Friday, February 16, 2007

Da Niu's Complete Idiot's Guide To Types of Harmonicas

Yeap! You heard me! Harmonica AGAIN!!

I have started a small harmonica class for the Kuching rovers last month. (2nd week of January 2007, 5th January 2007 to be exact) with the aim of having some Rovers to play harmonica and perhaps even perform in the scout night at the end of the year (who knows we might even have a concert of our own!). The class is free of charge, in which I would personally share the joy of harmonica playing with the rovers. Hopefully, this could attract more scouts and rovers in the district in taking up such wonderful music instrument.

As what i have told my friends, harmonica, is relatively easy to learn. However, it can be difficult to master where there are many techniques and methods in making harmonica playing session an enjoyable one. As per Master Zhen Xian Wen's definition of competency, i have just merely passed the basic level and doing ok. Well! yet to progress into the advance level. But can't wait to share what i know and of course, the joy of playing harmonica with my friends. This entry is gonna be a long one (which take me 3 weeks for research, compile, edit and publish)introducing different types of harmonicas and hopefully i won't bore the non-harmonica playing friends but to open the eyes of all my blog readers (as if!! Tak perasan!!), especially my harmonica class. Welcome to the world of harmonica.

Harmonica, being the ‘prince’ of all instruments are the most widely played instrument in this world due to its small size, easily portable and relatively cheap in price. It’s the most affordable musical instrument in the world and enjoyed by all communities. Well! this would be my Idiot's guide introducing different types of harmonica enjoyed by the world .

May be i should consider publishing this entry *Evil grin*

There are many types of harmonica produced by many renowned harmonica manufacturers, which are readily available in the market. Generally they can be divided into 3 main groups.

Different categories of harmonica

1, Solo (獨奏類口琴) :
a, - Diatonic (全音階口琴),
i - Tremelo (複音口琴),
ii - Echo (回声/回音口琴),
iii - Octave (重音/上低音口琴),
iv - Blues / 10 Holes (民謠/布鲁斯/十孔口琴),
b, - Chromatic (半音階口琴),

2, Ensemble (合奏類口琴):
a, - Bass (低音口琴),
b, - Chord (和絃口琴),
c, - Horns (銅角口琴),
d, - Baritone (中音口琴).

3, Others :
a, - Baby / Miniature / One Inch harmonica (項鍊口琴).
b, - Historic collection.
i, - Trumpet call
ii, - Echobell
iii, - Puck and double puck
iv, - Echophone

1, Solo (獨奏類口琴) - As the name implies, is to be performed by 1 person only.

a, Diatonic (全音階口琴)

Diatonic harmonica

Strictly speaking, diatonic harmonicas denote any harmonica that is designed for playing diatonic scale in only one key. Depending on the region of the world, " diatonic harmonica" may mean either Tremolo Harmonica (in East Asia) or Blues Harp / 10 holes (In Europe and North America). Other diatonic harmonicas include octave and echo harmonica. The reeds of Diatonic harmonicas produce the notes of the scale to which they are tuned. For example, a diatonic harmonica tuned to the key of C would produce the natural notes of the C scale without sharps and flats (picture the white keys on a piano, without the black keys). Each hole has two reeds; one plays when breath is exhaled (blow) and the other when inhaled (draw). The individual reeds are each tuned to play a different note on the scale. As with many other diatonic instruments, they come in all of the musical keys, and are manufactured by just about every company- Hohner, Suzuki, etc. Although diatonic harmonica are not able to be used to play ‘#’ (Sharp), playing and switching between 2 saperate harmonicas with ‘#’ keys are common practises among players.

I, Tremelo (複音口琴)

Tremelo harmonica

The most commonly used harmonica especially for the beginners. In Asia, diatonic usually refer to this type. Tremelo harmonicas are made out of 2 rolls of reeds. The tremolo harmonica's distinguishing feature is that it has two reeds per note, with one a bit sharp and the other a bit flat. This provides a unique wavering or warbling sound created by the two reeds being slightly out of tune with each other and the difference in their subsequent waveforms interacting with each other. The term "tremolo" is actually something of a misnomer; "vibrato" would have been a better term for this instrument or perhaps “musette”. The Asian version, which has all the notes on it, is used in all East-Asian music, from rock, folk, country to pop music. There are many techniques in playing such harmonica.
II, Blues (十孔民谣口琴)

10 holes / Blues harmonica

Also known as 10-hole harmonica or Blue harp. In United States and Europe, diatonic usually refer to this type. The harmonicas are smaller in size and easily to be brought around. Even Hohner produced a special blue harp for the American Scouts.

Geesss! They even come out with blues harmonica for Scouts!!

The 10-hole, or richter tuned harmonica, is the most widely known type of harmonica. It has ten holes that offer the player a total of 19 notes (10 holes times a draw and a blow for each hole minus one repeated note) in a three octave range. This is the harmonica commonly used in blues, country, jazz and rock music, as well as some skilled jazz players.

One of the specialties of the 10-holed diatonic "Richter" tuned harmonica is its ability to play more than its basic 19 notes. It has the ability to produce 42 notes, (including 4 repeats), ending up with a complete 3 chromatic octave range, plus two extra half-steps on the high end. This requires the use of special techniques such as bending and overblowing. Furthermore, these techniques are used to produce many different effects. The most common is slurring (linking from a regular note in the scale to an overblow or overdraw) to the bent note, or playing straight into the note.

