Re: Chromatic Blues Technique

Vern wrote:
>What do you mean by "big chords?"  With only C, C# and Dm7
>, D#m7 chords available on a C harp your choice is extremely limited.  If
>you play in the key of D, then you don't even have the tonic major, and the
>C chord doesn't occur very often.  I accompany myself on guitar and find
>that the chord that I am playing on the guitar is rarely available on the
>chromatic. It doesn't make a very smooth/consistent musical line to not play
>the chords that are available and then to suddenly chime in when one of them
>finally occurs in the music.
>Do you recommend relentlessly honking on these few available chords , or
>fragments of them, even when the harmony of the song is elsewhere?  I have
>heard players do this and find the musical result distasteful.

Well, the standard chromatic is hardly as flexible as the 48 chord
harp, or even the Vineta, but it's chordal possibilities are useful in
certain contexts. For starters, many Irish tunes use a harmonic motif
that moves between a minor chord and the major chord rooted a
wholetone below. More often this would be Em - D, or Am - G rather
than Dm - C, but an appropriately keyed chromatic can make for some
useful chordal playing in these contexts (I'm thinking of Mark Graham
with Kevin Burke as I type this).

...but of course, this thread is focused on blues chromatic.

When it comes to blues, many players use the C chromatic to play in
Dm. The Dm6 draw chord can make for a particularly haunting tonic
chord, but as the IV in a straight D minor blues would be Gm, then
care need to be taken, otherwise the clash of the harp's B natural
against the Bb in the accompanying chord can be the very definition of
"distasteful". The same problem can also occur when playing a minor
ley tune in 3rd position on a diatonic - sadly, it is all too common.

However, a lot of blues chromatic is not in a straight minor setting,
but is often being played against a dominant tonality (much of the
typical blues sound coming from minor-ish melodic lines played against
dominant flavoured harmony). 

In this case the Dm6 (D F A B) is often being used as a substitute for
a D13#9 (D F# A C F B), a particularly jazzy tonic chord. The same Dm6
(D F A B) is also used as a substitute for a G dominant 9th (G B D F
A), a very common voicing of the IV chord in a jazzy blues. The blow
chord of the chromatic (C E G C) could also be considered a substitute
for A7#9 (A C# E G C), again a very common V chord extension in a

The same ideas apply to using these in Eb by simply holding in the
slide. There are also a few useful voicings in other keys, but all of
them require some finesse to apply them musically.

Sadly, I have heard more than a few players (most of them not blues
players) who simply play whatever notes are available next to the
melody note they are playing, regardless of whether it has any
relation to the actual harmony of the tune. "Distasteful" in this case
is something of an understatement.

 -- Pat.

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