NY Harmonica School Showcase

NY Harmonica School presents its first Summer Harmonica Recital on June 2nd at Michiko Studio (Stage 1).

The spirit of blues is well alive ! Come at 5pm for a meet & greet and listen to  harmonica students from all levels who have been studying with me the past semester and participate to our informal blues jam!
Schedule Saturday June 2nd:
5pm Yvonnick Prene Duo Concert
5.30pm Students Showcase
6.30pm Blues Jam Session
Looking forward to it!
Yvonnick

 

Online Chromatic Harmonica Lessons

Hey guys,  we have over 350 step-by-step lessons in HS course library. Whether you’re just starting out or a pro harmonica player we have something for you to work on! Harmonica Studio is THE place to gain directions, encouragements and most of all be inspired to get your harmonica playing to the next level! Try it FREE today at https://harmonicastudio.yvonnickprene.com/

Best Chromatic Harmonicas of 2017

Welcome to my guide to some of the best harmonicas on the market. I have owned several ones over the years and some of my favorite models are listed below. If you are a complete beginner I suggest starting with a 12 hole model then upgrade to 14 and finally to a 16 hole. All right let’s dive in!

1 Suzuki Chromatix SCX48 $214


My go-to harmonica at the moment. I use it for my practice sessions and as a back-up for my concerts and recordings.  The sound is quite warm and full. Every hole should work perfectly out of the box except perhaps the 12 draw. I’ve noticed it didn’t come out right on a few SCX that I have ordered. Besides that, it has technically everything we can expect from a good chromatic harmonica such as Abs combs, phosphor bronze reed plates and an ergonomic mouthpiece.  The two parts slide mechanism makes the cleaning fast and easy. Most of Hohner’s or Seydel’s models are built with three parts. I wish the button slide was better glued as I had a few one which came off. So make sure to check it six months or a year after purchase.  Available in 12, 14 and 16 hole version.

Pros:

  • Great sound
  • Quality built
  • Air tight
  • Light weight

Cons:

  • 12 hole draw may not comes out right
  • Fragile button slide

2


One of the strengths of the CX is a remarkably well built plastic body. It’s completely airtight. The mouthpiece is a bit larger than Hohner Mellow Tone or a Seydel Deluxe Steel and may fatigue the jaw if you’re making the transition from these models. However it’s completely airtight and easy to disassemble for maintenance. You don’t need a screwdriver to remove the slide and the cover plates it’s very easy to pull apart and put back together thanks to its mechanism.  I’ve noticed that the slide was a bit noisy. The sound of the instrument is quite unique. It’s not my favorite harmonica tone but great players such as French harmonica player Claude Garden made it there harmonica of choice. Finally I would recommend it for beginners.

Pros:

  • Easy bending notes
  • Sturdy construction

Cons:

  • Comes only as a 12 hole
  • The sound is not for everyone
  • Large mouthpiece
  • Noisy slide

3


I first started playing the chromatic harmonica on a Hohner Mellow Tone 15 years ago. Since then it ranks among my favorite harmonica in terms of sound but it has some major flaws. The wood comb may become less airtight overtime and it doesn’t last as long as a plastic comb. Once it goes bad well… best to buy another one because it will be time consuming trying to fix it yourself. That being said I always loved its warm and round sound, which I still can’t find on Suzuki or Seydel models. It features pear woods comb and chrome plating on both covers.  Only 12 hole model available.

Pros:

  •  Great warm sound
  • Get a bit of the unique Toots Thielemans’ tone

Cons:

  • Difficult to take it apart
  • Fragile Spring
  • Short life

4


Though it is more expensive than the models above it is totally worth the price. The Seydel Deluxe Steel is a great all around chromatic harmonica. It looks like a better version of the Hohner Mellow Tone. Every note comes out right out of the box specially the high notes. The sound is brighter compared to the Hohner or Suzuki and projects a bit more consequently. It’s easy to take it apart though it could have been even faster with fewer pieces and screws. If you are looking for a 16 hole from Seydel I would recommend to look for the high end Symphony.

​Pros:

  • Sturdy construction
  • Air tight
  • Good resonance

Cons:

  • More expensive
  • Bright sound
  • Fragile spring

5


Has perhaps the best tone of all the harmonicas  I have played. I personally love it and I used it on my last album “Breathe” and bring it to every gig. The sonority is warm, and I can’t find another harmonica that matches it. It’s highly responsive in the middle register perhaps less on the low notes if you are playing on a 16 hole model  but this is a common problem shared by most of chromatic harmonica. It has ABS plastic combs with weighted brass, which it gives more comfort in hands. Is it worth $700?  I wish I could say yes. Unfortunately harmonicas don’t last forever and after a few months or years you’ll need to replace parts.  That’s why I would recommend using it for performance and have a cheaper model for your daily practice. The Sirius comes in all sizes 12, 14 and 16 hole.

Pros:

  • Awesome thick tone
  • Long-lasting reeds
  • Weighted feel
  • Sturdy construction

Cons:

  • Quite expensive
  •  Slide button may unglue overtime
  • Top notes may not comes out right out of the box

My Top 5 Toots Thielemans Albums

There are so many great Thielemans records but I have decided to attempt to come up with a definitive list of the 5 best of all time. Click on the photo to listen to the album.

