View Full Version : How-to Harmonica
06-21-2007, 10:12 PM
Hey, my camps at reenactments seem music deprived so I want to learn the harmonica. Any recommendations on how to learn to play the harmonica and/or Civil War songs on the harmonica with no previous experience?
06-22-2007, 12:31 AM
I saw a book on how to teach yourself harmonica on an online sheet music site at www.windmusicplus.com
I think they have several books on harmonicas, even one that includes the harmonica!
Once you learn the basics of the harmonica and how to read sheet music, you can take any song sheet and play the melody on the harmonica.
Brigade Brass Band
06-22-2007, 10:21 AM
I have played blues harmonica for 7 years now...
Harmonicas didn't become especially popular until 1864, and not extremely popular until after the war.
Word of advice, watch the event portrayal before you bring one. Also, there is not a good maker of period-correct harmonicas and I've never seen an original ten-space harmonica. The closest I've found so far is the Marine Band harmonica, the model being created in 1896, and with the dates 1871 and 1881 on it.
If you want to learn harmonica, take lessons! It's not a easy instrument.
In conclusion, if you want to play it accurately at events you'll have to find a working, in-tune original.
06-23-2007, 11:25 PM
Ok then. I won't learn the harmonica.
06-24-2007, 05:00 AM
Wait a minute. The harmonica was developed in Germany in the 1820s, became very popular and makers spread rapidly through Germany, especially Austria. Hohner began manugacturing in America for an American market in 1857. That doesn't mean it was the first time harminicas appear in America, they're just the first homegrown ones. Aside from the additional holes, a modern harminica like the Marine band is not different in sound or appearance from one of the 1860s (Yeah - the little shields for the awards have dates in them but are barely visible.)Stay away from the combination models, chromatic models, stuff like that because those were a development of the early 20th century and way out of our period. The harmonica is among the easiest of instruments to play, once you get the hang of the alternating breathing patterns. (That having been said it's easy to play it poorly, too.) My grandfather, who couldn't read a lick of music, played them all his life. They're intuitive, meaning that to go up the scale you go up the instrument, and to go down you go down. It all depends on what you want to do with it, whether it's a good instrument for you. If you want to learn to play some simple ditties to enliven the musical atmosphere of your impression, stick to a simple model like the marine band and have at it. If you're looking for a museum quality model they don't exist. I'd encourage you to try it. My wife taught me to play the harmonica in less than 10 minutes. I don't play very well, but I do have one in my pack, and tootle around with it sometimes. (Aside: I think we're waaaaaaaaaaaaay pickier about our music today, having been spoiled by recordings that give us exactly the same performance repeatedly and reliably. Folk musicians who are professionals have also skewed our impression of what it sounded like when Joe average played music. We have little tolerance for a mediocre player, because better is available at our fingertips. I don't see that in the period. Diarists and letter writers complain about the abilities of less competent musicians, but I suspect they enjoyed their product anyway.)
06-24-2007, 11:57 AM
Wait a minute. The harmonica was developed in Germany in the 1820s, became very popular and makers spread rapidly through Germany, especially Austria. Hohner began manugacturing in America for an American market in 1857.
I did some really brief research on harmonicas and did run into some problems. The term "harmonica" can designate several different instruments - the glass armonica that Franklin invented was also called a harmonica; an keyed instrument somewhat like a melodian, an Aeloian or Aeloina (not to be confused with the instrument similar to the pan-pipe), or a mouth-organ like the one we are talking about. It was also called a harmonium.
I'm only mentioning the mouth-organ type in the following references.
According to U. S. Magazine of Science, Art, Manufactures, Agriculture, and Commerce (1855) an American named James Bazin introduced a brass mouth instrument that was a "free-reed" instrument like the harmonica in 1821. An example of this instrument is in the collection of the Boston Fine Arts Museum.
It was mentioned in the _London Journal_ in 1829 as being a new German instrument. In 1830, in the _Ariel_ there was an item metioning "Gew-Gaws and Fancy Fashions" sold in a store and harmonicas were in the list. In 1832, _the Watchman's Advocate_ was advertising harmonicas in a "Fancy Goods" ad. In 1841, in the _Brooklyn Eagle_ there were advertisements for harmonicas in an ad for toys and fancy goods. Dicken's mentioned them in an 1854 edition of _Household Words._ In _The History of Manufactures in the United States_ by Leander Bishop (1866) he wrote that Sylvanus Sawyer made harmonicas as a child but offered no addtional dates of info.
Hohner did patent his harmonica in the US but not until 1893. The first mouth harmonica was patented in the US by Lightsinger in 1876.
Although they were not patented in the US until well after the CW, there is plenty of evidence that they were available in the US as imported goods. German toys were imported all over the US and readily available. I haven't been able to find a price for harmonicas for the CW time period but I'm still looking and haven't transcribed all the ledgers I have.
There was a harmonica instructional book, for the Richter harmonica, available as early as 1870 in the US. I have an undated (it looks to be about early 1870s) advertisement for those harmonicas and the 8 hole cost 40 cents and the 10 hole costs 45 cents.
