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Harmonica Lessons: Names of Notes

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[MUSIC]
Some of you might have been curious while
I was talking about how
to hold the harmonica.
If some of you might have noticed
that when I play I tend to tilt
the harmonica up a little bit.
This is nothing I've ever
thought about consciously
it's just something that
has been pointed out to me.
People said, Howard,
do you know that when you're playing,
the harmonica is tilting up,
I went really, it is,
I had to look at myself in the mirror and
I noticed that it's tilting up.
I've seen other people
play tilting it down.
[MUSIC]
I thought, that's kind of weird,
because I tilt it up.
I have no idea what to tell you is
the correct angle to play the harmonica.
Probably, something like even.
[MUSIC]
Tilting it up is my natural position to
play, tilting down seems
a little strange to me.
But somewhere in the middle, and whatever
is comfortable for you is probably okay.
It does change the tone when you
tilt it in different ways, but
it also depends on
the shape of your mouth.
And if you have an overbite or
an underbite, anything like that.
So that's why I'm not
doctrinaire at all about
you have to hold, the angle of
the harmonica has to be this and that.
Because everyone's mouth and
teeth are a little different.
[MUSIC]
[MUSIC]
Okay.
So now, we're finally gonna get
into what notes you're playing.
[LAUGH] The harmonica being
an invisible instrument.
A lot of harmonica players play and can
play really, really well without really
knowing what the names of
the notes they're playing are.
They're just playing by ear,
which is fine in so far as it goes and
then they reach a certain point
where they get frustrated.
They say, I can play so well, but
I really don't know what I'm doing.
And I'd like to play jazz or
I like to play classical music or
Middle Eastern music and such, but
I'm locked into playing by feel.
And at this point I say, well,
do you know what notes you're playing?
And they go, no.
I said, well that's why I'd like to start
you out by knowing by teaching you.
What notes are on this
wonderful instrument,
this Richter tuned diatonic harmonica.
And it's not obvious at all,
because the instrument is not
symmetrical like a piano, keyboard.
it's the same every octave.
Guitar frets.
You put your fingers down of the frets and
they go up in half steps,
you just keep going.
A harmonica is very unlike
those instruments, so
I'm gonna show you what it is.
Now, I have a fine rendition of the bottom
seven holes of the instrument here.
I know that you're gasping over
my fine art work already and
wondering why I didn't
get pre-printed form.
So am I.
So here are the notes of the instrument.
If you look at the top, notes correspond
to the letters in the alphabet,
that's the note system.
In the middle here
are the holes of the harmonica.
First hole, second hole, third hole,
fourth hole, fifth hole, sixth hole,
seventh hole.
The blow notes are gonna be on the top,
where the arrow is going, pointing up.
That is harmonica tablature for blow.
For example, if I say four blow,
usually you'd write the number
four over the arrow.
If I say four draw,
you'd usually write the number four over a
downward arrow indicating draw or inhale.
That's my little scheme of
the harmonica's bottom seven holes.
Now if you notice on the top here,
where the blow notes are, they say C,
E, G, C, E, G and another C and eight,
nine and ten are actually E, G, C.
It's perfectly symmetrical.
[MUSIC]
It is a what's called a C major arpeggio.
And if were to turn around to
a keyboard here, here's a C.
[SOUND] This is a piano keyboard.
It's an electric keyboard, but just want
to let you know what it looks like and
sounds like to show you that the harmonica
does relate to the external world.
[SOUND] If you play those
three notes together,
[SOUND] it's called the C major chord.
It's a very, very familiar sound and
it's something that all of you have heard.
In Western music,
a major chord is the most common chord.
It's called the triad,
because it has three notes and
the harmonica plays three of these.
[MUSIC]
And then the [SOUND] is the beginning
of what would be a fourth.
So, if you just slide your embouchure
over the harmonica on the blow.
[MUSIC]
You notice I'm not
running out of breath.
When you play like this, you don't need to
really like, [SOUND] blow a lot of air.
It's amazing how little air
will make these reeds vibrate.
If you have a good solid air stream,
you can play for
a long time on just one breath.
So, it's called the C major
arpeggio an arpeggio is the word
that means to play a chord
one note at a time.
[MUSIC]
[MUSIC]
Now we get to do draw
notes on the harmonica.
Now this is the part where
the Richter-tuned harmonica gets
a little bit strange.
On the draw,
[MUSIC]
immediately it sounds like a bugle call.
[SOUND] It's these notes here.
D, G, and B.
And then another D.
So, when you go from C to C,
[MUSIC]
it's called an octave.
When you go from one note
[SOUND] to the same note higher,
[SOUND] it's called one octave.
So when we go from D to D,
that's also an octave.
[MUSIC]
So the problem is that if you
look at the piano keyboard,
[MUSIC]
here's your C major arpeggio.
There's three notes,
[MUSIC]
and you repeat the first note [SOUND] for
the next C an octave higher.
If you take the notes
that you didn't play,
[MUSIC]
there's four of them.
They're called D, F, A, and B.
The bottom octave of the harmonica
doesn't have those four notes.
It has D, G
[MUSIC]
and B and then the next D.
So you see there's some
notes missing here.
And what the Richter tuning is and
why those notes are missing is that
the people who invented this instrument
in southern Germany, in the 1820s,
wanted to have an instrument that could
play the most common two chords for
European German folk music, which are,
in music theory they're called the one and
the five chord, or
the tonic and the dominant.
And in the key of C,
it's the C and the G chord.
[MUSIC]
With those two chords in the key of C,
you can play the chords
of a lot of folk music.
I mean,
if I were just to pick any old tune,
like some German folk song
like Auch Der Lieber Augustin.
If I just put my mouth over the harmonica,
I'm just jumping ahead a little bit but,
[MUSIC]
you don't really have to know much about
music to play the melody and the chordal
accompaniment at the same time.
And that's why the Germans,
who invented this tuning,
maybe it was Richter,
maybe it was someone else,
it's called the Richter-tuning,
that's why they left out the F and the A.
And you notice something else,
if you're starting to think about this,
if you play them one note at a time,
blow and draw.
One
[MUSIC],
two [ MUSIC], three,
[MUSIC]
blow draw, blow draw, blow draw.
You hear that two draw.
[MUSIC]
And three blow.
[SOUND] Is the same note,
that's very weird.
Two draw and three blow are both G because
G is the fifth of the C major chord,
C, E,G.
It's the third note of the chord,
it's the fifth note of the C scale.
And G is the tonic of the G major chord.
So that's why G is in
both of those places.
It serves a function of being in
the chord of C and in the chord of G.
So if you play the C chord, one, two,
and three, or one, two, three and four
[SOUND], and then the G chord [SOUND],
both those chords have the G in it.
[MUSIC]