Arpeggio

Broken chords
When we first pick up the harmonica and start to play, we often blow or draw two or three holes at the same time (depending on the model we’re using). This is what makes the harmonica fun. We feel musical straight away because everything seems to be in tune. If we blow or draw three notes or more at the same time, this is called a chord.

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Now imagine what would happen if we accidentally dropped our chord on the floor. It would beak into pieces! Each piece would be a note that helped to make up the chord. If we then picked up the notes and played them in turn instead of at the same time, rising and falling, this would be called an arpeggio, or broken chord.

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All the way up..
The first exercise we learn on the harmonica is the C major arpeggio. It teaches us to play single blow notes in a special pattern, rising and falling. It also teaches us to control our breathing, develop our mouth shape (embouchure) and learn our hand hold. Eventually we also learn to slide between the notes in one breath, coordinating our hand movement and breath delivery. We start by singing the words all the way up and back down. Try this for yourself. Here is the tune..

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Try doing this a few times with and without the sound clip. Now we can add some movements while we sing, by pretending to climb up and down the rungs of a ladder with our hands. Play the sound clip again and climb up and down to the words.

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Great. Now that we have the music in our heads, we can start to play it on the harmonica. Here’s the arpeggio again, this time with tab notation to help you. The numbers show which hole to play. B means blow (breath out).

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1B    2B    3B    4B    3B    2B    1B

Now you can experiment with the arpeggio while playing along to our funky practise track..

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..and back down
Well done. We will soon be exploring tunes in our lessons, which include the notes of the C major arpeggio. But first we need to work on our draw, or breathing-in notes. What letter do you think we write to indicate a draw note? That’s right, it’s D. Now it’s time to learn our blow and draw notes using the C major scale.

Did you know?
The term arpeggio comes from the Italian word arpeggiare. This means to play a harp. It refers to a classical stringed harp rather than a mouth harp like ours though. On a stringed harp we could easily pluck the notes of a chord one finger at a time.

Key Skills

  • Chord
  • Broken chord
  • Arpeggio
  • Tab
  • Blow notes
  • Draw notes
  • Slide notes