Irish Harmonica

Irish Harmonica

I only starting to play the Harmonica! I want to find what type of harmonica should i use for playing this music. I am going to playing my bouzouki with it so tell what model is the best for that also .I will have a D tuned Harmonica.
Thank You.

Re: Irish Harmonica

Wow…these are just cropping up from everywhere.

https://thesession.org/discussions/20035
https://thesession.org/discussions/20041

These two came in over the weekend and will answer some of your questions.

Personally I use a Seydel G Paddy Richter tuned and a Hohner Special 20 Low D (standard Richter Tuning). I also use a Lee Oskar G, which I have tuned Paddy Richter, and I love it, but it pulls hairs from my mustache and that HURTS. Lastly, I play around with a Bushman C and have a Bushman D sitting at my computer for messing around with. These are standard Diatonic harmonicas (10 hole).

Now and again, I pull out my Seydel Chrom in G that’s Irish Tuned with the slide reversed. It’s a treat.

They all work great. We have a few players on this board, and most are better than me. Still, I don’t think any will say I’ve steered you wrong.

Re: Irish Harmonica

try a retuned (3-blow tuned up a whole tone) so that you can get through the scale. I’d recommend a "paddy richter" tuned half valved Suzuki Promaster. Nice harps. Others will have some good suggestions too.

Re: Irish Harmonica

Is it tricky to do the reed re-tuning yerself?

Re: Irish Harmonica

Get the Lee Oskar repair kit. Follow the instructions. Try it out on cheap harmonicas (the $2.50 ones). Took me about 5 of them before I really felt comfortable. Basically, I spent a Saturday afternoon learning to do it.

Re: Irish Harmonica

Everything Ashkettle has said is good advice. I’d also consider Suzuki Bluesmasters. They are comfortable and long-lasting. They don’t come in low D, so stick to SP20s for those.

As for tuning and all that. Stock harmonicas are just one big compromise, and when Hohner et al. churn them out the last thing they’re thinking of is us playing ITM on them. You could just get lucky and buy a harp that plays perfectly for you out of the box, but I’ve bought dozens of harps over the years and have yet to find one that couldn’t be improved, for my way of playing, by a bit of judicious tweaking. When I first started buying them I thought they were all faulty (and I took a good number back to the shop), but eventually I realised it was me, not the harps. I don’t want to bore, but there are three issues.

First, missing notes. Because of the way 10-hole harps are tuned you have a harp with three octaves, only one of which, from holes four to seven, is complete. The top octave has the seventh note of the scale missing. This is an issue once in a blue moon, so ignore it. The bottom octave has two notes missing, the fourth and the sixth. The missing fourth is hardly ever a problem, but I do have one G harp with the 2-blow tuned up half a step (thereby putting that missing fourth note back) especially so that I can play Tommy Bhetty’s Waltz on it, because it’s my favourite tune. Yes, I know I could bend to get it… On the other hand, the missing sixth is a big issue. On an awful lot of tunes that you’d play on a G harp, you’re crippled without it. The answer is to tune up 3-blow by a whole step. More on that process in a mo. There are tunes on D harps that also need that missing sixth, but not so many. D tunes tend not to go below the D you’d play on 4-blow very often, because whistles and flutes in D can’t go below that note (discrimination, discrimination!) In our session we play that old chestnut set made famous by Hill/Linnane, "Home Ruler/Kitty’s Wedding," and both tunes need that missing sixth on a D harp! So my low Ds have the 3-blow tuned up as well. In fact, all my blues harps do, as you may need the missing note and there’s absolutely no disadvantage in ITM in having this retuned note anyway.

Second, fine-tuning. This could be an essay but I won’t make it into one. There are two extremes with fine-tuning in blues harps. Lee Oskars, Golden Melodies and all the Suzuki harps I’ve tried are in 12-tone equal temperament, which means they sound sort of OK in any key, sort of OK with other instruments tuned the same way (e.g. anything tuned with a cheapie tuner, like a lot of guitars, mandos, etc.) and sort of OK for melody-playing using single notes, but, if you’re a purist, chords can grate somewhat. At the other extreme are harps tuned to Just intonation. I’m aware only of the Hering Vintage 1923 tuned that way these days. These are fantastic for sweet chords, but you will sound out of tune for melody-playing in many situations. Many harps are tuned to something in between these "extremes," including Hohner blues Harps and Special 20s. They’re supposed to make chords sound not too bad and melody-playing not too bad. I think most people could live with the fine-tuning of SP20s, but I retune all my own harps to equal temperament because I play mostly single-note melody and it’s what I like…

