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Harmonica Definitions and Terms


Term
Definition
Bend A lowering of the naturally played pitch of a reed caused by playing techniques.  Draw notes can be bent on holes 1-6 and blow notes can be bent on holes 7-10.
Blow Notes played by exhaling.  The blow notes are created by the upper reeds (numbers up) where the reeds open inside the harp.
Chamber The area or cell in the comb into which the reeds vibrate.  The player breathes through the outer holes of the chambers to play the harmonica. 
Chromatic A tuning that uses all 12 notes used in Western music. Chromatic harmonicas have a slide activated by a button that alter the reed that is sounded to enable fully chromatic play. Often refers to the type of harmonica, as opposed to a diatonic harp.
Closing Bend A pitch lowering bend where the reed initially closes into its slot.
Comb The body of a harp upon which the reed plates are attached. The comb has the holes or chambers into which you play.  Combs are made of wood, plastic, or metal. 
Covers The outer covers of the harmonica that attach to the comb.
Cup The seal formed between the hands and the harmonica or microphone.
Diatonic A tuning that uses only the 8 notes from a major or minor scale. This is the tuning for normal 10-hole "short" harmonicas, also called diatonic harps. Often used to refer to the harmonica itself, as opposed to a chromatic harmonica.
Discrete Comb A diatonic harmonica comb with a separate chamber for each reed.
Draw Notes played by inhaling.  The draw notes are created by the lower reeds (numbers up) where the reeds open outside the harp.
Gap The space between a reed and its slot in the reed plate. 
Embouchure The method of applying the lips and tongue to the harmonica.  Often refers to any technique that manipulates the air stream.
Harp Harmonica.  Seems to originate from the early term "French Harp".  Also called "Short Harp" and "Mouth Harp", as well as "Mouth Organ", "Tin Sandwich", and "Mississippi Saxophone".
Opening Bend A pitch raising bend where the reed initially opens away from  its slot.
Overblow An advanced type of bend that plays the opposite reed in an opening rather than closing fashion.  Overblows raise the pitch of the natural note, whereas normal bends lower the pitch.  Overblows are available on holes 1-6 and overdraws are available on holes 7-10.
Position Relates to the starting place (e.g. hole number) and manner (e.g. draw or blow) in which the root note of the scale is played.  The natural notes of the harmonica when played in different positions yield characteristic modes.
Reed A thin rectangular metal strip (normally brass) attached to a mounting plate that is activated by the players breath to spring back and forth through its slot, which chops the airstream and produces the harmonica's sound. 
Reed plate The mounting plate for the harmonica reeds. Normally brass. 
Resonance An amplification effect due to sound waves echoing and superimposing to reinforce certain audible frequencies.
Slot A rectangular hole in the reed plate just slightly larger than its reed. The reed vibrates through its slot to produce the harmonica sound. 
Tab Short for tablature.  A shortcut notation that indicates how to play a note on the harmonica.  This is different from standard musical notation, which indicates what note to play including its relative duration. 
Tremolo Pulsations of air pressure that cause a wavering effect to the loudness of the sound.  Often referred to as vibrato, and often mixed with vibrato to produce a note oscillation effect as used by singers.  When both vibrato and tremolo are present, usually the term vibrato is used.
Vibrato Slight fluctuations of pitch produced by a slight wavering movement of part of the embouchure affecting the air stream.  Sometimes referred to as tremolo, and often used with tremolo to produce a note oscillation effect as used by singers.  When both vibrato and tremolo are present, usually the term vibrato is used.

Basic Harmonica Definitions How A Harmonica Works Parts of A Harmonica
How To Hold A Harmonica How To Breathe Properly Bending Notes
Notes of a "C Key" Harmonica Playing An Embouchure Playing Chords

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