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My 4-year-old son just got a standard 10 hole harmonica in C from his grandmother, and I would like to give him a good start that will encourage him to enjoy playing.

I myself started out just like this, and I own a 10 hole chromatic harmonca which I play occasionally. I am nowhere near professional skill, but I can play some simple tunes. I also have a couple blues harmonicas I have played around with.

I would like to get some tips on what to do to encourage my son to play, and how to teach him at so young an age, without taking away the fun for a 4 year old. He likes music, and sings a lot.

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I think you should start as if it is a game. Your child should be interested in this game, and its rules should be easy.

There is nothing hard about creating a random sound with a harmonica, and at first it will be ok just to leave him to this.

Once your son is more familiar with the instrument, you should start the main phase of the learning:

  1. Find the best cartoon or children's show your son is a fan of, such as Transformers or Sesame Street.
  2. Identify the notes for the main theme of the show. This can be hard, but it is still worth it.
  3. Play the melody for your son. He will definitely like it (I've tested this while I was an instructor in the ex-Young Pioneer camp). You can even ask your son to sing along while you accompany.
  4. After this you should just teach your child, step by step, to play this melody (it won't be hard, I think). You can ask him to do so for Mother's Day, or Thanksgiving, or just some day in your family.
  5. He will drive you mad with that melody very quickly, so you should be ready with other melodies for your child.

Most importantly, have fun with your child. Try to avoid public performances at first - your son must enjoy just playing music.

  • +1 for cartoon themes. I can still recall the themes from Voltron and He-Man (although I often mix them up). There's also a Harmonica book written by Ernie from Sesame Street (my favorite until Elmo came along). I think there was a whole series, with different characters learning different instruments. – luser droog Apr 24 '12 at 15:44
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At four years old free play is best, with age appropriate instruments. You can get some really cute little percussion instruments and whistles made for tiny hands, and you can make instruments with beans for shakers, etc. Formal learning and games can come later, at about six once his musical ability is more developed. I'd also suggest lots of singing of children's songs to build up a core repertoire.

When he is ready, a great game is "Copy Me". You play two pitches, or a simple rhythm, and your son copies it. Then he plays for you to copy him. You can make this harder by turning away from each other. Other fun games are to clap out a rhythm of a well known song that's part of his daily repertoire and let him guess what it is; to sing, tap the rhythm or sing in his head for the same song; and sing in silly voices or taking turns with phrases.

  • I also have a two year old, by the way, and he plays the harmonica by breathing in and out at the same place, and produces a nice harmonica sound from that, although it's a bit monotonic melody... ;) He also plays with rytmic instruments like Marachas, Bells (as in Jingle Bells...) etc. He also has a cylofone with color codes, but he prefers to ask me to play that... – awe May 15 '12 at 16:12

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