[Harp-L] Fwd: middle eastern tuning
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- Subject: [Harp-L] Fwd: middle eastern tuning
- From: "Robin Willis" <niborsilliw@xxxxxxxxx>
- Date: Sat, 16 Jun 2007 13:08:44 +0200
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I recently went to Beirut a couple of weeks ago and the quarter tone
scales really got under my skin. While walking around I would try to
approximate these sounds on my harmonica, usually in the lower
register. Some how the sound of the harmonica just fit. Maybe it´s
sound of the reeds against the very natural, beautiful, unpolished
sounds of middle eastern instruments like the Ney and the Oud. Maybe
it's the soulfulness of the singers. Maybe it's that "blues thing" or
as the flamenco folks call it "duende."
Anyway I emailed Pat Missin about this and he sent an amazing reply. I
thought I would share with our hamonica community.
I have to say that guys like Pat are so open in sharing thier
knowledge. Thank you very much, "Dr. Missin."
That's an interesting question. Of course, it's perfectly possible to
tune a harmonica to any given scale, including any scales with
quartertones or other microtonal intervals. Somewhere, I have a
diatonic tuned to a neutral scale, ie the thirds and sevenths are
tuned in between major and minor intervals. I also have a quartertone
chromatic, which gives two complete octaves of 24 quartertones to the
octave. I've mostly tended to use this for ear training, as much as
for actually playing music.
As you say, much Middle Eastern music requires the ability to slide
between pitches, in much the way that blues requires note bending. For
that reason, you might try to work out a few scales in the lowest
register of a standard diatonic, getting at the microtones by using
bending. If you pick your position well, you can get some nice stuff
this way. Also, it might be worth trying some things in the lowest
octave of a harmonic minor harp.
On this page:
I talk about some very basic stuff in this vein. As an exercise, try
taking the Byzantine mode through a few different positions on a
Starting on the 1 blow (with a plain number indicating a blow note, a
bracketed number indicating a draw note, a 'b' for each semitone bend,
and a '+' for an overblow)
1 (1b) 2 (2bb) (2) (3bbb) (3) 4
Starting on the 1 draw bend:
(1b) (1) (2bb) (2b) (3bbb) (3bb) 4 (4b)
Starting on the 2 draw bend:
(2b) (2) (3b) (3) (4b) (4) (5) 5+
Starting on the 3 draw bend:
(3bb) (3b) (4b) (4) 5 (5) (6b) (6)
With all of these examples, you will find different possibilities for
slurring one note into the next, or adding microtonal ornamentation.
Even without overblows, there's a lot of exotic stuff lurking in the
lower end of a standard harmonica.
I've seen pictures from old Hohner catalogs that showed special models
made for the MiddleEastern market with Arabic writing all over them,
so harmonicas must have been reasonably popular over there. Also,
accordions have been made with quartertones for the MiddleEastern
market. However, in the same way that the harmonica really hasn't been
accepted in Western classical music, it has also not been accepted in
the MiddleEastern art music traditions.
Hope this is useful,
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