Re: [Harp-L] History of harp tuning

Rick Dempster wrote:
<Custom tunings amount to a Tower of Babel.

When Robert Johnson tuned his guitar to open G; when Keith Richards or Sonny Landreth or Derek Trucks tune their guitars to open E; when a heavy metal guitarist tunes the low E string down to D to get a heavier tone; are those all examples of a Tower of Babel too?  

I don't see why it's perfectly okay for a guitarist to radically change the tuning of his instrument to make different styles easier to play, but it's not perfectly okay for a harmonica player to do the same.  Any instrument is a tool.  If you can't change the tool to do a different kind of job, then the tool is a prison.  That's not how it's supposed to work.  The tool is supposed to increase capabilities, not restrict them.

Lots of modern harmonica music uses overblowing techniques to augment the built-in scale, which is certainly non-traditional (at least in terms of tradition before 1970, isolated examples aside), and it certainly enables some players to create some great stuff.  Why is non-standard tuning any different from that?

Of course there are many ways to make great music, and great traditional harmonica music in many cases only requires a standard Richter tuning. But if you want to make new traditions, you may very well require new tools to do so.
Robert Khayat, the former Chancellor of Ole Miss during a period of steep change, wrote in his autobiography that everybody wants progress, but nobody wants change.  Unfortunately, you usually don't get the former without the latter.

I'm in favor of any tool that enables a player to create great music, assuming of course that small children and animals are not harmed in the process.  (Grown men and women can watch out for themselves.)  I think alternate tunings pass that test.  Players who don't need those tools to make the music they want to make are welcome to use whatever tools they prefer.  For me, simple variations on Richter tuning are too easy and useful to pass up.  And yes, I do think the simple variations (country tuning, natural minor, etc.) are easy--certainly much easier than the transition from a diatonic harp to a chromatic, which many players practically take for granted.  

Regards, Richard Hunter

author, "Jazz Harp" (Oak Publications, NYC)
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