Key change

Can anybody help me on this one…
When following harp tabs of any particular song,(first position). We’re given the
Holes 1-10 in which to follow in a particular key.
Now in some songs, and to name two of them… ‘one day at a time, sweet Jesus’, and’ Please release 'me, I have
noticed either a key change or a move up or down an octave,
This is where i’m stuck…if it’s a key change then how do i know what key to change to? If it’s up an octave i guess i’m just stuck…
anyone help me ?..Lol (my name )


Hi @martorgan,

If the song is just moving up or down an octave then all of the notes are the same, just an octave higher or lower. Because of the strange layout of the Richter harp, that can (in some cases) mean that you will need to pay close attention to the pattern of hole changes because it can be different in the two octaves. For example:

-3 -3" +3 compared with -7 -6 +6 are the same notes (just an octave apart), with the same draw draw blow pattern, but the first one uses only one hole while the second one uses two holes.

In other cases the change is even more difficult because advanced overblow or overdraw playing will be needed, such as:

+3 -3’ +4 -3’ +3 compared with +6 +6o +7 +6o +6 are again the same notes (just an octave apart), now with not only different draw/blow patterns but the second one also involves the overblow on hole 6 (the +6o). This is not easy to master.

For key changes, the situation becomes even more complicated and there is no simple solution beyond hard work on your part (and possibly even needing to use two different harps: one for each key). :dizzy_face:

The solution to all of this is: learn the notes that are being played in each hole (draw and draw bends, blow and blow bends) and how these change when changing to a harp in a different key. Not easy, I admit, but that explains why not every harp player is making records and giving concerts! :point_left: :hushed:

– Slim


Well hey Slim, That is a very well explained and full explanation, You’ve done well to explain it as good as it is. I really appreciate it thank you.
Basically what the explanation is telling me is ‘get to know your harp’, and concentrate on your/my scales… Many thanks for your help Slim.


If you wanna ask your question more specifically, I’m happy to try and help you figure it out.

Rock on,

1 Like

Wow, thanks Luke…
I’m aware some songs have a ‘key change’ during the song. Or it may be ‘goes up an octave, not sure which .
For anexample the song " please release me " (Engleburt Humperdink version ) is played on a diatonic harp, (1st line, -4 -4’ 4 -3 -4 4 2 )
Once the verse is played, it repeats.
Here’s my problem… When i listen to the song i notice that about the third time we play the verse, it seems to have gone into a higher key or octave.
Now i think if I were on a piano i could sus out where next to go.
But being on a pentatonic harmonica i can’t.
Question 1 how will iknow if it’s a key change or an octave ?
Question 2 If i’m needing to go up an octave how do i do it?
Question 3 if it’s a key change, do i just change harps for that particular piece (then back later ) and if so how would i know which key to change to? is there a ‘rule’?
A hard subject to explain, and perhaps difficult to answer.
But really appreciate your help, and glad that this site is here too cheers Luke Lol

Hi @martorgan,

A couple of things you perhaps need to know are: “What is an octave?” and “What does it mean when a musical phrase moves up or down an octave?”. I will try to provide simple, but correct, explanations.

You hopefully know that a musical tone or note can be represented in terms of the frequency of the sound. The frequency of a sound is measured in cycles per second (or, as the international unit is called: hertz, abbreviated as Hz).

An easy way to imagine this is the swinging of a guitar string that has been plucked: when the string makes one complete swing up and down and back up, that is one cycle of its swinging movement. If it performs one cycle every second then the frequency is described as 1 cycle/sec or 1 Hz (which happens to be so slow that our auditory system cannot hear it), and if it swings so fast that its frequency is 440 Hz, then we can hear it and it is usually referred to as the tone “concert A”.

If that 440 Hz tone is doubled to 880 Hz, you hear a tone that is higher in pitch, but has the quality that is referred to as being one octave higher than the 440 Hz tone – and that tone (or musical note) is also an A, but now an octave above concert A. If the tone has a frequency of 220 Hz, it is still an A but now an one octave lower (or below) concert A.

Most musical systems used around the world use this terminology and for each musical tone, whatever its frequency happens to be, doubling its frequency produces the “same” tone (or note), only an octave higher, and dividing its frequency in half also produces the “same” tone (or note), only an octave lower than the original note.

A note that is an octave distant from another note is given the same letter symbol as the note that is an octave above or below it. This applies to all of our musical notes.

So for example consider a musical phrase such as the first 4 notes of “Georgia On My Mind” which are (when the song is begun with a C chord followed by an E7 chord, which is a typical start to this song):


and, when played on your C diatonic Richter harmonica, it is played using these holes:

+5 +6 +5 -4

We have this phrase now in a specific octave. Now play

+8 +9 +8 -8

and you should notice that it is the same musical phrase (the notes E G E D) only now one octave higher in pitch. Now play

+2 +3 +2 -1

or equivalently

+2 -2 +2 -1

and you should notice that it is again the same musical phrase (the notes E G E D) only now one octave lower in pitch.

In all of these examples, the key of the music is the same!

Now, however play the following sequence

-4 -5 -4 +4

and I’m sure you will notice that the phrase is still (somehow) the same. But now, the frequencies of the corresponding notes are no longer an octave above or below any of the above examples but somewhere between the first example (+5 +6 +5 -4) and the third example (+2 -2 +2 -1). The musical notes also are now different and happen to be


This is now music that is in a different key and would require different chords as well (Bb and Eb7, for this last example). But, as you have just seen (or heard) you have played all of this on the same harmonica. That is not always so easy to do with changes of key unless you are really, really good at playing all 12 notes of the so-called chromatic scale on your C diatonic Richter harmonica (to be honest, only real professionals can do this very proficiently).

To demonstrate how difficult it can be to change key let’s move our 4 note phrase up a half of a musical step, which results in these four notes:

D# F# D# C#

and to play that on your C diatonic Richter harmonica is now rather challenging. In low octave you would need to play

+1o -2’ +1o -1’

where +1o is the notoriously difficult one overblow. Move it up one octave and things do not get much easier, as now you must play two different overblows:

+4o +5o +4o -4’

I will not bother you with the high octave end of your harp, but it is also very difficult!!

However, if you had a different key diatonic Richter harp then that last example again becomes super easy!! With a B harmonica the phrase becomes

+5 +6 +5 -4

just like we had at the start with the C harp and the notes E G E D … :exploding_head:

All of this may or may not help you understand the difficulty in answering your questions, but at least it will have given you (hopefully) some more insight into the situation you are asking about.

Best regards,
– Slim

1 Like

Hallo @Slim, auch wenn ich hier nicht gemeint bin, sage ich wieder einmal großen Dank!
Ich habe deine Erklärung verstanden, auch wenn ich natürlich “nicht mal eben” die Overblows hinbekomme. Aber auf dem Harmonica Tuner ist es gut zu erkennen, was du meinst und das andere erklärt sich beim Spielen.
Da du so gut erklären kannst, hätte ich eine Bitte. Bekommst du das auch mit dem Quintenzirkel so gut hin? :smiley: Ich habe mir schon einiges auf Youtube oder schriftlich angesehen. So richtig bekomme ich es einfach nicht in meinen Kopf. Das ärgert mich schon ein wenig. Das Ganze hat auch keine Eile.
Schönen Abend! Viele Grüße von Astrid

1 Like