Third, gapping. Reeds are positioned accurately above slots which have ever so slightly bigger dimensions than the reeds. In order to sound correctly with good response, the reed must be angled slightly proud of its slot, not flush with it. This aspect of harp setup is what causes most problems. If you play quite hard and the reed angle (or GAP as we call it) is too small, there will be a momentary hesitation before any sound emerges. This is called choking. If you have choking reeds on your harp and you don’t know how to fix them, the harp is guaranteed to live in a drawer and never be played. I find this to be the most common gapping issue. At the other extreme, reed angles that are too big (wide gapping) will result in poor reed response - you’ll have to blow or draw very hard to get a sound out at all. I’ve hardly ever found this to be a problem with new harps. Fortunately, gapping problems are quite easy to fix. Get the Lee Oskar kit as Richard recommends and follow the instructions. Bear in mind that, in blues harps, each reed shares its hole with another reed. 10 holes, 20 reeds, yeah? Gapping one reed affects the other reed in the same hole. All to do with balancing the air-flow, etc. Bear this in mind if you find that your gapping activities have altered the response of a reed you weren’t even working on!

Retuning reeds is technically not difficult but you don’t need to be clumsy! The basic principle is that, to retune, you remove metal from the surface of the reed (never the tip or sides). To raise the pitch you remove metal from near the tip, and to lower the pitch you remove metal from near the rivet end. You use a special tool such as a chisel to remove the metal , and you must always support reeds that you are retuning from underneath. The Lee Oskar toolkit gives instructions and provides suitable tools. To do the Paddy Richter retune you have to raise the pitch of the 3-blow reed by a whole tone, which is quite a lot. You will be working on a longer reed with a thickened end, so there is plenty of scope for removing metal. Actually, I use a cheap battery-powered rotary drill to do this these days as it saves time, but you can do it all with the file in the Lee Oskar kit. I think you need a cheapie Seiko tuner or something to help you. You may end up with burrs on the reed tip or edge, as brass is a very soft, spreading metal, but a light bit of filing solves this quickly. Good luck!

Re: Irish Harmonica

I should add that much of what I’ve said about gapping does not apply if you are seriously into overblowing…

Re: Irish Harmonica

Steve - thanks, that’s a very useful and informative post, and thanks also Ashkettle for the pointer to the Lee Oskar kit. I’d assembled a bit of a kit myself, but it looks like the Lee Oskar is a good investment.

But all of this might be a little much for Oscar, so:

Oscar: the first thing to do is to start where you are. If you’ve got a D diatonic, that’ll play a lot of music, so go ahead and work with that for now. Everything Steve says about perfecting the instruments is true, but it’s also true that you’re a long way from worrying about all of that.

Now, take your D harp, and go out and learn Man of the House, starting off on the 4 draw (if you don’t know your way around the harmonica yet, we can back up to there…). It’s a good little tune, not difficult.
For a good starter jig, you might try My Darling’s a Sheep, you should be able to work your way around that one.

Other good harmonica tunes include:
Drunken Landlady
Sporting Paddy
Red-haired Boy (aka Little Beggarman)
Mulqueen’s (a little trickier, but not very much so)

Donnybrook Fair
Tripping up the Stairs

Ryan’s polka (fABA fABA, that one), britches full of stitches

Learn some of those on your D diatonic. These will teach you some of the things you’ll need to know for playing any harmonica in ITM: tonguing, breath control, phrasing, not bending ever, ever, ever (oops, personal opinion creeps in… okay, you can bend notes if you like, I just won’t like it much). You’ll get a feel for whether you prefer tongue or a lip blocking, and you’ll start to develop your chops (the word being used more literally when it comes to the harmonica than, say, the fiddle).
After a while, you’ll find that you’re hitting some limitations, and that’s when you need to start asking about other harps. Not "which is the best harmonica", but "I’m running into this problem, what are some ways around it".

Re: Irish Harmonica

Hehe…thank Steve for that advice. He’s the one that steered me toward it when I picked up the harp.

Re: Irish Harmonica

Ryans Polka? Did you really just recommend that? EEP!!!!!!

Ok, so it really IS one of the best starter tunes, as it’s a simple one to work out on a D. Here is where I’d honestly say to use a low D though, otherwise it get’s a bit…well…piercing.

I found that Maggie in the Woods is a great beginner tune, as is Cock O the North (though the latter works far better on a G). Those were the first three tunes I actually learned on the harp.

Re: Irish Harmonica

Did I? I did. It’s a great starter tune, especially on the harmonica, since the breathing really emphasizes the polka rhythm (a lot of change of breath on the strong beats). You might never play it afterwards, but it’s a good way to learn polkas.

Re: Irish Harmonica

Thanks everybody for your wonderful help!