Re: chromatic

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Posted by Jeremy Steinberg on January 15, 2003 at 04:30:44:

In Reply to: chromatic posted by kellen on January 14, 2003 at 19:58:50:

: i been playing the diatonic for about 3 1/2 months now. i love it. i want to start up with some jazz music and wanna know how hard it is to start learning chromatic, before i put my money into a lost cuase.

Hello Kellen. Bluz makes some good points, but there are other points of view, too. The diatonic you're playing on and with is built on an 8 note diatonic scale. The standardly accepted full scale is a 12 note chromatic scale. That means, logically, that there are 4 tones (notes) in the chromatic scale that you can play easily (with slide in, for sharps, probably). Of course, you may be able to find these notes on your diatonic, if the reed gaps are small enough, using overblows, as championed by Howard Levy, one of the masters of them, who essentially plays chromatic harmonica on custom-built diatonics, usually built from scratch by Joe Filisko, the master builder.

And the 3 octaves on a typical 10 hole diatonic don't all follow the same pattern of notes in order, as you've probably already noticed, since they were originally designed to play bluesy sounding music, and concentrated on 5th and 7th tonics. So finding all 12 notes on each of the 3 octaves of the diatonic is not the same process.

That being said, chromatic playing changes your (my) thinking and technique on a diatonic. First, the harp feels much bigger in your mouth, which makes the diatonic feel much smaller, and more intimate, in contrast. Second, the chromatic is built more for melody playing, and use of the slide. (Of course, alot of blues harp players don't use the chromatic slide - they play in 3rd position, rather than 2nd, and avoid use of the slide.) The diatonic can play melodies, but not as easily, and your tongue, embouchure, and diaphragm need to do more, because you use bends much more. It's harder to bend chromatic reeds. So, you have two different perspectives, and each helps to refresh the other, and counter-balance it. Some might not like that. I happen to think it's very helpful. Kind of like the yin and yang, if you will. I firmly believe many diatonic players are afraid of the size, and complexity of the chromatic harmonica, and they shouldn't be. It can help them get better, and expand their horizons.

If you do pick up the chromatic, you should learn the full chromatic scale, up and down the harp, on all octaves (although the scale mechanics basically repeat themselves from one octave to another, unlike the diatonic). It will force you to use the slide, and learn different techniques of using the slide. If you watch videotape of master chromatic players, their hand and mouth interactions, and slide work changes from time to time - it's very instructive. Then, there are couplet scales, triads, etc. Like any instrument (or any discipline, for that matter), you get out of it what you put in. Michael Jordan was incredibly gifted, but that didn't stop him from practicing his heart out. Same for Paul Butterfield, Larry Adler, etc. Even with your diatonic - practice, practice, practice!

Good luck! Regards, Jeremy c/o

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