Re: help

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>David Pinzino wrote...
>Dear Friends,
>        I am conducting research for a paper on harmonicas and need to get
>interviews with harmonica players. If it would not be too much trouble,
>I would like to ask you to answer some questions about diatonic vs.
>chromatic harmonicas. I need somewhat detailed answers and afterward
>please give some of your background as a harmonica player.

        [I wrote the following reply about a month ago but never posted it ]
        [because I was still pondering a couple questions. Sorry it's late.]
                                                                Jack Ely

>1. What are the major differences between playing a chromatic and a diatonic?
        Many techniques used on the two harmonicas are the same, i.e., bending
        notes, vibrato, embouchure (tongue block/pucker), octaves, double
        stops, etc. - Some techniques however are not used - at least not
        needed. For example overblows are not needed on the chromatic because
        all the notes are there. Also, playing cross harp or 2nd position is
        not used on the chromatic because you can play in any key (if you
        read). I think the main difference or reason for selecting one over
        the other is the style of music and the effect you want. I.e., blues
        or country fit the diatonic better as a rule. Some sounds or effects
        just cant be obtained or at least don't sound as good on the

>2. Is one easier to play?
        I don't know if you are talking about mechanics here or not but I
        think the diatonics are stronger (louder) harps and will take more
        punishment. Diatonics tend to respond better. Once learned, switching
        back and forth from diatonic to chromatic is not a problem - your brain
        quickly learns the differences in intervals (distance between holes,
        air pressure required, etc.) At our Wednesday night club meetings -
        which are 100% chromatic players, plus one chord and one bass, I will
        pull out my diatonic just to see if I can play a song we may be jamming
        on, and then switch back to chromatic. I maintain that playing both
        never hurt anyone.

>3. Is one easier to learn?
        IMHO The chromatic is easier to learn - if you learn by reading music
        from a well planned method. Chromatic methods are all pretty straight
        forward and structured similarly. You can (and should) learn to play in
        all keys on a C tuned chromatic. Diatonic immediately throws new
        wrinkles at a beginner - like bending notes, overblows, etc. and the
        incredible amount of music theory you need to be able play the thing
        properly. (granted, some are naturals - they hear and feel the music
        and are able, with practice, to play it without much formal theory).
        I'm convinced that to master the diatonic you must master theory. This
        is essentially true with chromatic or any other instrument but the
        diatonic GRABS you real quick with it. That's why most diatonics are
        lying in dresser drawers. Thank god there are some good diatonic
        methods available now days. Hohner and other makers sell harmonicas by
        telling you how easy they are to play - That is El Toro Poo Poo! (B.S.)

>4. What advantages does the diatonic have?
        It fits in your shirt pocket :-). Seriously, I'm a chromatic player but
        I ALWAYS have one, usually two diatonics in my pocket for when I get
        the urge. Also, I think diatonics blow easier (better response) and
        louder,  and have fewer maintenance problems due to the simplicity in
        construction. With the Richter (Marine Band) tuning you can chug on the

        lower three or four holes and produce chord rhythms that sound good
        even if you don't know what you're doing. There are no dischords on a

>5. What advantages does the chromatic have?
        Quicker to learn - I can have a beginner with no musical experience
        playing a chromatic in four weeks (8 - 10 hours of instruction). In
        that I mean... Playing a single note, Playing the C scale, Playing the
        F scale, Playing the chromatic scale in C, Playing three simple tunes,
        Playing a tune in F. Plus they would have enough knowledge to practice
        properly and and learn more advanced techniques on their own such as -
        tongue blocking and pucker embouchure, playing octaves, various types
        of vibrato, develop better tone, and playing double stops (thirds,
        fifths, sixths). [I would be doing good to teach someone to bend one
        note on a diatonic in that amount of time].

>6. What disadvantages does the diatonic/chromatic have?
        Chromatics are harder to maintain in good working order, partially due
        to problems with the windsavers or valves.

>7. What is the average cost of each?
        Chromatic $75-$100 - Diatonic $10 - $25 (Retail)
        They can go much higher...
                Hohner's Meisterklas diatonic is around $100
                Hohner's Amadeus chromatic is $1,000

>8. Which is easier to maintain?
        Diatonic - simpler construction. However you tend to blow a note out of
        tune (flat) quicker on a diatonic due to the bending.