06-24-2007, 01:31 PM
Thanks for putting a few more dates behind my outline. There is also a contraption with a single keyboard, like a piano, and bellows like a parlor organ. When the bellows are pumped and the keys played, air is forced through a fixed set of reeds to produce the sound. A huge keyboard harmonica, if you will. I've seen those called "melodions" or "harmoniums," depending on the time period. A church I served once had one. They called it "that thing over there."
06-24-2007, 08:17 PM
the glass armonica that Franklin invented
I have heard this instrument played in concert and the sound is quite lovely. It is based on the ringing noise that a wetted finger can make as it circles a crystal bowl, but in this case there are multiple bowls of different sizes (and therefore notes) revolving around a common axis. Prominent composers such as Mozart and Beethoven actually wrote music specifically for this instrument.
For more information on the instrument I would suggest the following website: http://www.glassarmonica.com/index.php and for examples of the instrument playing I would suggest also this website: http://www.finkenbeiner.com/soundsample.htm
06-25-2007, 04:56 AM
The glass armonium is hauntingly lovely. It had 2 major drawbacks as an instrument. First, you couldn't control the volume of the instrument, and so it was easy to drown it out with a chamber orchestra. Second, constant tactile contact with the lead crystal glass proved to be detrimental to the player's health. :shock:
06-25-2007, 09:07 AM
Second, constant tactile contact with the lead crystal glass proved to be detrimental to the player's health.
Actually inorganic lead will not absorb through the skin. The historical problem was that the players would continually lick their fingers to keep them moist, thus ingesting any lead particles that way. Modern players use a glass of water.
06-25-2007, 02:55 PM
Yep. That was it! They are reproduced now and as you say, are very pretty. Of course, they're hard to carry in your haversack. I know this is way out of our period, but it's been going through my head ever since this thread started. Here's Robert Service's "Song of the Mouth Organ:"
I'm a homely little bit of tin and bone;
I'm beloved by the Legion of the Lost;
I haven't got a "vox humana" tone,
And a dime or two will satisfy my cost.
I don't attempt your high-falutin' flights;
I am more or less uncertain on the key;
But I tell you, boys, there's lots and lots of nights
When you've taken mighty comfort out of me.
I weigh an ounce or two, and I'm so small
You can pack me in the pocket of your vest;
And when at night so wearily you crawl
Into your bunk and stretch your limbs to rest,
You take me out and play me soft and low,
The simple songs that trouble your heartstrings;
The tunes you used to fancy long ago,
Before you made a rotten mess of things.
Then a dreamy look will come into your eyes,
And you break off in the middle of a note;
And then, with just the dreariest of sighs,
You drop me in the pocket of your coat.
But somehow I have bucked you up a bit;
And, as you turn around and face the wall,
You don't feel quite so spineless and unfit--
You're not so bad a fellow after all.
Do you recollect the bitter Arctic night;
Your camp beside the canyon on the trail;
Your tent a tiny square of orange light;
The moon above consumptive-like and pale;
Your supper cooked, your little stove aglow;
You tired, but snug and happy as a child?
Then 'twas "Turkey in the Straw" till your lips were nearly raw,
And you hurled your bold defiance at the Wild.
Do you recollect the flashing, lashing pain;
The gulf of humid blackness overhead;
The lightning making rapiers of the rain;
The cattle-horns like candles of the dead
You sitting on your bronco there alone,
In your slicker, saddle-sore and sick with cold?
Do you think the silent herd did not hear "The Mocking Bird",
Or relish "Silver Threads among the Gold"?
Do you recollect the wild Magellan coast;
The head-winds and the icy, roaring seas;
The nights you thought that everything was lost;
The days you toiled in water to your knees;
The frozen ratlines shrieking in the gale;
The hissing steeps and gulfs of livid foam:
When you cheered your messmates nine with "Ben Bolt" and "Clementine",
And "Dixie Land" and "Seeing Nellie Home"?
Let the jammy banjo voice the Younger Son,
Who waits for his remittance to arrive;
I represent the grimy, gritty one,
Who sweats his bones to keep himself alive;
Who's up against the real thing from his birth;
Whose heritage is hard and bitter toil;
I voice the weary, smeary ones of earth,
The helots of the sea and of the soil.
I'm the Steinway of strange mischief and mischance;
I'm the Stradivarius of blank defeat;
In the down-world, when the devil leads the dance,
I am simply and symbolically meet;
I'm the irrepressive spirit of mankind;
I'm the small boy playing knuckle down with Death;
At the end of all things known, where God's rubbish-heap is thrown,
I shrill impudent triumph at a breath.
I'm a humble little bit of tin and horn;
I'm a byword, I'm a plaything, I'm a jest;
The virtuoso looks on me with scorn;
But there's times when I am better than the best.
Ask the stoker and the sailor of the sea;
Ask the mucker and the hewer of the pine;
Ask the herder of the plain, ask the gleaner of the grain--
There's a lowly, loving kingdom--and it's mine.
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