the notes in 1875. German instrument maker Hohner soon began to produce a chromatic harmonica with a slide that became widely popular in jazz and blues of the early 20th century. Variations on these designs began to appear with up to 32 sound holes. The relative complexity of the chromatic harmonica makes it a less popular instrument than the diatonic today, however, the instrument has seen widespread popularity thanks in part to pop musicians like Stevie Wonder.
Inventor: Unknown

Where to Buy

£32 - £80

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How to Play

A wind instrument played by blowing air into the mouthpiece and pressing the buttons to change the pitch of the sound produced.

In Popular Music

Stevie Wonder plays a chromatic harmonica on 'Isn't She Lovely' and some other of his famous hit songs. American singer-songwriters Norton Buffalo was also an accomplished chromatic harmonica player and could be heard playing the instrument on his albums as well as on a version of 'Amazing Grace'

Famous Players

Larry Adler, Stevie Wonder, Toots Thielemans

Close Relations

Diatonic Harmonica, Tremolo Harmonica
Video Credit: Howcast
Understanding the Chromatic Harmonica
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United States

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1910s

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Woodwind

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