Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Diatonic Harmonica Tips;what I know, part 11272012

Given that the world of freedom philosophy is uninteresting to most Americans and almost all the rest of the world, I'm trying to confine myself to what I know of more tangible skills and facts.  That is not a promise, as I tend to compulsively come back to "What in the world are you neo-bolsheviks thinking?", and that inevitably leads to a tirade against grouping ideas and opportunities according to ethnic and genetic characteristics.

For example, why is it code for racism if you think someone has lied or is a nincompoop?  No racial group, or gender faction is immune from being idiots.  Oh well, people sucker for the largeness of the mob and the omnipotence of governments.

Here are some things about diatonic harmonica which many people do not know--even those who play a lot of music.  I've found that most of the people who sing, play guitar, and have that harmonica holder around their neck for hands-free play, tend to play straight harp and do not know much about cross harp and other positions.

It helps a lot if one knows the notes on a keyboard because it is easier to figure out what harp to use with what key when you can picture a keyboard.

Cross harp, or second position, is good for most tunes, especially blues, rock, most country, and the like.  You get more power notes because you are inhaling on the dominate chord, and draw notes have more oompf than blow notes.  Except the highest three or four, then blowing is the bees knees.

How do you know what harp is the cross harp?
If the tune is in the key of X, you count up five notes, including sharps and flats, and that is the key of harp to use.
Example.  Song is in G.  So five up is Ab, A, Bb, B, C.   Use C for crossharp on G tunes.
The lower case b means flat--half step down.

I discovered that many players do not know the keyboard notes so they aren't readily conversant with where the black keys (sharps and flats) reside.
Notice how C is the one before the group which has only two black keys.  C and F have no flat--a black key just left of it.  E and B have no sharp--black key just to the right.

It is odd, but how it works that C is generally the anchor point.  The key of C contains no sharps or flats to get the scale. do ray mi fa so la ti do, or whatever.  Start with other notes and there will be a black key or two which is used to make the scale work right.

If they learn by memory, Ab, A, Bb, B, C, Db, D, Eb, E, F, Gb, G,(and series repeats) then they can count up and down to know the harp to use.   Often, you may hear mention of C sharp or F sharp.  For harp figuring purposes, just know that a half step up from C--C sharp--is the same as a half step down from D--D flat; Db.

Third position is often used for minor keys, and is figured by counting two down from the tune's key.
Example; song in A minor can be accompanied on a G harp.  Two down from A would be Ab, G.  Use G.

In third position you may lack some notes, need to bend to hit others, and work around the melody rather than duplicate it.  I've often had to use C for D minor because I couldn't find my D minor harp.  They make harmonicas in both natural and harmonic minor keys.  I use natural minor tuning a lot.  Those harps are labeled in cross harp, meaning that one which is E minor in straight harp--the natural key if dominate notes are ones you blow to achieve--is labeled A minor since that is the cross harp, 2nd position Key.

I know a guy who is very fast and good on straight harp but finds controlling and using bends on cross harp quite difficult.

Bends(lowering pitch) and overblows (raising the pitch) on harmonica are actually achieved by changing how the air flows in the reed chamber, not by playing harder.

For some reason, they still sell harps which are virtually useless.  About the lowest end I'd go is Hohner Big River.  Sometimes Susuki Easy Rider is playable.  A very cheap harp in C.  Forget other cheap ones. Not worth the trouble, especially for someone trying to learn.  The person could think the problem is lack of skill when they have a crummy harmonica that no one could play well.

I like Lee Oskar harps, Bushman, Special 20, Marine Band, and whatever they have that costs more.  I haven't owned those.  The cost of harmonicas has gone up dramatically in the last few years.  I was stunned by msrp of $30 and more.  Now they list for $50 or more.  Lee Oskars and Marine Bands do.  Crazy.  Unless you want to rework the thing to optimize for overblow, you are better off with Lee Oskar instruments.  They last longer and are a little more mellow and warm.

I guess the thing is that not all players have a picture of a keyboard in their minds.   My piano training must not be completely forgotten.  In a pamphlet by Charlie Musselwhite I learned the easy thing of counting up five, including the black keys, to find the crossharp.  Other people talk of choosing a harp that is a fourth above.  They have a more tedious way of getting there, but one used by music nerds--circle of fourths and lots of wild diagrams. Whatever works.

5 up, 2 down.  That's it.  Also, experiment.  Sometimes using the same key harp as the song works.  Sometimes using the third position, two down works, and most of the time 5 up, crossharp is the ticket.
Crossharp can also work on minors, so try both 2nd and 3rd position to see what is best.

Or go buy some minor keys.  I like Lee Oskar or Bushman Soul's Voice for that.  You get Bushman at harpdepot.com.  Other harps can be found at musician's friend online, or coast2coastmusic.com.   Coast2coast has all kinds of things.  I bought two or three microphones over the years there.

Wait a minute.  If I count the Shaker Mics, I've probably bought five mics from them.

Anyway, for anyone who wants to learn blues harp or any other style of harmonica, I suggest learning guitar or keyboard instead.  If you still want to play the stupid harmonica, then get a good C, D, or A harp, more if you got bucks, and learn to pick out tunes. Work to make a decent tone.  Learn to play single notes, then learn to bend the draw notes at the lower end. You bend down in pitch.  And then learn to bend the last three or so high notes blowing out.

Much good instruction on youtube, but I can never follow the people who get too technicified.  Even this bit I wrote sounds tedious or complicated.  It is one instrument you learn by feel.  Or I did.

It is very easy to play, almost impossible to play like I'd like.  Lots of great players.  Only some play what I care to hear.  I only sometimes play what I care to hear.

bluesband is not a great harp

We'll probably see you on the lamb in a few years as all the healthcare fugitives become vagabond hoboes, running from the law, playing out our woes on the mouth harp over a can of stew on a makeshift fireplace by the railroad tracks.

All because we couldn't quite meet the law and afford rent and food, too.


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