I wan to learn a chromatic harmonica and want to start with whatever is standard for a beginner (I can somewhat play a diatonic)

There seem to be many types of chromatic available (12 hole, 16 hole, 10 hole, 22 hole, 22 hole) but from my previous searches I found that some of them, for example the 22 hole one, does not give different notes for blow and draw

I am now considering buying either a 12 or 16 hole one, but I am not sure which one is better. I had the idea that 12 hole one is standard, but it seems like the 16 hole one will give me more notes. I am thinking of getting a cheaper 16 hole rather than a slightly higher quality 12 hole one which costs about the same. The only motivation is getting more notes out of the 16 hole one for the same price, but I am not sure whether a 16 hole is a good idea

Is there a standard one used by beginners, or does it not matter whether I start practice from a 12 hole or 16 hole one?

I am also having trouble understanding the layout of the notes in a chromatic harmonica. In the tutorial given here, the coloured figure gave me the idea that hole 1 gives a C in blow and D in draw with the slider out, but later on it has this explanation:

When you BLOW you get a C.

When you DRAW you get a C# (also goes by the name Db, same tone, different name)



Could someone please explain this to me in simple terms?

I found something similar for a 12 hole chromatic

enter image description here

The figure shows C as the note for both the holes 4 and 5. Is the same note located in adjacent holes in a chromatic?

4 Answers 4


I think the confusion comes from the naming of the notes. In C major, the notes will be C,D,E,F,G,A,B and the next C. This gives all the notes you need diatonically to play in key C.With the button pressed in, you'll get the notes from C#. These are C#,D#,E#,F#,G#,A#,B#, and the next C#. This gives all the diatonic notes to play in C# (or Db , with different names, but let's not muddy the water now).

The notes shown in your diagram are not accurately named, as F (button in) is actually called E#, and C (button in) is actually called B#. Or vice versa, however you read it! So, yes, actually there will be two different ways in which to play these particular notes, button in or out, but generally, you'll play the ones where most of the notes are button out with the button out, so there is no need to get confused.

Other question - it's up to you, but you may as well get the larger range one sooner rather than later, as when you get used to playing chromatic, you'll wish you had a bigger one anyway. Basically, though, the chromatic is not used so you can play in C#, but to give you the odd notes you find you need in C, F and G, mainly, where you'll need a Bb (A#!) in F, and F# in key G, for example. Later, all the other keys will be playable, as you have every note you need.

EDIT: it may be better to save up a little more and buy a better quality 16 hole, which will set you up for the future. If you get a quality 12 hole, sooner or later, you'll probably still want a quality 16 hole.

EXTRA EDIT: That explanation in the pink box is plain wrong! I looked at the site, and it's quite naiive, musically. There are technical errors in note naming all over it, and the explanation (wrong) contradicts other information given previously. Just wish 'experts' were really that...

  • Thank you for your reply. I still don't get the placement shown in the figure in my question though; will I get the same notes when I blow in the holes 4 and 5?
    – user13267
    Commented Apr 11, 2016 at 17:00
  • so would you suggest I get the 16 hole one? I am looking online and I can see some cheap brand 16 holes which costs almost the same as a slightly higher quality 12 hole. Since I am just a beginner I don't want to get an expensive one until I get some idea on how to play it. Would the 16 hole one be better then?
    – user13267
    Commented Apr 11, 2016 at 17:02
  • Button out, blow=C. Button in, draw=C, hole 4. As diagram. Would I suggest the 16 hole? I did! Bigger is often better, isn't it?
    – Tim
    Commented Apr 11, 2016 at 18:06
  • but that's just for hole 4. Holes 4 and 5 both show a C at button out and blow. What does that mean?
    – user13267
    Commented Apr 18, 2016 at 15:01
  • I have seen something similar for 10 hole at angelfire.com/music/HarpOn/chrom.html
    – user13267
    Commented Apr 18, 2016 at 15:01

The difference between a 12 hole and a 16 is just the number of octaves - 3 v 4

I have a 10, which is 2 holes short of a octave. It's missing the upper G-C. Sometimes I miss that, but the bigger issue is build quality.

I'd recommend the best quality 12 hole that you can afford. Better pay for quality than range.

The layout packs the chromatic octave into 4 holes, C-C# in a repeatable pattern. That means there are 2 F reeds per octave, and 2 C. (And 3 C for the middle octaves). It gives priority to a regular layout, as opposed maximizing the range.

  • Chromatic harmonica: 8 - 10 - 12 - 14 - 16 holes, the 12 holes one is standard with 3 octaves, the 16 holes one has one more octave in the lower range.
  • Quality 12 holes harmonica and cheap 16 holes one in the same price: You should choose the quality 12 holes one due to its good sound (especially when recording). The reeds are easy and respond quickly, you won't tire when practising a lot. A (very) cheap harmonica will discourage you soon.
  • The explanation of #1 you shared has a mistake; you just follow the diagram of notes on that site.
  • The same notes C on holes 4&5 8&9 due to the chord of harmonica and easy way to remember notes location in soloist tuning. Ex: key C has the chord: C-E-G (blow 3 notes at the same time). And in the draw holes it has some chords: D-F-A and B-D-F.
  • Recommend: Hohner CX12 (key C for beginner).

Hi there from a long time chromatic harmonica player (serious amateur).

There are many hole and tuning variants out there, but you could say that a C-tuned 12 hole chromatic harmonica is the most "standard". That is what many professionals stick by. It's the equivalent of a 4-string bass guitar, or a 88-key piano. It's a good starting point. If you're serious about this instrument, then you'll likely end up owning more than one anyway.

8 or 10 holes are closer to the toy-category, and 14 or 16 holes, albeit useful, are harder to build. If built with similar tolerances and quality, a 16 holer will be more leaky to play than a 12 holer. I suggest you go for a 12 holer, or, if you really insist on range, a 14-holer.

About your confusion on the notes... yes there are 2 adjacent identical C's (and some more notes where you have multiple options), just like a guitar lets you play the same note on adjacent strings, or notes on the piano can be played with different fingers. Each instrument has its artefacts, and having multiple options will eventually help you play lines faster and more fluently.

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