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Can a chromatic harmonica play double notes or triple notes?

I wonder if it could play some of the complicated piano songs

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2  
This is why people invented the Melodica. All the reedy goodness of a harmonica tone, in a convenient keyboard layout. –  Caleb Hines Jun 8 at 0:28
    
@CalebHines - Excellent comment! –  Victor Jun 8 at 2:44

2 Answers 2

up vote 2 down vote accepted

The harmonica is capable of playing multiple notes at once, but those notes must be present in adjacent holes, with the same direction of air, and in the case of chromatic harmonica, with the same setting of the side key.

Different chromatic harmonicas are set up in different keys, so even with a fully chromatic instrument, the musical key of the harmonica significantly impacts what notes can be played at the same time. There are some good diagrams on this Wikipedia page that show which notes are present on which holes for which direction of air (blow or draw) and for which setting of the button/key.

The instrument is still fully chromatic, which means while you will be able to play single line melodies written for an instrument like the piano, you will in no way be able to play pieces considered part of the piano repertoire. It may be possible to arrange simple pieces of music for the chromatic harmonica to conform to its limitations.

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Actually, you can play notes that aren't on adjacent holes, by using the tongue to block a hole (or holes) between them. But this is a pretty advanced technique. And, as you say, you can't play both blow and draw notes at the same time! –  Bob Broadley Jun 7 at 22:06
    
Excellent point! –  NReilingh Jun 8 at 0:00
    
You can blow and draw at the same time--I just tried it--but the technique to do so is not very convenient and will sound and look unattractive: put part of the harmonica over your mouth and another part over your nose. Then take advantage of circular breathing (i.e. puff up your cheeks with air, and inhale with your nose while letting the air in your cheeks out). –  Peter Olson Jun 8 at 4:10

Short answer: yes, you can play two and three note chords on chromatic harmonica, but not any two and three note chords; it is very unlikely that you would be able to play any reasonably complicated piano repertoire on chromatic harmonica, without significant editing. The most you would probably be able to do would be do play certain lines (melody lines, for instance) and add some supporting harmony notes.

I have read somewhere (a while ago…) that Larry Adler could play Bach chorales on the chromatic harmonica, but a few things to bear in mind, even if this was the case: he was a brilliant harmonica player; this type of music is not necessarily that similar to a lot of piano repertoire; I bet he couldn't play every Bach chorale…! (It seems more likely to me that he played chorale melodies and added harmony…)

In the end, the chromatic harmonica is a fantastic instrument, which you can use to perform a wide variety of interesting music, but if you want to play piano music you really want to play it on piano or some kind of keyboard.

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