[Harp-L] Spiral Tuning

Robert Coble robertpcoble@xxxxx
Fri Aug 11 17:39:05 EDT 2017

Brett A. Tipton asked:

Is there a particular advantage to having the root note of C in the draw 2 position as opposed to the blow 1 position?


Yes, there is. If you view the "key" as starting on hole 2 draw, then hole 1 blow is the 5th of the corresponding scale. This is often advantageous for dropping to the 5th (below the tonic) and then doing a run back up to the tonic. I use this a lot when playing OTM/bluegrass/gospel/country. It helps to know some music theory, especially about modes. Some of the bluegrass tunes are actually played in Mixolydian (starts on the 5th scale degree of the corresponding major scale, with a flatted 7th; "Old Joe Clark" for example) and Aeolian (starts on the 6th scale degree of the corresponding major scale, called the "natural minor"; "Wayfaring Stranger" for example) modes.

I normally play chords (chugging) when comping, and then play the melody when taking a break. There is a chord on every scale degree with spiral tuning. Those two reasons are why I don't play anything but spiral tuned harps.

Seydel's key naming "convention" for spiral tuned harps follows the rest of the harmonica industry: the "key" of the harp is labeled based on hole 1 blow, which (in the case of spiral tuning) is Mixolydian mode. I have my own personal Circle of Fifths tool which I (used to) reference when deciding on which harp to use. The easiest way to figure it out is to look at the key of music to be played (whatever is called by the band) and then find the key for the spiral tuned harp which is one position to the RIGHT (clockwise) from the key of the music. That is ASSUMING that the tonic of the key is hole 2 draw, or hole 6 blow. That way, you get 2.5 octaves of usable range. You can figure out the rest of the positions relative to the key of music.

Traditionally, this would be called playing in 2nd position on a spiral tuned harp (again, using "standard" position terminology). Actually, you are playing in 1st position, if you are using "standard" position terminology. Sigh.

All the best,

Crazy (about that spiral tuning!) Bob

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