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Discussions => Other Free Reed Instruments => Topic started by: Richard Shaul on October 23, 2018, 08:19:26 AM

Title: What key for harmonica?
Post by: Richard Shaul on October 23, 2018, 08:19:26 AM
Hello, it's occasionally been mentioned that a harmonica is a good instrument to have for times when it's not convenient to carry a Melodeon around, but what key should I start with? Some tutor websites suggest C, but as a D/G player, who does a fair bit in Em, would I be better to go for G, or do people have other ideas?
Title: Re: What key for harmonica?
Post by: Steve_freereeder on October 23, 2018, 08:37:45 AM
Many harmonica players carry several instruments around with them, pitched in different keys. I know of two players who have about 8 instruments which they carry around in a special case. They simply choose the one they want to suit the tune. They are also proficient at changing instruments mid-tune, holding the second instrument in their hand whilst playing the first, then with a nifty bit of finger gymnastics, swapping to the other.

I'm not suggesting that you go that far, but as harmonicas are relatively cheap, you could go for one instrument in G and one in D. That should cover you for most UK session tunes.
Title: Re: What key for harmonica?
Post by: MatlockBather on October 23, 2018, 08:53:27 AM
just note that a G harmonica doesn't have a low E (see 1 row melodeon layout charts) so is a bit tricky for Em tunes. Of cause you can always retune the extra D into an E....
But as Steve says, G and D will see you through most English sessions.

Harmonicas are great as they take up no space so are fantastic for having in the car, taking on holiday etc.

Title: Re: What key for harmonica?
Post by: george garside on October 23, 2018, 09:02:19 AM
as a kid I started off with a cheap Chinese  in presumably C  as I hadn't a clue about different keys and  several of us in the scouts all bought the same  in C. 

For starters for English sessions I agree with Steve G & D. 

I now have a nice little padded bag  from Aldi (?Camera bag??)lwhich holds about 12.  whjich are Bb,Eb,F,C,G,D,A,   mostly hohner celeste aaand  21 de lux plus hohner highlander, professional 12 (chromatic,

george
Title: Re: What key for harmonica?
Post by: Richard Shaul on October 23, 2018, 09:04:00 AM
...also, could you suggest suitable makes models? i'm looking for reasonable quality/playability that I won't be looking to trade up for a few years,

thanks
Title: Re: What key for harmonica?
Post by: Chris Rayner on October 23, 2018, 09:06:08 AM
There are harmonicas tuned to play in minor keys.

https://theharmonicacompany.com/product/lee-oskar-natural-minor-harmonica/?attribute_pa_harmonica-key=key-e-tuning-natural-minor&gclid=Cj0KCQjwjbveBRDVARIsAKxH7vkIMbPLb-Y3ZAS91VTj0C4MYNvSSZBXtlYkUjUH2i1nnhhyVmKn_7waAoklEALw_wcB
Title: Re: What key for harmonica?
Post by: MatlockBather on October 23, 2018, 09:11:28 AM
I've been very happy with my Lee Oskar (G).

Si
Title: Re: What key for harmonica?
Post by: GPS on October 23, 2018, 09:14:34 AM
I usually carry harmonicas (harmonicae?) in C,G,D and A, which seems to cover most session situations. As for makes & models, if you're looking at a 10-hole you won't go far wrong with a Hohner Blues Harp or Marine Band, although I'm very partial to a Lee Oskar.

Graham
Title: Re: What key for harmonica?
Post by: Steve_freereeder on October 23, 2018, 09:35:56 AM
just note that a G harmonica doesn't have a low E (see 1 row melodeon layout charts) so is a bit tricky for Em tunes. Of cause you can always retune the extra D into an E....
But as Steve says, G and D will see you through most English sessions.
But a D harmonica does have the low E, just like the D-row of a melodeon, so it is good for Em tunes. 
Title: Re: What key for harmonica?
Post by: MatlockBather on October 23, 2018, 09:43:47 AM
Lee Oskar in D added to Christmas present list...
Title: Re: What key for harmonica?
Post by: John MacKenzie (Cugiok) on October 23, 2018, 09:45:24 AM
I have a case with 7 Suzuki harps, which I use to accompany singers and guitar players mostly. If you want to play melodeon style stuff, then you need a tremolo with at least 15 holes. I have a couple of double sided which I use for melodeon type music. They give you the notes you are missing on a 10 hole.

Sir John
Title: Re: What key for harmonica?
Post by: george garside on October 23, 2018, 10:35:49 AM
As far as I am aware the brilliant mouthie player ,the late Will Atkinson , played Yamaha mouthies which he had specialy imported.  I have never seen them on sale in the uk.

