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Let's talk about the standard modern chromatic, tuned to the key of C.

On that instrument,the same C note appears twice at two adjacent holes, both blow notes. The first C hole ends an octave, the second one begins a new octave.

That being the case, when navigating through a piece of music and C has to be played, the player always has to choose which C hole to use. (Unless you're playing the lowest or very highest/last hole - C.)
What are the criteria for choosing which C to play?


I am not a very serious player on the chromatic, but I do fool around with it sometimes. My general rule is that if I get to the end of an octave and intend to continue playing into the next octave, I jump to the second C hole to start the new octave. But if I intend to stay in the same octave and move back down (or just stop playing) I play the first C hole.

Can anyone add to this? Is there something wrong with my method - for example, some inefficiency or error it can lead to?

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    Just dug out some of my chromonicas - 4 octave Hohners, a couple of them - and they all have one blow hole for C. Can't understand why they'd need two True, it means the lowest hole is C blow, D draw, and the next octave hole is B draw, C blow, making the next one up D draw, E blow. They're at least 50 yrs old, still playing well, so maybe the design has changed, but these are/were simple enough to play. Thought about finding an older model?!!
    – Tim
    Oct 30, 2017 at 8:06
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    @Tim My harmonica has two holes for each C, like Stinkfoot describes. The reason why this exists is because there are more draw notes (D, F, A, B) than blow notes (C, E, G). By having two holes per C, the positions of blow and draw notes are neatly aligned across the entire harmonica. However, I'm a pretty sloppy harmonica player, and when I play a C note I indiscriminately blow into both holes at the same time. This is probably not proper technique. :-)
    – Lee White
    Oct 30, 2017 at 9:11
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    the plot thickens! Just found four chromonicas - all C, and all work the same as I said, except one, which plays C# until the button is pressed in!! Another couple only have single C holes as well. The C# is somewhat intriguing though... ChromoniKa III. I remember talking about it, but still think mine do the job well enough. Each octave becomes the same blow/draw...
    – Tim
    Oct 30, 2017 at 10:30
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    Blowing through two C holes will use twice the air, I'd have thought.
    – Tim
    Oct 30, 2017 at 10:34
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    My personal issue with blowing through both C holes is that it creates a slight of tremolo (even if barely audible), and probably makes the note a bit louder than all others. That's probably not something you should do unless you really intend to get that effect. :)
    – Lee White
    Oct 30, 2017 at 10:37

2 Answers 2

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I'm not actually really a chromatic player, I'm much more a diatonic player. Having said that, here's the answer: there is no hard and fast rule, it's simply whichever one is more convenient for a given passage. Practically, for the 2 blow notes, it makes very little difference. Obviously, if you're about to play an A or a G then it's easier to play the first C, and if you're about to play an E or an F then it's easier to use the last one, to not have to skip over a hole.

The much more pressing question is whether to use the C on the blow with the slide out, or the C on the draw with the slide in: using the latter can make certain passages much easier, not having to reverse breath direction coming from a quick A for example.


If it seems strange and illogical that most notes on the chromatic harmonica have no enharmonic equivalent, but that C has 3 enharmonics, and 2 of them are right next to each other, that's because it is strange and illogical, but see this question for why that came about B -> C on a chromatic harmonica :

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  • The much more pressing question is whether to use the C on the blow with the slide out, or the C on the draw with the slide in Yes. Same question also applies to E->F. Draw or slide.
    – Stinkfoot
    Oct 30, 2017 at 13:38
  • but see this question for why that came about - Oh! That's my question - I didn't realize you finally posted an answer. I must have missed the notice. I will check it out.
    – Stinkfoot
    Oct 30, 2017 at 13:42
  • We do have E#/F on the modern chrom.
    – Stinkfoot
    Oct 30, 2017 at 14:25
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Opinions about this are divided, and I've heard very good players argue for either approach. There is no consensus, or agreed best practice.

I have attended a workshop with a known teacher who argued that you should always use the same hole for C (usually holes 5 and hole 9 - avoiding 4 and 8). The teacher argued that it's confusing to use two different holes, and you don't actually gain anything.

Sure, it's faster to go from a G up to C by using hole 4 or 8 because you only jump one hole instead of two (e.g. 3 to 4 instead of 3 to 5). But the same doesn't apply going from, say, D to A (e.g. 5 to 7). You have to be very good at that two hole jump anyway, there's no advantage to using a shortcut just for one specific note.

On the other hand, in his book "Play Irish Music on the C Chromatic Harmonica", Brendan Power suggests an approach whereby you would use the C on hole 4 when music is descending, and on hole 5 when music is ascending. Brendan Power argues this is better to be able to play at the speed required for some pieces in Irish Music.

I have had lessons with a different teacher, who argues you should work on a piece-by-piece approach, using what works best for that piece. In particular that teacher was keen on keeping things as "legatto" as possible. So going from an E to a C, you would do the C on hole 5, blow. But going from a B to a C, you would do the C on hole 4, draw, with the slide in !

I have actually done a small survey about this on a forum with a number of Chromatic Harmonica players. I got 12 respondants - all of whom have been playing Chromatic Harmonica for a number of years, and many of whom perform regularly. They all agreed, with no exception, that they work on a piece-by-piece basis, using whatever combination works best for a given piece.

You can see the thread in question there, though it is a french speaking website: https://www.harmonicalement.fr/viewtopic.php?t=10734

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