Gianluca Littera – Chromatic Harmonica Teacher and Performer

Gianluca Littera was born in Rome in 1962. He graduated in Viola in 1985 at the G. Rossini Conservatory of Music in Pesaro, and afterwards he performed with many famous orchestras and conductors.

Whilst playing the Viola, he heard Toots Thieleman playing the chromatic harmonica and became fascinated by its sound and potential.

In the following years he taught himself to play the instrument, as there was no agreed way or didactic path dedicated to it.

He went on to perform as a classical soloist as well as leading his own jazz ensembles.

Following extensive research, consulting libraries, archives and contacting publishing houses, Gianluca Littera became aware of the existence of a large repertoire of music written for harmonica. Due to the absence of any educational path for the training of players, much of it has never been performed except on rare occasions in concert by the few players who have dedicated themselves to it.

These works include composers such as: Villa Lobos, Darius Milhaud, Malcom Arnold, Arthur Benjamin, Graham Wettham, Michael Spivakovsky, Robert Farnon, Alan Hovhaness, Paul Patterson, Gordon Jacob, Vilem Tauski, Vaughan Williams, Henri Sauguet…

In 1996, Gianluca recorded the Villa Lobos Concert for Harmonica and Orchestra with the Gran Canaria Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Maestro Adrian Leaper.

Since then, his career has grown exponentially. Gianluca Littera has played as a soloist with numerous orchestras all over the world, inluding the Orchestra of the National Academy of Santa Cecilia in Rome, both in concert and in recording projects with Maestro M.W. Chung. He has performed many new works for harmonica including a work by Ennio Morricone.

In the Jazz field, he has worked with international artists such as Ute Lemper, Ivan Lins, and Eugenio Toussaint. He has toured internationally and appeared at the Shanghai Jazz Festival in China, Erl Festival (Austria), Edinburgh, Belfast etc…

In addition to his concert activity, Gianluca Littera is the author of various compositions that he has performed with numerous orchestras. In 2007 he released the CD “Sconcertango” with the chamber group “Ensemble Project”, with compositions and arrangements mainly by him.

Starting in 2014 he held harmonica courses for several years at the Conservatory of Rome Santa Cecilia and the Conservatory of Frosinone and Vibo Valentia.

In 2019 he submitted an application to the Ministry of Education – with the support of the director of the Conservatory of Rome, maestro Roberto Giuliani – for a three-year university degree for the study of the harmonica, an instrument that had been absent from the Conservatory. It was accepted and marks the official recognition of the harmonica, putting it on a par with other musical instruments. You can read more about the degree course here.

In addition to his specific teaching activities, he has taken part in academic conferences and meetings where he was able to illustrate the technical and expressive possibilities of the harmonica, the literature and history of the instrument.

The prestigious Japanese harmonica manufacturer, Suzuki, commissioned a series of 11 video tutorials in English by Gianluca on the correct approach to playing the instrument. These videos, made by Gianluca Littera, can be viewed on Suzuki’s YouTube Channel.

He has also written two books which are the backbone of the lectures and workshops used by his harmonica students and those who are interested in the instrument – 70 exercises for Chromatic Harmonica from basic to Intermediate / advanced level and Theoretical and Practical Treatise for Chromatic Harmonica.

He has also recorded many CDs.

Here is a video about his recent CD – A Breath Between the Strings (Music by Gordon Jacob, James Moody and Tony Kinsey)

Here is his Facebook page

You can read more about the degree course and how to apply on my blog page about it.

Chromatic Harmonica Degree Course – Gianluca Littera

Most musical instruments can be studied, and performances can be graded from beginners through to degree level. Unfortunately, the harmonica is not one of them. I have reviewed some previous attempts in a separate blog.

Recently I became aware of a new university degree course for the chromatic harmonica which has been developed by Gianluca Littera at the Conservatory of Santa Cecilia in Rome. This looks very impressive and much more comprehensive than anything else I have come across. I had the help of Gianandrea Pasquinelli as a translator to help my understanding of what Gianluca had done.

Gianluca was born in Rome in 1962 and gained his music degree in 1985 as a viola player. He worked and toured with many orchestras before embracing the chromatic harmonica after seeing Toots Thielemans on TV. His recording career started in 1996 and he has played with many symphony orchestras as well as forming his own jazz groups.

