I have sheet music for a song that is in the key of Eb Major; three flats. To play these notes on a chromatic harmonica I have to transpose those three flats ( E, B and A) to sharps (D,A & G), I think. If this is true what happens to the key of the piece, is it just in the key of C major now? The harp is in the key of C, orchestra tuned.


  • I don't understand? Why would you have to transpose 3 flats to sharps? And 3 sharps is not D, A and G? It's F, C and G. Are you just trying to transpose a piece in Eb into C? – Ben Hughes Apr 25 '17 at 19:06
  • Hi Ben, thanks for responding. On a diatonic harmonica notes can easily be bent down to flats; not so on my harp so my thought is to play those flats I have to sharp the preceding note. First, is that correct? Maybe I am making more of this than I have to; maybe I do want to just transpose it to C. Confused. – jpkelly Apr 25 '17 at 19:25
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    @BenHughes - On a modern chromatic in the key of C, there are no 'literal' flats. Without using the slide you have all the notes of the C major scale. Using the slide, every note is raised by half a step, effectively giving you the key of C#. So - when you go to play Eb, you actually have play to the D hole and hit the slide to make it D#, the enharmonic equivalent of Eb. – Stinkfoot Nov 15 '17 at 0:06
  • FYI - Orchestra Tuning on chrom generally means the first hole is G below C : you get half an octave below the lowest C so you can play bass notes against the higher octaves. That's the standard layout on 14 hole chrom, or a 12 hole Orchestra Tuned chrom. On a 12 hole, they eliminate the high end of last octave, which is little used, to give the ability to play those bass notes. – Stinkfoot Nov 15 '17 at 0:13

It's pretty straightforward. On chromatic harmonicas, the notes are sharpened when the button is pressed in. So, on a C harmonica, all notes are diatonic C, and no flats per se are capable of being played.

So, to make Bb, Eb and Ab, they need to be seen and played with the button in, as A#, D# and G# respectively.Thus, keeping the piece in Eb, all the 'accidentals' are played in this way. Unless transposition is the name of the game, in which case, play it all in C, which may not be possible, as other accidentals may occur.

Answer is if you change those 3 notes, to b OR #, it will be played in Eb, effectively.

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Don't worry about the mechanics of the instrument, that's the player's business. Write the music correctly. He'll take care of playing it.

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  • I didn't realize at first that the question was about writing the music, but playing it. But from the language of the question, sounds like you're probably correct. I adjusted my answer because of yours. – Stinkfoot Apr 14 '18 at 11:50

I have to transpose those three flats ( E, B and A) to sharps (D,A & G), I think.

No, you don't have to transpose anything:

Depending on whether you're in a flat or a sharp key, the notes should be referred to in terms of their appropriate enharmonics.

In your case, although most chromatic layout charts say that when the slide is pushed on a D hole, the resulting note is D#, that's correct when in the key of E Major, for example.

But if you're in Eb, there is usually no reason to think of it as D# - in the key of Eb that note is Eb, not D#. That is how a player should think of it and that is how it should be written.

The slide notes should be considered like the black keys of the piano - their names change depending on the key. In E Major, the black key following D is D#, but in the key of Eb it's Eb.

Nothing has to be transposed at all, because the 'virtual' instrument layout changes based on the key being played.

Here is an arrangement of the tune My Funny Valentine for Chromatic Harmonica. As we can see, it is written in Eb, with no transposition for the chromatic: Eb is notated as Eb, etc:

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It is found in this book:

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(At first I thought the question was about playing the song yourself, but perhaps you just mean writing a the music for the chromatic, in which case the following is not relevant to you as a composer, but to a musician playing the chromatic)

Practice your scales, going through the Circle of Fifths, and focus on spelling each scale correctly using the appropriate enharmonics. After a while it will become natural to name the slide notes based on the key you are playing in.

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