Harp On! Harmonica Altered Tunings
Altered tuned harmonicas are available from
Other resources for altered tunings
Altered Tunings of Note
There are many altered tunings that are in use by a number of players:
Very close to solo tuning except that holes 4, 8 and 12 are flipped over
so that the breath pattern does not change.
For example with Cmaj7 / Dmin7 the first of the two C notes and C# notes
are flipped to draw positions, making them much more useful, improving
phrasing and enabling more legato phrases. It gives you more chords
including Cmaj7, Emin, Dmin7 and F as well as Dbmaj7, Fmin and F#, in
addition to many more useful partial chords.
Diminished Tuning AKA Dimi AKA Minnie AKA CAT (Chromatic Altered Tuning by Dr Yeadon),
a different angle to the chromatic harmonica based on the diminished scale & chords.
It provides the player with 1 octave per four holes like Solo tuning,
however there is no bias towards any key. There are many partial chord
options available, using only minor 3rd intervals, which in today's 12EDO
temperament are more sonourous and settled than major 3rds, making the
diminished harmonica for good backing and harmonising.
The slide is usally set up to sharpen the notes, and because of the evenly spread enharmonics there is plenty of oportunity for smooth transitions. Flat slide, whole tone slide and flat whole tone slide are all practical variations too.
- For Chromatic Harmonica
Solo tuning has an established place in the chromatic harmonica's short history,
all education material & compositions for the chromatic harmonica to date are written on the
assumption that solo tuning is in use. That is why it is still here and remains the most
popular tuning - by default. And whilst there are some superb musicians using this,
it doesn't make it the most practical layout for all musical styles & situations.
- Bebop Tuning. This is a slight variation on Solo Tuning that has a big
impact on the playability of the instrument when playing Jazz.
Only two reeds per octave are retuned, on a standard Solo C holes 4, 8 & 12 have both the blow reeds (slide out & slide in) retuned to Bb (slide out) and B (slide in).
This removes the C# enharmonic and one of the double C notes, it also removes the breath change required on those holes, instead every hole has the same blow/draw progression up the scale.
It also changes the bias of the chromatic layout from just key of C to keys C and F.
Therefore it is also known as C/F Bebop Tuning. It changes the blow chords available so
that a dominant 7th is introduced and this needs to be accounted for, it also adds additional chordal possibilities. This is more popular than the other tunings because its the least radical change away from Solo Tuning so even those who have played Solo for many years can still adjust to it without losing too much time.
- Alternate C6 Bebop Tuning. Similar to C/F Bebop however instead of using Bb & B on holes 4, 8 & 12, A/Bb are used. The blow chords are changed to C6 & Db6. This tuning facilitates interesting new opportunities and is used by William Gallison.
- Classical Tuning.
AKA I maj7/ ii min7 Tuning
Personally I have come to rely almost exclusively on diminished tuning for my chromatics, and recommend it to beginners to seasoned players
alike. In the long run I find it easier to play by ear and play over
complex changes, than solo tuning, or any of the above.
For Hohner XB-40. A lot of untapped potential for altered
tunings, its early days yet.
One of the first tunings being experimented with, is the
A tuning Lee Oskar
gave the trademark to, when he first brought it out onto the market.
One thing to realise about new tunings is that it doesn't have to be a
monumental task to learn them if approached from the angle of "its a
matter of just learning a few new scales".
With Diminished there are only a mere three scales to
Once you have them down theres not much difference in the fundementals of
the instrument itself, considering what can be gained it maybe worth you
spending some time investigating and learning.
The more tools & skills you have available the more options you have and
the more likely it will allow you to be a musician who plays music and
just happens to use a harmonica, than being a harmonica player working to
make their instrument play music.
I have written a short page on Intervalic Theory
which explains digital music notation neccessary to understand some of the
layouts in the above pages, which makes the entire process much easier to
Music theory webpages on my websites:
Any comments or suggestions can be emailed to
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