Harmnonica Question

Harmnonica Question

I’m interested in playing the harmonica in an ITM styling. I would appreciate some help in understanding my options.

What type of harp should I buy (looking for < than $40 ea.)? Is a Diatonic harmonica suitable?…would a Horner Blues or Jazz harp be good? In what key? Or should I buy two or three so I could play in different keys for different songs.

Can you please help to describe to me what vamp style is?

Also, does anybody blow the harp at your sessions? Are they playing harmony &/or rhythem or do they play melody? What do you think?

Thanks in advance.

Re: Harmnonica Question

Well, this is definitely one for Steve Shaw to answer.

In the interim you might cast a glance at my own harmonica discography page at http://www.irishmusicreview.com/ which’ll give you some idea of the range of instruments played by the various harp buffs.

You should also have a look at http://www.angelfire.com/tx/myquill/.

My own preference is for Hohner blues harps but you’d need to buy several to be able to play along to Irish tunes.

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Re: Harmnonica Question

Hi there - every harpist has their own preferences! I’d suggest you look to get something of the quality of the Suzuki promaster half-valved. The retune the 3rd blow note up a whole step. This is the ‘Paddy Richter’ tuning made really well known by Brendan Power. Check out his New Irish Harmonica to see some of the stuff he can do… although he does mainly use a chromatic harp on that album.

Hohner Blues harps sound nice… but the wood is a real nightmare as far as I’m concerned. I personally don’t go for the Tombo sound. a number of people have pointed out to me that it’s not really possible to tell the difference between plastic-combed harps and wood or aluminium ones… but there is something about their sound I don’t like at all.

Using a half valved harp is a really good option because it makes some of the notes easier to play smoothly, as the air is used more efficiently. You’ll sound ok without, but it is easier to get a nice crisp sound. The response is a little tighter. The 3 blow note is the same as the 2 draw note, and the missing note there tends to be an important note in Irish tunes. The note can be changed by very carefully filing away at the tip of the 3Blow reed, raising the pitch. Use a tuner and work VERY carefully and slowly.

Get in touch and I’ll step you through the details.

If you don’t want to go to these lengths - there are still many tunes that could be played in 1st position - in the key of the 4Blow. More options will be available to you if you do retune.

You’ll need a few keys to really be able to play at sessions - D, G & A. F is pretty good for playing tunes like Julia Delaney’s - you can also play this on a C however. Bb is a nice key too. Those first three would usually be ample to get you through at most sessions. bear in mind that with one diatonic harmonica you can play in a number of keys.

Obviously some of the reels that hop around will be the trickiest to get to grips with…combined with the speed that they are played… this is a reel challenge! ;-) but there are many tunes you will be able to play with solid practice.

have a look at www.youtube.com/user/hikoraroa - there’s a recoding of me playing the Drunken Landlady reel. I’m a bit rusty… but still it’s a fun tune.

One thing is for sure - a well played harp at a session, playing the tunes not backing - will often get the respect of other musicians easily. They appreciate that getting the melody out from one of these little beauties at a good pace takes some doing.
Cheers - happy harping

nathan

Re: Harmnonica Question

Thanks for the link to your great site MacC.
Hohner SP 20 are fine Lee Oskars seem to last a bit longer. Cheaper ones work OK but don’t last nearly as long. Tone and volume come mostly from player technique.
Ordinary (Richter tuned) harmonicas can be improved for Irish and folk tunes by the so called Paddy Richter tuning, it adds a note.
Here is some info on Paddy Richter tuning:
http://www.folkipedia.org/index.php?pageName=Tuning
If you have Paddy tuned harmonicas in G, D and A that’ll see you OK for most session tunes in first position.
Paddy tuning is also good for chords since you get the relative minor chord eg E minor for the G harmonica as well as G major on the blow. On the draw you get C major, D major, D7 and A minor. Vamping ie chord accompaniment needs great care so you play the same chords as any other accompanist. Best to learn to play the tunes first then the difficult bit - getting rhythm and speed.

Re: Harmnonica Question

I owe you a very large one, MacCruiskeen, as a roundabout result of the link I came across a site offering a free download of Pumpkinhead’s self titled 1977 album. I remember going to see them in the mid 70s in Mullaghmore, Co.Sligo (think they had a monthly residence, poss in a hotel), those were the days. The CD of the download is now blaring out in my kitchen. Sweet memories indeed. I can’t give an objective view on how good it is but right at this moment it’s fantastic for its nostalgia value. Thanks again. Maybe meet in The Glens sometime.