I find hohner celeste and  hohner 21 very reasonably priced and decent to play.

george
Title: Re: What key for harmonica?
Post by: Tiposx on October 23, 2018, 10:43:50 AM
The tremolo harmonica sound is an acquired taste. Look at the YouTube examples. I have a Tombo in D. All the notes are there and it is quite easy to hit the right note.... but it sounds a bit like a feeble cat miaow.
My Lee Oskars are loud and sound good in a rock/blues sort of way. My favourite is a Sukuki Bluesmaster - sounds mellow and is a lot easier to play - needs less air than the others  and all the notes speak easily. It also bends really well if you want that.
I believe that the most widely used and recorded harmonica in the west is the Hohner Marine Band. I don't have any experience of it as I wanted a plastic combed model.
Title: Re: What key for harmonica?
Post by: GPS on October 23, 2018, 11:16:09 AM
The tremolo harmonica sound is an acquired one. Look at the YouTube examples. I have a Tombo in D. All the notes are there and it is quite easy to hit the right note.... but it sounds a bit like a feeble cat miaow.
My Lee Oskars are loud and sound good in a rock/blues sort of way. My favourite is a Sukuki Bluesmaster - sounds mellow and is a lot easier to play - needs less air than the others  and all the notes speak easily. It also bends really well if you want that.
I believe that the most widely used and recorded harmonica in the west is the Hohner Marine Band. I don't have any experience of it as I wanted a plastic combed model.

I have several Marine Bands; they're brighter toned than a Blues Harp and carry well in sessions as well as on stage.  I also concur with Steve about a D for Em tunes.
Title: Re: What key for harmonica?
Post by: GPS on October 23, 2018, 11:46:04 AM
If you want to play melodeon style stuff, then you need a tremolo with at least 15 holes.

Sir John

I'd better start looking for a 15-button one-row, then...... >:E :D

Graham
Title: Re: What key for harmonica?
Post by: baz parkes on October 23, 2018, 01:35:53 PM
I have a 10 hole Lee Oskar in High G which is great in pub sessions as it cuts through the 23 melodeons... >:E

As to tremeloes, Hohner Celestes are good value and easily obtainable.

Bit more upmarket is the Suzuki Hummingbird


If you're not sure the gobiron is for you, the cheap and cheerful Chinese models available on the internet are a reasonable way in  :|glug


Title: Re: What key for harmonica?
Post by: Corinto on October 23, 2018, 02:19:54 PM
I have 3 HOHNERs and 8 SEYDELs ... (and another SEYDEL coming for Xmas) ...

https://www.seydel1847.de/epages/Seydel1847.sf/en_US/?ViewObjectID=8246&Currency=EUR

With SEYDEL you can configurate your own note layout ... click on CUSTOM SHOP ... very interesting ... ymmv.
Title: Re: What key for harmonica?
Post by: John MacKenzie (Cugiok) on October 23, 2018, 02:30:29 PM
Incidentally, one can custom tune harps to suit oneself. The late Steve Harrison, Sage Herb of this parish, used to alter gob irons for his own use.

Sir John
Title: Re: What key for harmonica?
Post by: Harmonicatunes on October 28, 2018, 01:41:16 AM
Interesting thread. I would recommend the newer premium models, such as the Hohner Crossover (based on the Marine Band) or the Hohner Rocket for those who prefer plastic combed instruments. Or the Seydel 1847 Classic. The Lee Oskar, made by Tombo and introduced in the '80s, was a great instrument for its time, but has been surpassed by the newer premium models in my view.

For tremolos I recommend the Tombo Premium 21. The Seydel Skydiver is also worth a look. Both have the Asian style dry tuning and note layout. For a wetter tremolo tuning, try the Seydel Sailor

Your local music store is not likely to stock these instruments, however they are available online, I recommend Rockin Ron, at https://rockinronsmusicsd.com (https://rockinronsmusicsd.com)

Lessons for tune playing, both on 10 hole and tremolo, are at my site https://harmonicaacademy.com (https://harmonicaacademy.com)

