[Harp-L] What key is the band in?

pdxharpdog@xxxxx pdxharpdog@xxxxx
Wed Nov 2 14:51:59 EDT 2016

Even in my band's gigs the guitarist doesn't always put the capo on the correct fret in the heat of the moment. If I catch it in the first couple of notes he plays and it's important that I play the harp that it is usually in for some reason, then I might get him to stop and correct, but most of the time I have to just go with the key he's in by adjusting to him on the fly. He's usually only a half step up or down off, so I often put those keys on the set list - 1/2 half up = X and 1/2 down = Y so I can quickly identify the two harps it might be. I also try to see where the capo is when he's in the right key and that helps me know when all is good with the key and I can worry about other issues like volume, wetting my whistle, winking at cute girls from the stage, you know the important stuff. 

If I'm not playing in my band but am just sitting in without having the key, I do the root note check on a C harp, (shout out to my pro buddy David Lipkind for this tip) and lately, I have been channeling my subconscious to try to associate the key I feel that it's in and trying that first. Don't discount the power of the subconscious mind in this situation. At worst it gets you closer and I guess correctly more often than I thought I could. 

If I have to figure it out, I plug one ear with my finger and mute or get away from the mic and play quietly to dial in the key. Plugging one ear works great for hearing clearly through all the other instruments. 

All this happens at warp speed of course, but feels like super slo-motion. 

Most good musicians know that you need the key and will just tell you ahead of the start of the song or if you ask nicely. I watch for the best time before the song looks like it gonna get started and jump in there and ask. I hate doing that because it can interrupt stage to audience banter, but hey guys we play a diatonic instrument and the key matters! 

Also, when you know that you're going to be asked to sit in before a set starts, I get the name of the song(s) I'm playing and the key they're in before. Most audiences aren't paying a lot of attention to the harp player so if you have to quietly dial it in there's no real downside. 

Ross Macdonald 

----- Original Message -----

From: "Greg Heumann" <greg at xxxxx> 
To: harp-l at xxxxx 
Cc: mike at xxxxx 
Sent: Wednesday, November 2, 2016 7:59:18 AM 
Subject: Re: [Harp-L] What key is the band in? 

Hi, Mike 

Lots of answers. I’ll share the David Barrett “Using your harmonica as a pitch pipe” method. This is what I do. It takes a little practice but all you need is a C harp and you can figure out the key to a tune quickly with no help from anyone. To do this: 

1) You need to memorize the names of the notes on the 1st 4 holes of your C harmonica. The blow notes are C-E-G-C and the draw notes are D-G-B-D. Other notes of the scale are there too - bend the 3 hole a half step you get Bb, a whole step you get A - etc. 

2) You need to be able to hear what is the “root note” of the “I” chord of the tune. You can easily learn to recognize it - it is the one note that goes with everything. Humming it helps a lot at first. 

3) So identify the root note, and then find that note among the 1st 4 holes. Ba-da-bing, ba-da-boom! That’s the key of the song. 

When I first started doing this it took some time, got it wrong once in a while… now I can figure the key of most tunes and pick the right harp to play along with it in about 5 seconds. 



"You’re going to like the way you sound. I guarantee it." 

> From: "Mike Schmitt" <mike at xxxxx> 
> To: <harp-l at xxxxx> 
> Subject: [Harp-L] What key is the band in? 
> Message-ID: <09ec01d234aa$e9f5cb10$bde16130$@com> 
> Content-Type: text/plain; charset="us-ascii" 
> Are there any tips to figure out what key the guitar player is in? It seems 
> like who ever starts the song does not share it and by the time I ask the 
> song has already started. Maybe it's just an experience thing? 

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