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Harmonica Question

13 Jun 03 - 11:20 AM (#966784)
Subject: Harmonica Question
From: Vixen


I could swear that I asked this question here before, but I can't find it and I don't remember the answer (I guess I really am gettin' old....)

Anyway, here 'tis, and I'll print it out and save it this time, I promise!

We were playing Amazing Grace with the Harpos last night, in C. My dad had to play it on a G harp to be in the key of C, using the blow/draw notation I used to translate the notes from how I play it on the pennywhistle. His buddies were adamant that he shouldn't play it on his G harp, because he'd be in the wrong key, but in the event, as I knew would be the case, to play it in C, he's got to use his G harp. If he used his C harp, using my melody notation, he'd have been playing in F.

SOOOOO...what the heck is going on? Somebody, somewhere (I thought it was here) said that he's got to play in some other position to do that. There's no real problem, now that his pals know that he's got to use G to play C (there are a few other tunes that we've found this discrepancy with, all of which I notated for him from playing my pennywhistle).

Any insight will be most appreciated!


13 Jun 03 - 11:38 AM (#966793)
Subject: RE: Harmonica Question
From: KateG

He's playing crossharp style -- preferred by blues musicians rather than straight harp. It puts more of the key notes in a draw rather than blow, and creates a bluesier sound.   My husband switches back and forth between the two depending on the style of the song and the chords he wants to add.

13 Jun 03 - 12:01 PM (#966797)
Subject: RE: Harmonica Question
From: JohnInKansas

The simple-minded answer is that you should be able to play the melody for Amazing Grace on either harp. The only difference in the notes "contained" in the two keys is the F/F#, which "doesn't happen" in this melody - neither F nor F# is needed, and the rest of the notes are the same for either scale. The "span" of the notes in this tune is short enough for either harp.

The "real" answer may be that the tune is "modal," and the "key" is actually G-dipsolarian or something; but we'll have to wait for one of our people with some knowledge in that area for comment.


19 Aug 12 - 09:58 PM (#3392511)
Subject: RE: Harmonica Question

I am interested in playing the song "Dark Eyes" using a harmonica.

This is played in the key of Am.

Should i purchase a Am natural minor 10 hole marine band to play this?

19 Aug 12 - 11:41 PM (#3392525)
Subject: RE: Harmonica Question
From: GUEST,songbob

Can't answer the Am question, but I'm confused as hell by the G-to-play-C in the earlier postings. Cross-harp would have a G harp playing id D -- you play five up, not four. And 'Amazing Grace' doesn't need any note OUTSIDE the key, as far as I know.

Why the question at bloody all?


20 Aug 12 - 12:27 AM (#3392535)
Subject: RE: Harmonica Question
From: PHJim

Bob's right. The normal cross harp to use for a tune in C is F, but I just tried Amazing Grace in C on both a low F and a G harp and had no trouble finding the notes for the straight melody on either harp.
I just tried it on the C harp and in order to get the notes without some severe bending I had to play it in the high octave. You'd have to do the same if you use a regular F harp, so perhaps Vixen's dad didn't have a low F and wanted to play in the lower octave. It sounds pretty squeaky up there in the high octave.
I guess it just depends on what embellishments you want to use as well.

20 Aug 12 - 07:27 AM (#3392607)
Subject: RE: Harmonica Question
From: GUEST,Johnmc

I can see the difficulty, all right. Your penny whistle notation will be in D or G depending on whether you are playing the note C sharp or the C natural; you the will transfer that fingering to the appropriate whistle (C of F)- you'll know all this. If you were using the G fingering then that means your whistle would be an F whistle. Two work out the harp tab from this lot would be hard. Better to get a book with the tune and right it out for a diatonic harp in the same key as the book's. Then, the harp player can decide whether to use cross harp to give him more draw notes for effect or not.

20 Aug 12 - 07:41 AM (#3392612)
Subject: RE: Harmonica Question
From: Acorn4

Amazing Grace is a pentatonic tune so the scale only has the five notes so either the blow key or the suck key will do it.

