Author Topic: Serendipity in Action: INVERTED-SOLO TUNING  (Read 1797 times)

0 Members and 1 Guest are viewing this topic.

Offline Brendan Power

  • Chrome-Minator
  • ***
  • Posts: 611
Serendipity in Action: INVERTED-SOLO TUNING
« on: March 06, 2018, 03:10:37 PM »
I inadvertently created an interesting new tuning nearly 30 years ago, without realising it until quite recently.

In the late 1980s I started  retuning chromatics to make what I call Slide-Diatonics. These were primarily for Irish music, where I was playing in the home key and related modes of the chromatic (generally one in G or D), and using the slide for decorations. The semitone-up slide notes sounded inappropriate for this ancient modal style, so I tuned them all to the adjacent note of the home scale.

Using a C chrom in Solo Tuning for reference, the C blow slide-in note becomes D instead of C sharp, the D slide-in note becomes E, and so on. So if you have a Solo tuned scale in C, the slide notes will be:

Slide out:  CD  EF  GA  CB | CD  EF  GA  CB | CD
Slide in:    DE  FG  AB  DC | DE  FG  AB  DC | DE

I played this for a while and later altered it a bit to this:

Slide out:  CD  EF  GA  CB | CD  EF  GA  CB |
Slide in:    DE  FG  AC  BC | DE  FG  AC  BC |

I just used the slide-in notes as decorations for a couple of decades, and have recorded extensively with Slide-Diatonic played in this way. It's useful and effective!

But one day a few years ago I held the slide in, kept on playing - and it slowly dawned on me... Wow! I have a whole extra harmonica in there! And it's really attractive and soulful.

Without intending to, I had essentially inverted Solo tuning altogether - in the sense of totally reversing the blows and draws. So what was a blow became a draw, and vice versa. It retained the doubled C notes and other good features (like the adjacent G and C notes), but all the breath directions were opposite. Here it is starting on the C draw note, as a diatonic scale:

BC  DE  FG  AC | BC  DE  FG  AC | BC  DE  FG  AC 

With half-valved chromatics it sounds really sexy! It has a bluesy flavour, because it's actually very close to playing Cross Harp on a diatonic. I've been transposing some tunes I know in Solo tuning to Inverted Solo, and it's amazing how their character is transformed. The flow is similar but the energy is different, in a good way. Strange but familiar.

I showed Inverted-Solo to alt-tunings guru Pat Missin last year. To my surprise he reported that this note layout had never been logged before - so he added it to his excellent online database of harmonica tunings, ‘Altered States’:

On a chromatic you could make it the base scale and raise or lower every note a semitone, in the normal way. Or, a bit cheekily, you could make this the default Slide-Diatonic scale and have normal Solo tuning as the slide-in scale, like this:

Slide Out:   BC  DE  FG  AC | BC  DE  FG  AC | BC  DE  FG  AC 
Slide In:     CD  EF  GA  CB | CD  EF  GA  CB | CD  EF  GA  CB

HAH!! The tables are turned, and traditional blow-based Solo Tuning now becomes the 'subsidiary' scale to draw-based Inverted Solo Tuning.

I've created a couple of chroms like this with half-valved chromatics and it really works: you get lots of enharmonics, cool alternate phrasing options, plus a lot of soul on the main chords tones 1, 3, 5. I'm finding it's especially good for bluegrass tunes, where you want that sliding fiddle flavour instead of totally straight notes.

If you're handy with tools try it yourself - you'll find it's rather tasty :-)

Tim Atwell

  • Guest
Re: Serendipity in Action: INVERTED-SOLO TUNING
« Reply #1 on: March 06, 2018, 07:59:14 PM »
as brendan says, everything is transformed - smoother, more consistent in tone, more emotive, when you play a draw tuning and reverse the normal blow-draw relationship.  the melody maker and major cross tunings embody this idea on the diatonic, with the tonal center being the draw note in hole 2 (similar to playing 2nd position blues).  the trouble with melody maker is that you do not get all of the notes you need below the tonic, draw 2.  the trouble with major cross is that the lowest 3 notes on the diatonic have to be raised an entire step each to get these notes.  the trouble with both of these tunings is that if you are a tongue blocker you are playing too low on the diatonic.
so years ago, i tuned a G major diatonic to A major with the tonal center being the draw A in hole 4 instead of the blow G in hole 4 (similar to 3rd position).  i did this by tuning the C's to C# and the G's to G#, an easy thing.  (the F's are already the required F#'s on the G diatonic.)  then i tuned blow 3 to E, up from D, a la paddy richter.  this gives me a draw tuning in A major, and it gives me the three necessary notes (E, F#, and G#) below the A in draw 4.  and because i do not have to play lower than hole 3, i can play everything with tongue blocking.  i call the tuning Draw 4.

