Harmonica Lessons in Houston, Texas
Have you always wanted to learn to play harmonica? Dr. Berlin teaches harmonica lessons in Houston, Texas blending the ideals of Dr. Shinichi Suzuki's teaching techniques with his own expertly-edited, high-quality harmonica repertoire. While there is no formally-accredited Suzuki harmonica program in the world, Dr. Berlin applies his Suzuki instructor training from other instruments to the repertoire he has selected. Unlike many harmonica teachers, Dr. Berlin teaches students to read music rather than rely on tablature.
Many Types of Harmonicas
There are many different types of harmonicas in existence today. They can generally be divided into two broad categories: diatonic harmonicas and chromatic harmonicas. Dr. Berlin requests that all students purchase harmonicas in the key of C major for instruction purposes.
Most students will begin learning with a diatonic harmonica and then upgrade to a chromatic harmonica as their studies progress. There are many harmonica options. To make it easier for students too choose, Dr. Berlin suggests students begin with a HOHNER Rocket in the key of C major. The sound is excellent and its ergonomic design and rounded edges makes it very comfortable to play for long periods of time.
HOHNER Rocket in the key of C major
HOHNER Rocket AMP harmonicas in the key of C major (standard "Richter" tuning) are also just fine for lessons. Rockets are much more comfortable to hold and play than just about anything else out there in their price range. HOHNER Special 20 (Germany) and HOHNER Blues Bender (China) in C harmonicas are acceptable temporarily, but I'd prefer students order Rockets. You will thank me in the long run.
Advancing students may choose to begin on a chromatic harmonica. Dr. Berlin generally suggests his advancing students learn on a 12-hole HOHNER Discovery 48 in the key of C. Since chromatic harmonicas are more expensive than diatonic models, please consult with Dr. Berlin before making a purchase. There are many good choices.
HOHNER Discovery 48 in the key of C
Whereas most diatonic harmonicas are "Richter" tuned, chromatic harmonicas are "solo" tuned and designed for melodic playing. The button on the side shifts the entire instrument up one half step allowing players to perform every note!
Dr. Berlin's Harmonicas
There are MANY different harmonica configurations. Dr. Berlin frequently uses harmonicas along with playing guitar and singing. Here is a list of his most-used harmonicas:
- Hohner Rocket: C, C-Low, D, F, G, A. As a singer-songwriter, these are his most-used keys in 1st and 2nd position. Positions are explained at the end of this page.
- Hohner Special 20: C-Country. This is a specialty tuning that most students won't use right away in lessons.
- Hohner Blues Bender: Bb. Dr. Berlin bought this at a discount and hasn't gotten around to upgrading it yet. He needed it for one song. Dr. Berlin suggests all of his students buy Rocket or Rocket Amp harmonicas.
- Hohner Discovery 48: C. This is Dr. Berlin's main chromatic, it's what teaches with and suggests his students purchase when they begin chromatic work.
- Hohner Marine Band 364 Soloist: C. Designated 364/24 MB SOLOIST, 364S-C (US), M364607 (intl.). This is a solo-tuned harmonica in C that is light enough to fit in a rack (harmonica holder worn around the neck). This differs from the common Marine Band models. You have to be very specific when you order one of these. It will have "SOLO-TUNING" stamped on the top cover plate.
- Hohner Flex-Rack and the traditional Large Harmonica Holder. The Flex-Rack is a little more bulky and expensive, but it is extremely adjustable.
Other harmonicas that Dr. Berlin likes and uses include:
- Hohner Echo 55/80: C/G. Two musette-tuned harmonicas in one!
- Hohner Chromonica 64: C. This is Dr. Berlin's alternate chromatic that has an extra low octave compared to the Discovery 48.
Dr. Berlin always starts students in the key of C. The specific needs of each individual students will guide the sequence of harmonicas to acquire. There are DEFINITELY some models of harmonicas you should AVOID. Please consult with Dr. Berlin before making a purchase. There are also many other great brands and models. Dr. Berlin starts students with the Hohner brand because they are the most widely available harmonicas in the United States. Rockets are extremely comfortable to play and easy to blow and bend. Additionally, instruments with plastic combs (Rocket, Discovery, Blues Bender, Special 20) are durable and easy to clean.
