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Harmonica Therapy: Healing for Mind, Body, and Spirit

Updated on November 23, 2016

Neil Young: Heart of Gold

Heart of Gold

One of my fondest memories of my grandfather was also a point of contention with other family members. I loved sitting on the porch with him and listened in awe to stories of his wild and youthful years. When he concluded a story he would follow it with a boisterous tune that mesmerized me as he played one of his many harmonicas. He would usually start off with a comical or fanciful rendition of a folk song and then go into a gospel melody like Amazing Grace. I could never understand why the rest of the family seemed annoyed. I thought, perhaps, it was because his stories may influence me in the wrong way or, perhaps, it was the sound of the harmonica itself. Later, I concluded it was probably both. After all, as far as the harmonica was concerned, it was not a “real” or “proper” instrument. I was always disappointed when the inevitable shout would come out through the kitchen door, “Jim—put that thing away!” My grandfather was a respectful man and would oblige her “request” and carefully polish it on his shirt and then put it back into the pouch that my grandmother had made for him. One day however, after dutifully honoring his “time’s up” message, he again polished and pouched his harmonica, looked straight into my eyes and then placed it on my lap. His next two words changed my life, “It’s yours”.

Looking back, I realize now, my grandfather didn’t just give me a gift, he could see the future in my eyes, he gave me healing. His stories served as a warning of bad times ahead, his comical songs provided respite, and his gospel songs, taught me forgiveness and grace. I will be eternally grateful for the gift that no doctor, preacher, or teacher could give…My grandfather gave me a healing heart of gold.

The Health Benefits of a Harmonica

My grandfather knew way back then what has only been recognized now--that the health benefits of playing a harmonica are pretty amazing in a wide range of applications. For me, personally, it is a relief from depression and times where anger and resentments grind away at my peace. Many doctors are now using harmonica therapy as a supplement to traditional treatments which aids many ailing and health challenges. Musician on Call takes this to a whole new level providing music in all forms to patients young and old. One of the instruments they use is the harmonica.

Respiratory or Pulmonary Therapy

For patients with limited lung capacities or illnesses that require training on breathing practice, the harmonica is becoming a medical tool used to help patients focus on breathing both in and out. The harmonica is the only instrument where both in and out air flow is used and because of this, breathing practice becomes a measurable way for a doctor, therapist, or even the patient themselves to “hear” the results. There are now companies who produce medical harmonicas but a less expensive harmonica serves the same purpose. Many hospitals now offer group and individual harmonica classes on a monthly basis.

Harmonica Therapy

Harmonica Therapy for Mind Body & Spirit
Harmonica Therapy for Mind Body & Spirit | Source

Heart and Blood Pressure Therapy

Just as respiratory therapy using a harmonica is becoming quickly accepted, doctors and researchers are also viewing the same approach for teaching patients to reduce and better control heart rate. They are finding that the stress factors that affect both the pulmonary system and blood systems can be reduced through this simple to learn instrument.

Cognitive Therapy

Where a person has a difficult focusing or suffers cognitive patterns that are described as “mind-racing”, harmonica therapy is a great way for redirecting the brain to gather the randomness of thoughts to one point. A manic episode can be quickly slowed to a manageable response. With practice, the training of the mind is accomplished and can allow patients to use a short “harmonica break” to relax and focus, thus training their brain.

Addiction Therapy

One example of using a harmonica to treat addictive behaviors would be in the fight against nicotine cravings. Aside from the cravings caused by nicotine itself, there is the oral fixation that accompanies it. Picking up a harmonica instead of a cigarette helps reduce the pain of smoking cessation. You can’t smoke when you are playing a harmonica and just like cognitive therapy, the focus now becomes on the music and breathing.

Yoga and Spiritual Therapy

Not only does therapy utilizing a harmonica to help bring focus to the therapies mentioned above, it also has become a qualified method of introspection for Yoga exercise. The term used by yoga instructors is referred to as harmonica-dhyana. Use of a harmonica in yoga is a method to release anger and fear allowing for a deeper meditative result. This, I believe was how my grandfather, unknowingly, was able to move from the pain of past experiences to a spiritual resolve. Doctor, David Harp, MA, has written over two dozen books on how a harmonica can change your brains response to anger, fear, pain, and desire.

Artist "Physicians" who already know ...

