I just got back from the SPAH convention (Society for the Preservation and Advancement of the Harmonica) that was held here in Irving, Texas this past month. They let me present and play my diatonic harmonics with Celtic-Americana-Folk tunes. I wasn't alone. There were others at the convention who also promote the playing of harmonicas with Celtic-Folk music, such as Brendan Power, James Conway, Mike Caldwell, Cara Cooke, and others.

The out-of-the-box, Richter-scale, diatonic harmonicas, such as those made by Hohner, Suzuiki, and Seydel have improved tremendously over the years, and they are extremely versatile in playing all sorts of music genres. So. To say they are "Celtic" is along the same lines as a violin being a fiddle. It's mostly in how one "attacks" the notes.

It was great to see the harmonica become more popular in being part of the Celtic music experience, and I was wondering if there are others in the world who feel the same? -- KelticDead

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Hi Patrick.

I've been running a session in my little seaside town of Brightlingsea, Essex UK these past 17 years - and glad to say that the harp features very regularly, playing a host of celtic tunes and adding wonderous embelishments to many songs. Long live the Harmonica or 'Mouthie' as many call it in these parts.

Cheers Bill Kitchen

Hey Patrick!

I, too, love to play Irish music on the diatonic harmonica (valved richter, so not standard richter..). I've been playing Irish music on the harmonica for about 2 years now. I've been joining sessions recently as well. 

The only thing I don't like much about it is that there isn't really a community of diatonic harmonica players. All the harmonica forums mostly concern the blues so yeah.. I wish there were some places where I could find like-minded people but to no avail. 

On a dutch harmonica forum I've been trying to teach my fellow harmonica players some Irish tunes (with tabs and music) I collected them here: https://www.box.com/s/825d159e955c584c6baa 

Unfortunatly though, there is not that much interest for it. I guess most people pick up a harmonica to play campfire tunes and blues, not neccesarily Irish folk =/ 

Cheers,

Boyen

I don't play harmonica myself but I love to hear it in a session. I found this very interesting - "A harmonica with the name ‘Emerald Isle’ appears on a Hohner poster, although I’ve never seen a physical example of that model. For several years, Hohner had a factory in Ireland that they used for the manufacture of some of their cheaper lines. It was based at Loughrea and was closed in the early 1980s." http://www.cathaljohnson.com/the-history-of-the-harmonica-in-ireland/

I mostly play tin whistle, and I've just recently taken up the Irish harmonica. A few questions if you guys don't mind:

Do you mostly play straight, or cross harp?

Does anyone find that a tremolo is more versatile because it has more notes?

Boyen, there are some lovely recordings there! HAve you considered putting up some tab? I find it's very hard to come by for Irish harmonica.

Hey Conor,

Thanks for your interest, I do indeed have tabs for all the music I play and I share them with anyone who wants it. Just need to think of a good place to put them. Is there a handy place on this site to put tabs?

I think that straight or cross harp isn't that much of an issue for Irish harmonica. It is played in straight (1st position) for the majority of songs. Anyway, don't bother with positions IMO. 

If you have a paddy richter tuning harmonica, you have almost full access to the full Ionian scale (straight harp) which is basically all you need - for extra expression you can use bends, tripplets and valved bends (if you play with valves) but they are not neccesary. 

As for the tremolo. A lot of the traditional Folk music is played on the tremolo. It's a very different sound you're making. I was doing some research based on your post and it turns out that from the last 50 mouth organ (harmonica) competitions, 47 were won by tremolo's and 2 by diatonics! http://www.davesharmonicas.com/latest-news.htm

I think that this page more or less sums up the reasons to play tremolo: http://www.thetremolo.ponderworthy.com/why-tremolo.html

For the record, I don't play tremolo. I think the tremolo fits into a session better due to the tremolo and better chords, while a diatonic harmonica is the better solo instrument. You need a tremolo with more than 16 holes for it to have a larger reach than the diatonic harmonica. But they frequently occur in a larger size. On the other hand, you're sort of missing out on the bends that give the diatonic harmonica so much soul, it's possible, just.. not common. 

