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Lee Knight

Harp players! Help with harp key choice?

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I've got a harp player, not a pro, but a great sounding weekend warrior none the less, who gets a bit challenged with the proper key for this or that. The basics: Cross harp goes up a 4th.

Is that right? You're in E so you use an A harp for cross harp blues style harp playing. I think that's it.

But what about a minor? There is a tune in Bm and the riff that I want him to double falls all on the Bm scale. He's ordered a Bm harp...

...but this has me thinking. Will we get the bends so prevalent in blues harp? Wouldn't we want to use the cross harp key change for this a well?

How do you do this in a minor key?

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Whoa... nice page. He's tracking in 2 hours and this is exactly what I need. BTW, I did check some of these pages but most were so basic they were not much help. This page has everything I need. I'll keep it bookmarked for future reference.

 

Nice, thanks Boosh.

 

Edit: Key of A. Got it.

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I always remember it this way-from the song key, count up 4 to find the harp key (or, song +4). From the harp, count up 5 to find the song key (or, harp +5) Don't know why I memorized it like that, but it just stuck with me.

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I remember wondering about the harp thing when I first heard about using the 4th harp. After I applied the theory I realized that the mixolydian mode is where the b7 resides which is so common (perhaps even essential) in much rock and blues music.

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I remember wondering about the harp thing when I first heard about using the 4th harp. After I applied the theory I realized that the mixolydian mode is where the b7 resides which is so common (perhaps even essential) in much rock and blues music.

 

That's how I think of it, too. The harp choice is the one that produces the b7. So it's only one accidental away from the key of the song (as would be true of the 4th or 5th of the key), but the harp key is the one that's like the key of the song except it produces the b7th degree instead of the normal 7th (a half step from the root). So if someone says, "We're in D blues," you know to pick your G harp, because that has a C-natural (G is a one-sharp key) and that's the b7 in the key of D (whose major scale takes a C#).

 

But if you show up with just a D harp and the guys say, "What key would you like to do a blues in?" you need to know to tell them "A" (not G), because your G-natural (part of the D major) is the b7 of A major. So you have to do the conversion both ways, depending on the situation.

 

I didn't know the part about the minor. Essentially, the minor key of the song becomes the Dorian mode of your harp. Dorian yields major 6th, when the normally occurring minor 6th is really more true to the straight minor-key sound. (Unless of course the song is specifically in Dorian, as in "Evil Ways.") It might have more to do with the draw/blow layout of the reeds than the theory (which is more the case for understanding cross-harp conversion). Otherwise, why wouldn't it be the straight harp choice (which reflects the relative minor)?

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If the harp player in question is not used to playing minor-key riffs with a harp that is a whole step below the key of the song (3rd position, in harp parlance), and if he has good control over his bending, he may feel more comfortable sticking to cross-harp (2nd position) on short notice. It also depends on the riff. For example, the "Mary Jane" signature harp riff is mostly the 2nd and min 3rd scale tones that you both have to get by bending in 2nd position- hard to do for all but a pro.

 

2nd position, cross-harp is the Missionary position of harp playing. Immortalized in the epic riffs of "Missionary Man".

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