Harmonicas Needed to Play at Jams

I’m a “beginning beginner” on harmonica, but have a bit of music theory under my belt from guitar.

Guitar players often learn the Minor Pentatonic scale as their first scale. It’s very flexible as you can play a Minor Pentatonic scale over both major and minor songs. So with this one scale, I can take lead breaks on my guitar to most music played at our local jams.

So when I complete the “Beginner to Boss” course, and want to play along with most of the country, rock, and blues tunes that are played at the jams, it sounds like I’ll need harps tuned in the common major keys, AND harps that are tuned for Aeolian Mode (natural minor scale).

Sorry about the newb question, but I’m trying to get my arms around how to apply what I know to the harmonica.

P.S. @Luke, I have completed the theory part of your Beginner to Boss course, and found it to be a great review. :grinning:

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Hi @PineComb,

If all you want to play is the minor pentatonic scale (at least until you improve even more) then you would be best outfitted for many songs with blues harps with Richter tuning in the keys of C, D, A and perhaps G or F. Using these to play the minor pentatonic scale in the so-called second position (which it sounds like you have not yet learned, but I’m sure it will come up in one of the course lessons) uses the exact same draw/blow pattern (and bends) on each harp and results in the following minor pentatonic scales for these harps, when they are played in 2nd position:

Harp Key   Scale
    C        G
    D        A
    A        E
    G        D
    F        C

When you later learn to play these harps in 3rd position, you can play the following minor pentatonic scales quite easily:

Harp Key   Scale
    D        E
    A        B
    G        A
    F        G

These charts may seem to be rather redundant, but there are quite dramatic differences that you will find when, for example, playing D minor pentatonic on a G harp in 2nd position and playing D minor pentatonic on a C harp in 3rd position. For example, you will find that you play some songs where you would use the D minor pentatonic scale more easily or with more feeling with the C harp in 3rd position, but for other songs the same will be true but for playing them on the G harp in 2nd position (even though you can play D minor pentatonic on both harps).

It’s not so easy for me to explain this, but I’m sure you will eventually experience this yourself as you progress in the harp courses.

Regards,
– Slim

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Thank you @Slim for taking the time to answer my question.

The question I asked was poorly worded, and is much too complex to answer in a forum, so I apologize for that.

What I really wanted to know is what selection of harmonicas does a beginner need to play along with most Americana? (Pop, rock, blues, country)

I think I want either a 5 instrument bundle of the Seidel Session Steel harps or the 1847 Silver. If I order through the Seidel authorized repair guy, he will check each harp to make sure there are no issues with the harps working properly. Buzzing, bending, etc. (For a small fee)

(Thanks for the recommendations for keys)

My proposed set: Key LF, G, A, C, D

Does this seem to be a reasonable set?

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Hi Craig:
I’m about as far away from being musically inclined or knowing what harmonica’s are the best choice, however, I did ask a fellow who is actually with a pretty well known group that’s still around from the 60’s. I ask him the same question about which are the most commonly used he said C, A, D, Bb, G and F. So looks like your in line with that other than the Bb. According to him, Bb is preferred for jazz. A is preferred by guitar players. C is most common of course. Don’t remember why he recommended the others but will ask him next time we talk and if he minds if I use his name for recommendations. Think G works well with train sounds but not sure. Guess I should have written all that down . . . :rofl:

Happy harpin’ . . . Butch

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Hi @Butch,

My experience, which is limited, is that Bb is common with horn players. A good friend of mine plays sax and trumpet. He likes Bb.

As a really new player, it’s hard to know which harps make up a good beginning set. Seydel lists their standard sets the same as mine, but with the Bb instead of the LF. I replaced the Bb with the LF because I think the standard F gets a bit shrill, and the LF will give me a second position C. I have no idea whether it’s a good choice or not. Hopefully @Slim will have the time to give his expert opinion.

Thanks for chiming in!

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Hi @PineComb,

The list I gave you LF, G, A, C, D will cover most of the music you wish to play.

The 1847 Silver, while more expensive, is definitely worth the extra $$ in terms of sound and volume.

Might be worth it – especially if you have no experience with gapping or aligning reeds. Although I have never really had a harp that I was unable to adjust to better tolerances, I also have a pretty good amount of experience doing that (initially with cheap harps – of which I ruined several by “over fixing” them :stuck_out_tongue_closed_eyes:).

Regards,
– Slim

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I love the Bb harps … but few rock or even blues people play songs in F (2nd position on the Bb harp). I’ve been told that the chords required are not so easy to play on the guitar, while the chords needed for songs in E, G, D or A are easier and learned early by guitarists.

However, as you note, horn players love music in the key of F or Bb. So if you are planning on jamming with a jazz or jazz-like group that has one or more horn players, get a Bb harp because they will play a good number of standards that are in F (or also Bb). And if you are really good at playing in 1st position then the LF harp will also be in your line, while the Bb harp (in 1st position) will also come in handy with those jazzy, horn players because that (Bb) is also popular with them. It all has to do with the usual keys that trumpets and saxophones are tuned for when built.

Regards,
– Slim

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Thanks Slim. I’ve decided on the 1847 Silver. The Seydel sales/repair guy I’m getting them from made the same recommendation. Of course he has a financial interest, so having an expert third-party confirmation is very helpful and deeply appreciated.

No one should ever have to use something I worked on. :grimacing: I am definitely mechanically challenged.

I’ve read so many reviews about getting harps that don’t work properly. I suspect most are from novices like me who have technique issues, but who really knows? He is charging me $10 for all putting all 5 harps through their paces on video. So for $10, I’ll know it is me, and not the harp.

Appreciate the advice,
@PineComb

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That sounds like a very reasonable price, IMO, @PineComb.

I agree about novice players sometimes thinking that their harp is defective in some way when, in fact, it is a technique problem that they have either not yet learned or mastered. I say that from personal experience because back when I was a novice, I did the same thing!

Back then I did not know anything about working on harps and Amazon did not yet exist! :exploding_head: But I did not throw the harp away and kept it (and actually forgot about it). Years later, after improving my playing technique, I found the harp in the back of a cabinet full of “junk”, pulled it out and – Wow! It was in perfect condition and I had no trouble playing it at all … :stuck_out_tongue_closed_eyes:

Regards,
– Slim

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Great stuff here from everyone here - yes, I’d say that’s a great set of keys for your purposes!

Rock on,
Luke

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