Another approach to tune playing is to use alternate harmonica tunings. To this end I developed "Major Cross" tuning in the '90s. Last year Seydel released a Major Cross model. You can see it in action at https://youtu.be/pK5fb7QuV8k (https://youtu.be/pK5fb7QuV8k)
Title: Re: What key for harmonica?
Post by: Winston Smith on October 28, 2018, 07:22:20 AM
Tony, although I'm not really enamoured with mouth organs, in general, your videos are great! I enjoy them immensely, thanks for posting links to them from time to time.
Title: Re: What key for harmonica?
Post by: Harmonicatunes on October 29, 2018, 01:12:53 AM
Cheers, thanks for the nice words. I am a bona fide melodeon player these days, and seem to gathered gathered 18 of them.
Title: Re: What key for harmonica?
Post by: Michael Eskin on November 01, 2018, 02:43:36 PM
If you play B/C box as I do, you can take some B tuned chromatic harmonicas and flip the slide, giving a C row with the slide out and a B row with the slide in.  I did that with a Hering Membi in B. Playing it feels very similar to the box. Once I proved to myself that it was viable and I could play tunes I had a custom Suzuki SCX-48 built for me in that tuning.
Title: Re: What key for harmonica?
Post by: Dick Rees on November 01, 2018, 05:24:52 PM
Bit of a swerve, but for "all keys" jamming I just bought a 32 key Hohner melodica.  Major difference is that you have to remember there's no air valve, but there IS a spit valve...so take a floor towel with you to be polite.
Title: Re: What key for harmonica?
Post by: Katie Howson on November 02, 2018, 11:26:44 AM
I'd recommend the Tombo Band Deluxe in D and G. I've played them for many years and just renewed with two new models, both sweet as a nut. They come in at around £100 each. Not tried the Tombo Premiere range, but they seem good and about £20 cheaper.

The Suzuki Humming (I always call it a Hummingbird too, but that's not actually its name!) in D is a lower pitch and seems to have a more pronounced tremolo effect. I use mine occasionally for specific effects.

It's quite easy to play tunes in two keys, such as Jenny Lind, by holding the two harmonicas close together.

Yes, you can customise them, but as this is your first step into harmonicas, you probably don't want to consider that yet. Without any retuning, it's not possible to play a tune that has both C natural and C# in it, you learn to accommodate that part of a tune and let other instruments play the note you don't have. Some notes are bendable on some instruments. That isn't one of them - in my experience anyway!

Most conventional tutor books are based on the C harmonica, often a 10-hole one, but if you already play the melodeon you really don't need a tutorial book. The hardest thing I've found is trying to learn anything like vamping from books or videos, as you can't see what's going on, and it appears I'm not very good at learning that kind of stuff from verbal descriptions! Thirty years on and I still don't vamp, but play the melody with various ornamentations/articulations based on what I hear in the music I listen to - eg John Lennon's trills in "Love Me Do" - thanks to a tip off from Simon Ritchie!

Buy a £5 one in a shop somewhere, don't worry about what key it's in (it'll be C) just play it as if it's one row of your melodeon. When you get the hang, go online and order proper ones in the keys you want. Available from various sites, I've used Harmonicas Direct several times and they've been prompt, friendly and helpful: https://www.harmonicas-direct.com/
Title: Re: What key for harmonica?
Post by: Richard Shaul on November 02, 2018, 01:28:43 PM
Thanks to everybody for your advice. Based on this, and a helpful chat with the squeezebox man in my local Hobgoblin, I now have a Hohner Special 20 in D. All I need to do now is learn to play it....
Title: Re: What key for harmonica?
Post by: george garside on December 04, 2018, 08:33:51 AM
I
It's quite easy to play tunes in two keys, such as Jenny Lind, by holding the two harmonicas close together.

 hi

Will Atkinson sometimes  held 3 mouthies  at the same time to provide key changes  , one being played and two held vertically, one in each hand anad the changes  were carried out with no lag whatsoever.

george
Title: Re: What key for harmonica?
Post by: Dick Rees on December 04, 2018, 01:30:08 PM
Thanks to everybody for your advice. Based on this, and a helpful chat with the squeezebox man in my local Hobgoblin, I now have a Hohner Special 20 in D. All I need to do now is learn to play it....

Do they still come with a folded (and folded and folded) paper of instructions right in the box?  Don't throw them away as I did many times...mistaking them for packing.  They're immensely helpful!
Title: Re: What key for harmonica?
Post by: Richard Shaul on December 05, 2018, 08:52:10 PM
Mine just came with a website and a code for a 30 day free trial of lessons. I haven't taken that up yet, so can't review.
Title: Re: What key for harmonica?
Post by: Richard Shaul on December 06, 2018, 07:58:10 AM
I should to correct my previous post. In the bottom of my bag I have just found a multi folded sheet of paper  which must have originally been in the box, giving playing and maintenance tips in four languages,