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Anyone play the harmonica?

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Just ordered one to have a play with as it’s nice and portable. Any tips from any players on here?

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Ooh, what flavour? I've been playing diatonic blues harps on and off for quite a while now - often been tempted to give a chromatic one a go, but I suspect it may be a very different beast to work with!

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As it’s my first one I have gone down the diatonic route too, gone for a Hohner Special 20 in C, it seemed a decent bit of kit for sensible money and gets good reviews.

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Sounds like a good choice to me - my first one was a Hohner (in D). I've since acquired a few Lee Oskars for different keys after a friend introduced me to them, but I still play the Hohner (when the right key comes up!)

I can offer you two tips:

1. Don't expect it to sound great in C. Ironically enough, diatonic harps sound best when played in "second position", also known as "cross position", which is in G. Basically the fifth of whichever key your harp is tuned to. Cross-position gives you a Mixolydian mode, which most harp licks are based on. "First position" (C) can be made to work, but I've only ever got horribly Bob Dylan-esque results from it myself.

(1a. Similarly, they also sound good in "third position" - D in this case - as you get a nice wistful Dorian mode.)

2. Learning how to bend notes is worth the effort. It takes a while to work out what to do with your mouth, but it will give you a lot more control over the instrument once you nail it.

Hope you enjoy it - for such a tiny instrument, it can be a lot of fun!

Edited by EliasMooseblaster
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It's all about playing in 2nd position so that you can bend notes by drawing through the harmonica instead of blowing. I think a C harmonica gives you a G blues type sound when you mostly draw through the instrument (but could be wrong about that). Give it a try over a blues in G.

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... indeed, yes; I have several stashed about the place that I'd forgotten I owned (learned the old grey whistle test theme = stone fox chase, then lost interest) and this prompted me to dig out my most recent.  Tried a chromatic originally but it's all a bit larry adler and the notes don't do that bluesy bendy thang.  Switched to diatonic.

Remember that the key you actually play a diatoncis in is NOT the key written on the side (which is the lowest note); you actually play them a fifth higher.  So if you want to play blues with a guitarist who's playing a 12-bar in E you need a A harmonica to do it, and a C harmonica works best for tunes in G.

Tried a few over the years (including an expensive aluminium bodied Yamaha I could hardly get a note out of), but always come back to Hohner; probs the best sounding is the "blues harp" but the wooden core can go soggy (this is the trad type you're said to need to soak in water (or gin) to make work properly).  The plastic bodied equiv to the blues harp is the pro-harp which is nice, low maintenance and easy to bend.  The special 20 (plastic) and the marine band (wood) plus the big river harp (cheap) are a bit brighter sounding.  There are now so many variants it's hard to keep track!

Compared to the cost of a boutique bass, they are so cheap you can try a few and trash a few (they don't last long as if you bend them over much the reeds give up) so try a whole bunch.

It's a bit of a limited instrument, but always fun and compared to carrying a bass, a big combo, a stack of leads and effects - it is extremely portable.  Enjoy!

 

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Thanks! I bought a special 20 to start with but am now awaiting a Thunderbird rocket in low C (bass player influence showing through). I have been learning a few songs for our new set so haven’t had much time for it in the last week or so but getting the handpg of single notes and bending. Learning the solo for long train running at the mo.

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On 21/07/2018 at 20:43, HazBeen said:

I play like Alanis Morrisette

What?  In a rubber naked-suit in the middle of the road?

  • Haha 1

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On 23/07/2018 at 23:02, NickA said:

What?  In a rubber naked-suit in the middle of the road?

Well, I do prefer 100% silicone but yes 😂

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Old thread resurrection, but I’m hoping some seasoned harmonica players can shed some light for me, regarding harmonica keys. 

My knowledge of musical theory is very poor, (as you’re about to find out), but I can just about scrape by. However when it comes to harmonica keys I’m sadly lacking know-how.

When I’m not playing bass in my covers band I write and play vaguely Americana influenced acoustic songs. I’ve just written a new song that would really work with a Heart of Gold / The River type harmonica break. The first chord of the song is E major, so the key of the song is E major, right? (please correct me if I’m wrong). 
That being the case do I need an E Harmonica? 