(click column header to sort results)
Blind Mississippi Morris
Bobby Darin
Christofer Drew
Ryan Adams
Larry Adler
Bonny B.
John Brewster
DeFord Bailey
Robert Bonfiglio
Billy Boy Arnold
Chuck Ragan
Graham McPherson
Humphrey Bate
Willi Burger
Dan Aykroyd
Bob Dylan
Bryan Adams
Johnny Cash
Angelo Dos Santos
Captain Beefheart
Ramblin' Jack Elliott
Ryan Adams
Buddy Greene
Sigmund Groven
Carey Bell
Jesse Fuller
Teddy Andreadis
Kris Kristofferson
Stan Harper
Igor Flach
Dallas Green
Ian Anderson(Jethro Tull)
Martina McBride
Tommy Reilly
Jim Belushi
Arlo Guthrie
Gem Archer
Charlie McCoy
Sugar Blue
Woody Guthrie
Billie Joe Armstrong(Green Day)
Terry McMillan
Billy Branch
Mel Lyman
Tim Armstrong(Rancid)
Mickey Raphael
Norton Buffalo
Tom Morello
Bobbejaan Schoepen
George "Mojo" Buford
Rory McLeod
Neil Young
Eddie "Guitar" Burns
Sonny Terry
Brian Molko(Placebo)
Irish music[edit]
Lester Butler
Kim Kwang Suk
David Bowie
Patrick Clancy
Paul Butterfield
Vikki Thorn
Gary Brooker(Procol Harum)
James Conway
Good Rockin' Charles
Leon Gieco
Jack Bruce
Ciarn Bourke
William Clarke
Hugo Diaz
Bertrand Cantat(Noir Dsir)
Bobby Clancy
James Cotton
Jenny Lewis
Gene Clark(The Byrds)
Andy Irvine
Jim Conway(Australian)
Ketch Secor
Alice Cooper
Cyril Davies
Tom Gabel
Claudio Sanchez
Philip Achille
Little Sammy Davis
Beck Hansen
Gene Cornish
Larry Adler
Paul deLay
Jay Diggins
Sheryl Crow
Sbastien Charlier
Joe Dolce
Neil Young
Burton Cummings
Max Geldray
Johnny Dyer
Rick Davies(Supertramp)
Carlos del Junco
Jazz Gillum
Bob Dylan
Chris Michalek
Marla Glen
Melissa Etheridge
Toots Thielemans
Adam Gussow
John Fogerty
Fredric Yonnet
James Harman
Tom Fogerty
Classical music[edit]
Shakey Jake Harris
Peter Gabriel
Robert Bonfiglio
Taylor Hicks
Dave Gage
Willi Burger
Paul Jones
Ian Gillan(Deep Purple)
Tommy Reilly
Huey Lewis
George Harrison
Dutch Mason
Mick Jagger
John Mayer
Billy Joel
Delbert McClinton
John Kay(Steppenwolf)
James Montgomery
Arthur Lee(Love)
Charlie Musselwhite
John Lennon
Hammie Nixon
Huey Lewis
Snooky Pryor
John Mellencamp
Walkin' Cane Mark
Van Morrison
Jimmy Reed
Anton Newcombe
Curtis Salgado
Ozzy Osbourne(Black Sabbath)
Will Shade
Tom Petty
Harmonica Shah
Robert Plant(Led Zeppelin)
J.D. Short
Jimmy Page(Led Zeppelin)
Powell St. John
John Sebastian
Rob Stone
Matt Taylor
Bruce Springsteen
Sonny Terry
Jon Bon Jovi
Fabio Treves
Ringo Starr
Steven Tyler(Aerosmith)
James Taylor

All of the above

The list of musical artist who already knew long before the medical sciences realized that the harmonica is “all of the above” contains some surprising results. The chart to the right will give you a sampling of just how well this magical instrument has affected our cultures in every music genre.

This list is sortable. Enjoy looking up these physcians of harmonica. If you see a particular artist and you want to find out how their harmonica has influnced history, higlight the artist and then right click...your browser will bring up a list of choices. For example, if using Google, it will give you the option of searching out this artist on "look up".

Physician Heal Thyself

Do you know someone who would medically benefit from harmonica therapy? You could of course, discuss this article with them…or…if you want to be sneaky, just buy them one. The great thing about a harmonica is that once you pick it up, its hard to put down. Even the stodgiest of people will (in their own private moments) pick it up and get “instant” healing. This medical treatment requires no prescription and can be self administered. What I like best about harmonica therapy is that the harmonica itself will teach you. It’s impossible to play wrong.