like brendan i then learned to play a few favorite tunes in Draw 4 (red river valley, amazing grace, shenandoah, love me tender) and compared the sound of these tunes on two diatonics, one a special 20 in A major and one a special 20 in G major retuned to Draw 4 A
major.  so i was playing exactly the same notes on both harmonicas, but the blow-draw relationships were reversed. the results were so good that now i learn anything new on the diatonic in "D," instead of the usual 1st position "C."

why does the draw tuning sound so good?  my hypothesis: most traditional diatonic tunes begin with blow notes, often quite a few, because these are the notes of the major chord that provides the harmony for the first few measures.  a tune in G usually starts with a G chord.  on a G harmonica the blow notes are the notes of the G major chord, G, B, and D.  the blow notes set the tone, so to speak.  then along come the draw notes, which are naturally more emotive.  this creates an inconsistency in timbre.  there is nothing like inconsistency of timbre to make the harmonica sound like a toy.  so, how to reconcile these timbres?  you could put more "into" the blow notes when you start, so that they will match the tone of the later draw notes, but it's hard to remember to do that and, of course, just how MUCH more do you add?  you could also take some feeling "out of" the later draw notes so that they match the earlier blow notes, but "holding back" is not the way to play an instrument.  on the other hand, if you play a draw tuning, the draw notes come first, the more emotive sound comes first, and then it is just a matter of adding some feeling to the blow notes.  it's a lot easier to match the draw notes that have just been played than to match the draw notes that will be played later.       
« Last Edit: March 06, 2018, 08:37:42 PM by Tim Atwell »

Offline Brendan Power

  • Chrome-Minator
  • ***
  • Posts: 611
Re: Serendipity in Action: INVERTED-SOLO TUNING
« Reply #2 on: March 07, 2018, 12:19:35 AM »
Thanks for your thoughts Tim, and description of your Draw 4 tuning. From what you say, I assume  you retain the reversed breathing pattern (like Richter) in the top octave? Otherwise there would be more retuning than you mention.

Assuming so, is your tuning this?:

Draw D Tuning (Tim Atwell)
G#A  BD  EF#  G#A  BC#  DE  G#F#  BA  DC#  F#E

In C it would be:

I guess it would be nice to maintain your preferred draw emphasis in the top octave, or do you find the breath reversal from hole 7 upwards is OK? I've generally "corrected" it in my tunings as I found it annoying. If you did continue the draw-high breath pattern in the top octave, what note layout would you use?

With Inverted-Solo I doubled the C draw notes, so the octave transition is:

... FG  AC  BC  DE  FG...

I find this works well, but would require quite a bit more retuning than you might want to do on a Richter harmonica.

You say:

 "... the draw notes... are naturally more emotive (than the blows).  this creates an inconsistency in timbre.  there is nothing like inconsistency of timbre to make the harmonica sound like a toy.  so, how to reconcile these timbres?"

One way is half-valving. It gives the low-pitched note in each hole far more of that emotive quality you're after. Have you tried it with your tuning?

Another is x-reed harmonicas. Have you tried your tuning on the Hohner XB4O or Suzuki SUB30? They even up the bending expression of blow and draw notes completely. But you'd need to alter the x-reeds as well, so it would be more retuning work.

« Last Edit: March 07, 2018, 12:21:58 AM by Brendan Power »


  • Guest
Re: Serendipity in Action: INVERTED-SOLO TUNING
« Reply #3 on: March 07, 2018, 04:14:55 PM »
This idea sounds really interesting and fun. When I try this with a Cmaj harp (as Brendan describes above), I expect that playing it in the relative Cmin would be particularly rewarding, because the minor third and perfect fifth would be easily bent in the draw layer. Kudos!
« Last Edit: March 07, 2018, 04:17:43 PM by IaNerd »

Tim Atwell

  • Guest
Re: Serendipity in Action: INVERTED-SOLO TUNING
« Reply #4 on: March 07, 2018, 11:44:59 PM »
Brendan - yes, i continue with the draw emphasis in the top octave, just as you have written it out.  that the blow notes are then higher than the draw notes doesn't bother me.  i prefer to keep the 1st, 3rd, and 5th notes as draw notes in the third octave, as they are in the second.

i hadn't heard of half-valving on a diatonic.  it is something i may look into and try.  and i'm not familiar with the xb40 or sub 30.  something else to look into.

i don't play blues on the diatonic, and i don't do any bending.  i play jazz-based blues on the chromatic.  while i may lean into a note, i don't alter the pitch by a half or whole step the way blues players do on the diatonic.  i'm playing more like a trumpet player or sax player would, rather than in the style of little walter and others who play a very diatonic influenced blues on the chromatic.

IaNerd - to get a draw harp in C major, brendan has retuned (on paper) a Bb harp to Draw 4.  but you don't have to do much retuning of the Bb harp to play in C blues or C minor.  The Bb harp starts out like this (blow notes on top):

Bb   D   F   Bb   D   F   Bb   D   F   Bb
C     F   A   C    Eb  G    A    C   Eb  G

the C blues scale would be C  Eb  F  Gb  G  Bb  C.  The minor third (Eb) is already there and as you say the fifth (G) is a draw note, so you can bend it down to Gb.  and the minor seventh (Bb) is already there, but as a blow note.  this is, i think, 3rd position blues?  if you wanted to get a 'bent' sound out of the minor third, you could easily tune the Eb's up to E, and bend them down to get Eb.  if you wanted to play in the full C minor scale, you would need an Ab.  the A is a draw note but it's lower than the blow note in the same hole.  can the A be bent down to Ab?  i am not up on which notes can be bent or overblown depending on whether the draw note in a given hole is higher or lower than the blow note.  i would tune the blow 3 F up to G, and maybe the blow 2 D to Eb because Eb is the minor third.  the main thing is, C blues or C minor, leave the Bb's alone.

this is a bit of theory so i'll make it quick so as not to bore you.  C major and C minor are NOMINAL keys.  they start on the same note but don't employ the very same notes.  C  D  E  F  G  A  B  C/C  D  Eb  F  G  Ab  Bb  C.  Eb major and C minor are RELATIVE keys.  they start on different notes, but employ the very same notes.  Eb  F  G  Ab  Bb  C  D  Eb/C   D  Eb  F  G  Ab  Bb  C.  if you had an Eb major diatonic harp and tuned blow 3 from Bb to C, you could play in C minor starting on that C, without changing any other notes.  but it wouldn't be a draw tuning.

every minor key has a relative major a minor third higher.  this simple fact enabled bluesmen to begin improvising on jazz tunes.  the jazz tunes are in major keys, and blues melodies are played in minor keys.  but if you play the blues a minor third lower than the major key of the jazz tune you can get along pretty well, provided the jazz tune stays close to the parent key.  if the tune is in C major, play the blues in A.  if the tune is in F, play the blues in D.  etc., etc.  of course, things got a lot more complicated later on.   
« Last Edit: March 08, 2018, 12:10:19 AM by Tim Atwell »


  • Guest
Re: Serendipity in Action: INVERTED-SOLO TUNING
« Reply #5 on: March 08, 2018, 10:35:15 AM »
Tim:  Thank you for your careful and helpful reply.  I am very sorry to report that my post contained a terrible typo.  When I said "relative Cmin" I meant to type "relative Amin".  I apologize for the error and will try to be more careful in the future.  Again, thanks for your thoughts.  I always learn something new from your posts.

Offline Eugene Ryan

  • Chrome-Minator
  • ***
  • Posts: 684
    • Eugene Ryan, harmonica
Re: Serendipity in Action: INVERTED-SOLO TUNING
« Reply #6 on: March 08, 2018, 10:56:33 AM »
This is great stuff.  I guess it's got the good points of solo-tuning (scalar notes adjacent) but also of Richter/melody maker as Tim alludes.

Dunno about  relearning the existing Irish trad repertoire but this sounds great. To get more expression for trad tunes, I might play them in 2nd major or mixolydian or 4th position minor (Em on a G6-like tuning).. your approach here seems ideal - you get the benefits of having all the major scale notes easily and able to fly around those, as well as the bendiness of major chord notes.  And of course the slide enharmonics.

I have a slide diatonic/chrome at home, might see what it's like with the slide held in so...

Nice one.

Tim Atwell

  • Guest
Re: Serendipity in Action: INVERTED-SOLO TUNING
« Reply #7 on: March 08, 2018, 08:31:27 PM »
IaNerd - i should have asked if you were sure you were talking about C minor.

are you talking about playing in A minor, or about the blues in A?  are you talking about playing on a diatonic, or a chromatic using one of brendan's tunings?


  • Guest
Re: Serendipity in Action: INVERTED-SOLO TUNING
« Reply #8 on: March 09, 2018, 07:47:22 PM »
What I meant was, playing in Amin on an Inverted Solo Diatonic of Cmaj tuning.

Tim Atwell

  • Guest
Re: Serendipity in Action: INVERTED-SOLO TUNING
« Reply #9 on: March 10, 2018, 07:05:17 PM »
would it be easier to use a G diatonic as a starting point for playing in Draw A minor?

G   B   D   G   B   D   G   B   D   G
A   D   F#  A   C   E   F# A   C    E

i really haven't looked into it, though.

it really wouldn't be confusing, though, having one tuned in A minor and one in A major.  you just have to pick up the correct harp and think of the natural notes.  the sharps take care of themselves if you are playing the one tuned to A major.