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I need help with choosing my next musical instrument. I used to play the diatonic harmonica, but I plateaued after learning all the basics. Another reason why I stopped liking the instrument is that it's not suitable to play classical music, which is something I'm interested in. I really like the viola/violin, but as I've found out it's probably too hard to learn by mostly self-teaching (let's say one lecture a fortnight). I'm not sure how woodwind instruments, such as the clarinet compare. That said I'm quite open to all options, but I'd like to stay at reasonable budget - I consider instruments like cellos and saxophones to be too expensive.

Any feedback will be appreciated.

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@Tim has already mentioned the chromatic harmonica. As someone who was once in your situation - played a lot of diatonic but wanted something more - I moved to the chromatic (not my main instrument), and IMO it's an excellent suggestion:

  • Since you are already familiar with the diatonic harmonica, once you learn you way around the chromatic, many of the skills you developed on diatonic - breathing, bending notes, vibrato techniques, ways to work with embouchure - they will all be useful on the chromatic as well, putting you ahead of someone taking up chromatic from scratch.
  • You can get an excellent professional quality chromatic harmonic - a Seydel Saxony for example - for a little over $400. Other very good chromatics can be had for half that price.
  • A good chromatic harmonica produces a very pure, pleasing sound even at low volume, while being small and portable and requiring no special equipment at all. No matter where you are, practicing and playing are never a problem. Even if you're not feeling well or dead tired, you can relax on the coach and practice or play on the chromatic (Can also be very relaxing and help you feel better!)
  • There is nothing to be 'ashamed of' about playing the chromatic harmonica - it is a full fledged instrument in every way: A 12 hole C chromatic can play 3 complete chromatic octaves in all 12 keys, a 16 hole gives you 4 complete octaves. You can play classical music and advanced jazz on the chromatic and some great virtuosos, musicians such as Larry Adler, Toots Theilmans and Stevie Wonder, have done just that. Respected composers have even written music for the chromatic - specifically for Larry Adler , if I am not mistaken, arguably the greatest chromatic virtuoso we have seen up until now.
  • In the USA, the chromatic has not quite caught on in big way just yet, but in Europe it has been quite popular for years. There may be something of a chromatic harmonica awakening taking place in the USA right now, with some very impressive younger players making their mark. So, there are books and instruction material available for the chromatic and more are on the way. There are also some good websites for the chromatic.
  • Be that as it may, if you are good with diatonic, you don't really all that much special instruction for chromatic. What you do need is to learn the musical design of the chromatic, a solid foundation in musical theory and the ability to read treble clef well, if you want to play anything more than simple music in the key of C Major.




I was at this show - extraordinary talented, up and coming star on the chromatic - plays some very sophisticated original jazz. He is a Stevie Wonder acolyte, and it shows:

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    Did Larry Adler really play that with all those modulations? On a C chromatic? What a superb player! – Tim Feb 27 '18 at 17:14
  • @Tim - it's a live clip - do you see any other instruments? Any switching off? The guy was off the charts great. Toots is better known because he's more contemporary, but Adler was the greatest IMO. He was a friend of Duke Ellington's - there are a lot of stories - they used to jam together. One time Billie Holiday was there - Adler completely blew her away. Check this out: Larry Adler -Sophisticated Lady (Live) . He's got lots of recordings - Live in Australia is great. – Stinkfoot Feb 27 '18 at 17:28
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    I think that chromatic harmonica is a great idea, especially for someone who already plays diatonic. But, I also think that it would be a good idea for OP to spend time with piano or guitar first (or at the same time) to better facilitate learning theory and how to get around on a chromatic instrument. – David Bowling Feb 28 '18 at 17:54
  • @DavidBowling - It is true that to play in any key beside the default key that harp is tuned to - usually C -the chrom is an instrument that will be difficult to negotiate without a solid foundation in theory. Piano is always important but I think you can do fine on the chrom without anything else - it's pretty straightforward - you just have understand the chromatic octave and the chrom's architecture and you're ready to move forward. I use the chrom to work out theoretical concepts because it is a pure chromatic instrument, the sound is great for ear training and it's very convenient. – Stinkfoot Feb 28 '18 at 19:25
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    I don't disagree with any of that, but I think that there is some virtue in choosing for a second instrument something different enough from the first to require adjusting your thinking (diatonic harp -> chromatic harp may satisfy this to some extent). Piano and guitar are more visual instruments; this can be a crutch, too, but it allows a new way of thinking about the music. The more, the better ;) – David Bowling Feb 28 '18 at 19:37
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I suppose the classical guitar will be the standout instrument. Not expensive, plenty of classical pieces out there to play, easier to self-learn (as validated by thousands of guitarists who never had a lesson in their lives - me included !)

It also transfers without too much trauma to other guitar related playing - acoustic, electric, bass perhaps.

And I'm fairly certain that a lot of classical pieces have been transcribed for harmonica, especially the chromatic version, so don't give up on that. It may not sound authentic, but heck, it's the music that counts, isn't it?

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    You are correct about chromatic harmonicas - they can play classical music and it's one of the alternatives I'm seriously considering. As for the classical guitar, I'll consider it. – Simon Feb 27 '18 at 9:28
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    @Simon - choose carefully - the fingerboard can be annoyingly wide on a classical. – bigbadmouse Feb 27 '18 at 13:12
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Akai EWI USB(ElectronicWindInstrument) looks and plays kind of like a clarinet but you can hook it up to a computer or phone/tablet and have a wide array of instrument sounds to control with it. New one costs $299.00.

  • Interesting answer - not sure why it was down-voted. Welcome to the site. – Stinkfoot Feb 28 '18 at 17:46

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