Gianluca Littera

Gianluca organised free harmonica courses for six years before deciding to develop them further. He joined the Conservatory of Santa Cecilia in Rome as a lecturer in 2022 after successfully submitting the degree course for recognition by the Italian Ministry of Education.

You can read more about Gianluca Littera here.

What follows is in his own words.

Gianandrea Pasquinelli

The Creation of the Harmonica Degree Course.

The Free Course

I wanted to share what I had learned with other players, hoping that they would share the pleasure I experienced while playing the harmonica.

It was difficult to gain acceptance for the chromatic harmonica in a traditional Music College. Fortunately, I had a degree as a viola player and so I was accepted. This allowed me to introduce the harmonica, which was not even considered an instrument at that time.

I started with six years of free courses (2014-20) at Conservatories around Rome. These classes were a real success, attracting students and arousing a lot of curiosity and interest.

Students performed in concerts with musicians from other courses and also attended seminars on the physiology of breathing when playing wind instruments.

These activities were necessary to get full acceptance for the harmonica and the creation of the three-year Academic degree course (Triennio).

The Degree Course

The complete educational path lasts 8 years and leads to a degree (like a violin or a piano). A qualification recognized throughout Europe.

  • the three-year Preparatory course followed by
  • the three-year course (Triennium) and
  • the two-year course (Biennium).

The Italian Ministry of Education has approved the three-year Preparatory course followed by the three-year course (Triennium) which leads to a degree. The next step will be the approval of the two-year course (Biennium) which would lead to a second degree or Masters.

I created the study plan, entrance exams, course work exams and graduation exams etc., based on those developed for other musical instruments, both in terms of duration and level of difficulty.

This residential course includes the different subjects and knowledge that the student must acquire. The harmonica is the topic. For the practical / technical part we mainly use my book 70 exercises for Chromatic Harmonica from basic to Intermediate / advanced level while for the workshops /lectures we use as a reference another text of mine Theoretical and Practical Treatise for Chromatic Harmonica.

In addition to the harmonica, some other topics are studied: solfeggio, the history of music, harmonic analysis, chamber music, choral singing, and knowledge of relevant legislation etc…

These skills combine to train, not only a harmonica player, but, more importantly, a musician with all the necessary tools to enter the professional world, and, if he wishes, to teach others.

The chromatic harmonica is one of the instruments which leads to a music degree.

Here are links to music to be studied and lectures for the three-year course (Triennium) for harmonica.

The current status of the course

There are 3 stages.

  • The three-year Preparatory course can be accessed without an entrance exam.
  • To access the three-year course (Triennium) it is necessary to pass an entrance exam and to know solfeggio (read music).
  • To access the two-year course (Biennium), when it opens, it will be necessary to have completed a three-year degree course and an entrance exam with the harmonica.

These courses started in February 2022 and currently there are 12 students, distributed between the Preparatory and Triennium courses. Some come from outside Italy (France and Switzerland).

In October 2022, the students enrolled in the Preparatory path will prepare to take the entrance exam for the three-year course and the other students will make the transition from the 1st to the 2nd year of the three-year course.

The Future

One of the most rewarding aspects of teaching was discovering that it enriches not only the pupil but also the teacher. Furthermore, many of the pupils who were already playing when they entered the course had no idea what it meant to study in a conservatory. The opportunities offered to them have meant that their musical boundaries were enormously enriched, something that gives me, as a teacher, lots of satisfaction to see a student grow and develop.

In the future I foresee harmonica classes like mine in other Conservatories. I want to get the harmonica the recognition that has always been missing! Since 1992, when the accordion entered the Conservatory, no other instrument has since been recognized as such. I am happy to have succeeded first of all to give the harmonica the dignity it deserves, and also, to pass on at least some of what this instrument has given me which has enriched me musically and personally.

Finally, the harmonica now has an officially recognized course of workshops, lessons and lectures. In Italy we wrote a piece of the history of this instrument, and it was the piece that was missing. Perhaps we have not yet fully understood the scope of what we have achieved at the Santa Cecilia Conservatory.

