Re: [Harp-L] Bluegrass Chromatic Harmonica


Your "Lonesome Moonlight Waltz" is absolutely out of this world. I mean OUT of this world!

Dave Payne Sr. 
Elk River Harmonicas 

----- Original Message ----
From: David & Jackie Naiditch <french10@xxxxxxxxxxx>
To: winslowyerxa@xxxxxxxxx; harp-l@xxxxxxxxxx
Sent: Friday, November 7, 2008 4:49:38 PM
Subject: Re: [Harp-L] Bluegrass Chromatic Harmonica

  I started off playing chromatics in different keys, but fell into a  
rut.  My improvised lines starting sounding too similar.  A jazz  
musician friend urged me to force myself to play every tune on a C  
chromatic, regardless of the key.  This was the best advice I ever  

It was very challenging at first, and I had to practice scales in  
various keys.  Eventually, however, I learned that each key has its  
own strengths and weaknesses; each key suggests different riffs as  
being more natural than others.  Then I learned to “cross-pollinate”-- 
translating what I learned in one key to others, making a few natural  
modifications.  As a result of playing all keys on a C chromatic, my  
improvising became far more interesting, and my musical vocabulary  
greatly expanded.  Don’t know if this approach will work for  
everyone, but it sure worked for me.

Today, I rarely switch chromatics and often attend jams with only a C  
chromatic.  The only time I consider switching to other keys this is  
when I’m trying to play the head to a tune that is played very fast  
and in an awkward key.  The bluegrass tune, Rebecca, for instance, is  
usually played in the key of B and is typically played ridiculously  
fast.  Unless I’ve just consumed a Doppio Macchito, I’ll switch to a  
B chromatic.

Best regards,

David Naiditch,

On Nov 7, 2008, at 12:10 PM, Winslow Yerxa wrote:

> David -
> Glad you've joined us. It's great to have another trad-oriented  
> harmonica player with a unique approach on the list.
> Jimmy Riddle didn't always play a C chromatic. He had 12-hole  
> chromatics in several keys, allowing him to use, say, an A  
> chromatic to play in Bb. And sometimes he played in the slide-out  
> home key. It didn't hurt that he could record with some heavy  
> Nashville session cats who could play in any key he wanted.
> Of course string-friendly (and bluegrass) keys tend to be the open  
> strings on fiddles, guitars, etc - G, D, A, maybe E. On a C  
> chromatic, these keys have major scales that require a lot of  
> breath changes and can't take advantage of the alternate slide-in  
> Draw C and Blow F. Keys like F, Bb, Eb, and Ab all use C and F and  
> can be played more smoothly - with fewer breath changes and more  
> neighboring-note ornaments (because the neighboring notes are on  
> the same breath and you can move between them smoothly). But, as  
> you note, such keys don't find much favor in bluegrass circles.
> So let's say you're playing in string-friendly keys and are not  
> particularly interested on chordal playing (like that of Riddle, or  
> of David Payne, whose efforts started this discussion). Melodic  
> flexibility and neighboring-note ornaments may still be of  
> interest, and using chromatics in keys other than C can help here.
> Irish accordionists figured this out several dacades ago, and I  
> stumbled on it myself early in my investigation of traditional  
> music. They often play  instruments with one row of melody buttons  
> tuned like a B harmonica and the other like a C harmonica. On such  
> a B/C instrument, G plays like Ab, D plays like Eb, and A plays  
> like Bb. These scales require fewer changes of air direction and  
> offer more neighboring notes in the scale (and therefore ornaments)  
> in the same air direction.When I made myself a B chromatic, I  
> retuned an E chromatic (which is pitched lower than a three-octave  
> C chromatic) so that I could cover notes all the way to (and  
> slightly below) the bottom end of a fiddle.
> Simiilarly, Don Wessels plays Scottish music on an F# chromatic  
> (which he bought stock from Richard Farrell, who used to offer them  
> for Irish music). On an F# instrument, G plays like Db, D like Ab,  
> A like Eb, and E like Bb. Don has a nice CD out; you can hear  
> samples at CDBaby.
> Of course, most keys of chromatic come only in a three-octave  
> range, which can be limiting. Four-octave instruments, on the other  
> hand, come only in C. However, you can always re-tune . . .
> Winslow
> Winslow Yerxa
> Author, Harmonica For Dummies ISBN 978-0-470-33729-5
> --- On Fri, 11/7/08, David & Jackie Naiditch <french10@xxxxxxxxxxx>  
> wrote:
> From: David & Jackie Naiditch <french10@xxxxxxxxxxx>
> Subject: [Harp-L] Bluegrass Chromatic Harmonica
> To: harp-l@xxxxxxxxxx
> Date: Friday, November 7, 2008, 11:03 AM
> Mark Panfil, Tony Eyers, Richard Hunter, Bob Loomis, Winslow Yerxa,  
> Michael
> Polesky,...
>  Sorry it took me so long to respond to the bluegrass chromatic  
> harmonica
> message thread of October 27, 2008.  (I joined Harp-L after this  
> thread was
> created, and it was Michael Polesky who pointed the thread out to  
> me.)  I really
> appreciate the kind words from all of you harmonica greats about my  
> bluegrass
> chromatic playing on my new CD, the “High Desert Bluegrass  
> Sessions.”  I’m
> pleased
>  that you agree that the chromatic harmonica can sound good in  
> bluegrass.
>  As you know, the harmonica isn’t commonly played in bluegrass, and  
> the
> chromatic is extremely rare.  I hope this changes.  My next CD will  
> probably be
> gypsy jazz, another genre where harmonica is rarely used (but where  
> accordions
> are established).
>  Winslow,
> Like you, the late David McKelvy reminded me of Jimmy Riddle’s  
> bluegrass
> harmonica playing.  I heard Jimmy’s record many years ago.  The  
> only tune I
> can remember is “Stony Point” where, as you mentioned, he used the  
> slide-in
> blow chord, thus playing in Db on a C chromatic.  As you point out,  
> my approach
> is very different, partly as a result of all the jamming I do with  
> musicians who
> aren't harmonica players.  Bluegrass musicians, who tend to be wary of
> harmonica players, wouldn’t take kindly to a harmonica player  
> requesting that
> they get out of their standard key and
>  play in some weird key like Db!  And
> thanks for noticing the jazz-sensitive tones that I sometimes throw  
> in.  This
> jazzy approach to bluegrass came from listing to folks like Jethro  
> Burns and Pat
> Cloud.
> Bob,
> Yes, Pat Cloud is “a banjo god,” and I’m really fortunate to be his
> friend and have him record with me.  He has taught me a great deal  
> about
> bluegrass as well as jazz.
> Best regards,
> David Naiditch
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