Harmonica Tricks for Violin – thinking in a different key

Ask any harmonica (“harp”) player about this.  Unless the “harp-ist” (not to be confused with the angelic classical instrument with all those strings & pedals) specializes in playing a “chromatic” harp (one with all the sharps and flats accessed by a button on the end), most harmonicas are of the diatonic kind.  “Diatonic,” as stated multiple places in FJI materials, is simply Dia=within, and Tonic=name of key, or “within a key.”  This means that their instrument of choice has a fairly limited choice of notes that stays ONLY within the major scale it is physically made for.  This does not mean that it is not an expressive instrument, only limited, by design, and every harp player has to do creative things to work around those limitations if they want to fit into different kinds of music.

One of the most popular tricks harmonica players do is to use a harp that is in a different key than the song.  This enables them to play in different modes, with the most popular being Mixolydian (b7) mode.  They simply do the “math” beforehand.

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Ask any harmonica (“harp”) player about this.  Unless the “harp-ist” (not to be confused with the angelic classical instrument with all those strings & pedals) specializes in playing a “chromatic” harp (one with all the sharps and flats accessed by a button on the end), most harmonicas are of the diatonic kind.  “Diatonic,” as stated multiple places in FJI materials, is simply Dia=within, and Tonic=name of key, or “within a key.”  This means that their instrument of choice has a fairly limited choice of notes that stays ONLY within the major scale it is physically made for.  This does not mean that it is not an expressive instrument, only limited, by design, and every harp player has to do creative things to work around those limitations if they want to fit into different kinds of music.

One of the most popular tricks harmonica players do is to use a harp that is in a different key than the song.  This enables them to play in different modes, with the most popular being Mixolydian (b7) mode.  They simply do the “math” beforehand.

For example: “A Mixolydian” really shares the same key signature with D major.  Whether harp players in general even know what Mixolydian is, is not critical, but they all know that to get that b7  sound they need to choose the harp that is either “up a fourth” or “down a fifth,” as D is both up 4 notes from A, and down 5 from A.  Get it?  It can be a little confusing at first, but if you memorize this formula, it shouldn’t be too daunting on the bandstand.

So why am I blabbering on about harmonica player’s tricks on a violin oriented website?… You can use the same trick if you are so inclined!… without knowing a lick of music theory or anything about modes.

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