Re: Chromatic Blues Technique
- Subject: Re: Chromatic Blues Technique
- From: "G." <gigs@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
- Date: Tue, 25 Nov 2003 02:19:34 +1300
John "Whiteboy" Walden responds:
IMHO Blues on a chromatic tends to be played in "third position "...
That is if using a "c" chrom, playing in the key of "d".
So if you want to play "chrom blues" in other keys (like Walter Horton or
Bill Clarke), you need some chroms in various keys.That is just the way it
Yes, I'll agree that it "tends" to be in 3rd, for a lot of
players...but I "tend" to think outside the box. I don't want to be
just another diatonic player with too much harmonica in his mouth - I want
to PLAY the d*** thing in several keys. My twisted way of
thinking is that if I have all the notes, I oughht to learn how to use
Well it'll do no harm for you to work with the material you've purchased.
As far as I'm aware you're going to find very little on the shelves
about playing blues in all keys on the chromatic harmonica, so take
what you can get.
I play blues on chromatic, I mainly use an altered tuned chromatic and enjoy
playing blues in whatever key they throw at me and still be able to get that
thick George-esque vamping and octaves going.
I think Jerry Portnoy's Blues Harmonica Masterclass is great
material . Yes, its for diatonic, but its very good and the
musicality & the techniques can be transferred with practise to
chromatic. Like you've already commented for octaves, tongue slaps,
vamping what have you... just got to stretch over 5 wide holes is all. With
vamping and slaps, when you're playing in other keys, probably best to keep
them quick as a punctuating effect and avoid playing chordally like you can
in 3rd position on chromatic.
You noted that the suggested technique for cupping chromatic for amplified
blues is so that the thumb uses the button and so forth. You'll find a
picture of Charlie Musselwhite playing his chromatic with a similar
technique on this page:
I've seen pictures of an early blues man playing chromatic that way with
the button missing from the chromatic and everything.
The button ain't part of the deal with that style, its a 4 octave solo tuned
harmonica that you play in third position. If you want to get fancy then
you hold the button in and play in Eb. Thats about the size of what was
done. Note that its D minor, or more specifially D Dorian which can be used
over major and dorian minor trad blues, so it works well.
I think it was Big Walter Horton who said "If you mess with the chromatic,
it'll fry your brain"...
The Solo tuned Marine Bands used to be available in a range of keys - they
would've been perfect for the job, but alas you can only get it in key of C
now, and other than the Huang Solo cadet I'm unaware of any other brands who
provide them. So the 12 hole chromatic is what they head for.
As it is I am aware of a few chromatic harmonicists (enthusiasts mostly)
who use their thumb for the button whilst playing various tunes in different
keys on the chromatic. It works for them, not for others. Not for me, but
With tilting the harmonica back and with the cupping, I've read
and been given that advice from time to time and told all sorts of
OBM tales of what it can do for your tone. But as with anything its best to
find out what is comfortable and works for you by simply aiming for the tone
you want and messing around with your grip and hold until you figure out
what is comfortable, natural and works for you.
So with me, I have a mild overbite which means I can play
harmonica pointed at the sky, my tone is best when the harmonica
is pointed slightly down because thats the way it has to be to get
deeply into my mouth for that tone the guys are talking about.
If I followed the advice (which I've tried) of some people who
criticised me for doing this it results in a thin weak tone, its bloody
uncomfortable and I end up with a very sore jaw and mouth and a real lack of
enthusiasm to carry on. You can't fight the way your face and hands are, so
you work with what you got.
Part of the benefit of tilting a harmonica up slightly the way you
described is that it keeps your spit outta the valves and reeds.
I'm in a situation that the only way I can manage that is to tilt my
head back and thats just more trouble and physio bills right there.
I'm a real wet player to boot, so what do ya do?. :)~
you'll see it starts out discussing the "Classic Hold".
This method works for me and I've found it versatile for both diatonic and
chromatic, acoustic or mic'd, and it lets you work the button freely with
your right forefinger.
I find it easy to adjust to accomadate a vocal mic or Green Bullet, you
get a good to reasonably okay seal with mic'd chromatic harmonica. I also
use this method for playing diatonic acoustically or mic'd - with a bit of
adjustment, but it works for me.
I describe a way of cupping harmonica with bullet microphone here:
If you can just about encase a 64 with your hands, then maybe you could
get yourself a Hohner 270 Tenor C (first 3 octaves of a 64, Dm) , and
another in D (for blues in Em) and G (for A blues). You'll have no worries
getting a decent cup around those, they're nice low keys with deep tone, so
its all good. You may already know that 12 hole chromatics are tuned to 9
of the keys found between Low C and C, nothing higher unless you find a
willing customiser like Brendan.
With the 64 you basically just have to accept that you can only focus on
an area at the back of the harp, but the gaps are reduced by choosing
chromatic models with the classic covers rather than the newer covers found
on the Hohner Super 64 or whatever.
With the tone... you probably already know, the deeper you get it in your
gob the better, then it doesn't matter all that much what mic you're using.
Horton seemed to play through whatever he sang through, so an SM58 should
see you right, put an impedance convertor on it, stick it in the nearest
tube amp and go. :)
I tend to focus the "classic hold" around the two or two and a half
registers I'm playing and only shift if I need to. With a blues song on
chromatic thats used in all keys thats unlikely to happen much.
For what its worth the 10 hole Hohner 260 is a practical instrument for
blues and is really easy to properly encase in your hands and get a decent
seal around the harp and bullet mic. They come in keys of G and C. They're
the same quality as Hohner 270s, they're only missing the top two holes of
their 270 counterparts.
If you want to discuss playing in different keys or whatever ask
away - hopefully you'll find the music theory section and links on
my site a good kick starter.
My suggestion if you really want to do what you're saying is take
what you can from where you can. http://www.angelfire.com/music/HarpOn is
all about chromatic harmonica, its intended for anyone who cares to pick the
instrument up. I have covered most of the basics throughout the site
including recommended courses, books and what have you.
Practise a heap on what you can when you can.
Practise is the key, not reading, not typing emails, and its a mistake I
made for far too long.
Time with harmonica in mouth is good. :)
http://www.harpon.org (thanks to Wild Willy).
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