Re: [Harp-L] position naming
Robert Hale wrote:
(1) Is a diatonic harp given a key-name based on -
the Blow 1 note? (there are exceptions)
the Blow chord name?
(2) How do you name the key of a spiral tuned harp? Or other tuning?
(3) Once determined, can I then name my playing positions based on the circle of
(4) Does position-naming become irrelevant outside of Major diatonics?
The generally accepted "standard practice" currently is to reference the positions to two things:
(a) The key of the harp FIRST, mapped to the corresponding key on the Circle of Fifths.
(b) The position of the MUSIC KEY, relative to the key of the harp.
For example, if given a "C" harp (assumed to be tuned to the MAJOR SCALE of "C"), then "C"
is first position. All other positions are found relative to "C", going in a CLOCKWISE direction
around the Circle of Fifths. "G" would be second position; "D" would be third position; "A" would
be fourth position; "E" would be fifth position; "B" would be sixth position; and "F" would be
twelfth position. (If you know anything about modes, you know why I stipulated those 7 positions.)
(1) The usual practice for labeling MAJOR diatonic harps is to label the harp based on hole 1 blow. That
coincides with the blow chord name. As you noted, there are exceptions. Some diatonic harps are labeled
in the cross harp or second position.
(2) Spiral (Ref.: Steve Baker's Harp Handbook) or Zirkular (Seydel's Circular Tuned) are typically labeled
by hole 1 blow. However, on a Circular Tuned harp, that corresponds to second position, not the underlying
key of the harp. For example, a Seydel Circular Tuned harp labeled "G" has the C MAJOR SCALE as the
underlying key. The result is that the harp is labeled by the 5th of the underlying major scale, which
corresponds to second position on a "C" Richter harp. It was amusing playing at a bluegrass jam with Cara
Cooke [Hi Cara!] while at SPAH. She kept forgetting that I was playing Circular Tuned harps, so she would try to help
me by telling me the proper position or key of harp-and then recall that I was NOT playing standard harps.
I already knew which harp I needed to play to get a particular key, but I didn't mind her helping, since I got
the chance to listen to a great player in my favorite genre of music!
(3) I name my playing positions based on the Circle of Fifths BUT my reference key is the underlying scale
of the harp, NOT the labeled key of the harp. Since I know that the natural minor scale is fourth position, it
just keeps things simple for ME to use the underlying scale as the reference key. I have a little Circle of Fifths
tool which I made that makes it very simple to figure out. It's available FREE for the asking.
(4) No, position playing does not become irrelevant IFF you pick a reference key and then pick the MUSIC KEY
to be played. It all depends on what you are trying to do MUSICALLY. But then YOU know that already!
I know that 1st, 2nd and 12th positions are major, 3rd, 4th and 5th are minor, and 6th is diminished. That
makes the choices of which harp to use for a particular song much easier for ME. If I need a Mixolydian scale
(which corresponds "naturally' to second position, then I pick a Circular Tuned harp that has that label. If I
need a particular MAJOR SCALE, I pick the harp that has a label 1 key up (clockwise) from the key I need.
So, for playing in "C" MAJOR SCALE, I pick a "G" labeled Circular Tuned harp. It's all relative to a given
reference key, and it still remains relevant.
I hope that answers the QUESTION.
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