Types of Harmonica

Harmonicas are generally classified in three basic types
Diatonic, Chromatic and Tremolo.

Diatonic Harmonica

The diatonic harmonica is the most common harmonica. It’s the one you will most likely find lying around someone’s home.

Diatonic harmonicas are compact, simple, and most commonly have 10 holes . There are 12 basic keys in music. The diatonic, though capable of playing in multiple keys, focuses on playing in one key – one of the reasons they’re so easy to play. You can buy diatonic harmonicas tuned to each of those 12 keys, but beginners are often recommended to start with a harmonica in the key of C.

Chromatic Harmonica

Chromatic harmonicas traditionally come with 8, 10, 12, 14 or 16 holes. The 12-hole chromatic is available in any of the 12 keys, but C is the most common key used by professionals. Chromatic harmonicas, which have a side button for producing semitones, are designed so that, like a piano, they can play every tone in every octave

10-Hole Chromatic

A 10-hole chromatic has 2 ½ octave range. It is short and very portable, and the same as the 12-hole chromatic but the note layout ends at different points as a result of the incomplete octave at the top.

12-Hole Chromatic

For those seeking their first chromatic harmonica, a 12-hole in the key of C is highly recommended. This is the most common, with 3 octave ranges of 48 tones. This harmonica comes in different keys and is relatively easy to grasp and play.

14-Hole Chromatic

This is between the size of a 12 and 16 hole chromatic, with a range of 3 ½ octaves. Again, the larger size requires more time for practice and familiarity.

16-Hole Chromatic

Bigger than the 12-hole chromatic, this has an extra octave below middle C and demands a lot of practice before you can gain familiarity with its full range. 


Tremolo harmonicas produce a distinctive “trembling” sound effect, made possible by vertical double holes each with two reeds, one a little sharp and the other a little flat. Tremolo harmonicas have a cool sound like an organ but they are much less common in use. They are also limited in many ways that the diatonic and the chromatic types are not. That’s a quick summary of harmonica choices. But, whichever harmonica you choose,………………………………………………have fun!