Re: Harmnonica Question

Given your price range (less than $40 each), you are pretty much confined to buying a diatonic. Even the cheapest chromatics cost double that, and I believe the tremolos as well. Chroms played in the Irish trad style (e.g., the late Eddie Clarke) are also generally tuned differently, and there is now only one manufacturer (Seydel) currently offering stock Irish-tuned chroms. Then again, you only really need a single chrom to play about 90% of the ITM repertoire (buy one in the key of G), so that may enter into your cost equation.
If you want to hear this chrom style, listen to Clarke (only two recordings, on Green Linnet, not sure if either is available anymore), or his American protege Joel Bernstein (with fiddler Randal Bays on "Pigtown Fling" CD and a couple others). Mick Kinsella and Mark Graham have also played chrom in this style now and then, although they are primarily diatonic players. For tremolo harmonica, there’s a fine player named Micho Fitzpatrick who works with Andrew McNamara’s new ceili band "The Haymakers" (although I don’t think they yet have a CD out).

Re: Harmnonica Question

an aside really but the typo in the title sounds like a really good philosophy for life… harm non I ca…

just a thought but then after a couple of bottles of wine what can you expect? night night, God bless, burp.

Re: Harmnonica Question

Any type of harmonica can be used for playing traditional Irish music. If you peruse Geoff’s discography as referred to above, http://www.irishmusicreview.com you will find players of 10-holes, tremolos and chromatics in abundance. More investigation will reveal all sorts of people who are not satisfied with the out-of-the-box tunings who tweak (or who have someone else tweak) their harmonicas. Chrom players often use harps with the slide turned upside down in an effort to get the ornamentation of ITM sounding more authentic. Brendan Power has developed chromatic harps that are so utterly modified (in order to achieve even more authentic decorations) that they are not chromatic harps any more!

However.

You can play great ITM on blues harps, i.e. 10-hole harps. The melodies are the thing, and in my view good, clean, expressive tone and a solid sense of tempo and rhythm take precedence over ornamentation when it comes to harmonica-playing in ITM. There are two main caveats. First, the key of D is a bit tricky. It is the most prevalent key in ITM (along with its modal relations), but the standard D harp is very high-pitched. In a session setting you will find yourself playing an octave above the fiddles, for example. My solution to this is to use low D harps. My very favourite low D is the Hohner Special 20 low D, which costs no more than the standard SP20s. Second, blues harps in G (the other vital key to have) will let you down in a huge number of tunes in that they lack a vital note in the lowest octave, namely the 6th note. The Paddy Richter tuning, as mentioned above, remedies this by retuning the 3-blow reed up by a whole tone. Actually, I routinely retune all my harps to Paddy Richter whatever the key, because in ITM there is everything to gain by so doing and absolutely nothing to lose.

I’ve spent an awful lot of time contemplating this matter and, without wishing to blow my own trumpet, I should like to refer you to my website which I specifically set up to address these issues!

Re: Harmnonica Question

I’m no expert on diatonic harmonicas, but another option to explore in that vein may be the "Melody Maker" tuning, as used by Paul Moran. He’s an All-Ireland winner, and has an album out with fiddle player Fergal Scahill, Enda’s brother. It seems to me he used the MM tuning exclusively on that CD, but I’m not absolutely certain.

Re: Harmnonica Question

There are a lot of ways to make tunes happen on the harmonica, and I think you’re in for a bit of experimentation. For my money, a standard D Special 20 or Golden Melody is the thing. It’ll cut you out of tunes with a prominent c natural or g sharp (let alone the f natural - but D dorian tunes can be played on a C harp) but there’s an absolutely huge number of tunes you can play, including many nominally in G or A minor (due to the innately "modal" character of ITM, tunes in G often omit or understate the c). You’ll be playing in the second octave, starting with the 4th hole D, going up to the top b - as Steve says, this will put you an octave above the fiddles, but that’s not so bad, it allows you to be heard without really gunning for volume and it fills out the sound some. It does mean that you can’t hide very easily, but there you go. The high reeds respond terrifically, you get a really snappy sound.
Ornaments on the harmonica are almost nil, so you’re doing most of the work with phrasing. You’ll want to work on an absolutely clean sound, and eliminate any bending from your vocabulary. You can put it back in later, but it’s usually a really awful sound in ITM. (did I mention this is all my humble opinion, and I expect vociferous disagreement? good, consider it mentioned) Tongue snaps are great, cutting off a phrase or starting it cleanly with the tongue. The occasional head shake, grabbing an adjacent note to make a triplet can sound good.
Some people like to use a "tongue slapping" style to put a chordal accompaniment under a tune - this is fine, unless there’s someone else in the room. It usually sounds great to the person doing it, but to nobody else, particularly not to anyone trying to play with you. (imagine a guitarist who can play two chords, A major and D, and plays them more or less at random - yeah, that guy. That’s what it sounds like. In my opinion.)
Chromatics, perhaps I haven’t spent enough time with them, but I’ve always found them to play too slowly to be useful to me in trad. The slides, the longer travel for a note, it just doesn’t work for me.
I used to keep a spare identity on this board with a tunebook full of tunes I like on the D diatonic, but I noticed that doubling up was verboten, so I asked to have that identity deleted. I still have the tune list kicking around, I can forward it to anyone who’s interested.

