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  • Writer's pictureStéphane Laidet

How to read Harmonica tabs?

Updated: Jun 17

(Stéphane Laidet)


The harmonica tabs shows you how to play a melody on your instrument. Tabs contain the answers to these three questions:


- 1) Which hole do I have to play?

- 2) Should I draw or should I blow?

- 3) Is the note obtained with a bend or with an overbend?


HOW DO TABS GIVE AN ANSWER TO THESE QUESTIONS?


- 1) Which hole do I have to play?


You have to play on the harmonica the hole corresponding to the number you read on the tab.

Ex: If you read 7 on the tab, you have to play the seventh hole starting from the left side (the side of the lowest notes).


- 2) Should I draw or should I blow?


To show if the note is drawn or blown, there are several ways:


a) With a small arrow.

If it is directed upward, you blow and if it is directed downward, you draw.

harmonica tabs with arrows





b) With a horizontal line.

Usually, the numbers at the top are the holes to blow and the numbers below the line are the holes to draw.

harmonica tabs with blown notes at the top



But sometimes it is written upside down too! Pay attention to the letters on the left side.

harmonica tabs with drawn notes at the top





c) With a (+) sign, the note is blown and with a (-) sign before the note is drawn.

harmonica tabs with numbers




Sometimes the blown notes are written without the sign "+"

harmonica tabs with numbers 2




- 3) Is the note obtained with a bend or an overbend?:


You can change a note by using two techniques, bending or overbending.


The bends lower the pitch of the original note. It is written with small horizontal bars on the top of the hole number. One bar for each semitone the pitch lowers.

Ex: I blow on the eighth hole and bend the note down halftone:

The overbends (overblow or overdraw) raise the pitch of the original note. It is written with a small circle over the number of the hole to play.

Ex: I do an overdraw in the seventh hole:

AN EXAMPLE WITH ONE MELODY WRITTEN ON HARMONICA TABS USING THE 3· MOST COMMON WRITINGS:


example of a harmonica tabs with arrows

example of a harmonica tabs with blown notes at the top

example of a harmonica tabs with numbers

This is the same melody written in 3 different ways. Sometimes there can be variations in the writing (with the horizontal line, some people put blown notes upon the line and drawn notes above, etc.)


Short musical break:

Link to Spotify/Stephane Laidet









Part 2:

HOW TO PLAY THE TAB:


If you read the tabs above, here is a possible interpretation of the tabs if you don't know the original melody:










But this tab could also sound like this:










We could give many example of different interpretations.

Because tabs have no rhythm.


So when if want to include rhythm, you need to add a score, like this (This is a C harmonica):


example of a harmonica tabs with music sheet

or like this:

example of a harmonica tabs with music sheet 2

This can be a little confusing because you have to read two lines simultaneously..


BUT WE CAN ALSO WRITE THIS AND IT BECOMES EASIER TO READ:


harmonica tabs with rhythm notation

OR THIS:

harmonica tabs with rhythm notation 2

So now, with rhythm, you can really know how is the original melody!

And it sounds like this:



















Reminder

a) For a tremolo, repetition effect of a note, or tremor (for the throat

vibrato ), this writing is used:

if very fast or if quit fast


b) If both notes are the same pitch, be careful, a tie prolongs the note.

This is only one note.


c) for notes with slight or very slight volume, this writing is used:

The letter p indicates that the volume of the note is slight, pp is very slight.

Likewise, the letter f means that the note is Strong, ff means very strong

note.


7) Some notations specific to the harmonica:


a) We write, if necessary, the pronunciation of the notes.

For example, “To” under the note to attack its beginning or the sound

“Wa”, etc.

Enjoy this new way to write and read your harmonica music!




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