Harmonica/Tablature

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Harmonica tabs can be considered the basic building blocks of playing well-known tunes on the harmonica. Typically, since a harmonica is cheap, the person coming into possession of the harmonica tends to have little to no experience reading music. Thus, the harmonica tabs allow one to easily play recognizable tunes.

Reading[edit]

On a chromatic and diatonic harp, the instrument itself is numbered for each hole: 1, 2, 3, etc. Unfortunately, aside from this, there are no standarization on breath indications. So far, there are the few following ways:

  1. Using a single sign: Unsigned means draw; hole number accompanied by a "+" sign means blow. This is common in Mel Bay publishing and its webzine, Harmonica Sessions. The origin of this notation is due to the use of second position in Blues Harp, which use draw most of the time.
  2. Using two signs: Number with a "+" sign is a blow, a number followed by a "-" is a draw. So:
1+ 1- 1+ 1- 2+ 2- 3-
would be, "blow draw blow draw blow draw draw".

These two case may also derive numerous variations, such as the unsigned number is blow, or use arrows to indicate breath direction.

Aside from these, some also have additional notation to indicate button pushing or bending. For example, "2+<" for "blow hole 2 with button in."

For bending, there are quite numerous system exist too. Example would be " 3 " meaning a "draw double bend on hole 3", or . For those that are signed of the draw note (e.g.: negative number for draw), it maybe common for a bend is written typically with more "-" signs to indicate how deep the bend. An overblow also has a similar symbol beside it, though this symbol tends to vary as an overblow isn't a very widely used technique (and usually, by the time you have master this technique, you can also read music and don't care about sheet music at all). A tilde (~) is typically used, though some just go with "OB".

Ultimately, it's best to look at a tablature guide, if there is one.

Even if a tablature exists, it's always best to get one that accompanies a score with traditional notation, since straight tablatures for harmonica typically do not provide much timing information, if at all, which can make a piece of music sound horrible.

In the end, the tablature is still nothing more than training wheels. For those that want to get more songs to play with, one should also learn how to read music itself, since tablatures for harmonica is quite lacking; also, fake books only come in traditional notations.

Writing and Arranging[edit]

Writing tablature is a bit more difficult, as it requires knowledge of music theory and the ability to read music. Each number on a natural key diatonic corresponds to a certain diatonic scale, and so does the songs to be made into tablature.

However, just because the song and the harmonica is in the same key does not mean you can just translate these notes into the corresponding numbers of the harmonica tablature. For example: a song in the key of D that is actually in the dorian mode is a lot easier to play if it's played on a C harmonica (3rd position). Also, while one can use bend to achieve all the notes of the appropriate scale, it could be a good idea to transpose the song up or down an octave for ease of playing.

In general, Asian Pop music would be best to transpose to the middle octave and use little to no bending, while blues music is best to remain the same octave, and if possible, play in second position.

Jazz is best to transposed to a range such that the harmonica can play, but if it does not need to transpose, you do not have to. Classical, however, should not be transposed at all.

Lastly, it depends whether you are arranging the music merely for the ease of playing, or arranging a song so a certain harp can play. Do keep in mind that most first harps are in the Major C, and thus, even when considering bending, may have to transpose the arrangement into different keys, or even make sacrifices. For example, St james Infirmary is to be played on Bb originally, but can actually be transpose to a key of C if needed.

Finally, try to find a way to indicate timing and beat. A simple way is to use spacing between note at a certain interval, and assume a certain normal space is equal a quarter note.

Tablature example[edit]

Notation:

  • X+ = blow
  • X = draw
  • (X+) = blow, slide in
  • (X) = draw, slide in

Fur Elise[edit]

6+ (5) 6+ (5) 6+     |4 5 4+  3 |
1+ 2+ 3 4 | 2+ (3+) 4 4+ |
6+ (5) 6+ (5) 6+ |4 5 4+ 3 | 1+ 2+ 3 4 | 2+ 4+ 4 3 |
4 5+ 5 6+ | 3+ 6 6+ 5 | 2 6+ 5 5+ | 2+ 5 5+ 4 |
2+ 2+ 6+ 2+ 6+ 6+ 10+ (5) | 6+ 5 6+ (5) 6+ 5 6+ (5) |
(Repeater verse 1 and 2 once more)

Tab collection Links[edit]

  • www.harptabs.com Free member provided harmonica tab - Share tab you created here!
Harmonica
Getting started: Why should I Play Harmonica? | Types of harmonica | Anatomy of a Harmonica | Harmonica Purchasing guide
Playing the harmonica: Basic Holding and Playing a Harmonica | Tablature | Basic Chords | Bending
Additional techniques: Advance Chords | Advance techniques | Self accompaniment
General harmonica theory: Chromatic Harmonica | Positions | Tremelo | Ensemble Playing | Music Style | Learning Songs | Improvising | Recording | Playing with Amp
Cleaning and maintainence: Basic Maintainence and Care | Advance Maintainence |Harmonica Modifications |Tuning
Appendices: Harmonica Layouts and Alternate Tunings| Harmonica Positions Chart | Blues | Writing Songs