HARMONICA TUNING DIAGRAMS = An Alternative Approach

Anything apart from the two mainstream default harmonicas (Solo-tuned fully-valved chromatic, and un-valved Richter 10-hole diatonic). Alternate tunings, different construction, new functionality, interesting old designs, wishful-thinking... whatever!
Post Reply
User avatar
Brendan
Posts: 662
Joined: Fri Mar 24, 2017 2:28 pm
Contact:

HARMONICA TUNING DIAGRAMS = An Alternative Approach

Post by Brendan » Thu Mar 04, 2021 10:42 am

I was chatting with IaNerd on another thread about how to depict tuning diagrams, and it got me thinking...

I mentioned my preference for having the notes laid out according to their pitch, rather than how they are fixed to the reedplates inside the harp: Low notes on the bottom row, High notes on the upper row, and Bends in the middle. I find it helps me memorize phrases, because their shape reflects the rise and fall of the notes in the air.

However, that runs contrary to the conventional way of showing diatonic harmonica diagrams. All current manufacturers have adopted the construction of a blow reedplate on top of the comb, and draw reedplate on the bottom. (It doesn't have to be that way of course! You could just as well have them the other way around - but that's the way it is, all diatonic harps are the same...)

Reflecting that, tuning diagrams invariably reflect the construction of the harp: blow reeds are shown on the upper row, draw reeds on the lower row. But, in a sonic/spatial sense, that often conflicts with their note pitches. Generally the blow note is lower in pitch than the draw - but the standard harmonica diagrams ignore this altogether!

Ever since my early playing days, I've favoured regular-breath tunings, where the blow note is ALWAYS lower than the draw, in every hole. It's led me to create several tunings based on this principle (mainly PowerBender, PowerDraw, PowerChromatic, and their variations). It's also the basis of some other well-known Alternate Tunings: Diminished, Augmented, and Spiral Tuning (also known as Circular).

For such regular-breath tunings where the pattern is the same throughout the harp, to me it makes logical music sense to show tuning diagrams and phrase maps which reflect the pitch of the notes. As an aid to memory, I find SEEING the notes rise and fall on the page/screen helps reinforce their actual sounds in the air, and helps me internalise them faster. Here's an example of an Em scale on a Lucky 13 in PowerChromatic Tuning:
Lucky 13 PowerChromatic Tuning in C - E Minor.png
Lucky 13 PowerChromatic Tuning in C - E Minor.png (57.07 KiB) Viewed 1518 times
Even though the Lucky 13 has the same construction as other diatonics (blow reedplate on the upper surface of the comb, draw on the lower surface), in terms of the notes' pitches it's the opposite: blow notes are ALWAYS lower than draw notes. The tuning diagram reflects this, and the Phrase Map for the minor scale shown makes more logical and musical sense than if the tuning was shown in the conventional manner. To me, anyway!

This is all very well for regular-breath tunings, but what about the much more common harmonica tunings which have the blow and draw notes flipping positions: Richter and Solo? These are the dominant harmonica tunings, deeply entrenched over more than a century of worldwide use. They switch between the blows and draws being higher or lower depending on where you are on the harp. Richter makes a complete flip at hole 7, Solo does it once per octave. Could such a pitch-based tuning diagram system apply to these irregular-breath tunings as well?

After some thought this morning I came up with a way that they could, and am interested to hear what you think about it...

It would be possible by getting rid of the rigid Blow/Draw horizontal rows and replacing them with note colours according to breath (or some other designation clearly distinguishing between them). For example, using black ink only, you could have capital letters for BLOW notes, small letters for draw, or similar... Or Bold letters for blow, plain for draw... Or use two radically different fonts according to breath...

That way you would still have the low note in each hole on the bottom row of the diagram, bends in the middle row/s, and the high notes above, regardless of whether they are blows or draws. But whether a note is blow or draw would be instantly obvious from a glance at the diagram.

Assuming the harp is un-vlaved, Overbends (Overblows and Overdraws) would also be available. Since Overbends are always a semitone higher in pitch than the highest note in each hole, so they would go on the very top row.

I haven't seen a harp tuning shown that way before, but perhaps it's been done? If so, please let me know - I'd love to check it out! It wouldn't surprise me if someone has used this method before, because it does have a powerful musical logic to it. Plus, it would look quite attractive too 🙂

The advantage of this approach is that you really SEE what a tuning looks like in terms of its note structure, rather than where the reeds are physically placed on the reedplates. Since we're talking about graphics here, a picture is always worth a thousand words! I drew up a few tunings according to this principle, using different fonts for the blow and draw notes:
Tuning Diagrams According to Pitch and Breath.jpg
Tuning Diagrams According to Pitch and Breath.jpg (369.03 KiB) Viewed 1475 times
They may look odd at first, but once you get dialled-in the logic should become clear. One thing stands out immediately: the simplicity of regular-breath tunings (Spiral, PowerBender, Diminished etc) compared to irregular ones like Richter. They cut down on complexity quite a bit, in several respects.