1-Only Trust Your Heart, Concord, 1988

Only Trust Your Heart” is Toots Thielemans’s first album that I listened to when I was a kid and it remains my favorite to this day. I would listen to it on repeat, back and forth just about every day. I consider it a masterpiece featuring the great Fred Hersch on piano, Marc Johnson and Harvey S on bass and Joey Baron on drums.

2- Bill Evans Affinity, Warner Bros, 1978

Almost 40 years ago was released one of the most incredible jazz harmonica albums of all time. Every chromatic harmonica fell in love with ” Affinity” and the amazing playing by pianist Bill Evans, Toots Thielemans, Larry Schneider on tenor, Marc Jonhson on bass and drummer Elliot Zigmund. The repertoire contains jazz standards such as “Body & Soul”, “Days of Wine and Roses” with a reharmonization and pop tunes including Paul Simon’s “I Do It For Your Love” and Michel Legrand’s “The Other Side of Tonight”. Thielemans is stretching solos, taking adventurous harmonic paths and asymmetric phrases.

3-Man Bites Harmonica! Riverside, 1958

This album was recorded during Thielemans bebop period featuring the great Pepper Adams (baritone), Kenny Drew (piano), Wilbur Ware (bass) Art Taylor (drums) and Toots Thielemans on both harmonica and guitar on “18th Century Ballroom” and “Soul Station”. Listen how swinging and precise he is both rhythmically and melodically. The way he uses the bebop language was unheard before on chromatic harmonica. We can hear the thread from Louis Amstrong (“Struttin With Some Barbecue”) to Charlie Parker (“Don’t Blame Me”). Thielemans recorded another great album the same years with a very similar band,  Time Out For Toots.

4- The Brasil Project, BMG, 1992

Thielemans recorded on The Brazil Project Vol 1 with top Brazilian performers as Ivan Lins,  João Bosco, Gilberto Gil, Milton Nascimento,  Eliane Elias and others. The harmonica seems to be the perfect instrument to depict the feeling of the Bossa Nova as coined by Thilemeans himself “between a tear and a smile”. Check out the version of Bluesette in 4/4.

5- Toots Thielemans & Kenny Werner, Verve, 2001

The most recent recording from this list, “Toots Thielemans & Kenny Werner” recorded 40 years after Thielemans Bebop debut album, “Man Bites Harmonica” reveals how far he can took the harmonica to diverse places. In this album as well his released thought the last twenty years of his career we can notice a focus on the sound and expression than on fast lines. Kenny Werner is the perfect interlocutor for this wonderful music conversation. Check out Herbie Hancok’s “Dolphin Dance”.

5 Common Mistakes Made by Harmonica Players

I would like to talk ab​out five most common mistakes made by harmonica players.

1) Blowing and Inhaling too hard

Most likely, after you’ve picked up a harmonica for the first time and started playing the first bottom notes, I’m sure you probably thought your harmonica was broken and you were ready to ship it back to Amazon. Well, it was probably your drawing technic which wasn’t right.

This is what happens when you draw more air than it is necessary and as a result, you’ll end up choking the reed and over-stressing it. So my first piece of advice is to start out playing gently, breathing naturally, relaxed, and use less air.

2) Having the harmonica too far from your lips

If you hear a windy sound coming out when you breathe in, it simply means that the harp is too far from your lips and the air can escape out. That’s why your lips should overlap a good part of the cover plate to create a tight fit.

Here is a very simple tip to implement right away and improve your sound and single note technique. Try to blow as many holes as possible at the same time, then slowly push out your lips until you finally hear a single note. After doing this exercise a few times you’ll remember the shape you had to form with your mouth. Always keep the same lips shape when blowing, drawing and moving from one hole to another. If you open a bit too much you’ll blow or draw into the adjacent notes.

3) Gear is secondary

I see a lot of people spending too much time focusing on which harmonica, microphone or amplifiers to buy. No expensive harmonica will replace hard work and will surely not provide any shortcuts. Though it’s a joy to possess a beautiful instrument, just know that it will not make you a better musician.

My advice is to focus on the stuff that really matters. Get a decent chromatic harmonica, it doesn’t matter if you chose Suzuki, Hohner, Eastop or Seydel, they are reliable brands. Work on your sense of rhythm, learn new tunes, expand your knowledge of harmony, theory and play with other people.

4) Over-focusing on harmony and melody

One of the major difficulties we go through when playing jazz harmonica is to play a regular stream of eight notes. It’s easy to rush and lose the pace as we alternate between drawing and blowing notes. You’ve probably heard it from me in another post. So I’ll say it again: rhythm and time is of the essence. side note: “Time is of the Essence”, is a Michael Brecker album released in 1999. It is one of my favorite organ quartets.

5) Missing a note is okay

Don’t get exasperated if you miss a note. The harmonica might be the only instrument you play “blind”! You cannot see the notes, just “feel” where they are, unlike a pianist or guitarist. It’s only through hours of practice and memorization exercises that you will master the instrument. But the journey is amazing and with my help, there will be no boundaries.

If you liked this article you might want to read My Top 5 Toots Thielemans Albums