>9. What sort of availability is there for parts or repair?
        Poor - But getting better - Never throw a harp away - keep it for parts
        and practicing your repair skills. Lee Oskar has just come out with a
        repair kit with instructions on adjusting and tuning reeds ($25.00).

>10. Which usually lasts longer? Why?
        With good care both should give good service - Diatonic maybe a little
        less mainly due to the style & intensity of play - lots of bending etc.

>11. Which is the most versatile?
        I would have to vote for diatonic.

>12. Which is best suited for which types of music?
        That's a tough question. Basically I guess I would say use the
        harmonica which sounds best for what you want to play. As a rule you
        would use a diatonic for blues, country/western (folk'n western music),
        etc. because of the bends and other effects you can get to create the
        sound you want. Chromatic seams to create a sweeter tone for ballads
        etc. All the trills are available (although some are quite difficult)
        that you might need in classical or other "heavy" music like show
        tunes, marches, big band, etc. [I really have a tough time categorizing

        music]. Chromatic also allows the use of dynamics like octaves, double
        stops (3rds, 5ths, 6ths) across the full range of the harmonica.
        Charlie Musselwhite, whom we think of as a blues harp player, uses a
        chromatic for his beautiful rendition of "Yesterdays" (not the Beatles
        "Yesterday" but the older tune with a similar name). Also, if you learn
        the basics of playing chromatic by reading music, you can learn
        anything in any key on a "C" chromatic by playing what is written. But
        the diatonic shouldn't have to be limited to a style of music any more
        than the chromatic. You can play blues on a chromatic, you can play
        classical on a diatonic. Our SHORT HARP group is working on a stage
        presentation for next year's Buckeye Harmonica Festival which is being
        designed to show off the versatility of the diatonic. We want to show
        the "chromatic fanatics" that you can play more than blues and imitate
        trains on a diatonic.

>13. Why do chromatic and diatonic players seem to dislike each other?
        I think it is mainly a dislike for the type of music usually played on
        the diatonic (blues or jazz). A lot of chromatic players are musical
        snobs (or illiterates) and feel they have reached a higher level on a
        superior instrument - not true in my opinion. I've seen chromatic
        players walk out on performances of some of the finest diatonic players
        around. This attitude makes me sick. It isn't shared by all chromatic
        players but the ones that dislike diatonic are more vocal about it. I
        don't think the dislike is as strong from the diatonic side - they seem
        to accept the chromatic players for what they are and most seem eager
        to learn the chromatic or at least listen to it.

>14. Why do blues players typically play on diatonics and chromatics yet
        classical music is only played on chromatics?
        Some classical music fits nicely on a diatonic. Some classical music
        contains difficult chromatic runs or trills that are impossible on a
        diatonic. (unless you are talking about Howard Levy).

>15. Please make any other comments you might have about the topic.
        I think all harmonca players should learn to play both diatonic and
        chromatic, regardless of which one they favor. Not that you need to
        become equally proficient on them, but just to expand your knowledge
        and appreciation of each. Besides, it's fun.

>I do appreciate your time in helping my research.  If it were not for
>computers none of the this would have been possible.
>                                                David Pinzino
>                                        Down Home Blues Harmonica Club

These answers / opinions are my views on the subject of chromatic vs diatonic
for whatever they're worth. I play and also teach a course on chromatic
harmonica, my main instrument. I started on diatonic as a kid (like everyone
else in the world) but had no teacher and didn't have any idea what the
diatonic could do. As soon as I could afford a chromatic my diatonics were
put aside. I figured with that button on the end I would be able to play all
the stuff I couldn't play on the diatonic, NOT! Now I'm trying to learn more
about diatonic harmonica and the many styles of music you can play on it. In
addition to our regular Wednesday club meetings which is all chromatic, a small
group of guys who are interested in learning diatonic meet each Tuesday. We
call our group the "SHORT HARP SIG".

                                Jack Ely, Buckeye State Harmonica Club

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