How to Read Harmonica Tabs

Learn how to read harmonica tabs from music teacher Marcus Milius in this Howcast video.


"Hi, my name is Marcus Milius. I play harmonica. I got a degree at the University of Southern California, a Bachelor's of Music, in Jazz Studies - Chromatic Harmonica. I play and teach harmonica here in New York City, and I'm happy to show you what I do.
Reading tablature on the harmonica is usually pretty simple. Tablature refers to the how to of the instrument. It only applies to the harmonica, so if you see tablature for a harmonica, you won't use that for a guitar. The information won't transfer. And, tablature for a diatonic harmonica will usually be different than for a chromatic harmonica. Harmonica tablature will tell you first the hole number, and then the air direction. The basic idea is that you will see a hole number and an instruction on whether to blow or to draw. So for the diatonic harmonica, you'll often see the whole number 4 and then an arrow up for blow and an arrow down for draw. You will sometimes see a number 4 followed by a 'plus' sign. So if its without a plus sign it is usually a blow, with a plus sign then its draw. Sometimes they will do bold faced for blow, regular font for draw. The tablature that I use is simply the hole number 4 and a B for blow, and the hole number 4 and a D for draw. The next piece of information that you'll see and need for diatonic harmonica would be if you have bend notes or overblows, and if you have arrows, the bend notes will have a little squiggly line for the stem of the arrow. If you have, for instance in my tablature a 4 D with an apostrophe, thats a bend. The apostrophe dictates the bend, and the number of apostrophes is how low you go. So you could go a half step, a whole step or a minor third even on some notes, so each added apostrophe would be a half step lower. For the chromatic harmonica you have the added feature of the slide. There will be some kind of notation telling you to press the slide in. That might be an arrow or a circle around the hole number. If you had 5 blow, which would be a C, and you wanted to press the slide in, you'd have some indication of that. 5 Draw, Slide in, So there would be an arrow indicating slide in, or a line underneath the number, or even a circle around it. There are many different tablatures out there, there is no standardization."

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