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Harmonica… Declining Public Interest?

Yes! According to “Google Trends”, interest in the harmonica, especially the diatonic harmonica is in dramatic decline. The trend varies some by region, but in general it’s a worldwide trend. Without getting into the details of just what the numbers from Google Trends mean, they cite that the diatonic harmonica was twice as popular, ten years ago, back in 2004.

I’d like to point out the obvious.

The loss of interest in the diatonic harmonica is attributable to more than one cause, but the seriousness of such goes beyond the data. I’d like to point out the obvious. First, there’s millions more people today than there was ten years ago, so one would expect to see at least a slight increase in interest for the world’s most affordable instrument. Secondly, when you add a term to the subject (harmonica) like the “blues”, the interest in the diatonic harmonica hardly moves. Why?

Although the decline in interest over the last decade includes the chromatic harmonica, the diatonic harmonica leads in that overall slump. If anyone reading this has verifiable data to the contrary I’ll be happy to add it to this article and post it on here.

Talent does not seem to be the main problem, but redundancy is.

As a musician/observer I’ve witnessed remarkable aptitude. Talent does not seem to be the main problem, but redundancy is. There is a plethora of you-tube demos attempting to reinvent the old diatonic magic. Apparently, it’s not working. The diatonic “is what it is”.

It’s an instrument with imposing limits! An instrument that’s had its boundaries surveyed many times by creative geniuses. Rarely has anyone equaled and certainly no one has exceeded those geniuses of the past, (Sonny Boy Williamson, Sonny Terry, etc.). Their old accomplishments are all the proof needed to make the point. In the 60’s and early 70’s, men like Paul Butterfield and groups like J. Geils spawned unique new expressions supplying the steam necessary to keep the diatonic up in stature.

It was inevitable.

But, Google Trends has it right, the harmonica is losing its shine in the public eye. In my opinion as a musician and now looking back, it was inevitable. Even though some sensational blues pioneers animated the diatonic harmonica, unless it could eventually push through into other genres its popularity would inevitably wane. The truncated scales of the diatonic would sooner or later seal its fate as a mere second class instrument.

We diatonic musicians need an option, one that offers us the capacity to overcome our instrument’s very elementary note construction. The diatonic harmonica, the way it is, just can’t compete in many genres. Unless something remedies the design handicaps so many of us have experienced countless times the diatonic will be permanently relegated to a to quasi novelty status. But, if the unique diatonic personality could include more notes and chords it actually could start to compete. It could challenge in other musical arenas and carve out a future until now only dreamed of. Recently a new method for playing the diatonic harmonica has been invented, finally making just such a challenge possible. I’ve already begun and so can any diatonic musician who wants a future in a brave new harmonica world.

The future for the diatonic harmonica’s popularity rests in its ability or inability to overcome. If this can be done without changing the unique vocal properties it possesses, the sky is the limit. Fortunately, just such a remedy now exists. I’d like to end this article with a quote from Sr. Victor Hugo:

Nothing is as powerful as an idea whose time has come.


Replies to this article are welcome…

Bill Price

Date →
Feb 13
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  • Harley Crain Says:

    My name is Harley Crain and I am the editor of HCI
    Harmonic collectors International newsletter. I would like to use your article in one of our future newsletters.I would give you full credit and send you a copy of the issue.

  • bill Says:

    Harley, thanks for contacting me. Yes you have my permission to reprint my article. I would also like to become a member of HCI. Please e-mail me at harmonica with details for joining your group. Thank you.

  • Steven De bruyn Says:

    Hi Bill,
    were all wrestling with those limits, but there are ways to get out, like f.i. different open tunings. Here’s an introduction :
    Greetz from Gent (BEL),

  • harley crain Says:

    Hi Bill
    sorry for the long delay in contacting you again. I lost a bunch of data when my PC crashed and then I just forgot. We will use your article in our 2nd issue. Probably out in
    Apr/May/June issue. You can look at some information on the
    Dues are 30 per year. Send me your snail mail address and I will send you a back copy to review.
    Regards Harley

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