[Harp-L] Dogs, Wireless, and Modes

Emily Keene esalisburykeene@xxxxx
Sun Oct 28 05:30:10 EDT 2018

>> > On Fri, Oct 26, 2018 at 9:27 AM Aongus Mac Cana <amaccana at xxxxx>
>> > wrote:
>> >
>> >> I have to admit that I know as much about music theory as "a dog knows
>> >> about
>> >> a wireless". However I am trying to pick it up on a "need to know"
>> basis.
>> >>
>> >> Question #1:      Can you use the terms 1st 2nd and 3d positions for a
>> >> Chromatic harmonica?
>> >>
>> >> In other words on a C Chromatic is G 2nd D 3d. and A 4th. (and on a G
>> >> Chromatic would D be 2nd and A 3d.)
>> >>
>> >> Some Irish Trad players use the terms: 1 sharp 2 sharps and 3 sharps
>> >> describe the keys of G,D. And A. With this system I guess F would be
>> >> called
>> >> 1 flat?
>> >>
>> >> Question #2:      As regards modes are these simply defined by where
>> you
>> >> start your scale on the piano keyboard while confining yourself to the
>> >> white
>> >> keys?
>> >>
>> >> Hoping that someone may indulge an ignoramus,
>> >>
>> >> Beannachtai
>> >>
>> >> Aongus Mac Cana

Regarding Question #1: I don't think the concept of positions is going to
be QUITE the same on a chromatic (with a slide) as a diatonic harp set up
with a Richter scale because of the duplicated notes on a standard
Chromatic to make the draws, blows, and slides do the same thing in every
octave. I learned to play simple straight harp, then blues, and then spent
a lot of time playing the fiddle (before my arm went bad) but then I took
up the whistle before I started playing harmonica on Irish Trad (hereafter
referred to as "Trad"). I think Jazz players who use the term "mode" are
really using it in a different sense than Trad players. When I learned the
whistle, I suddenly understood why some tunes are in "A", others in "D",
others in E minor, etc. Trad music really developed on more or less fixed
pitch instruments like the six-hole flute, the whistle, and the
(Irish)pipes, along with stringed harps, mostly without sharping levers. So
with a "D" whistle (or trad flute, or pipes), if your tonal center is "A",
you really ARE  likely in the Mixolydian mode, because it's really a pain
to half to "half hole" to get a G#. It's not THAT hard on any of the listed
instruments to either "half hole" or use a "forked fingering" to get a C
Natural, so playing in G major (Ionian) or A Minor  (Aeolian) is not a
stretch, but Trad tunes in A major are rare because of the G# problem, and
the ones that do show up are usually adapted from the fiddle. I was taught
by my theory teachers (shortly after the Trojan Wars) that " the modes"
pre-dated harmony, and harmony was a VERY late addition to Trad (and I know
sessions where guitars are still not welcome). So this kinda answers
question #2, about using only the white keys, except on a piano, there's no
reason NOT to use the black keys-it's all about choice-but on the old
instruments, you don't have a choice. The Richter setup always annoyed me,
so I started playing Trad on a D Chromatic, but since I was playing
melodies, the duplicated notes annoyed me as well. I'd been starting to
play a lot of Appalachian music on circular diatonics, so I had Seydel
build me a Circular "D" Chromatic, and since I decided that I'd rather
slide up to melody notes (and down for ornaments), my slide drops each note
a half step. Eddie Clarke did the same kind of thing with a standard
chromatic by flipping the slide, and even Larry Adler arranged some tunes
in C# to get the downward slide). I really like it, and can play all the
Trad tunes on it, and a batch of Canadian tunes as well, and best of all, I
can get the key changes in a medley without switching harps. I doubt this
would work that well for Jazz, but it works great for what I like to play.
Something that makes Trad,  Trad Bluegrass, and Old Time Appalachian music
different from Jazz and other stuff is that you're usually playing a lot of
pretty constant fast notes, so there's not usually a lot of "on-the-spot"
improvisation or reading going on because the music is going too fast-and
if you're improvising too much, you're not playing the music. A tune has to
be pretty much in what they call the "procedural memory", or you're going
to be like the centipede that's trying to remember which foot comes first.
As far as perfect pitch, I knew someone that had it, and it was interesting
to hear him be able to say, "Oh, that's an F#", but I don't necessarily
think it gave him that great a musical advantage. He was a great musician
though, and what he also had a very good sense of (and which can definitely
be learned) is relative pitch, knowing which interval is being played.
Whether or not "perfect pitch" can be learned might very well depend on the
individual. We all have about eighty billion neurons, and they're all
connected a little differently in all of us. What might throw a wrench into
the concept of "learning" perfect pitch is whether you're really learning a
pure pitch or recognizing the timbre of the instrument when it's playing a
given pitch .Neuroscientists still don't know exactly what happens when we
learn something, and there are certainly a lot of different combinations of
pathways and associations that one could devise to remember which notes to
play.   Slan, emily

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