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The Harmonica

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1 The Harmonica on Mon Nov 23, 2009 4:51 am


Ohh I make the first topic Very Happy

So well, what can be said about the harmonica. I find it quite an easy instrument to play, partially because the notes are already tuned, so you can't make false (? wrongly pitched, sounding awful, what's-the-word) ones, unless you try really hard. The harmonica is quite a rare sight in the Irish Folk though - mostly, when it's used, it's still as accompaniment. I know of only a few famous folk musicians who play the harmonica as a melody instrument. And then, only one who plays the chromatic harmonica.

For those who don't know, there are generally three types of harmonica's; blues, tremolo and chromatic. There's some more, of course, but those are very rare.

Blues harps generally have 1 reed for each note, with two notes to each hole. They are small, and are (as the name so accurately suggests) used mostly for blues. With one reed for a note, they are good for "bending" notes - where you alter the airstream to change the pitch a little, giving the nice wailing effect.
A blues harp generally has one complete octave in the middle, with parts of a lower and higher one next to it. There's only the notes from it's natural key in it, no semitones.

Tremolo are the most common harmonica's. They have 1 note for each hole (or for each 2 holes, given that there's two rows above each other), with two reeds for each note. The two reeds have a slightly different tuning, meaning that if blown/drawn together, you get the sort of "wavy" effect, due to wave interaction. Most tremolo harps have three full octaves, sans (yeah!) the first and last two notes. Again, they have only the notes from the natural key of the harmonica, no sharps or flats.

Chromatic harmonica's are the last. Whereas a tremolo harp has two plates with reeds, both tuned the same (well, almost the same, as I just explained, but still), the chromatic harmonica has one in the natural key of the harp, and one tuned exactly a semitone above. The instrument has a slide with holes, with which you can switch between the two reeds. Most chromatic harps thus have three complete octaves in their natural key, including all sharps and flats.

Some famous harmonica-playing folk musicians worth discussing are Brendan Power and Maceál - the latter being famous in the Netherlands and Germany at least, not sure about the rest of the world. Power plays the chromatic harmonica, in a wide range of musical styles, including Irish folk. He's got a nice style of using the chromatic's properties for the ornamentation, giving him quite a unique sound. On a side note, I myself don't really like the tricks he uses, since most of the grace notes produced by using the slider are not in the natural key of the harmonica (or the tune played), so they sound false.
A nice example can be found here: [You must be registered and logged in to see this link.]

Maceál plays the blues harp (I think, might be a tremolo too), but one he crafted himself, with a very secret tuning. He's got some very nice ways of ornamenting which are, to an extent, also possible on the normal tremolo and the chromatic.
A nice example can be found here: [You must be registered and logged in to see this link.]

Hope this was at all usefull. Now please comment Very Happy

2 Re: The Harmonica on Tue Nov 24, 2009 9:55 pm


Wow! Shocked That's some nice information! I used to dabble in the harmonica, but who didn't?! It's a fine instrument, easily portable, light weight, and cheap for many of them. Thanks for the information, I thought all there was was a "harmonica" never knew there was more then one, let alone three, and multiple types of those three! See, it's great to connect with other musicians and add to your knowledge. I guess I'll have to make a bodhran one now too. Hope for more people to add more instruments.

By the way, is there a certain type that you play? Also, great fan of Brandon powers, I think I have his harmonica version of the riverdance music somewhere in my mass files of music on this computer here. Smile

Percussion, how deep you are to me.
The heart beats, for what the bodhran givith.
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