I believe that other Institutes will take this result as an example and will do the same. At the Santa Cecilia Conservatory in Rome, we have opened and indicated the way. Everyone can access an educational path that provides the opportunity to register or take an exam according to their own level. Then advance from the Preparatory for those starting or the Triennium for those who already play and then the Biennium.

For more information you can contact me, Gianluca Littera

Harmonica Education – Courses for Chromatic and Diatonic Players

Finally, it is possible to study for a music degree. This is thanks to Gianluca Littera who has designed a syllabus for chromatic harmonica at a Music Conservatory in Rome, Italy – see end for more details.

This has been wanted for a long time and here is a summary of what I think has been tried in the past.


When Hohner established its first London headquarters in 1930, the new Managing Director, Dr Otto Meyer, realised that clubs and tuition were necessary to grow the two main sides of the business, accordion and harmonica. In 1935 he set up what became known the British College of Accordionists which produced the first draft of the BCA syllabus, now recognised as the standard of accordion achievement. Although it was discussed, no formal educational course was set up for the harmonica despite the recruitment of Captain James Reilly as Musical Director, the publishing of many tuition books and the establishment of a music school in Trossingen, Germany.

To award degrees three things are needed – an agreed syllabus, qualified teachers, and independent, respected examining body. In the UK, discussions with music colleges were unsuccessful. There is still no grade system for harmonica like those for piano, guitar etc… This may be a reason why the harmonica is often thought of as an inferior instrument or toy by other musicians.

Several exceptional students have been granted degrees by top Music Schools, after completing their normal study courses, but harmonica teachers have had to be co-opted to provide the teaching and evaluation required. Philip Achille graduated from the Royal College of Music in London, and Filip Jers graduated from The Royal Academy of Music in Stockholm. Some harmonica players have been able to participate in courses which focus on the music being studied, such as jazz, rather than the instrument.

There have been other attempts to establish a formal education process on a more permanent basis. In 2005 the National University of Singapore Centre for the Arts launched the world’s first examination system for the study of chromatic harmonica with Yasuo Watani and Douglas Tate as examiners. This included distance, online assessment for the lower levels and in person examination for the higher levels. Unfortunately, this was stopped after a few years.

In recent years the development of the Internet has resulted in many uncontrolled teaching sites springing up, especially for diatonic harmonicas. This has been useful for beginners and for improving performance, but few have established any formal examination standards. Dave Barrett is probably the most established with his Levels of Achievement system. Rock School Ltd (RSL) have shown an interest in extending their teaching activities to instruments like the harmonica.

I am aware of two recent attempts to set up a university course for chromatic harmonica players. In 2022, Dr. George Miklas announced a brand-new course at the University of Lynchburg, USA, where college students can now study the harmonica for an applied music credit.

The most comprehensive approach I have seen is a degree course for chromatic harmonica players running at the Conservatory of Santa Cecilia in Rome, established and directed by Gianluca Littera. You can learn more about Gianluca, the syllabus and how this was developed by reading my blog page about it.

Martin Häffner

and the German Harmonica & Accordion Museum

Martin Häffner has dedicated his life to educating people about the history of the harmonica, especially the Hohner harmonica company. He has set up a museum, taken the story around the world as a mobile exhibition, written books and led guided tours around Trossingen, Germany, the home of the original Hohner harmonica factory.

This detailed history was co-written with highly regarded harmonica artist and author Steve Baker. He has been a consultant to the Hohner company since 1987 and has been able to gain a unique perspective on the company story. Thanks also to Diana Rosenfelder from the German Harmonica Museum for help in writing this blog page.


Martin was born October 7, 1958, in Schönau near Heidelberg. He graduated from high school in Heidelberg in 1977, and studied history and theology in Tübingen and Vienna until 1986 when he started work as an assistant at the State Museum of Technology and Work in Mannheim.

In 1987 the Hohner Harmonica Collection was sold to the state of Baden-Württemberg as part of a company rescue deal and Martin was commissioned to write a report on it. To complete his work on Hohner, its history and the Hohner collection and to get all the necessary information, Martin was employed by the Hohner company on 1 January 1988. Three years later he became an employee of “Trägerverein Deutsches Harmonikamuseum” (Sponsoring Association of the German Harmonica Museum).

