RE: [Harp-L] Scottish/Irish tunes
>Some 2-row diatonic accordionists nowadays play C#/D, where in previous times they would play B/C, which gives smoother same-breath note strings. C#/D >is punchier.
Winslow, C#/D box players (and B/C players) are, in effect, completely chromatic, not diatonic. One of the best is Jackie Daly, who revels in the push-draw, very rhythmical method of playing Irish tunes (though he does specialise in Sliabh Luachra polkas and slides, many of which are either in D or in A without the G#, which allows him to play them on the D row, in effect making him playing him play blow-draw just like a harmonica player would). Which leads me on to a bit of waxing philosophical...
I hardly ever use chromatic harps for Irish tunes. I do possess one each in D and G, but they seldom emerge from my gig bag. When I say chromatic, though strictly I shouldn't, I include all those adapted chroms that aren't really chroms any more, the ones with which you push the button to go up a whole tone, or even from D to G. The harps I use most, when unamplified, are my XB 40s in D and G (and my new one in A, lurking in a drawer upstairs somewhere, if I can find someone to give it me for Christmas), and my Tombo Band tremolos in D and G (which I'm using more and more). In addition, I have a collection of Suzuki and Hohner 10-hole harps, all in Paddy, that I use for fun or through a little battery amp if the pub is too noisy (not such a great idea, as me playing through my amp tends to make the pub even noisier...) ;-)
The reasons I eschew chroms and their button-bound derivatives are as follows. Irish music is actually very simple. At a guess, I should say that about 95% of the tunes are fully "diatonic". What *can* be an issue for harmonica players is ornamentation. The main traditional instruments of Irish music, the fiddle, the whistle and the keyless flute (OK, and the uilleann pipes), can do all, or almost all, the traditional ornaments that the music "calls for". A ten-hole harp can do some ornaments, but it can't do five-note rolls, for example, and is compromised in several other ways, often depending on the context of the tune being played. But it can do some! A standard D or G chrom can do more ornaments, and a reverse-slide chrom can do more still. The adapted "chroms" that aren't really chroms any more can do a bit more still.
I also hear a fair bit about the need to smooth out Irish playing by means of the canny use of the button, etc. Well I don't think you need to smooth out Irish tunes at all! I love all that huffing and puffing you have to do (a skill that needs working on!) because it adds to the rhythmical feel of the music. I don't want my Irish dance tunes to sound too "smooth", thanks!
I love the simplicity (and, if I'm honest, the valvelessness) of ten-hole harps (though I forgive the valves in XB40s because those harps are so usefully loud...). I have no desire to spend the evening with a chrom down the front of my trousers warming it up, or explaining to the other chaps why my chrom sounds laryngitic, or wondering why I need so much puff, or wishing I'd lubed the slide...
But (philosophy red-alert...), to me, the point of playing Irish music on the harmonica is the Irish music, not the harmonica. When I listen to Irish music with harmonica in it, even as a harmonica player myself, I don't want to be thinking "great harmonica-playing!" I want to be thinking "great Irish tune-playing!" I don't think it matters a tenth as much as some people think that you can't do all the ornaments that a fiddle can do. I think that what is more important is that you play the tunes with lift and good, solid rhythm, whilst doing whatever ornamentation you feel is "right" for the instrument you're playing (and the only way you'll find out what's "right" is by listening to a ton of Irish music whenever you can, on any instrument - not an ordeal!). I think that there is a fairly strong element of tail-wagging-dog afoot in many of the modern-day efforts to adapt harmonicas in order to play "authentic" decorations in Irish music. Blimey, it wouldn't be half so bad if they actually sounded "authentic!" (OK, some do, I admit...)
In my next Harmonica World article (not the one about to plop on doormats any day now), which will come out in a couple of months' time, I shall be writing about an amazing player of Irish tunes who refuses to play any harp that isn't a Tombo Band tremolo. Solo-tuned, no bends, no button, utterly diatonic, right out of the box. In my view, he is currently the finest player of Irish music on the harmonica. And the reason I think that is that you forget, within seconds of hearing him start to play, that he's playing the harmonica and, instead, you focus on the fact he's playing Irish music. Join the NHL and watch this space!
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