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Tuning and the Harmonica

It is often said that the most important aspects of musical performance are the "three ts": tuning, timing and tone. A well-played piece of music needs to be in tune, in time and have an appropriate tonal quality. In this section of my site I will be focusing on the first 't' - tuning.

Tuning can be quite a thorny topic, but I hope there are some explanations in these pages that are useful and not too difficult to grasp. For too long harmonica players have been at the mercy of the various harmonica manufacturers when it comes to the tuning of their instruments, but it's not such a daunting task to take matters into your own hands and tune the things yourself. Not only can you alter the temperament (fine-tuning), or overall pitch level of the harp, you can, if you wish, completely change the layout of notes that the instrument gives you. Extensive descriptions of both the theory and practice of doing this is included in Altered States. This is a zipped collection of plain text files with advice about tuning harmonicas drawn from my experience of having done this for a living for several years, plus more than a couple of hundred alternate note layouts for diatonic, chromatic and tremolo harps.

Click here to get a copy of it completely free.

Save the file to your hard drive, unzip it and you will be presented with a collection of files that can be read with any basic text application. The collection was last updated in September 2021. If your copy is older than this, you should download a new one as several mistakes have been corrected and much new stuff added. If you prefer something a little more interactive and a little less old school, visit Scale Finder, courtesy of Tinus Koorn.

Other pages on tuning-related topics

Audio Examples of Just Intonation and Equal Temperament Applied to the Harmonica

Why does Just Intonation sound so good?

Ramblings on the general topic of Just Intonation, ratios and prime limits

Tuning Schemes for the Standard Major Diatonic Harmonica

Tempered diatonic harmonicas, Picardy Thirds, Diminished Tunings and more ratios and limits

Intonational considerations for the Solo Tuned, Harmonic Minor, Natural Minor and Melody MakerTM harps

Harmonica tuning relative to accompanying instruments

Temperaments of various out-of-the-box diatonic harmonicas

Intonation and the Diminished Tuning

Tuning a harmonica to a professional standard - a step by step description

Compromise temperaments for the harmonica

Tuning the double reed harmonicas

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