Diminished Chromatic
Harmonica Introduction
A Versatile Alternative to Solo tuning

MAIN PAGE Back to Altered Tunings

Diminished Chromatic Harmonica Introduction

For further information about Diminished tuning read Diminished Layouts and Diminished Layout Intervals

The Indisputable Advantages of
--- oO Diminished Tuning Oo ---

Emailed to Harp On! email group 11 Feb 2003

Some of the advantages I've found with the chromatic harmonica diminished tuning that I've been learning on for the past couple of months. I've been using G diminished, but this is true of any diminished tuning key.

In addition:
With a couple of weeks of practise your ear can easily pick up all the note locations, you won't lose track of where you are, in fact it doesn't matter if you do, because all the holes play the same so you won't unintentionally hit duff notes by thinking your on hole 5 when in fact you're on hole 4 - if you use your ear, theres no problem at all.
The latter has actually been a lot quicker process than my five year struggle with the C solo chromatic.

And with the mention of Rudy Kong using double stops on altered tunings, heres some big advantages of diminished tuning:
Any available partial chord is available in every key, keeping that in mind:

I am finding learning the diminished tuning layout, learning tunes on it, learning to improvise on it, much easier than Solo tuning, or Bebop tuning for that matter, actually bebop is easier than solo tuning anyway.

Best thing to do is try these out for yourself make the commitment to learn it & become familiar (not as hard and doesn't take as long as you may fear), so you can find out how much hassle and pain it takes OUT of your chromatic playing.


I've put my solo tuned chroms aside just while I immerse myself with the diminished tuning and become as familiar with it. I'm not "against" solo or saying that its no good, but I have found diminished tuning certainly offers me a lot more advantages than I've ever found with solo. It is unique in that it shares many of the advantages of solo & bebop tuning (enharmonics) while also having some of the advantages of Augmented tunings like Slippy and the misnamed "wholetone" tuning, such as being a semetrical layout that makes it very predictable to play and even having one LESS pattern to learn, so transposition, modulation and revoicing very simple. The only things it hasn't done for me yet is make my coffee and feed the cat.

--- oO Diminished Tuning Features Oo---

Moving one hole left or right you go up or down a minor third, if you go from slide out to slide in the note is raised a semitone, draw slide in notes are the same as the next hole blow slide out called choice notes, going from blow to draw raises the note a wholetone, going from draw to blow on the next hole raises a semitone.
This is what makes the three patterns that you need to learn on it possible. It means that any interval jump only requires you learn three patterns to play it anywhere on the instrument regardless of the key you're playing in. On Solo tuning there are many more patterns you have to learn (usually 12 patterns each time), and most are specific to which note you are playing.

Of course all the chords are Diminished chords, the upside of this is that you can play minor third harmonies and partials chord in any key, minor thirds are a common occurance in most music, great for Jazz! Also in regular tempered tuning minor thirds are a settled interval making it good for harmonising.

--- oO What key do you want? Oo ---

There are three layouts you can choose from in addition to selecting which note you want it to start from.

I recommend keys starting on Eb, F, G, Ab, A, Bb, B, C, Tenor C, high D or 16 hole chromatic in C diminished. Anything higher than high D will increase the price because of the extra work involved.
A & C; Eb, G & Bb; and F, B & D are the same layouts starting on different notes.

You might want to think about which notes you use the most in your choice of music and keys compared to the choice notes found in each layout.

Another thing is that if you chose anything other than middle C or high D, then because of the way Hohner make their HH270s you'll be going from short slot reeds to long slot reeds, the bottom end notes are slightly slower to respond and require a different technique.

If you want some idea of what I mean play first octave of a 16 hole Hohner chromatic harmonica, the long slot reeds on HH270s are the same as hole 3 up to hole 14 on a Hohner Chromatic 64.

I personally like G diminished because of the range it gives me at the lower end.
Key of G diminished has the advantage that from hole 3 onwards the reeds are very close dimensions to the notes as on a short slot C solo. The A diminished is pretty close in this regard as well. The Bb & B can be a bit slower to respond at the bottom end than a C solo or C diminished tuning.

If you choose anything below middle C you lose some of the top notes found on C solo, if you listen to Toots you'll hear that he likes to use the top end to get quick cutting notes, especially for fast playing. But then you've got all the middle registers which are where I hear most chromatic harmonica players spending their time.