20 Aug 12 - 09:37 AM (#3392644)
Subject: RE: Harmonica Question
From: Vixen

I tried to post as a guest, but it didn't appear...had to refresh my cookie!

It's been 8 years since I posted the original question...hard to believe!

Dad's 84 now, and still playing harmonica. (and cutting his own firewood, and mowing lawns for a part-time job...) Most of his Harpo Club pals have passed on.

However, a friend of his who plays blues harp says that my whistle-to-harp transcriptions often put dad in "4th position" (or sometimes "2nd position).

Anyway, that was kind of meaningless to dad and me, so he's just kept playing things in the notation I've given him...sometimes it's a straight change---sometimes it isn't. He's got a whole box of harps, so it doesn't take him long to figure out which one to use to match what I'm playing. Reynaud, of course, is on the fiddle, so he doesn't care what key we're playing in--he just improvises around us.

I agree that pentatonic tunes are MUCH easier to work with, but we do several that aren't, where I have to cross-finger notes on the whistle for accidentals, and dad needs to use a "special 20" which seem to have more notes on them than his "golden melodies" do.

Mudcats are the Best!


20 Aug 12 - 06:22 PM (#3392933)
Subject: RE: Harmonica Question
From: PHJim

Vixen, Unless your dad has some differently tuned harps, I'm pretty sure that the Special 20s and Golden Melodies have the exact same notes in a given key. Mine do anyway.

20 Aug 12 - 07:39 PM (#3392969)
Subject: RE: Harmonica Question
From: Steve Shaw

OK, good people. Here's the lowdown! Amazing Grace is indeed a pentatonic tune. If you want to play it in C you can do so on a C harp (first note 3-blow), a G harp (first note 4-blow) or an F harp (first note 4-draw), without bending. I prefer a low F harp meself! Here's another thing to try. Take a G harp (which is what I happen to have to hand). You can play Amazing Grace in G (first position, first note 3-blow), in D (second position, first note 4-draw) or in C (twelfth, or first-flat, position, first note 4-blow). This is a very good thing to do because it gets you playing a melody in something other than first position, the key of the harp, and that will make you a far more flexible player. Similar tunes to try in this way are Dirty Old Town and Auld Lang Syne, both pentatonic tunes.

Going back to Amazing Grace, if what you have happens to be a C harp, you can play it in C (first position, first note 3-blow), G (second position, first note 4-draw) or F (twelfth, or first-flat, position, first note 4-blow). And nothing I've said requires a bend!

20 Aug 12 - 10:08 PM (#3393025)
Subject: RE: Harmonica Question
From: PHJim

Steve, I just tried to play it in C (first position, first note 3-blow) on a C harp and I ran out of notes. I could play, "Amazing grace, how sweet," but I couldn't get "the" (an A) in that low octave. The low F or the G harp put it in a more pleasant range.

20 Aug 12 - 10:15 PM (#3393027)
Subject: RE: Harmonica Question
From: Lonesome EJ

F for cross, C for straight harp.

it's either the one or the four.

20 Aug 12 - 10:27 PM (#3393029)
Subject: RE: Harmonica Question
From: PHJim

But for this song, the G works nicely too. While one and four are the most common positions, it's possible to play cross harp in other positions.

20 Aug 12 - 10:31 PM (#3393030)
Subject: RE: Harmonica Question
From: Lonesome EJ

I work within a narrow milieu, Jim    ;>)

20 Aug 12 - 10:31 PM (#3393031)
Subject: RE: Harmonica Question
From: gnu

JiK... "dipsolarian"

I resemble that remark!

21 Aug 12 - 05:10 AM (#3393099)
Subject: RE: Harmonica Question
From: Steve Shaw

Sorry, I forgot: all my harps are retuned for playing Irish. Just one change, 2-draw up a whole tone, which would give you that A on a C harp for example. Most people tune up the 3-blow, unlike me, same effect but different blow-draw pattern. It's called Paddy Richter tuning.