Steve Baker joined Hohner as a consultant in 1987 and when they met there for the first time, Martin led him up into the cavernous attics in Bau V, the accordion works which today houses both the new Harmonica Museum and the Hohner Conservatory and has now been beautifully renovated.


He showed Steve what appeared to be literally tons of unidentifiable stuff, packed in dusty cartons and piled up all over the place without any apparent semblance of order. It looked as though the custodians of Hohner’s company history had simply dumped it all up there and forgotten about it.

Steve Baker

On closer inspection this jumble of relics revealed itself to be a huge collection of historic instruments, documents and advertising material relating to all kinds of aspects of the commercial production of free reed instruments, the largest of its kind in the world. As Steve wrote “Thank heavens the state of Baden Württemberg thought it was worth saving!”

In cooperation with the town of Trossingen, Hohner had agreed to co-finance a modest museum to house the Hohner Collection in the annex of the actual town museum on the high street. Martin began sorting through the vast piles of artefacts and arranged for the most interesting looking articles to be transferred to the new premises. Sifting through a century’s worth of unsorted leftovers was a huge task. Not all of it was of value and some was literally junk, but there were many real gems as well.

Martin had hoped the museum would be ready for the World Harmonica Championships in Trossingen in 1989 but they did not make it. Hohner’s CEO at that time, Dr. Johann Schmid, decided that he wanted to present every festival visitor with a free harmonica from the historic collection. Fortunately Martin was able to intervene and prevented him from giving away any of the really valuable historic instruments. He selected several hundred pieces which he reckoned the museum could do without and every visitor did indeed receive one.

The museum opened to the public in 1991 with over 25,000 harmonica exhibits in time for Hohner’s second World Harmonica Festival, and it has gone from strength to strength ever since. I was fortunate to visit the original museum in 2001. Lots of exhibits were displayed in small rooms with steep stairs. Martin set about producing programs of exhibitions and concerts to publicise the museum and raise money for its development. He took some of them around the world.

When the old Hohner (1911) factory buildings were restored and refurbished for small business use in 2016 the harmonica museum raised the money needed to move the exhibits a short distance to new premises in BAU V.

This provided a large open, bright, space on one floor of the building with more opportunities to display items and documents from the archive for the visitors to the museum.


Other features included office space, a shop, a small cinema and a flexible space for presentations and music performances.

Specially designed units were built to exhibit the most interesting instruments in a structured way, as well as thoroughly documenting the development of the industry.

Martin ensured that the earlier harmonica and accordion companies from the Trossingen area and Klingenthal were featured as well as other Hohner instruments like keyboards.

The permanent exhibition gives an overview of the whole sector including the Hohner family and the many other companies involved, both in Württemberg, Saxony, Vienna and elsewhere.

It is important to remember that Hohner once employed 5000 people, and swallowed up all its regional competitors to become an international household name, so the social component in terms of local history was very significant and is treated accordingly.

Martin was initially attracted to the harmonica by the beautiful packaging and innovative marketing introduced by the first Hohner generation, and a lot of space is devoted to this. Much of the advertising material is well preserved and the exhibition includes numerous examples. The strategies which Hohner developed later became more widespread, but in the 1880s it was not always usual to adapt one and the same product to meet the needs of different national markets worldwide. Hohner was a true pioneer in this area, and one of Martin’s most important goals was the documentation of both the means by which Hohner’s remarkable commercial success was achieved, and its impact on the social history of Trossingen and the region as a whole. It’s pretty amazing to think that within the space of a single generation, this isolated Black Forest village became the hub of a worldwide commercial empire, a development which alone is worthy of the interest of historians.

Another more controversial aspect of Martin Häffner’s work was his documentation of the history of the Hohner company during the Third Reich. As a historian, Martin felt unable to ignore the documentary and photographic evidence of its involvement in the war effort and extensive use of forced labour which was preserved in the Hohner Collection. The permanent exhibition shows a range of photos depicting the factory and its workers during the Nazi era, as well as historical instruments from both world wars. He didn’t presume to judge, but felt duty bound to document what had happened.

Mattiias Hohner

Martin’s hero is Matthias Hohner (1833-1902), and he takes visitors on tours around Trossingen to show where Matthias and his family lived and worked.

