[Harp-L] which key chromatic- depends on player

philharpn@xxxxx philharpn@xxxxx
Mon Mar 27 06:46:40 EDT 2017

Deciding whether to play a chromatc in the key of A or play the key of A on a C  chromatic is a matter of choice. and skill.

It all depends on the ability of the player. Obviously, the player who can read music has all kinds of options and merely has to sort them out. For those who don't read, it's a matter of creating your own tablature in various keys.

Take a song like "Moon River."  Play it in the three basic keys: C, G and F. How does it sound? Is one easier to play than the others? Does it SOUND better in the draw keys of G and F? It may be more difficult to play in the other keys. The original published key was C. But if you go to musicnotesdotcome, you can get a version in C, A, B, D, Eb, F,Gb, G and Ab. One of them may turn out to be your new favorite key. Lead sheets cost $2.99 in keys of C, A, Bb, D, F, G. You can print out the first pace with a watermark free to see i yu like the key or play it back on your computer.

The other issue is choice of harmonica. Except with used equipment, trying out a harmonica before you buy it is mostly out of the question. Just because some people like a certain brand or model doesn't mean you will.

Also, keep in mind that just because everybody says you can play anything on a C harmonica: Don't believe them. While it is technically true, the reality may prove different. Some skilled players may have no problem. But most people who play the  chromatic only play in the key of C. How do I know? Because a Hohner repair person told me several years ago  that most of the harmonicas that come in for repair to Hohner need the reeds/notes for the key of C replaced.

If you want to play a song in the key of A with some A chords backing, you'll need an A harp.

If you want to play a song that uses notes lower than C, you'll need a G, Bb or A harmonica. Or orchestra tuning that has the extra notes.  Keep in mind that lots of people plays songs in more than one key and they don't worry "that it doesn't sound right" because they are used to playing it in another key.

Or you can play "positions" like Joe Leone-- a chrome in F to get the harp in a draw key like C for a better sound. Everybody knows that draw keys sound better. But not if you are locked into a C chrome.

Basically, there is no "one size fits all" kind of answer. It's a matter of what works for the individual player that may be discovered only through trial and error in the Key of J (for jazz).

Keep trying until you find the one that works for you. Don't get locked into the rule that the only way to go is with a C  chromatic. It may work for a professional who has been playing for 30 years.

Hope this helps.

More information about the Harp-L mailing list