RE: [Harp-L] History of harp tuning; Chrom Tuning

(Hmmm... I see those weird characters on Harp-L postings are affecting quite
a few posts, not just mine. Punctuation marks and apostrophes seem to
trigger all sorts of bizarre gobbledegook. I've switched to Plain Text
instead of HTML formatting, but it still keeps happening. The Harp-L
underlying code must be hyper-sensitive! Moderator: is this something you
can give guidance on, or try to adjust?).

Back to the topic.... Touché, Slim! (that's supposed to be touché with an
accent on the e, but God knows how it will come out in Harp-L!). You're
right: I'm a masochist too, using lots of different tunings and making
several major changes in base tunings over the years. We just enjoy
torturing ourselves in slightly different ways :-)

You make very good arguments for sticking with the one layout, Slim (Solo on
chromatic in your case). As it happens, I think the wind is in your
direction. I'm working on a couple of new chromatic harmonica designs that
will give players access to more enharmonic note choices and greater
expression. They will work with any tuning, including Solo, for those who
want their familiar layout but some tasty extras thrown in. Hope to announce
them within a couple of months.

Brendan Power

-----Original Message-----
From: Slim Heilpern [mailto:slim@xxxxxxxxxx] 
Sent: 17 May 2014 16:14
To: brendan power; harp-l harp-l
Cc: The Iceman
Subject: Re: [Harp-L] History of harp tuning; Chrom Tuning

Touch.ANi! It's true, I'm just trying to justify my love of the tuning.

But I'm actually serious about this -- not as a reason to learn solo tuning,
but as an added benefit. Anyway, it's certainly no more masochistic then
learning a bunch of different tunings ;-).

I don't think any chromatic harmonica tuning gives you the natural speed and
flexibility of an instrument like the saxophone. While true for most
instrument layouts, some licks allow you to speak more fluently than others
and with harmonica we need all the help we can get due to the difficulty of
things like legato interval jumps, the need to change breath direction when
playing legato, and such. We find that certain fingerings allow the
instrument to fly whereas others are a struggle to play musically. A classic
example in solo tuning would be one of Stevie Wonder's (apparently) favorite
chromatic runs playing A Bb B C and back down again. It's all inhale and
button pushes, so you can do it very, very fast with a bit of practice. The
same all-draw pattern starting on different holes gives you very different
results (they are all very cool, but only the A to C gives you the chromatic
scale). This certainly makes the instrument harder to learn, but for your
listeners, assuming you improvise in a variety of keys, they won't tend to
hear the same boring licks from key to key because you won't tend to play
them, you find different licks that work better in those keys.

You could of course get the same result with a more logical tuning by
switching harmonicas between tunes, or forcing yourself to find different
licks to play from tune to tune. Without meaning to offend anyone, I'll just
say that of the harp players I've heard that switch instruments to play in
different keys (achieving a similar result to having a logical chromatic
layout), only the very best don't bore me by playing the same licks in every

On the other hand, I love listening to the great jazz button accordion
players (who use a logical tuning layout), but there's so much speed built
into that instrument in the first place that the situation is different --
unlike harmonica, there seems to be little that you can't do on that

Anyway, I'm positioning the variety-across-keys argument as a pleasant side
effect from having learned solo tuning, not a reason to learn it in the
first place. It would certainly be easier to learn to play in multiple keys
on augmented, diminished, or perhaps other tunings. But if I were starting
from scratch, knowing what I know now, I would probably still start with
solo, because I'd want to be able to copy from the masters, most of whom
play solo tuning. I'd want to be able to play an off-the-shelf axe. And I'd
want to know that the things I've heard the masters play can actually be
done on my instrument too -- without knowing that, I might not have the
confidence to feel I could do it too with enough practice. It's the inertia
thing, and it's questionable whether that's worth fighting against. But
that's just me -- I love hearing others take the plunge into alternate
tunings. I think they're brave and I wish them great success in their

- Slim.

On May 17, 2014, at 3:28 AM, Brendan Power wrote:

> ...
> Slim makes a more interesting point by actually celebrating the fact 
> that you have to learn 12 patterns to play in all keys on Solo tuning, 
> instead of just 3 in Diminished (or even 2 is you half valve and bend 
> to get the necessary notes):
> "Another angle on what I'll call the logical tunings (diminished and 
> augmented come to mind), is that the fewer 'fingerings' (for lack of a 
> better term) required to play in all keys, the less variety you'll 
> have when switching keys. With the illogical solo tuning, every key on 
> the chrom is a new world, with different strengths, different usable 
> double-stops and chords, different available ornaments -- that's one 
> of the things I love about it, it's not boring."
> That's a clever riposte! Good for masochists, certainly. Taking that 
> logic, I wonder if there was a way to make it even more difficult for 
> you Slim, and therefore presumably more enjoyable ;-)

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