Sometimes, great harmonica models go out of production for one reason or another. For instance, Dr. Berlin's Echo 55/80 is no longer in production. Having a good relationship with a great harmonica service person means that they can restore an old, used harmonica to like-new condition! Here is a photo of my Echo 55/80 being restored by Dr. George Miklas at Harmonica Gallery.
When to Begin?
Because Suzuki music instruction is linguistic in nature, it has been found that students can begin learning this second, musical language shortly after they have begun acquisition of their first, spoken language. Most students can begin learning an instrument as early as age three or four. To the parent of a young child interested in the harmonica, Dr. Berlin suggests you start them as early as possible. This will ensure that harmonica playing becomes a part of their daily routine from which they will not deviate with competing activities vie for their time later in adolescence. To the older student, I suggest you start as soon as possible. It is never too late to begin!
Because of the many remarkable videos available of very young Suzuki students performing advanced repertoire, some people mistakenly believe that Suzuki is a "children's method" not suitable for later beginners or adults. This is certainly not the case. Any person, at any age, with an interest in learning an instrument can thrive under the guidance of a certified Suzuki teacher.
Another misconception is that students are taught by rote and that music reading is not emphasized. This is also not the case. It is for the pre-literate student that written music is not emphasized. As the student begins to become a literate person in their primary language (e.g. English), they are introduced to reading in a very natural, developmentally-appropriate fashion.
Students are trained to play by ear, not by rote. The difference may seem subtle to the casual readers, but it is substantial. Listening and mimicking is a natural process of language acquisition. Ear training is also used for older, literate students.
Principles of Study and Guidance
- The student should listen to reference recordings every day... to develop musical sensitivity. Rapid progress depends on this listening.
- Tonalization, or the production of beautiful tone, should be stressed in the lesson and at home.
- Constant attention should be given to correct posture and proper hand positioning.
- Parents and teachers should strive to motivate the [student] so [they] will enjoy practicing correctly at home.
(excerpted from Suzuki Guitar School, Vol. 1. Van Nuys, CA: Alfred Music, 2018, 4.)
The adult or self-motivated adolescent student will naturally not require the same level of external motivation as younger students. Nevertheless, others in the home should support and encourage the music student's endeavors.
The Berlin Harmonica Method
The only person that really taught "The Suzuki Method" was Dr. Suzuki. There is no "one, true way" to teach an instrument. Every student is different and every teacher has their own unique and innovative strengths and strategies for their students. Dr. Berlin's background, personal study, and scholarship makes his teaching unique in all the world, even with a shared repertoire!
Dr. Berlin's core repertoire is listed below. Students working through the material have a expansive range of repertoire from which to draw. Guitarists and singers who are learning harmonica as a supporting instrument may use a slightly different repertoire and sequence.
Sample Beginning Diatonic Harmonica Repertoire
Take Off * First Waltz * Second Waltz * Au Clair De la Lune * Little Hans * Oh Dear, What Can the Matter Be? * Mary Had a Little Lamb * Sleep, Baby, Sleep * Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star * London Bridge * Wooden Heart * Home Sweet Home * Kumbaya * Joy to the World * Camptown Races * Bye, Bye, My Baby * Going Home * Give Back My Heart * Soldier's Joy * Cuckoo Waltz * Chicken Dance * Echoes * Johann pa Snippen * Brahms' Lullaby * America * Morning Has Broken * Silent Night * Cajun Lullaby * Frosty the Snowman * Life in the Finnish Woods * Du, Du, Liegst Mir Im Herzen * Snow Waltz
Sample Beginning Chromatic Harmonica Repertoire
Take Off * First Waltz * Pop! Goes the Weasel * Au Clair De la Lune * Oh Dear, What Can the Matter Be? * Little Hans * Flying * Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star * Going Higher * Beautiful Brown Eyes * Sleep, Holy Child, Sleep * Skip to My Lou * Mary Had a Little Lamb * Wooden Heart * Old MacDonald * Camptown Races * L-P Treble * L-P Waltz * L-P March * Going Home * Kumbaya * Home Sweet Home * London Bridge * A Cute Tune * Give Back My Heart * Starlight Waltz * Five Higher * L-P Five Higher * I Saw Three Ships * Red River Valley * Big Parade * When the Saints Go Marching In * Marines' Hymn * Oh! Suzanna * Down in the Valley * Schnitzelbank * Singing Basses * Another Little Hans * Aura Lee * Give Back My Heart * Du, Du Liegst Mir Im Herzen * Ode to Joy * Tom-Tom Song * Little Exercise * Make the Difference * Cockles and Mussels and more!!!
