I soon found that standard harmonicas had some serious limitations when it came to emulating the flow, speed and beautiful
ornamentation characteristic of traditional Irish music, as played on the commonly-used instruments such as fiddle, flute, whistle, pipes
and button-box. I wanted to get 'that sound': to augment the harmonica's natural soulfullness with truly authentic stylistic expressions
to create a harp style which respected the traditional approach but added a new voice.
I studied the music intensively, and found that the only way to achieve what I was after was to change the harmonica itself.
The three main innovations I have created for Irish harmonica are Paddy Richter Tuning, the Slide Diatonic, and the Irish Session Harp.
However, these tunings and harmonicas are great for other types of folk and melody playing too.
Paddy Richter Tuning is a whimsical name I coined for this slightly altered scale, as it was originally for the small 10 hole
diatonic - which is in what's commonly called Richter Tuning. It involves just a small change: raising the 3 blow a tone to get the
missing sixth in the home scale. That tiny one-note change makes a huge difference! Suddenly you can play Irish jigs and reels on the
diatonic harp with great speed and facility.
I first recorded with Paddy Richter on my 1994 album New Irish Harmonica
and since then it has become widely known and quite popular. I've written a book for it, and also offer hand-tuned Paddy Richter diatonics to go with the book or buy separately.
The Slide Datonic comes in
12 hole Solo Tuning and
10 hole Paddy Richter Tuning. It is a retuning for slider chromatic
harmonicas that gives the player in-key slider notes. The slider is great for
trills, turns, cuts, rolls and other decorations characteristic of Irish music,
but it always raises the note a semitone. You can get away with it, as the
slider notes go by very fast, but it is not really authentic for the modal-based
scales of the Irish tunes. To overcome that problem I retuned the slider notes
to the home scale of the instrument, to give a really sweet, authentic
traditional sound akin to that of the whistle, flute and fiddle. Check the links
above for more info and to hear the Slkide Diatonic in action.
My unique Irish Session Harp is a single harmonica with the two main keys of Irish music (G and D) built in! The slider has no spring, so you can instantly select one or other of the keys without changing harps.
I first sold it as the Trad Session Harp from 2000, and it's now available again. The Irish Session Harp comes in two versions: 12-hole Solo Tuning, and the latest, 10-hole Paddy Richter Tuning. Click the links for more info and video clips.
These harmonicas are not just for Irish music. Many use them to play other folk melodies, and even pop tunes! I have found the
Slide Diatonic is also great for Chinese music, as the slider trills emulate the sound of the Dizi, the popular Chinese flute. You
can hear the Slide Diatonic playing a Chinese tune below:
Along with Paddy Richter tuning, I also invented half-valving on the harmonica (there is more detailed info on both further down the page). Half-valving really helps on harps used for Irish music, because it makes the important blow notes play louder, sweeter and with more soul.
Paddy Richter tuning only has one note different to standard Richter, but what a difference
that small change makes! On a normal harp, hole two draw and three blow are the same note.
I took advantage of that duplication to raise three blow by a tone to get the
missing note you normally have to obtain via a tricky draw bend. On a G harp it would raise the D in hole three to E: