Page 1 of 1

Harmonica for Irish: Where to start?

Posted: Tue Jan 14, 2014 9:22 pm
by slowair
I'm having problems with arthritis in my fingers and finding it harder to play whistle. It has been suggested that playing harmonica would allow me to continue playing the music I love so much. I'm willing to give it a try.

A good portion of Irish traditional is in the keys of D and G. The D whistle is wonderful for playing both.

1. Will I need to purchase both a D and a G harmonica?

2. Should it/they be Paddy Ricter tuned?

3. What about the Seydel G/D Sampler?

Thanks for any advice.

Mike Reagan

Re: Harmonica for Irish: Where to start?

Posted: Fri Jan 31, 2014 4:54 am
by Boyen
Hi slowair,

Yes, it is likely you will require both harmonica's in Paddy Richter tuning. If you get a D, make it easy on yourself and get a low D as playing a normal D will require quite advanced techniques.
The Seydel Sampler is a all in one solution, in essence, two harmonica's in one. If the quality is good (that I don't know, but it probably is) than it's not a bad idea to start with that instead.
There are some trad harmonica lessons on youtube that might be interesting for you.

Re: Harmonica for Irish: Where to start?

Posted: Sat Feb 01, 2014 1:26 am
by slowair
Thanks for the reply. That helps.

Just a couple questions:

How important is Paddy Richter tuning?

I have played whistle for over thirteen years now and never had the urge to branch out into any other types of music. Irish is it for me.

So should I search out Paddy tuned harmonicas over others?


Re: Harmonica for Irish: Where to start?

Posted: Sat Feb 01, 2014 2:51 pm
by Boyen
Paddy Richter is for melody playing, normal Richter is for chords. It\s made for Irish music.
Paddy Richter tuning basically means you can play relatively easily over 2.5 octaves instead of 2 octaves. It just gives you that extra bit of range. Especially if you run a D harmonica, where the top notes are near impossible to play and don't sound pretty you need that bottom register to play at all. For a G harmonica you'll find that most tunes in Eminor are easy with Paddy Richter and awkward without.

Again though if I were to start over with playing harmonica I probably would've gone for the Sampler or a tremolo harmonica in soloist tuning (both are the same tuning) just look at the tuning here:
Compared to:

Soloist tuning is much more consistent over the octaves, every octave is played the same while on a paddy richter the note direction changes on the upper octave and on the bottom octave you need to bend to get all the notes.
Another thing, Irish music has a much richer history on tremolo harmonica's than bluesharps.

Re: Harmonica for Irish: Where to start?

Posted: Mon Feb 03, 2014 10:37 am
by slowair
Let me see if I have this right:

I only need to concern myself with Paddy Richter tuning if I go with a 10 hole diatonic blues harmonica.

If going with a tremolo or solo tuned Sampler, I don't.

My education in music is next to nothing. I pretty much know how to read notes so that I can learn a tune for whistle.

If the above is true, I may decide to go with The Sampler.

Thanks for the input Boyen. And welcome to the forum.


Re: Harmonica for Irish: Where to start?

Posted: Mon Feb 03, 2014 2:05 pm
by MTGuru
I'm no harmonica expert and not much of a player, but I think I can help ...

The difference between standard Richter tuning and Paddy Richter tuning is one note. But that note makes a big difference.

In the first octave, Richter tuning is set up to play chords, and it's missing the 6th and 4th of the scale (A and F in the key of C). That's not a good thing for playing Irish melodies down into that octave. Paddy Richter restores the 6th (A), making those melodies possible down to the 5th (G) of the scale. And this advantage applies to any diatonic harmonica, not just a blues or tremolo harp.

Solo tuning OTOH restores both the 4th and 6th. It also repeats the tonic note (key note) in each octave, avoiding the blow-draw "inversion" that happens in the 3rd octave of Richter tuning. The extra tonics require two extra holes, so a 12 hole Solo covers the same range as a 10 hole Richter. Irish box players who are used to the inversion may find Solo tuning odd at first, but it should be easy enough to adjust to.

Given the relative scarcity of Paddy Richter and Solo tuned harps in the marketplace, the Seydel Sampler "double" does seem like a good choice if you're serious about investing that much in a diatonic harmonica for Irish playing.

Re: Harmonica for Irish: Where to start?

Posted: Mon Feb 03, 2014 4:56 pm
by slowair
Thanks MT! That does help.

Have a piece of cheese. You deserve it.


Re: Harmonica for Irish: Where to start?

Posted: Mon Feb 03, 2014 5:50 pm
by MTGuru
slowair wrote:Have a piece of cheese. You deserve it.

Thank you! Just don't play the harmonica with a mouthful of cheese. Don't ask me how I know that.