Why Do I Want My Students to Start on a 12-hole Instrument?

Planned Neglect

One of the most powerful success principles is the principle of planned neglect. You decide what things in life you can get away with neglecting in order to accomplish a goal. This helps narrow your focus. I want my students to plan on neglecting the notes below middle C and I don’t want them distracted by playing an instrument that even has those notes on it. I want the focus to be on the 3 octave range of the 12-hole.

Personal Experience

I asked for my first chromatic harmonica for Christmas in 1978 and a 64 Chromonica showed up in my stocking. I was excited. Then I was confused. It was rather imposing. I played a few things on it. I found myself sticking to the left end of the instrument a lot (we will discuss that further in the next point). In 1981 I purchased a 10 hole chromatic and somehow I connected better with the smaller instrument. Also, since it was so much more portable, I found myself spending more time with it and I began to make some progress. It REALLY helped that there wasn’t this whole muddy low octave to the left that I wasn’t using. I could jump right into the range of the harp that “sings”.

The Singing Range and the Beach

The left end of the big 16-hole harp is a whole octave of really neat low notes but the instrument really starts to sing when you get above middle C. I want my students to get used to playing in the middle and upper registers. The left end of the harp is like the beach for harmonica students and they are learning to swim in the ocean. They get a bit nervous when they swim too far away from the beach. The beach on a 16-hole harp is even farther away from the singing range.

My Video Lessons

All of the lessons in Volume 1 of my method were recorded with a 12-hole harp. When I say hole #1 blow I want everyone to be in the same place. I want you playing middle C not a note an octave below that and I don’t want you to have to count 5 holes up to get to hole #1 and I REALLY don’t want you getting confused with the fact that hole #4 (in the low octave) is right next to hole#1 and that they are BOTH middle C.

Relax it’s Temporary

You can move on to a larger harmonica whenever you feel comfortable. Please understand I’m not asking you to make a lifetime commitment to one size harmonica. However, you don’t need to think of moving to a larger harp as graduating to a big boy instrument because so many players are very content with the range of the 12-hole. It is, in fact, the same range as a concert flute. You may decide to remain focused on this range. You will likely experiment and I think it’s a good idea for the pro player to have a 4-octave harp on hand. What is my preference? I’m really enjoying my 14-hole actually (adds a 5th below middle C instead of whole octave). But it’s a toss up; if I don’t need the lower range I would rather be playing and holding a smaller instrument.