The harmonica is one of the most unique instruments, most likely due to its small size and somewhat confusing nature (in terms of how sounds are produced from it). They are pocket-sized looks into the world of music and, when played well, can ring beautifully clear tunes. But have you ever wondered where this strange looking and functioning instrument originated from?
The sheng (which is the first form of the harmonica) was first invented in China in 3000 B.C and was a free-reed instrument with metal or bamboo reeds.
The sheng’s bamboo shoots were used to amplify the sound of the instrument.
In 1821, Friedrich L. Buschmann was finding simpler ways to tune pianos in Germany. He took inspiration from the sheng and improved it, naming it the Aura. The Aura was a chromatically-tuned instrument and it was composed of 21 metallic blades positioned on a wood cover.
It was only in 1826 that the diatonic harmonica was created by a Bohemian instrument maker, Joseph Richter. This instrument was called the Mund Harmonika (or mouth organ). During this time, the harmonica was not truly thought of as a musical instrument but rather a piece of jewellery.
In 1827, German watchmaker Matthias Hohner, inspired by this musical jewel, wanted to improve it. He further refined and improved it and founded the Hohner Company in 1857 where instruments began to be exported to the United States.
As of today, the harmonica is still widely and popularly played globally. You might find or hear it being played at parties and there even is a community of harmonica players that exist. It brings with it a sense of fun due to its miniature size and interesting tone which makes it all the more enticing to pick up. If you are able to, this is definitely an instrument worthy of trying to learn!