III, Octave tuned (重音/上低音口琴)

Octave harmonica
Octave harmonicas have two reeds per hole which are tuned to the same note a perfect octave apart. Many share their basic design with the tremolo harmonica and are built on the "Wiener system" of construction.

Octave harmonicas also come in what is called the "Knittlinger system". In this design, the top and bottom reed-plates contain all of the blow and draw notes for either to lower or higher pitched set of reeds. The comb is constructed so that the blow and draw reeds on each reed-plate are paired side-by-side in a single chamber in the same manner as on a standard diatonic. However, the top and bottom pairs each have their own chamber. Thus, in a C harmonica the higher pitched C blow and D draw found in the first "hole" would be placed side-by-side on the upper reed-plate and share a single chamber in the comb and the lower pitched C blow and D draw would be placed side-by-side on the bottom reed-plate and share a single chamber directly below the higher pitched pair of reeds' chamber. Knittlinger octave harmonicas are also called "concert" harmonicas and are almost always tuned in a variation of the traditional major diatonic with chords tuning found in diatonic harmonicas. Octave harmonicas built in the "Wiener system" may be tuned either in this traditional method or in the same manner as the Asian tremolos mentioned above.

An interesting variation upon the Knittlinger octave harmonica is the so-called "half-concert" harmonica. This is not an octave harmonica at all, but rather a single-note diatonic harmonica which is built with a single reed-plate rather than the standard two--essentially it is one half of the standard octave harmonica.

IV, Echo (回声/回音口琴)

Echo harmonica

Echo harmonica are used in specific songs for its effects. The design of the harmonica creates a unique echo effect with beautiful tunes.

b, Chromatic (半音階口琴)

Chromatic harmonica

Have been very popular among players in these few years. The Chromatic harmonica usually uses a button-activated sliding bar to redirect air from the hole in the mouthpiece to the selected reed-plate, although there was one design, the "Machino-Tone", which controlled airflow by means of a lever-operated movable flap on the rear of the instrument Able to play all the '#' notes (picture the white keys on a piano, with the black keys). This harp can be used for any style such as classics Jazz, blues, Celtic and western music. As the range of music played often can reach up to 4 octaves, it is often used in ensembles.

2, Ensemble (合奏類口琴) - Rare and usually used in orchestras and ensembles.

I, Bass (低音口琴)

Bass harmonica

Some say it’s the world’s heaviest harmonica. It is mainly used to play bass notes in the orchestras due to its solid and low tunes. The Bass harmonica can be further divided into Contra bass and Double bass. It playes an octave lower range than baritone harmonica.

The Bass harmonica consists of two separate combs joined together one atop the other with moveable connectors at their ends. Most of the bass harmonicas are all-blow instruments covering much the same range as the viola family Contra and Double Bass in string instrument. Today, Double Bass harmonicas are all octave tuned, which means that each hole has two reeds one of which plays the bass note and the other a note an octave higher while Contra Bass harmonicas only consist of one reed only. The lower comb contains the notes of the C major diatonic scale, while the upper comb contains the notes of a C# (sharp - Db) diatonic scale.

II, Chord (和絃口琴)

Chord harmonica

Some say it’s the world’s longest harmonica which plays 8 reeds simultaneously. It consists of 384 reeds which has 48 chords: major, seventh (7), minor, augmented and diminished for ensemble playing. It is laid out in four-note clusters, each sounding a different chord on inhaling or exhaling. Typically each hole has two reeds for each note, tuned to one octave of each other. However, less expensive models often have only one reed per note.

In addition, quite a few orchestra harmonicas are also designed to serve both as bass and chord harmonica, with bass notes next to chord groupings. There are also other chord harmonicas, such as Chordomonica (operate similar to a chromatic harmonica), and junior chord harmonicas (Typically provide 6 chords).

III, Horn (銅角口琴)

Horn harmonica

The horn harmonica is divided into 2 types which are Soprano Horn (高音銅角) and Alto Horn (低音銅角). These consist of a single large comb with blow only reed-plates on the top and bottom. Each reed sits inside a single cell in the comb.

One version mimics the layout of a piano or mallet instrument, with the natural notes of a C diatonic scale in the lower reed-plate and the sharps/flats in the upper reed-plate in groups of two and three holes with gaps in between like the black keys of a piano (thus there is no E#/Fb hole nor a B#/Cb hole on the upper reed-plate). Another version has one "sharp" reed directly above its "natural" on the lower plate, with the same number of reeds on both plates.

Horn harmonicas are available in several pitch ranges, with the lowest pitched starting two octaves below middle C and the highest beginning on middle C itself; they usually cover a two or three octave range. They are chromatic instruments and are usually played in an East Asian harmonica orchestra instead of the "push-button" chromatic harmonica that is more common in the European/American tradition. Their reeds are often larger, and the enclosing "horn" gives them a different timbre, so that they often function in place of a brass section. In the past, they were referred to as horn harmonicas.

IV, Baritone (中音口琴)

Baritone harmonica

It playes an octave lower range than normal tremelo harmonica. It produces a rich and deep ensemble sound which is equivalent to a viola in string instrument.

3. Others (其他類口琴)

I, Baby / miniature / One Inch harmonica (項鍊口琴)
Baby / Miniature harmonica
4 holes, 8 reeds miniature harmonicas are usually used as gifts though such miniature harmonica at 1 inch in length can play a perfect octave.

II, Historic Collections

Historic collections
Reproduction and replicas for personal collections.
1, Wikipedia - Harmonica
2, China Harp - Danny Cheong
3, Yellow Stone - Taiwan
4, Other related harmonica sites

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