[Harp-L] Re: Problem when playing harps not in C

First of all, thanks a lot to all of you for your efforts at trying to help me, and my apologies
for not answering before (I don't check my e-mail every day). I'm going to try to answer
specifically to some points (by the way, as Crazy Bob pointed out, I forgot to mention I wa
using diatonic harps):

Dale wrote:
> Since you are so well versed with the actual notes and Solfege you might be
> a good candidate for a chromatic harmonica.

Doug wrote:
> A chromatic is one answer, if you have perfect pitch and find that you cannot
> shift scales. [...] If you have perfect pitch, or want to learn to read music in
> different keys from sheet music, then get one key of chromatic and learn to read.
> The notes will always be in the same place.  It won't be as easy to transpose,
> however.

I can already read music in any key (both in treble and bass clefs), and know how
many sharps or flats each of them should have, so finding my way in a melody doesn't
seem to be a problem... As long as I don't have to play it! As for perfect pitch, I don't
think I've got it. I am good at picking up melodies and knowing what notes I should use
to make them sound in a certain key, and when I listen to a classical orchestra or a
wind band I know what key they are playing in, but, funnily, this doesn't happen when
listening to singers or to pop/rock music. And I'm not good at finding out chords. So
it's not a matter of perfect pitch.

I had always wanted to have a chromatic harmonica, which to me it is a different
instrument than a blues harp (I mean, I don't think it is a matter of choosing between
them, but of using one or the other depending on what you want to play). I finally
bought myself one last week, just because I'd managed to gather all the money and
I decided to buy it before spending it on something else. I had put it aside for now,
to focus more on the blues harp (I was intending to use it as a present for myself for
my birthday next summer). After reading your e-mails, I've taken it out of the drawer,
to have a go at it, and although I have little previous practice with the instrument (I
only played one of my uncle's three or four times), I've been able to play 'Twinkle
Twinkle Little Star' straightaway in C, D, E, F, G, A and B, with only a few mistakes at
finding the right notes when the button is pushed. It certainly seems much easier than
changing harps, although I suppose it may get more difficult in a key such as A flat,
with a lot of pushing and releasing the button.

Anyway, as I said, this doesn't mean I don't want to learn to play the harp any more :-)

Phil wrote:
> THE EASY way to solve this problem is play your tunes as if they are in the key of C.
> All diatonic harmonicas have the same note pattern, so what works on the C harp will
> work on all major key harps. 

Crazy Bob wrote:
> I know this is going to sound heretical, but my suggestion would be to re-think the
> notes as scale degrees, focusing on the intervallic relationships between the scale
> degrees rather than the specific pitch name. [....] The reason is that I play by ear and
> (somehow) "memorize" the RELATIVE location of the notes in the melody. Once
> those relative positions are "learned" (memorized?), it becomes a no brainer to switch
> keys of harmonica. 

To me, this doesn't sound heretical, but very sensible. I can easily see the advantages
of playing that way. But it is what I don't seem to be able to do. Do you think it is
possible to learn to do that so you can do it quickly (I don't mean learning quickly, but
thinking of the intervals quickly). If you ask me to sing a melody in a given key singing
the name of the notes, I can do it without thinking, but intervals don't come that easy. Apart
from learning anew what there is in each of the harp holes (forgetting that blow 6 = G and
replacing it with blow 6 = V, and so on), I should have to sit down with a piece of paper and
a pencil, and write down ''Twinkle Twinkle Little Star': I-I-V-V-VI-VI-V...'.  Can it really be done?
I'd love to be able to think of music that way.

Dale wrote:
> But in the meantime I would suggest writing out tabs (hole number and blow or draw
> for each note) to a favorite song as you play it in C then follow the numbers on D until
> you memorize it.

fjm wrote:
> What works for me is to learn a song in a different key and once I have it in several
> they all seem to follow.  [...] Ultimately it was just starting over with the new key as if
> it were a new song.

Phil wrote:
> Or get a collection of harmonica songs in harmonica tablature -- either off the web like
> <harptabs.com> or from a book -- and play the same song on different harps. 

So in the end it seems a matter of learning each song in each harp as something quite
new. That's the impression I was getting when I decided to ask for your help, hoping there
would be another way. Perhaps I'll only need to do so for a time, and afterwards songs
will come easier in all keys (well, it'll be some time before I venture to buy a third harp in
another key, anyway, but learning both in C and D would be a first step).

Doug wrote:
> I would play a major scale in the key of the harp, for example using holes 4 through 7,
> running up and down once or twice.  This would establish the key of the instrument in
> my mind.

fjm wrote:
> Playing scales might help.

This sounds like a great idea. Maybe just play scales and fool around with the harp for
a while before attempting a melody, so I can get accustomed to the sound and can try to
use that as the new key. I must definitely try this.

Doug wrote:
> When I was in 4th through 8th grade I played Bb clarinet.  The music was written as
> though you were playing a C instrument, but when you played in so-called "C" your
> music was really in Bb.  Keyed harps are very similar to this.

Oh! I've been playing French horn, which is in F, for eight years or so, and I had (and
still have) lots of trouble about pitch. I'll never be any good at it, because I never know
where I am at a given moment. When I am playing alone, or when I am playing with other
people and I'm playing all the time, it's somewhat better (and it's taken a lot of time to get
there), but when I am playing in a band and I must keep silent for some time, I'm never
able to start playing again when I must do so -until I hear what the rest of the horns are
doing-, because while I'm not playing I start listening to the rest of the band and I revert
to normal pitch, and I cannot find 'my' note anymore unless I think 'I am seeing a G, and it
should sound like a C, so let's place my fingers like for a G, but aim to a C' (and I find it
extremelly difficult to think things like that with all the band oompahing around me). I can't
explain it any better. After playing the same thing a lot of times, I usually learn by rote how
my first note after a silence should sound with respect to the rest of the band, but when
it's a matter of playing at first sight, I'm hopeless. My teacher often tells me that I am lucky
not to have to play horns in different keys, because they would become a new instrument
each time, and I see this is what is happening to me with the harp. The only difference is
that, in principle, I'm likely to need playing harps in different keys, so I'd better learn to solve
this problem!

Jon wrote:
> in this case, ears trump the brain....you're over-thinking the process....so think less and
> just listen and it'll help

Ben wrote:
> Eliza, how about?(doing a little less)giving the harp to a kid and watch her run around in
> the backyard play around with sound.....forget what you think you know....run/dance
> around in the backyard with joy playing the "D" harp... [...] think about the fun.

Jon, Ben, you're so right! In the end, it's all about having fun when playing. And I can tell you
I am having great fun indeed. That's what makes me want to learn more, to play more, to
be able to do more things with the harp... I love to look for a song in C or G and to try to play
anything that comes into my mind along with it, and to fool about with the harp. Sometimes
I try to get serious and practice something specific. But you can be sure that at the moment
I stop having fun, I'll stop playing and I'll stop reading all the posts sent to the list, and I'll stop
asking questions on how to improve. Let's hope that does never happen!

Well, once again, thanks everyone. You've given me some ideas I'll try to put into practice.

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