Occasionally the ghost of Matthias can still be seen talking to people in the museum about the company he created.

Martin “Matthias” Häffner

The existence of a museum like this is always dependent on its financing and the German Harmonica & Accordion Museum is no exception. Though both Hohner and the town of Trossingen continue to contribute to its upkeep, the purchase of the new premises and their renovation and maintenance would not have been possible without the generous support of the board of trustees and the numerous members of the support association. Many musicians have also been happy to donate their services in support of the museum. Today it offers both a comprehensive documentation of the history of free reed instruments, and an instructive and entertaining view of the people who both made and played them. If you can’t get to the museum you can learn a lot from the videos and books which Martin has researched and written or supported. You can find more about them in the Museum shop.

Martin Häffner has devoted the greater part of his working life to collecting and sharing the history of the harmonica and anyone who has more than a passing interest these instruments has every reason to visit and be grateful. We have been friends for about 20 years and I help at museum when I can.

Martin will retire in 2024 and he will find it hard not to stay close to the museum to help who ever takes over. I am sure, however, that he will probably have even more time for his other passion – enjoying long distance railway journeys.


The Museum charity receives no funding from the State of Baden-Württemberg and so one if the most important activities for Martin and his successor is and will continue to be is fund raising. Martin has established a fantastic resource for lovers of the harmonica and anyone who can should visit it and support it financially.

Additional LInks

HarpTalk Tumblr Blog

I stepped down as editor of Harmonica World magazine after the August 2019 issue and I decided to do the simple blog I never seemed to have time to do before .

I used to use the blog to announce when the new magazine was being mailed out. Now I want to make it more of a diary where I can share bits of research or news.

Your can check it out here – https://harptalk.tumblr.com/

Harmonica History in Books

Harmonica History in Books.

Today’s harmonica world is the result of the pioneering activities of manufacturers, composers, performers and amateur players.
A lot has happened in the last 100 years but it is not very well documented or understood.
These books provide some of the backgound to the artists and the way the music developed.

         AuthorBook Title
#1Louis DelinBackstage Harmonica – Autobiography
#2Larry AdlerIt Ain’t Neccessarily So – Autobiography
#3Larry AdlerMe and my Big Mouth – more autobiography
#4Al SmithConfessions of Harmonica Addicts – A History of American Ensembles
#5Jane RodackBe of Good Cheer – Memories of Harmonica Legend, Pete Pedersen
#6Kim FieldHarmonicas, Harps and Heavy Breathers – Interviews and stories
#7Albert RaisnerLe Livre de l’Harmonica – History of The Harmonica to 1960
#8Ray GrieveA Band in a Waistcoat Pocket – The Story of Harmonica in Australia
#9Ray GrieveBoomerangs and Crackerjacks – The Harmonica in Australia, 1825-1960
#10Jerry AdlerLiving from Hand to Mouth – Larry Adler’s Younger Brother
#11Max GeldrayGone With The Wind – Autobiography of a Dutchman in England
#12Peter KrampertThe Encyclopedia of the Harmonica – Short Bios ofHarmonica Players
#13Kurt Roessler   Sie Spiel(t)en Mundharmonika – Harmonica Players
#14Fabrizio PoggiIl soffio dell’anima: armoniche e armonicisti blues
#15Martin HaeffnerHarmonica Makers of Germany and Austria
#16Martin HaeffnerHarmonicas – The Story of Hohner Brands
#17Christoph Wagner Die Mundharmonika – ein musikalischer globetrotter
#18Martin HaeffnerMade in Germany – Played in the USA
#19 Martin Haeffner“Hohner The Living Legend” – 150th Anniversary
#20Zong XiaohuaChinese Made Harmonica Illustrations
#21EditorsSeventy Years of Hong Kong Harmonica (2004),
#22CMA, NUS Harmonicist’s Handbook, 1991, Singapore
#23Gian PasquinelliSoffiando e Risoffiando – by Armonauti Trio (Italian)
#24Bruno KowalczykThe Harmonica and Traditional Québécois Music
#25Charlie McCoy50 Cents and a Box Top
#26Jean LabreMusique en bouche

   

You can read more information about these books and where you might be able to find them on Pat Missin’s fantastic web site about all aspects of harmonicas.