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Harmonica Tunings Explained

Don’t know your Paddy Richters from your Richters, or your harmonic minor from your natural minor tunings? Our simple guide will help you navigate the slightly arcane world of harmonica tunings.

What is Richter Tuning?

Richter tuning is the most common tuning type seen on diatonic harmonicas. Named after the 19th century harmonica maker, Joseph Richter, who developed the tuning, it provides the tonic and dominant chords in the lower part of the harmonica (C and G Major, in the example of a C Major Richter tuned harp shown below) and the relevant scale (in the example below, C Major) between holes 4 and 7.

       1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10
       -----------------------------
blow: |C |E |G |C |E |G |C |E |G |C |
draw: |D |G |B |D |F |A |B |D |F |A |
       -----------------------------

What is Country Tuning?

Country tuning is a modification of Richter, with the 5th draw reed raised a semitone (so, in the example below, the 5th draw reed has been raised from F to F#). This provides the major seventh scale when playing cross harp, which makes it particularly suitable for country music.

       1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10
       -----------------------------
blow: |C |E |G |C |E |G |C |E |G |C |
draw: |D |G |B |D |F#|A |B |D |F |A |
       -----------------------------

What is Natural Minor Tuning?

Natural minor tuning has blow reeds 2, 5 and 8 and draw reeds 3 and 7 lowered a semitone compared to a Major Richter tuned harmonica.

Natural minor tuned harmonicas are generally played in second position, so, the example below, which shows a C Minor tuned harp in the first position, would generally be used to play G Minor in the second position. Most natural minor harps are labelled in the second position.

       1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9 10
       -----------------------------
blow: |C |Eb|G |C |Eb|G |C |Eb|G |C |
draw: |D |G |Bb|D |F |A |Bb|D |F |Ab|
       -----------------------------

What is Harmonic Minor Tuning?

Harmonic minor tuning, compared to a Richter tuned Major harp, has blow reeds 2, 5 and 8 and draw reeds 6 and 10 lowered a semitone. Compared to a natural minor harp, the only difference is the raising of the seventh note in the scale by a semitone. So, in the example below, the Bb is raised to a B on the 3rd and 7th draw reeds.

Harmonic minor tuned harps are generally labelled in the first position and are typically used to play Eastern European and Asian musical styles.

       1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9 10
       -----------------------------
blow: |C |Eb|G |C |Eb|G |C |Eb|G |C |
draw: |D |G |B |D |F |Ab|B |D |F |Ab|
       -----------------------------

What is Melody Maker Tuning?

Melody Maker tuning is a variation of country tuning that features primarily on Lee Oskar harmonicas. Designed to be played in the second position (and labelled as such), it provides two complete octaves of the relevant major scale from the 2nd hole draw to the 9th hole blow. The example shown below is for a harp labelled as C major (in the 2nd position).

       1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9 10
       -----------------------------
blow: |F |A |D |F |A |C |F |A |C |F |
draw: |G |C |E |G |B |D |E |G |B |D |
       -----------------------------

What is Paddy Richter Tuning?

Richter tuning was developed by Brendan Power to enable traditional Irish melodies to be more easily played on the diatonic harmonica. This is achieved by raising the 3rd blow one tone; in the example below, raising the 3rd blow G to an A, when compared with standard Richter tuning.

       1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10
       -----------------------------
blow: |C |E |A |C |E |G |C |E |G |C |
draw: |D |G |B |D |F |A |B |D |F |A |
       -----------------------------

What is PowerBender Tuning?

PowerBender tuning makes some significant changes to the Richter note layout to emphasise draw bending and reduce the need to overblow to achieve the full chromatic range.

       1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10
       -----------------------------
blow: |C |E |G |C |D |F |A |C |E |A |
draw: |D |G |B |D |E |G |B |D |G |C |
       -----------------------------

What is PowerDraw Tuning?

PowerDraw tuning has a consistent blow/draw pattern across all 10 holes. Holes 1-6 have the same note layout as a Richter tuned harp, but 7-10 have the same note layout as the PowerBender tuning, facilitating draw note bends in the upper register of the harmonica.

      1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10
       -----------------------------
blow: |C |E |G |C |E |G |A |C |E |A |
draw: |D |G |B |D |F |A |B |D |G |C |
       -----------------------------

  

 

 

 

 

 

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