Re: Harmnonica Question

Whilst I would agree that ornamentation on a 10-hole diatonic is limited I think that it’s going too far to say the possibilities are almost nil. You can play cuts and triplets almost to your heart’s content (don’t overdo ‘em, and make the cuts very fleeting!) I strongly recommend practising triplets on their own (I’m not going against my own strictures expressed in that horrible thread about scales here - this is very harmonica-specific advice!) because they’re incredibly useful once you’ve got them right but they’re incredibly easy to fluff too! I think that bending, especially the high blow-bends, can be used judiciously to very good effect too, not to get missing notes but to add expression. Bending notes is not out of place in ITM after all - you hear the likes of Matt Molloy and Kevin Burke doing it (but not overdoing it). There’s also a nice little move that goes (all blow notes) 7-8-7-6-7 that can sound uncannily like a roll if played very nippily indeed, for example in the B part of Over the Moor to Maggie.

Playing solo in a concert or on your CD is the place to do the fancy harmonica stuff if you’re that way inclined, but in a session I think you are wanting to blend, to add another authentic instrumental voice to the mix. You want to be heard but you don’t want to be grating with a lot of bluesy bending, wah-wah and wailing. Anyway, that’s what I think and it works for me, and I play Irish chunes every week with a hardened bunch of chaps who never shout at me!

And I’m sticking with my low D harps. They lack that stiffness that you can get in the upper reaches of the standard D harp, and they’re not so low anyway when you consider that you’re playing the harp mostly in the middle and upper octaves. Suck it and see. One man’s fish is another man’s poisson, as they say.

Re: Harmnonica Question

I play Antony Dannecker,hand made 12 hole blues harp [for itm ]in Gand D,they are brilliant,There are examples at you tube dickmiles music.
sometimes as a second harminica I use, Lee Oscar MELODY MAKER they are useful because they have the missing note below the starting note of the scale[this enables the player to play tunes like The Stack of Wheat],but your scale now starts on a suck ,but youget used to it.Dick Miles

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Re: Harmnonica Question

steve your roll,on 78767[notes doh me doh so doh,in tonic solfa,could also be doneon holes 45434,as they are the same notes an octave down.
,Ialso find tongueing very effective to get a similiar effect to a fiddle treble,generally on the same note,this can bedone on suck or draw eg two semiquavers and two quavers in jig time to replace three quavers.

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Re: Harmnonica Question

the notes of the melody maker in G are c e a c e g c e g c Blow
and on the draw d g b d f#ab d f# a.,so your scale of g starts on draw 2,so youhaveallyournotes of the g scale apart from high b,which you have to bend blow 10 c note.Itend to only use the melody maker,to get tunes that have the missing e[blow2] but that is because istarted on aconventional blues harp.
if I was starting again I would seriously consider the MelodyMaker.Dick Miles

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Re: Harmnonica Question

I play melody, mostly on 10 hole diatonic harps tuned to Paddy Richter, as has been mentioned, one in G and one in D (plus an A is often useful). As Steve says, a low D is also a good choice.

I have a couple of harmonicas set up by Brendan Power, which are lovely, and a couple by Antony Dannecker, also excellent and fantastic value. The rest I have retuned myself. Learning to retune harmonicas yourself would be an excellent move, to save money, help you understand how harmonicas work, and to get them set up (after some practice) just how you like. If you want to buy one ready tuned, I recommend Seydel harmonicas — you can buy them online tuned however you like and Paddy Richter is one of the standard options for some of their models (the Blues Session, for instance, is a nice harp and less than $40).

Good luck, anyway.

Re: Harmnonica Question

I worked out once that Andy Irvine sometimes uses Melody Makers. I don’t particularly favour them myself because I play in different positions in a lot of medleys (sets - sorry!) in our pub sessions and they would nobble my ability to do that in many cases. I use second, third, fourth and twelfth (aka first-flat) quite a lot on the standard-tuned (or Paddified) harps and I want to carry on being able to do it!

Re: Harmnonica Question

Dick, I don’t know what 12-hole harps you’re referring to. I asked Antony to do some Hohner 364s for me and he told me he never deals with the 12-hole wood-bodied harps.

The "roll" lower down would only work on a non-Paddified harp (or a Paddified harp with 2-draw raised instead of 3-blow, but we won’t go there!), which is why I didn’t mention it.

Re: Harmnonica Question

sorry ,I dont often count the holes
they are 10 hole all metal blues harps,they are really heavy and have a beautiful tone,they cost round about 100 sterling,but he services them.
I have used them on a couple of tracks on my most recent recording.
he will also retune 10 hole hohner wood blues harps
they are available from www.antonyDannecker.com.

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Re: Harmnonica Question

There’s a phantom harmonica player at our festival sessions every year - I’ve no idea where he goes the rest of the year, but he sits in with the musicians and mimes his way through the whole night! Silence, and then occasionally a word or two about the weather.
There’s one advantage, at least - he doesn’t have to bring a collection of harps!