Simple Question:

I have a chromatic harmonica tuned to the key of C, with a slide that raises each note by one half step. It's very similar to a piano, with some exceptions: slide out == white keys; slide in == black keys. On it, you can play a major triad. (I won't go into all the details - if you're going to answer this question, you probably already know how it works.)

I'm wondering if some chromatic harmonica expert can tell me if and how it's possible to play a C Minor Triad (for example) on this chromatic? How can I play Eb together with C♮ and G♮ ? Is there perhaps a technique I can use to lower the pitch of the E to Eb while blowing a CM triad?

  • You’d have to play the C minor chord as an “Arpeggio.” Mar 15, 2019 at 18:47
  • Your description of button out = white keys, button in = black keys doesn't seem right!
    – Tim
    Nov 26, 2019 at 9:10
  • @Tim - why not? On a standard C chrom, every note without the slide is from C major - white keys. Push in the slide, you get the sharps/flats - black keys. There are a few one offs - for example if you slide on B you get B# or C - slide on E you get E# or F - those don't exist on the black keys - idiosyncrasies of the chrom because you can slide on any note - not the case with the piano - but not really consequential in terms of my analogy.
    – Vector
    Dec 4, 2019 at 18:41
  • Button in doesn't just = black keys - as you yourself say! B# while yes, it's a sharp, is never a black key.
    – Tim
    Dec 4, 2019 at 22:35
  • @Tim - It is also C if you're in most keys. You can also call them E# or F with the slide depending on the key. The slide notes are not absolute - they are exactly the same as the black keys on a piano. Only difference is that you don't have black keys at for those notes on piano. You just use enharmonics (or ignore the issue) when you need E# or B#, etc.
    – Vector
    Dec 4, 2019 at 23:38

2 Answers 2


Is there perhaps a technique I can use to lower the pitch of the E to Eb while blowing a C triad?

No there isn't. For minor key chord stuff people tend to play chromatic harmonicas in D minor or Eb minor (and in that sense they become partially diatonic instruments). I saw a video the other day that I now can't find, of Jason Ricci playing a chromatic live (rare!), and he played a d minor vamp, using a lot of d minor 6 chords. That is to say, he approached the instrument (as you would expect), in a diatonic fashion.

Chromatic harmonicas are fully chromatic, but only for single note playing. In addition to that, the note layout does favour some keys over others. Interestingly enough, the easiest keys are those with a closest relationship to the "key" of the chromatic, OR the key a semitone up, so on a C chromatic C sharp and G sharp are exceptionally easy keys which is unusual to say the least!

The chromatic harmonica wasn't designed from the ground up as a chromatic instrument, but rather an existing diatonic layout (used to play major melodies) was used, and a slide mechanism added on top of that. This means that what you have, in effect, is a solo tuned C major diatonic harmonica that also shifts up a semitone (or, if you like, a Db major one that also shifts down). In a way though, that's part of its charm: each key has its own "feeling", much like on many other modern chromatic wind instruments, or indeed the piano for that matter.

Some players prefer to play with the chromatic tuned in diminished triads, as this makes it more "key neutral". Other think this adds very little, and loses you the chords and double stops that you do have: it's a matter of preference.

For further reading I suggest you check out what Pat Missin and Brendan power have to say about chromatic harmonica tunings, their benefits and their limitations. Also, if you have a chromatic harmonica at your disposal, make sure you learn all of Stevie Wonder's repertoire. But I guess that goes without saying.

  • 1
    Reading your comments to tim above, I'm afraid bending on a chromatic (single reed bending) is tricky already, a sustained note a semitone below is rather hard, it's more useful for inflection (listen to isn't she lovely for an example). And even on diatonic harmonicas where you can bend, it's impossible in almost all cases (and in all useful cases) to double/triple stop and bend one hole without bending another at the same time.
    – Some_Guy
    Sep 16, 2017 at 22:19
  • OK - well - apparently you have some good playing experience on the chromatic, and my trials certainly indicated it's difficult-impossible to get it to sound decent.
    – Vector
    Sep 17, 2017 at 3:33
  • 1
    @Stinkfoot I really don't, until today I'd played one for about a minute in total! I've pulled apart and put back together diatonic harmonicas for years, and experimented with valving, blocking individual reeds etc, so I know what single reed/double reed bends feel like though. I've generally maintained an interest in all things harmonica for a while and there're a lot of transferable knowledge/skills and blogs/articles/videos of players who play both, so I feel I know enough about chromatic harmonica technique to answer these questions even though I've always been a diatonic player myself.
    – Some_Guy
    Nov 1, 2017 at 21:55

Pretty sure you can't. Blow gives C major orC# major. Draw gives G9 as the full chord - orG#9. The button obviously raises D to D#/Eb but that comes on a draw while C and G are blown. So not only is it a draw-back but also a bit of a blow,so to speak...

It may be possible to blow a C chord triad and partially block the middle E hole but can't explain exactly how till I reunite with my chromonicas.

  • 1
    @Stinkfoot- I did think that may be possible although it's easier to lower on a draw but I can't get to my chromonicas for a few days, by which time a real expert my have provided a more acceptable answer
    – Tim
    Sep 16, 2017 at 17:43

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