The Pulmonica Medical Harmonica

The Pulmonica is the number one rated medical harmonica and is specifically designed to aid in the treatment of pulmonary illnesses.


Polished, stainless steel cover plates. Recessed German Silver reed plates. Machined brass reeds for deep resonance. ABS comb. Rounded corners to feel great. Submersible for rinsing clean. The Pulmonica is a specially tuned pulmonary harmonica for non-musicians that produces unusually deep, resonant, meditative sounds that are felt gently pulsing the lungs simply by breathing. Plus, it always sounds great, unlike any similar looking harmonicas, and provides variable resistance for use. No harmonica built in the world today can deliver the benefits of a Pulmonica. After considerable development, the Pulmonica is now handcrafted in Germany by Seydel, the world's oldest harmonica manufacturer. It allows everyone to include conscientious belly breathing and soothing, meditative sound in their daily routine. Instructions for use and a carrying case, cleaning cloth, care recommendations, and a chart for recording progress for a year are included. Sustained belly breathing has been promoted for thousands of years across many cultures as an achievable method of bringing more air into the lungs and more oxygen to the body and mind than with chest breathing. Yet, almost all of us are chest breathers by mid-life. To learn to be belly breathers, we need sustained practice. The Pulmonica makes that practice easy by providing positive feedback three ways: (1) deeply resonant notes and chords, (2) always in tune and sounding harmonious and (3) gentle pulses that are often felt in the lungs and sinuses. For interested musicians, the Pulmonica is tuned to LLG, uses spiral tuning, and produces the complete diatonic chord scale (G, Am, Bm, C, D, Em, F#dim) for over two octaves. The four-hole chords add the major 7th. The Pulmonica can serve as a wonderful rhythm instrument in the Key of G. For soloists, it's more challenging because the reeds, gaps, and profiles are set to optimize pulmonary usefulness, rather than musical playability.

Standard Harmonicas

There is a wide range of choices for standard harmonicas that can be used for health reasons and just for fun. I often buy harmonicas in quantity lots and use them as individual gifts or for "group" sessions. A good starter harmonica cost about five dollars.


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    • greenmind profile image

      GreenMind Guides 

      3 years ago from USA

      This is a great hub -- you really make the harmincia sound like a great instrument. Thanks and write more!

    • Rabadi profile image

      4 years ago from New York

      Great Hub! I love the Harmonica it is such a relaxing instrument. I am following you and will pass this page along to friends. :)

    • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image

      Marcy Goodfleisch 

      5 years ago from Planet Earth

      What an interesting concept! It makes perfect sense - just never thought about this before. Music is therapeutic, so it's good to know there are many ways to put this benefit to use.

    • jhamann profile image

      Jamie Lee Hamann 

      5 years ago from Reno NV

      I am convinced! I believe in it's power, thank you for this great hub. Jamie

    • AudreyHowitt profile image

      Audrey Howitt 

      5 years ago from California

      I found this fascinating! Singing confers many of the same types of benefits I believe

    • colorfulone profile image

      Susie Lehto 

      5 years ago from Minnesota

      My dad use to play a chromatic harmonic, he could play anything by ear. You know, after reading this I think it was therapeutic for him to play. I know it was for me.

    • Joel Diffendarfer profile imageAUTHOR

      Joel Diffendarfer 

      5 years ago from Jonesville

      Yes, Ron and Aesta1, I have also used harmonicas as "rewards" for a children’s' group to recognize achievements. Within a matter of weeks, every child owned one and mastered them quickly. And as stupid as it may sound, I actually used the harmonica to help me quick smoking--every time I had "the urge", I played a tune worked for me. I have a friend who is very talented with a wide range of instruments including violins, piano, etc. One day he demonstrated his multiple uses of instruments and I stated to him that "I could only play the harmonica". With that, he pulled out "his" harmonica...and proudly stated that the harmonica was always an important part of his life. He played a version of Amazing Grace that spoke clearly and obviously, came from his heart.

    • RonElFran profile image

      Ronald E Franklin 

      5 years ago from Mechanicsburg, PA

      Who knew that the harmonica could be therapeutic? I play several instruments, but never the harmonica. You almost persuade me to give it a try.

    • aesta1 profile image

      Mary Norton 

      5 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      What a revelation about the little harmonica. Maybe I should start learning to play this instrument.


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