Q: How do I determine the key of a song?

A: This is not as difficult as it seems. You just take out your harps and play some notes and listen which one of them is the root note of the song. If you are quite sure that the song is played in second position (most blues is in fact played in second position) then you just try a few different keys of your diatonic harps and play the 2 draw. You will notice when you have the right harp -- BB

To help you in unusual cases, it might also be advantageous to obtain some music theory background, in addition to ear training in intervals (relative pitch), to familiarize yourself with common chords, progressions, cadences, modes, scales and other musical concepts. Some people have developed perfect pitch which is very helpful in determining keys first and relationships second. Most songs either start or end with the chord associated with the key center, that is, they either start out tension-free or resolve to tension-free (not always). Also a given song can be characterized as major or minor or modal, which of course can shift, but once knowing that, the tonal center or key can usually be identified by ear if you don't become confused by playing tones which support a main chord, but which are not the root note, or to play tones which are in different chords or sales that fit the progression.

Recordings that vary or tape decks that create slightly off-pitch conditions compound the problem. Variable speed tape decks help (Marantz, etc.) -- HA

(FMI: "Re: diatonics and song keys" 15 Sep 94 BL) (FMI: "Determining Key of recording" 25, 26 May 94 JE, WY, KG) (FMI: "Perfect pitch" 1 Mar 95 WY)

 

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I cleaned up my tab for Sonny Boy's Help Me and made it into a short book. There's a Kindle version for 99 cents, and if you buy the paperback you get the Kindle free.

Playing "Help-Me" In the Style of Sonny Boy Williamson II: A step by step, note for note analysis of some of Sonny Boy's Signature Riffs

I also write Science Fiction, so you can sample some of my best stories. Also available in Kindle format.


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The JT30 Page Popular links

I began collecting data about the microphones used by blue harp players before there was an internet. I began organizing it into JT30.com in the late 1990s. I accumulated more stuff than I remember. This is some of it.

Street Theory

A Harp Player’s Guide to Music Theory

Learning Harp

Picking Up Blues Harp

A guide to learning to play Blues Harp

Microphone Information

Usenet Articles


Harp Amps

I've been collecting Harp Amps for a while. This is the old Harpamps.com website. There is lots of information here. Here a coupld of links.


Harp Tab

A collection of songs and riffs that I’ve worked out over the years, plus some libraries of stuff I’ve converted to tablature. I’ve included most of the notes and instructions that helped me when I was learning to play blues harmonica.

Basic Riffs Simple harp tabs for songs Blues riffs and phrases.

Harp-L Archives 1992 to 2002


1992
1993
1994
1995
1996
1997
1998
1999
2000
2001
2002
2003

Harp Frequently Asked Questions