About the Tremolo Harmonica

The tremolo harmonica is common in Asia, and is larger than the harmonica known to most Westerners. The photo shows a regular 10 hole harmonica and a 21 hole tremolo.

There are two main tremolo types in Asia, the 24 hole (China) the 21 hole (Japan and elsewhere). The 21 and 24 hole tremolos are similar and easily interchanged.

The tremolo harmonica has two rows of holes. Each hole has one reed (either blow or draw), the holes are played in pairs. Reeds in adjacent holes are tuned slightly apart. When both reeds play a wavering tremolo sound result results, like an accordian.

It sounds like this

Like the 10 hole harmonica, the tremolo harmonica is a "diatonic", tuned to one key only. For the key of C you play a tremolo in C, for the key of G you play a tremolo in G. And so on. Tremolo harmonica players generally have several instruments, each tuned to different a different key, as shown below.

Tremolo Harmonica Notes

The notes on the tremolo harmonica notes are similar to the white notes on a piano, that is, arranged as a major scale. The table below shows the note arrangement for a 21 hole tremolo harmonica in C.

  C   E   G   C   E   G   C   E   G   C  
D   F   A   B   D   F   A   B   D   F   A

The top row shows the blow notes, while the bottom row has the draw (breathe in) notes. There is one note missing at the top (a B). Apart form this, the instrument has three complete Major scales. Or three sets of C D E F G A B C

An important 10 hole harmonica technique is "bending" notes. Anyone learning the 10 hole harmonica will know that bending is hard to master, but necessary to reach all notes.

Good news for tremolo harmonica players. No bending is needed, the notes are all there. It is possible to bend single tremolo notes, some players use this to vary the the sound.

Given all major scale notes can be reached without bending, the tremolo is better suited to tunes than the 10 hole harmonica. The tremolo is not a great blues instruemnt, in my view. Note bending is essential to blues harmonica.

However, for those who like playing tunes (like me) the tremolo is a great instrument.

Which Tremolo Harmonica to buy?

Most music shops in Asia sell tremolo harmonicas. They are also available online. Buy a tremolo in C, most lessons assume this instrument. The online lessons shown here are based on Asian tremolos.

It is worthwhile spending extra for a good tremolo. The Tombo Premium 21 and Suzuki Humming Tremolo are quality instruments. Hohner also have a wide range of tremolos, in European and Asian tunings.