I am a left handed harmonica player and when I started playing there was nobody around to guide me. This meant that I had to figure out a lot of things myself. Unfortunately some of the decisions I made in the eighties later turned out to be less than optimal decisions. I have later changed the way I hold the harmonica and my embouchure for example. To help any left handed player out there (and right handed) this article covers the options you have when holding the harmonica.
To keep things short and sweet I focus on two things, the hand holding the harmonica and if hole 1 on your diatonic harmonica faces left or right. What felt most natural to me when I stared playing and what seems to be most natural if you are a left handed harmonica player is to hold the harmonica in your right hand with hole 1 to the left. Most right handed players opt for left hand and hole 1 to the left. There are of course two other combinations as well to look at.
Right hand, hole 1 left
Let’s start with the one that felt most natural to me. In this case the right hand holds the harp and your left hand is used for hand effects. It is certainly a playable position but there is one major drawback. Holes 1-3 which are the low pitched holes are the ones that get most effect from hand cupping effect and this way of holding basically removes this option. This is the reason I abandoned this way of holding. If you primarily play through a bullet mic and have a tight cup this may be less of an issue for you.
Right hand, hole 1 right
To remedy the drawback of the previous way you can simply turn the harmonica upside down. This way you can still hold with your right hand and have a cup over the lower pitch holes. This is the way Sonny Terry held the harmonica, definately an option if holding with your right hand is important to you. Just remember that you have to flip all instructions you find online and your toung will be to the right most of the time while tounge blocking.
Left hand, hole 1 right
This is not a way I would recommend, using the left hand to hold but having the harmonica upseide down has the same problem as the first option I presented. There is really no need for this.
Left hand, hole 1 left
This is the way most right handed players naturally pick up the harmonica. The harmonica has the numbers facing up so you can read them easily and your hand cup naturally covers the low pitched holes. Even if you are a left handed harmonica player I would recommend you to switch to this way if you can. Most things regarding instructions and so on is simpler this way.
But what if it’s impossible
Of course the recommendations above may be null and void for you if you have any physical challenges that prevents you from holding like this. In that case you should o what works best for you and find your own way.
If you do decide to change the way you hold the harmonica, let me know how it works out for you. I remember feeling a bit awkward for a few weeks before it became natural to me.
im surprised as a lefty it felt comfortable to you……im a lefty and i was most comfortable holding in my left………..one fun thing about harmonicas is intentioally or not it is made to be held left handed numbers to the left…….as a fellow lefty you know how most things in this world are designed for rightys and leftys have to adapt……..with the harmonica its the right handed people who have to adapt to something left handed…..i get a kick out of this and hope you do as well
Thinking about it I would have expected that left hand would be natural for us lefties but it wasn’t for me. Definately a struggle sometimes when everything is designed for righties.
I’ve been learning for a couple of weeks now, I’m blowing single notes and working on my bends but I’ve just switched from right to left hand after reading your article and all I can say is thank you so much. I couldn’t figure out why my hand wah sounded so unimpressive, now the harmonica is in my left hand all those low notes are almost wah ing by themselves. Amazing. Thank you.
Simon, Thank you so much for sharing. This really makes me happy. I experienced something similar when I made the switch after holding it in my right hand for (too) many years.
Thank you for sharing the diifferent ways of holding the Harmonica. I am used to hold my cromatic 24 H major harmonica in ” Right hand hole1 right ‘ position for last so many years . Recently I came to know that my way of holding the harmonica is not correct, I therefore tried to correct my holding position to ‘ Left hand, hole 1 left’ , but I find it difficult to play.
I need your advice whether I should continue with my original position or change to to most common way of holding.
I am glad you find the information useful. I think holding the harmonica in the left hand with hole 1 to the left (or upside down in the right hand) is best for acoustic diatonic harmonica. I am not sure that it plays that big role for chromatic harmonica. To me it seems that the hand techniques on the lower holes doesn’t play as Big a role there. As long as you can use the slide and get tremolo effects to your liking you can Probably stay with what you are used to. Just keep in mind that chromatic harmonica is not my main interest so I may have missed something. Before you change the way you hold make sure that is worth the effort for you (for acoustic diatonic I think it is worth the effort).
I hold the harmonica in my left hand an in the beginning instead of holding the harmonic upside I switched the plates so I could see the numbers with 1 being all the way to the right.
I hold the harmonica in my right hand. I turned it upside down but I switch the plates around. So even though I turned it upside down I put the numbered plate on top so the 1 hole was All the way to the right in my right hand.
Interesting, never heard of this solution before.
Thank you for this. I’m just starting as a leftie, so I would go ahead and do it the “right” way, by holding the harmonica with my left hand.
By the way, a couple of typos on the 3rd paragraph: “This is the reason I abanded (abandoned) this way oh (of) holding.”
Hi, glad you liked it and thank you for pointing out the typos.