Many will not like this way of showing tunings I'm sure, but I hope it gives food for thought anyway! Interested to hear your reactions, positive or negative.

User avatar
IaNerd
Posts: 482
Joined: Thu Aug 10, 2017 6:42 pm
Location: Iowa, USA

Re: HARMONICA TUNING DIAGRAMS = An Alternative Approach

Post by IaNerd » Sun Mar 07, 2021 7:11 pm

Very nice, Brendan!

A variation on your theme:

download/file.php?mode=view&id=781
Attachments
2021-03-07 (2).png
2021-03-07 (2).png (10.25 KiB) Viewed 1339 times

Lizzy
Posts: 143
Joined: Sun May 07, 2017 1:42 pm
Location: Sweden

Re: HARMONICA TUNING DIAGRAMS = An Alternative Approach

Post by Lizzy » Mon Mar 08, 2021 11:31 am

I like Brendans layout. Its both logical and practical. Its easier to see and do, then to know note names on the reedplate. What you see is what you need, for me at least. I dont read notes either and this layout is easier to see whats easier/difficult to manuver in certain tunings depending if you prefer blow, bend, draw, overbend or valved bends. Its also easy for me to transfer and visualize my tabs directly to this layout if i want to. I have always used David Barrets tabs...3' 3" 3''' for draw bends, 3+ for blow, 3 for single draw, 4+' for overbend or valved bends(lowered bend).

November_SSN
Posts: 9
Joined: Tue Mar 30, 2021 9:39 am

Re: HARMONICA TUNING DIAGRAMS = An Alternative Approach

Post by November_SSN » Tue Mar 30, 2021 10:56 am

It's easier to get for me as well! I'm an absolute beginner and have only recently gotten my harmonica, and I find it more straightforward and instinctive than usual diagrams.

User avatar
Brendan
Posts: 662
Joined: Fri Mar 24, 2017 2:28 pm
Contact:

Re: HARMONICA TUNING DIAGRAMS = An Alternative Approach

Post by Brendan » Tue Mar 30, 2021 8:32 pm

Good to see a few other like this pitch-based graphical interface for the harmonica.

However, it could go further, to be more widely applicable to all keys.

Personally, I don't think about the names of notes at all - I think numbers of the scale. Thus on a C harp, instead of CD - EG - GB - CD for the bottom four holes, I'd think 12 - 35 - 57 - 12. This immediately transfers to any key, regardless of what it is.

The tuning diagram could be re-written in this form and (to my mind anyway) be even more useful.

The only trouble with the number system is when you play in different positions/keys on the harp. For example, in 2nd position, the tonic #1 of 1st Position becomes the #4 of the scale. So the numbers of the notes change relative to what key you're in. That would mean possibly 12 different tuning diagrams...

However, the good thing about numbers is they are very amenable to digitising. So, if the Tuning Diagram were in a software format, or a phone app, you could instantly see where your relative scale note numbers are just by inputting the key.

Colour coding would be great. For example, the Tonic #1 of the position/scale could be blue, the Third red, the Fifth yellow - that kind of idea. You see at a glance where all the main notes are. It could help a lot with learning a new tuning.

This sounds like something our smart friend Edvin could whip up pretty easily... Edvin, any chance of something like this when you have a bit of spare time?

(Just thinking aloud: if you could turn it into an app, I think it could be quite popular amongst harp players...)

November_SSN
Posts: 9
Joined: Tue Mar 30, 2021 9:39 am

Re: HARMONICA TUNING DIAGRAMS = An Alternative Approach

Post by November_SSN » Wed Mar 31, 2021 4:34 pm

It's true that reading music would become even easier this way! It'd be shocking for those who like the traditional way of teaching and writing music, but to newcomers, it would make it much more accessible.


EdvinW
Posts: 188
Joined: Tue Jun 05, 2018 6:02 pm
Location: Sweden

Re: HARMONICA TUNING DIAGRAMS = An Alternative Approach

Post by EdvinW » Mon Apr 12, 2021 9:27 am

Thank you Brendan for the encouragement! It's on my to-do list!

The thing is, my typing-related hand pain has been worse lately, and in the same time I am trying to finish my PhD thesis. (on the brighter side I'm looking into how fast a DM48 can be used for typing, so at least my first excuse might diminish soon ;))

I'm afraid it will have to be yet another thing to do "later", unless someone else makes a good version first :)
Edvin Wedin

Post Reply