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Disclaimer: I know nothing about Harmonica. I'm a guitar newbie trying to accompany my friend who is learning to play the Harmonica.

My friend has a "C Major" harmonica (if that's what it's called). He's comfortable playing songs that mostly start with 'C major' chord.

I wish to know if it's possible for harmonica player to play chords 'G', 'D', 'C' and 'A' on this 'C major' harmonica?

Or should he buy harmonica for different scale - for example "G" major harmonica for songs that start with G major?

PS: I don't know if I described my question properly. We are trying to jam together; but we found that I had to switch all the songs to C Major scale to be in sync with him.

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  • For the chords you’re asking about (C, G, D, A), are you asking about D major or minor and A major or minor chords? I’m assuming for G and C you’re asking about major chords. Dec 24, 2022 at 15:13
  • Yes, all major chords.
    – TheBigK
    Dec 24, 2022 at 15:57

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Let's assume it's a Blues harp, with probably 10 holes, rather than a full blown(!) chromatic harmonica. It's marked as a C harp, as all the notes played when blown or drawn will come from the C diatonic scale. Unless they're bent - more later.

To play along with another instrument, it could be played straight, as in both are using key C for the song. Or, it could be used as a cross harp, where the harp is in key C, and the other instrument plays in key F. That way, there are several draw notes which can be 'bent' to produce Blue notes (in key C). It's easier to bend draw than blow notes on a harp.

So, in answer to the actual question, you'll need several harps in different keys. It's what harp players do - they'll use a cross harp for a given key P4 up from the harp they need. The good ones will actually, say, for a song in key A, use two harps - a D harp for the Bluesy bits,(cross harp), and an A harp for the straight parts. Easy way to work out - whatever the main chord is when you draw on the harp, that's the key of the song it'll work best in.

There are also harmonicas available in minor keys, but maybe we don't need to tread that far just yet.

As far as playing chords a C harp will play a good C major triad, a nice G9 triad, and with very careful tongue placement, other 'chords' (dyads) but only those which use notes diatonic to their own key.

Another option is the aforementioned chromatic harmonica - the chromonica - with a button on the r.h. side. But this will, for a marked C chromonica, play in C/G, or C♯/G♯. Probably not favourite alternative keys, though! Having said that, a good player will use a chromonica to solo in all available keys - Toots Thielmans and Larry Adler both spring to mind.

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    According to their tuning chart, Hohner diatonic harps in C can play D minor on the draw but not A minor. And you could play F with no 5 on the draw by omitting the D. And a G major triad with no C in it on the low register draw. Dec 24, 2022 at 15:21
  • Yes, the harmonica is chromatic - has a button on the side that changes the pitch.
    – TheBigK
    Dec 24, 2022 at 16:01
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A standard tuned chromatic harmonica has two major chords, C and C#, and two minor chords, Dm6 and D#m6.

There are als two adjacent notes F and A which could be used as a rudimentary F major.

Standard tuned chromatic harmonicas are notoriously bad at playing chords.

A standard blues harmonica is marginally better: one in C has chords C, G7 and Dm, and the same rudimentary F chord.

If you want to play many chords in a certain key, an alternative approach is to use the so-called spiral tuning.¹ A spiral tuned blues harmonica in C has chords F, C, G, Dm, Am and Em in every octave, though no inverted chords. A spiral tuned harp in the key of D has chords G, D, A, Em, Bm and F#m.

¹) The harmonicas in the link are labelled a bit strangely...

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