mouth organ

mouth organ

Hi,,I am thinking of trying the mouth organ,,what mouth organ would be best to start on, diatonic or chromatic,, my dad was a great player,, unfortunately he is no longer with us, think that’s where my interest comes from,,,,

Re: mouth organ

Hi Jamie, you haven’t chosen the easiest path for sure. yes it’s possible to play the tunes on the harmonica, but I daresay it’s easier to achieve on other instruments.

As for ease of starting, diatonic is quite a bit easier especially if you get three harmonicas tuned in low D/G/A with paddy richter tuning (a retune will be required), playing tunes on these instruments is relatively straight forward.

Chromatic harmonica’s usually come in the C variant which can be quite a challenge as you would need to practice using the slide quite a bit. I know Seydel sells some chromatics in D and G as well. The entry is a bit more difficult but it will allow you to play a wider variety of tunes on a single instrument.

There’s also the option of taking a tremolo harmonica, those are tuned the same way as a chromatic without the slide and can be bought in D/G/A/C relatively easily. I would start on a D or G.

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Re: mouth organ

I’m a chromatic player, but if you’re just getting started, I second Boyen’s recommendation that you should opt for a few diatonics or tremolos. For one thing, a handful of diatonics is much cheaper than a single decent-quality chrom. Chroms are expensive enough that you can’t simply toss the harmonica when a single reed goes bad; you’ll need to learn how to replace both reeds and valves. In short, the chrom is a lot of work. But if you do decide at some point to try a chromatic, they are readily available in all keys, not just C. By far the most useful for Irish trad would be key of G. I am partial to the Hohner CX-12. I re-tune my G (to so-called "Eddie Clarke tuning") , but you don’t need to. Brendan Power has some good books about playing Irish trad on both diatonics and chroms.

Re: mouth organ

Been playing diatonic harps for well over a half a century just not trad. I play chromatic in B flat. It’s easier for a lot of jazz. I recently found out about Brendan Power’s (I think he calls it) session harp, One harmonica with a slide (NOT a chromatic slide though) that switches between D and G in Richter tuning, Harmonica is not my first instrument for the diddley, but I find it quite adequate for those times when I just feel like something different (happening more and more now). It won’t do everything, but it does enough.

As an aside, my thanks to Steve Shaw, who filled me in on Richter tuning, and how to get it, the lovely tunes he sent me.

Re: mouth organ

I believe Ross means what’s called ‘PADDY Richter’ - ‘Richter’ tuning is the standard diatonic tuning; ‘Paddy Richter’ is the altered tuning that Brendan Power promotes as preferable for Irish tunes. I believe he came up with the Paddy Richter term, so blame him!

I play diatonic in the standard Richter tuning; I like the challenge of figuring out ‘work-arounds’ for the missing notes - but if you want to fit in smoothly with sessions, the Paddy Richter is probably the way to go. Non-conformity is not encouraged. And, as Ross says, the chromatic route is more complicated - but if you love to tinker, you might want to consider it.

Re: mouth organ

Ross, I think that’s great that you’re playing the harmonica. The diatonic was my first melody instrument (I was 5 or 6 yrs old at the time and my father worked in a toy-store). In Ireland I’d often play with Johnny Hehir, a panel-beater, who is a delight to play with. Mick Kinsella and the Murphys make great music also. The mouthie doesn’t work so well in a big group but in a more intimate session it’s a joy. After all, a concertina is just a harmonica on steroids. That will fit in your pocket.

Re: mouth organ

Did not know that. I stand corrected. Thanks.

Re: mouth organ

I’ll put in a word for Antony Dannecker harps- I ‘ve been using them for 15 yrs approx., he will fit new reeds when they go flat [and they inevitably will] I use standard tuning for blues and special tuning, similar to Richter, for trad. A low D harp will give you the same notes as the D row of an accordion. Whatever you choose, good luck, and enjoy.

Re: mouth organ

I’m playing a custom tuned Suzuki SCX-48 chromatic in B/C tuning to match the B/C box, which I also play.

Re: mouth organ

Hey Jamie, good on you for picking the most awesome member of the trad instrumentarium! I heartily recommend starting out with a diatonic - chromatics are lovely but expensive, and not as easy to get the hang of.

The problem is that diatonics by default come in "Richter tuning", which means they have one note double and consequently one note absent in the low octave. Fine if you want to play nice-sounding chords, like in the blues, but endlessly annoying if you want to play tunes. As mentioned by others, some brands offer different tunings which do have that missing note, like the Paddy Richter tuning invented by Brendan Power. To start out, you’ll want one in D and one in G. With those two harmonicas you can play about 90% of tunes that come by at your average session.

Don’t let anyone fool you into thinking of the harmonica as being in any way "inferior". It’s an instrument like any other - if you learn to play it well you can play pretty much anything on it. To demonstrate: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I7OiRteK6mw

Re: mouth organ

If you want to play easily in sessions on a chromatic, you’d be well advised to go for instruments in D and G. Naturally, if you’re a totally cracking player who does everything on a C, of course that’s great. But if you play Irish tunes "in the right keys" on chroms that are in keys other than D and G, you’ll spend a lot of time pushing the button to get notes instead of using the button for ornamentation, which slightly defeats the object… Of course, if playing in the "wrong" keys doesn’t bother you, this advice doesn’t apply.

Blues harps are great for Irish tunes. Again, the path of least resistance is to get harps in the main Irish major keys, D, G and A. The missing sixth note at the bottom end on blues harps is a major issue with tunes in G and A, and you really need to do the one-note retune: the 3-blow reed is tuned up a whole tone, which gives you the Paddy Richter tuning. I’ve always done the retune myself. It isn’t too hard, but if you don’t fancy doing it you can buy harps tuned that way from a certain company. Unfortunately, my experiences with that supplier have been negative and I have several of their harps that became unplayable after a single pub session, and they weren’t cheap. Caveat emptor! No names, no pack drill…

For many years my favourites have been the Suzuki Promaster harps. They’re pretty bombproof and they’re loud and sweet. There’s no low D option, unfortunately. That’s a bit of an issue for Irish, as the standard D harp is very high-pitched, an octave above fiddles. I’m a bit out of touch these days and I don’t know whether there’s a good answer for that at reasonable cost. I’ve found the Seydel Session Steel low Ds to be unreliable, and I know I’m not alone in that.

Some of the greatest players of Irish on harmonica have used tremolo harps. Find Noel Battle on YouTube, for example, one of the very best. With tremolos the tuning at the bottom end is crucial. Some of the Hohner harps, the Echo models for example, inexplicably use the blues harp tuning at the bottom end, and, unless you’re a harp surgeon, you’ll find that quite restricting. Far better are the Tombo models, the Tombo Band for example. They give good projection, they stay in tune and they have all the notes of the diatonic scale. They are real instruments and you can get them in the keys you want.

Most sessions won’t countenance having you amplified, so my advice would be to go for the Tombo tremolos. They cut through very well. You might manage quite well with well-chosen blues harps, but chroms are the worst for getting drowned out. Been there, done it, got the t-shirt!

Re: mouth organ

I play Paddy Richter diatonics and also another tuning related to that (flatting the 7th - it is a good tuning but not the topic here.)

But if I were giving advice to a beginner, I would recommend getting solo-tuned harps in D and G. Solo-tuning has all the needed notes, is pretty logical, and gets you ready for chromatics. Once you are used to these, a chromatic in D can be pretty useful so that you can play in all keys. It is like a C#/D button box.

Re: mouth organ

I response to Steve Shaw’s comment on Seydel’s Low D, I have a Seydel 1847 Noble Low D (Paddy Richter, half valved) and it is by far the best Low D that I have played.

This is not a general endorsement of Seydel. I have had some troubles with their products.

But in the search for a good Low D, this one has been good for me.