Sample Supplemental Beginning and Advanced Harmonica Repertoire
One Bird, Variations - Kodály * Now We Sing - K. White * Mary Had a Little Lamb * Suo Gan * Daddy Long Legs - Kodály * Cuckoo * French Children's Song * The Finch - Kodály * Mary Had a Little Lamb (G Major) * Clair de Lune - J. B. Lully * The Honeybee * Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star * Go Tell Aunt Rhody * The Best of Times * Allegro - Shinichi Suzuki * Clouds * Goodbye to Winter * Clown Dance * Swedish Dance * A Tiny Forest Bird * My Little Boat * The Turtle Dove * Hungarian Dance * Hansel and Gretel * Dream, Children, Dream * Little Man in the Woods * Are You Sleeping? * Two Kings' Children * Come Lovely May - W. A. Mozart * The Flowers Are Sleeping * The Silent Moon * Early One Morning * Menuet, BWV Anh. 114 - J. S. Bach * Menuet, BWV Anh. 116 - J. S. Bach * Aria, Bourrée in F Major from the Water Music Suite - G. F. Handel * Larghetto from Sonata in F Major, Op. 1, No. 11 for Alto (I) - G. F. Handel * Menuet, BWV Anh. 115 - J. S. Bach * March, BWV Anh. 122 - Ph. E. Bach * Menuet from Suite No. 2 in B Minor - J. S. Bach * Menuet from Suite No. 4 - C. Dieupart * Siciliana from Sonata in F Major (III) - G. F. Handel * Bourrée from Fireworks Suite - G. F. Handel * Passapied from Melpomene Suite - K. Fischer * Adagio from Sonata in A Minor (III) - G. F. Handel * Presto from Sonata in G Minor (IV) - G. F. Handel * Larghetto from Sonata in G Minor (I) - G. F. Handel * Allegro from Sonata No. 1 (IV) - R. Valentini * Giga/Allegro from Sonata in F Major (IV) - G. F. Handel * Minuet - E. C. Jacquet de La Guerre * Rondeau - E. C. Jacquet de La Guerre * Adagio from Sonata No. 4, Op. 7 (I) - R. Valentine * Hornpipe from Royal Water Music Suite - G. F. Handel * Larghetto from Sonata in C Major (I) - G. F. Handel * Air from Les Gouts Reunis, Suite No. 8 - F. Couperin * Siciliano from Concerto in F Major (II) - G. Sammartini * Tempo di Gavotta from Sonata in C Major (IV) - G. F. Handel * Allegro from Sonata in F Major (II) - G. F. Handel * Allegro from Sonata in A Minor (IV) - G. F. Handel
Harmonica Positions Demystified
This chart alone may not actually demystify harmonica positions. But we will refer to it in our lessons. Since our primary diatonic instrument in lessons will be in the key of C, you only need worry about the first row for now. On C diatonic harmonicas, we will focus on pieces in C, G, D minor, and A minor.
|Position:||1st Position||2nd Position||3rd Position||4th Position|
|Hole:||4 Blow||2 Draw||4 Draw||6 Draw|
|Nickname:||"Straight Harp"||"Cross Harp"||"Double Cross Harp"|
|Mode:||Major, Ionian||Major, Mixolydian||Minor, Dorian||Minor, Aeolian|
|Usage:||Folk, Country||Blues, Pop, Rock||Minor Blues||Minor Melodies|
|C# / Db||C# / Db||G# / Ab||D#m / Ebm||A#m / Bbm|
|D# / Eb||D# / Eb||A# / Bb||Fm||Cm|
|E||E||B||F#m / Gbm||C#m / Dbm|
|F# / Gb||F# / Gb||C# / Db||G#m / Abm||D#m / Ebm|
|G# / Ab||G# / Ab||D# / Eb||A#m / Bbm||Fm|
|A||A||E||Bm||F#m / Gbm|
|A# / Bb||A# / Bb||F||Cm||Gm|
|B||B||F# / Gb||C#m / Dbm||G#m / Abm|
Scales in Four Positions
Below are ascending scale patterns in each position. The numeral indicates the hole number. An apostrophe (') indicates that you should draw air. Otherwise, blow. Since we use C harmonicas in our lessons, I have included the note names for the four common scales you play on C harmonica (Richter-tuned).