Harmonica info

Harmonica info

Hi everyone, I’m looking into getting a harmonica but before buying I thought I should ask: what key is best for Celtic music?
Also does anyone on here know tunes that would go well with harmonica?
Thanks in advance!

Re: Harmonica info

Thank you scutcher!

Irish Harmonica info ~ and a little bit more

Paddy Richter tuning ~
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richter_tuning ~ low D

Brendan Power
http://www.brendan-power.com/

IRISH HARMONICA 1: ‘The Maids of Mitchelstown’, & Demo of Half-Valved Harps: Brendan Power
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1FEPdp3o1Uw


IRISH HARMONICA 2: An Introduction to Paddy Richter Tuning, & ‘The Kerry Reel’: Brendan Power
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B1-BTe5oHhQ


IRISH HARMONICA 3: Harp-Switching
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ANezXPlpkpA


IRISH HARMONICA 4: The Slide Diatonic
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iGkbVG1sBXQ


IRISH HARMONICA 5: The Bucks of Oranmore
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NvwyrsuAlas

Re: Harmonica info

I really like the ‘slide diatonic’. I’d love one of those for Christmas… 😉

Nice bit of silverwork MG…

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Gawd knows where I got the energy from to write that! Since I posted that I’ve come to appreciate them Suzuki Promaster harps more and more. They are a few quid dearer than SP20s, etc., but are good, solid, comfortable, fairly loud and very reliable harps, and you can replace the reedplates if you wear out the reeds (which will not be as often as with most other harps).

If I roll up to the pub with a D, a G, an A and a C harp I’d be happy all night. I also have a low F for one or two tunes such as Julia Delaney and that nice Cunningham waltz, er, Belle Mere, that’s it.

Almost any diddley tune goes fine on a harmonica. If you want to get anywhere near to playing a few authentic-sounding ornaments, you’re best off playing one in the key of the tune (stop shouting everybody…), or in second position for those Mixolydian tunes such as Red-haired Boy (so play it on a D harp even though it’s an A mix tune). Actually, it’s good to be able to play a few tunes in second position, because then you’ll be able to change key in sets. An example of a set that I play solely on a G harp is Connaughtman’s Rambles/Saddle The Pony/ Calliope House. Only the second tune is actually in G, but if you study the situation closely you’ll see that the one note that would be "wrong" on a G harp in a D tune, namely the C sharp, is absent from the two outer D tunes, so no problem.

What I’m saying relates to diatonic harmonicas without the need to bend to get notes. You can play tunes on a chromatic harp, but if you go down that path I’d strongly advise you to get two chroms, one in D and one in G. Alternatively you can reverse the slide on a chrom so that the note goes down instead of up when you push the button, which is supposed to help with ornamentation. To play in the same keys as everyone else, you’d need a harp in F#/G, and another in B/C, if you were going to reverse the slide. Good luck with that. There’s nothing stopping you from playing everything on a C chrom, but you won’t be able to do much ornamentation because you’ll be preoccupied with button-pushing to get the notes of the tunes. Forget it!

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I meant that you would be playing a C when you should be playing a C sharp.

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See, I knew that would at least bring Steve out of the woodwork and into the mustard… 😉

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I’m waiting for some b*ugger to tell me that Calliope is an E tune…

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Eeeuwch! 😛

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"… That said, and whatever ‘original’ key it might have been in, and having played it in a lot of different venues and situations, it was only ever played it in ‘D’…"
# Posted on November 2nd 2006 by ceolachan

Re: Harmonica info

The Craic, Search this site for more that Steve Shaw has posted, as there have been many more words of wisdom from him over the years.
From my viewpoint, the best way to start is to get a simple and inexpensive D diatonic harmonica. There are scads of great tunes that you can play with this instrument. Not only D and B minor tunes, but most tunes that people refer to E minor tunes (but which are actually in what is called the Dorian mode). And there are lots of other tunes that you can play with a little mending of the melody. For example, I can, without any mending at all, play the G tune Out on the Ocean on a D harp. And because a friend loves to follow the D tune Johnny McIljohn’s with the G tune Far From Home, I figured out a way to avoid those C naturals in Far From Home, so I wouldn’t have to change harmonicas between tunes.
Tunes that a D diatonic handles easily include:
Reels: Mountain Road, Silver Spear, Wind that Shakes the Barley, Cup of Tea, Earl’s Chair, Maid Behind the Bar, Cooley’s, Red Haired Boy, Merry Blacksmith
Jigs: Out on the Ocean, Tripping Up the Stairs, Haste to the Wedding, My Darling’s Asleep, Morrisons, Sixpenny Money, Connaughtman’s Rambles, Health to the Ladies
Other tunes: Shi Beag, Shi Mohr, Sonny’s Mazurka, Inisheer.
Harmonica is a great simple instrument that you can take anywhere, and is a lot of fun.
Enjoy!

Re: Harmonica info

Cheers, Al. I’d just add that, unless you’re a superb player at the bottom end and a Brendan disciple, a *low* D harp is better if you wish to blend at the same pitch as fiddles as opposed to standing out an octave above. As for your tune list, the reels are spot on, but, as for jigs, I’d do Haste and Connaughtman’s on a G harp - you have all the notes, without bending, and you can put either tune into a set that contains key-changes. I also think that Inisheer is better on a G harp.

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I’d like to know why you call them "harps"? I mean … do you think you’re like women in velvet green pre-Raphaelite dresses or something? Or Cupids? Or, heaven forbid, Alan Stivell?

