Q: What is a diatonic harmonica?

A: From "Post #2 General Stuff" 2 Nov 1992 JE, this is an extension of the previous section:

A diatonic harmonica is a harmonica that only has the notes in an ordinary diatonic scale directly available. A variation on the diatonic is the tremolo tuned model, where two reeds that are tuned slightly apart sound at the same time to produce a tremolo effect. Another variation is the octave tuned model where two reeds that are tuned exactly an octave apart are sounded at the same time. This produces more volume and another timbre. A singularly important type of diatonic is the kind that is used for blues music. This one usually has 10 holes, with a draw and a blow reed per hole. Its tuning is a variation on the diatonic scale called the Richter tuning:

DIATONIC HARMONICA LAYOUT KEY of "C"

         1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9   10
 +---++---++---++---++---++---++---++---++---++---++---+
 BLOW | C || E || G || C || E || G || C || E || G || C |
 draw | d || g || b || d || f || a || b || d || f || a |
 +---++---++---++---++---++---++---++---++---++---++---+

-- "Post #2 General Stuff" 2 Nov 1992 JE

Please note that Jack Ely also has an excellent primer on playing this kind of harmonica called "An Introduction to the Diatonic Harmonica" or "Short Harp Tips (Getting Started on the Diatonic Harmonica)".

(FMI: "Diatonic Tips - C scale etc." 13 Jan 93 JE (original post of this))


There are also other diatonic tunings other than the major Richter noted above, namely that of Natural Minor, Harmonic Minor, Country or Melody Maker, Spanish and Steve Baker Special (SBS) -- HA

Several new tunings have also been forwarded by Pierre Beauregard and Magic Dick (Richard Salwitz) of J.Geils fame to which they have been awarded a US patent #5,166,461 -- HA

(FMI: "Re: Haircut" 1 Oct 94 KF) (FMI: "Magic Harps Patent" 3 Oct 94 SL) (FMI: "MAGIC DICK INTERVIEW PART 1" "...& 2" 17 Jan 95 DE)

Finally, there is a variation on the diatonic that approached the chromatic -- two diatonic sets of plates tuned Richter, but one semi-tone away from each other (i.e. C and C# as in a chromatic), stacked in one harmonica, accessible by a slide. Some say that these harmonicas leak air terribly -- HA

(FMI: "Slide Harp/Koch" -- 22 Dec 93 RL) (FMI: "SLIDE HARP/KOCH 980" 17 Oct 93 WY)


> From "Little Walter, Oskar Tunings" 10 Jun 94 WY:

LEE OSKAR TUNINGS:

Here's a regular C harp:

     1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9  10
DR | D | G | B | D | F | A | B | D | F | A |
   |---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---|
BL | C | E | G | C | E | G | C | E | G | C |

Here's a Melody Maker in G.

     1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9  10
DR | D | G | B | D | F#| A | B | D | F#| A |
   |---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---|
BL | C | E | A | C | E | G | C | E | G | C |

While this is a variation on standard C tuning, it's labeled in G, as it's meant to be played in G Major. All the F's have been raised to F#, and the G in Blow 3 has been raised to A, allowing a complete major scale without bending or overblowing.

Here's the Natural minor in G

     1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9  10
DR | D | G | Bb| D | F | A | Bb| D | F | A |
   |---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---|
BL | C | Eb| G | C | Eb| G | C | Eb| G | C |

Note how it's labeled in the cross harp key. G natural minor is the same scale as Bb major, and if you treat Hole 2 on this harp as Hole 1, you have a Melody Maker in Bb.

[later in the thread] I WAS WRONG about the Melody Maker part. It's more interesting than that (I wrote it about 1 AM). If you take Bb as the keynote, you get the tonic chord in the draw all the way up. And instead of getting the fifth degree of the scale (F in this case) in Hole 2 (which would be Hole 1 on a Bb Melody Maker), you get the sixth, which will bend down to the fifth (and beyond). This is a very cool position to play, with its jazzy Major seventh chord in the draw. ------------------------------

Here is a Harmonic Minor in C, the "non-diatonic" minor Bart is seeking.

     1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9  10
DR | D | G | B | D | F | Ab| B | D | F | Ab|
   |---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---|
BL | C | Eb| G | C | Eb| G | C | Eb| G | C |

This is yet again a variation on standard C tuning, but this one is not labeled in cross harp position. it is meant to be played in first position (C). Both Lee Oskar and Hohner make this tuning.

In C harmonic minor, the third (Eb) and sixth (Ab) are minor, while the seventh, which in a natural minor scale would be minor (Bb), is left as a major (B). The distinctive interval formed by a minor sixth and a major seventh is what gives the harmonic minor its lugubrious, eastern-sounding character.

If you prefer a cross harp version of this, you could take a Natural minor in G, and raise the pitch of the F reeds to F# -- "Little Walter, Oskar Tunings" 10 Jun 94 WY

(FMI" "Re: L.A. Harp Updates" 17 Oct 94 FJM)

 

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