Now just to confuse the issue further I always tune my guitar down to Eb, (for vocal range purposes) so the song is actually in Eb, right? (again, please correct me in the likely event that I don’t know my harp from my E-bow). So I actually need a harmonica in the key of Eb? 

Thanks in advance to anyone willing and knowledgeable enough to unravel all of that! 

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The first chord of any song does not necessarily mean that the song is in that key, although a lot of the time that is probably true.

If your Americana song is similar to a blues or most country songs,  then most of the time, the chord that the song starts with could well be the same as the key of the song.

Twelve bar blues and and all that.

But you could start a song with a bar of E major move to another bar of D major then carry on to A major for instance and carry on with a progression in the key of A major.

So you are now playing a song in the key of A major even though the first chord was an E major 

There are no rules about this. If it sounds good it is good.

I think generally in a Blues or Americana band the harmonica player will transpose the harp up a fourth.

If the band for instance are playing a blues in C, the harmonica player could choose an F harp

If the key is A play a D harp, if it's in G then a C harp etc

This is so the harmonica player can more easily bend the notes by drawing them down or up to pitch giving a bluesy sound as you describe above, it is the way harmonicas work in this style of music

Eb is not gonna help if you play with a band

Tuning down to D might be a better idea -- you could then use a standard G harp

all the best

 

 

 

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6 hours ago, blisters on my fingers said:

The first chord of any song does not necessarily mean that the song is in that key, although a lot of the time that is probably true.

If your Americana song is similar to a blues or most country songs,  then most of the time, the chord that the song starts with could well be the same as the key of the song.

I think generally in a Blues or Americana band the harmonica player will transpose the harp up a fourth.

If the band for instance are playing a blues in C, the harmonica player could choose an F harp

If the key is A play a D harp, if it's in G then a C harp etc

This is so the harmonica player can more easily bend the notes by drawing them down or up to pitch giving a bluesy sound as you describe above, it is the way harmonicas work in this style of music

Eb is not gonna help if you play with a band

Tuning down to D might be a better idea -- you could then use a standard G harp

all the best

 

That’s very helpful, thanks for taking the time to respond. 
I’m solo, no band on this, so if I stick with Eb a harmonica in the key of Ab would be the way to go? 
Cheers.

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7 hours ago, blisters on my fingers said:

I think generally in a Blues or Americana band the harmonica player will transpose the harp up a fourth.

 

This is broadly correct, at least insofar as if your song is in E, you'll get the most convincing results out of an A harp.

It's a bit different from the idea that you transpose for the instrument, like you would with brass or woodwind - rather, you buy the harp at conert pitch, but play it modally. A diatonic Blues harp in A major will give you the notes of the "standard" A major scale, or Ionian mode. But if you try playing the E major scale on the same harp, the closest you can get (without bending notes) is the Mixolydian mode of E.

This mode lends itself better to Blues and Americana more generally, but also puts the notes you're most likely to want to bend (3rd, 5th) into inhale positions, which - believe me - are far easier to bend than the exhale.

 

(You can also get a Dorian mode of B out of an A harp, should you want to play a minor-key Blues with it)

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8 hours ago, BrunoBass said:

I’m solo, no band on this, so if I stick with Eb a harmonica in the key of Ab would be the way to go?

Yes that would work.

You might have to go online to get an Ab harmonica ?  A high street music shop might not stock the more unusual keys, maybe worth a phone call first

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1 hour ago, blisters on my fingers said:

Yes that would work.

You might have to go online to get an Ab harmonica ?  A high street music shop might not stock the more unusual keys, maybe worth a phone call first

Great - thank you 👍🏻

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I got all the keys among several Hohner models. The Special 20 sounds good. There is a different tuning harp I want to try.  There are other brands that are good (Lee Oscar ). A chromatic harmonica raises the pitch 1/2 step , like a vibrato that is fixed to only raise the pitch on a gtr. Listen to "I Was Born to Love Her"

Edited by grenadillabama
embelish

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