Some people feel that anything below middle C is too low, for myself I really miss having at least A, Bb & B before middle C because it forces me to transpose up an octave for a number of melodies. Personally I don't like the top notes of C solo and hardly use them which is why I'm happy to sacrifice them but thats just me.

--- oO Comparing Diminished & Augmented Tunings Oo ---

(in my experience)

Diminished and Augmented tunings in my experience are very different to play.
It is true that they are similar in that they are symmetrical layouts and you can therefore easily approach them from an intervalic angle. 3 patterns for diminished, 4 patterns for augmented. However the similarities stop there.

Diminished tuning has four "enharmonics" or doubled up notes evenly spread across each octave, one enharmonic per hole. This means in two patterns (eight keys) you have two enharmonics per key to work with to find the more appropriate approach to the phrase or motif you are playing, and three enharmonics for the third pattern (the remaining four keys). This is great for mitigating problems with legato phrasing, it also makes what could potentially be a tricky phrase quite easy by selective use of enharmonics.

Augmented tuning has no choice notes, all 12 chromatic notes are placed over each 3 hole octave. The advantages with this tuning are the layout is very compact making large interval leaps easier. It also gives you an extra octave range to play with. Without enharmonics there is no confusion where the notes are, each note is only found in one place which means theres no decision making when playing any phrase. 3 hole octave layouts tend to be choppy by nature so legato pieces will be at best be compromised, however for staccato style music this layout works brillantly. My preference is to have this layout with a wholetone slide as it reduces the amount of breath changes, instead the slide is used more than if you a sharp or flat slide. You can choose whether you want a wholetone up or wholetone down slide. Best you pick one layout and slide setup and stick with it so you can become familiar with it. Augmented tunings require good technique from the get go. Its only worth persuing this tuning if the advantages definitely outway the disadvantages for the styles of music you play. If you play hardcore Bebop Jazz this tuning is definitely worth investigating.

Out of the two tunings I have found Diminished very easy for Blues and the more melodic, ballad style of playing that I use over Jazz, I tend towards a more contemporary and inside way of playing during my early years of playing. I have also found overall the Diminished tuning much easier to learn and become familiar with than C solo or C bebop layout. Another point is I have been practising on a G diminished HH260 for a while, it has a 2.5 octave range, about that of a saxophone played normally. Its a very practical range musically, a lot can be done and said in it. So the benefit of having an extra octave with the Augmented tuning is limited, and dependant on the musical desires of the player.

--- oO More on Choosing Keys Oo ---

The next question is to do with which "key" to get the tuning in. Augmented tuning requires a wide range of reeds from about 5 chromatic keys of reedplates, because of this your options are somewhat limited by the reeds available on the market. However no keys are favoured or more difficult than the other, so your choice of key will simply be a preference of range.

The lowest that I would attempt on a 12 hole chromatic would be starting at Low Bb below Low C found on the bottom hole of a 16 hole chromatic. The highest I would attempt would be starting on D, the same note found on the bottom hole of a key of D chromatic harmonica. With a HH260 10 hole chromatic you have a little more room to move. You also want to think about the practical playing range you will generally be playing in. I used to enjoy the low registers a lot, but now I tend to shy away from anything lower than G below middle C because their response is slow and they are woofy or muddy suited only to limited roles. However I do not enjoy extreme high register harmonicas either, although I am well aware that they are well enjoyed by many players in many styles.

With Diminished tuning, based on my comments above the keys I'd suggest would be anything between G below middle C up to C diminished starting on middle C, I could do D above middle C, but it requires a little more work. My preference at this stage is G diminished, based on my tastes. Then again you could get three of these in different keys and have all the possibilities at your disposal.

Its interesting to know that:
12 hole C chromatic harmonica has the same range as a Flute.
Tenor Db chromatic harmonica has the same range as an Alto Saxophone.
F chromatic harmonica has the same range as a Soprano Saxophone.
In addition, the low "bell notes" of saxophones by their nature are slower and require a different technique to voice properly, which is also true of the bottom octave reeds of low tuned chromatic harmonica.

For further information about Diminished tuning read Diminished Layouts and Diminished Layout Intervals


MAIN PAGE Back to Altered Tunings

Any comments or suggestions can be emailed to

© 2003 - 2005, Harp On! G.
All materials on this site may be linked to, but not copied for republishing in any form, without the express permission from the author.