Another good source on harmonica's in Irish music is: http://blarneystar.com/HARMONICA_030912X.pdf


The above might be an overkill on information. But if you want some true advice, pick whichever sound you like best. Every instrument has limitations. 

Wow. That's some good feedback, and I think everyone agrees that the mouth harp has a place in Celtic music. Boyen, I would like have your tabs for the music you play. I'm always looking for tunes that play well with the diatonic (richter) harmonicas, and it's part of my song-catching mission with my website http://folkartnews.webs.com . My firm conviction is that there are as many ways to play traditional folk-celtic tunes as there are musicians to play them, and the harmonica offers a wonderful way to express those tunes.

Bill. Please check out my folk music site where I feature playing all manner of folk-Celtic tunes with the richter-scale harmonicas. I have to admit, that I'm really sold on the Seydel Steel reed harps. While they are tuned to 442 (like the Lee Oscars), I find that they blend well in session play, and they are SOOOOOO easy to play.

I've tried the Low-D valve, but I got to admit that in the way that I play (fiddle-style), the valves starting from the 4th tone hole up, tend to "scrunch" up. However. It's nice to have the lower notes valved.

Maybe one of these days, we'll have a chance to sit down together. Thanks for your response.

Shaun-That KelticDead guy.


Bill Kitchen said:

Hi Patrick.

I've been running a session in my little seaside town of Brightlingsea, Essex UK these past 17 years - and glad to say that the harp features very regularly, playing a host of celtic tunes and adding wonderous embelishments to many songs. Long live the Harmonica or 'Mouthie' as many call it in these parts.

Cheers Bill Kitchen

Hello fellow harmonica players. 

Just as an FYI, I made a Traditional harmonica group on this page so we don't have to bother non-harmonica players with our talks :P and can share some information concerning the harp.

I also put a lot of tabs on there! It would be really nice if people joined.

Sounds Cozy. Now. Let's talk about reed harps.  I just got my latest in Seydel Steel harmonicas, and I have to admit, after playing Hohner for years, the steel reeds are easy to play, and interestingly enough they cost about the same as any of the Meisterclasse series.

The only difference is that they play at 442, rather than 440.

I guess for recording purposes, one might hear a small difference (more bright), but for the ease of play, I can get MUCH more expression out of them than the Hohners, especially in the upper notes. Plus, they last about five times longer than regular, brass reeded instruments.

I'm going to start posting some new recordings with some musician friends of mine, and I'll give a notice to our group when those come out. 

Best regards,

Shaun, That KelticDead guy.

I've been playing 1847's for 3 years now and they haven't broken a single reed yet. Irish music requires very responsive reeds, not just when playing fast. Even when playing slow you require the responsiveness for ornamentation. 

Next to excellent reeds, they have the best valves out there for half-valving. So great company. Putting them on 440 instead of 442 is something you can change - or let your supplier change for you. If it's someone that also does custom work it shouldn't be a problem. 

Considering chords aren't used much on the harmonica when playing Irish, you don't lose much out of it. 

In this world of change, it's nice to know that the little diatonic harmonica can hold its own in playing Celtic tunes. I'm really enjoying my Seydel Steel reed harps. The Irish Rogues here in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex let me play with them when they play at Trinity Hall Irish Pub in Dallas. That experience offers a whole range of experiences in getting to the right key, and playing around the varied Irish Traditional Pub Tunes. Great fun, and you're right, one doesn't lose much of the tunes at all.

Oh! Very interesting post Roisin, i didn't know Hohner had manufactured harmonicas in Loughrea

Roisin Ni Galloglaigh said:

I don't play harmonica myself but I love to hear it in a session. I found this very interesting - "A harmonica with the name ‘Emerald Isle’ appears on a Hohner poster, although I’ve never seen a physical example of that model. For several years, Hohner had a factory in Ireland that they used for the manufacture of some of their cheaper lines. It was based at Loughrea and was closed in the early 1980s." http://www.cathaljohnson.com/the-history-of-the-harmonica-in-ireland/

 

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