Gob irons. Face pianos.

Posted .

Re: Harmonica info

Go on, fantasise about me.

Why is it called a harp? Hers’ Pat Missijn onthr subject:

"In many parts of the American South, the harmonica was popularly called mouth harp, French harp or just plain harp, a term now used by blues harmonica players the world over. The term is partly inspired by the Aeolian harp, a stringed instrument that is left outdoors to be played by the wind, whose name was taken from Aeolus, the god of the wind. Early names for the harmonica were Aeolina, Aeolian and Mund-Aeoline, which stressed this link with the Aeolian harp. As the earliest harmonica-like instruments were little more than a few reeds attached to a reedplate that was held to the players lips, the resemblance to a harp was quite pronounced. The introduction to Instructions for the Aeolina, or Mund-Harmonica, published in New York in 1830 proudly boasts:

<<THE AEOLINA from the originality of its construction and the beauty of its effects, is a decided novelty in the musical art; the expressive sweetness of its tones, the richness of the harmonies it renders, and the contrasts of its exulting swells and dying cadences, realize the poetical descriptions of the harp of Aeolus and greatly surpass its practical results; while the regularity of its scale gives it advantages of the most important kind, which that instrument does not possess. From the close resemblance of its tones to those of this harp of the winds and from the analogous circumstances under which the sound is produced in both instances, the name of the Aeolina has been derived.

Re: Harmonica info

Ye gods. It’s Pat Missin .

Re: Harmonica info

Thank you very much everyone!! This will really help get me get started.

Steve- good to know re: diatonic and chromatic harps
Ceaolachan- thanks for the vids and links, I’ll check them out
AlBrown- that’s good to know about the keys n tunes

What started this was when I saw a few in a local music store for 36$ (not sure what brand), but I’m thinking that, for a newbie, its a better idea to start on some cheaper ones in different keys.

Thanks again all, I’ll post up how it goes.

Re: Harmonica- "Harp"

That’s interesting, was wondering that too, when doesn’t look or sound like a harp at all lol.

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Watch out with those cheapies. Quality control is usually rotten, meaning you’ll have some reeds louder than others, some that don’t respond properly and some out of tune, and the whole thing will go kaput after just a few plays. You just won’t enjoy the experience. "Entry-level" is a dirty word (or two). Just get yourself a G and a D (I’d go for low D) and see how you get on, and choose a decent make. There is an absolute load of junk on Ebay, so watch out. Even good brands have junk at the budget end, thinking of Suzuki Easy Riders and those jolly little Hohners with names like Great Little Harp, kind of thing. Investigate Suzuki Bluesmasters and Hohner Special 20s (for low Ds, which are not too common). The latter are definitely not bomb-proof, so go easy on ‘em.

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Isn’t it more likely that "harp" comes from "jew’s harp"? - both that and the harmonica have a free reed and are played in the mouth.

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I agree with Steve on that advice to seek out a Low D harp, should have mentioned that myself (see what I mean about him being such a good source of harmonica knowledge?). Normal D harmonicas end up playing the notes in tin whistle range. You can get D diatonics pitched an octave lower, which puts you in the flute’s range, blends better, and a bit easier on the ear. I mostly play tunes on a Hohner Special20 Low D myself, but use a standard D on occasion when I play in a group, as sometimes on certain phrases it punches through and fits a particular arrangement better.
I was told that the terms French Harp and Jew’s Harp were both applied as terms of derision back in the 19th century, to associate these somewhat simple instruments with ethnic groups that were looked down upon. In particular, I have heard that the term French Harp was born in Louisiana, and indicated that it was an instrument for the generally poor Cajuns. I myself am happy that the term French Harp has pretty much disappeared. And I use the term Jaw Harp for that other instrument, as I don’t want to perpetuate that other derisive term.

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I hardly ever use a standard pitch D harp these days, for the reasons Al gives. I have one that hasn’t worn out for 15 years and it only ever gets wheeled out when my mate does Whiskey In The Jar in D!

There is an alternative school of thought which Brendan Power subscribes to, that you can play tunes on a standard pitch D harp, retuned to Paddy Richter, in the bottom octave. Good luck to ye if you fancy that. I’ll stick with my low Ds, thanks!

Re: Harmonica info

Thanks again for the advice everyone!

I just went back to the store and got it, its a Hohner Blues Harp in "C"- pretty common key to start on. Playing around with it now to get used to it…

Now it says not to play it too hard the first couple of weeks, now how hard is hard?

Re: Harmonica info

Good stuff there Orm!

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You can play in D,G and Am on a G harmonica. Would you choose a tremelo or a blues harp? Hope this helps!!

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One more thing- I’m used to the sheet music -style A-G notes, how do they line up to the numbers on the harmonica? (Ie what note on the A-G scale would the "1" be?)

Re: Harmonica info

Depends on which key harmonica you are playing. On a C harmonica, the blow notes are on each hole are CEGCEGCEGC. The draw notes are slightly different in each octave. Many people transpose the music for the harmonica so they read everything in C, although they use harmonicas in different keys, which makes what they are playing come out with different notes. Or you can learn to read music in concert pitch, which means you have to remember that the notes are in different places on different harmonicas
The best way around this is to learn to play by ear and leave the music behind, which is actually a very good thing to do in Irish Music, since that is the way most people who play it learn.

Yet another mustard rant …

Never leave the music behind! AlBrown please, please, please get beyond referring to the dots as *music*. Sheet music is not music, only a rough outline representing the real thing.
Cheers!
;)

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