Playing Rolls or Turns on Harmonica

Anything apart from the two mainstream default harmonicas (Solo-tuned fully-valved chromatic, and un-valved Richter 10-hole diatonic). Alternate tunings, different construction, new functionality, interesting old designs, wishful-thinking... whatever!
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Brendan
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Playing Rolls or Turns on Harmonica

Post by Brendan » Sat Oct 16, 2021 4:03 am

I've been playing Irish tunes for a long time, and often been frustrated at the inability of the harmonica (with or without slider) to play one of the most common ornaments used by most instruments in the music: the Roll, or Turn.

There are two versions, the Long Roll and the Short Roll. They both occur in the same time and give the same effect as a Triplet. Triplets are pretty easy on harmonica, especially slide harmonicas, and they're the principal ornament I and others use. They can be jaw-flick triplets, tongued triplets, or slide triplets.

The latter can go up or down, depending on how the harmonica is tuned. On my Slide-Diatonic harps the slide always rises to the next note, whereas in the reversed-slide style it always lowers to the semitone below.

Both are effective enough, but don't offer the complexity and subtlety of the Roll. It crams in 4 or 5 notes in the same time as the 3 of the triplet and, because you hear it used so much on the main traditional instruments, it gives a real authentic "Irish" feeling to the tunes.

Both types of roll include the principal note plus the note above and below. Here are examples on the note C:

LONG ROLL
CdCbC

SHORT ROLL
dCbC

On a diatonic harmonica this would require two breath changes and a hole change: impossible at the speed of an Irish reel, and not flowing enough anyway.

On either the Slide-Diatonic or slide-down harmonicas you still have one breath change and a hole change. These slow the ornament down too much, and remove its essential legato flow.

Rolls or turns are also used extensively in virtually every style of music you can name, including Classical, Jazz and most types of Folk music. So the inability of the harmonica to play them represents quite a severe limitation, in my opinion.

The only 'standard' harmonica I could envisage which would offer the ability to play rolls effectively would be a specially tuned DoubleChrom. One slide would raise the note and the other lower it. You could get the roll by playing a single breath on one hole and pressing both slider buttons rapidly in sequence.

Theoretically this would give the speed and smoothness required. Whether it's actually possible at session speed is another matter, but it's definitely worth finding out one day!

In the meantime, I've been practicing long and short rolls using my DM48 Midi Harmonica. Because it has three note alteration buttons, these can be programmed to give the correct notes for the roll, if the instrument is tuned to a Slide-Diatonic scale.

The main slide button raises the note, and the two top buttons lower it by one or two semitones. With rapid alteration of the right and left fingers, rolls are now possible! Albeit not with a true acoustic harmonica sound, but certainly with a harmonica interface.

I'm really enjoying practicing these cool ornaments and am starting to incorporate long and short rolls into my playing of Irish music. It's quite a revelation hearing how they alter the flavour of the tunes, and make it possible for one to play more like a fiddle, flute or whistle. At last I can genuinely produce exactly the same ornaments as them on at least one type of harmonica!

This is yet another example of the superiority of the Midi Harmonica over the traditional kind. The list is growing and, for me, it's making it harder and harder to choose anything except the DM48 for much of the music I like to play.

EdvinW
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Re: Playing Rolls or Turns on Harmonica

Post by EdvinW » Sat Oct 16, 2021 10:31 am

I think I can play something like rolls with my Wedin chromatics. The best recording I have I think is the following: https://cloud.fripost.org/s/ZL7rC7FLp8sYKje

Is this the kind of ornament you mean? The tune is rather slow, but the ornaments are at ok speed I think. I'll try to record something quicker when I find the time. In the recording I play the same tune fragment in 6 keys, without changing harmonica.
Edvin Wedin

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triona
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Re: Playing Rolls or Turns on Harmonica

Post by triona » Sat Oct 16, 2021 1:03 pm

And I know one more (physically acoustic!) harmonica on which I can do it. :D And I use it widely. 8-)

It is the Hohner Chordomonica II - a nearly forgotten ingenious invention of the well renowned harmonica virtuoso and temporally former chief manager of the Hohner company. It was once right off-the-shelf. But this had been some decades ago, and it is discontinued since long. And the second hand market does not provide too many either any more. :|

Since short it is available again as a custom made harmonica on the base of a current standard Hohner 270. The mechanical system of the double slides is handmade and custom-tailored from the scratch. Hohner does not have left any of them any more. And they even do not have the drawings and tools for re-manufactoring any more. This is the reason for the high price of this instrument.


As I just tried out some minutes ago, there are some small limitations:
1. It is not working on each hole of the harmonika. But there are some in each octave.
2. The base of the roll - like the "C" in "CdCbC" or "dCbC" - is not the default note of the respective holes. It is one of the notes created (i.e. raised or lowered) by one of the slides - as far as I suppose from my quick spontanous examination just now. I hope it is understandable what I mean.

As soon as I find more time I will examine this closer and document this more exactly. I came to this just now by your post here. But I use this playing technique since the first day that I happend to own my first Chordomonica. However this use of the double slides is heavily non-scholastic concerning how is taught by the traditional teachers of the Chordomonika. But those throw their hands up in horror anyway, when they hear and especially see me playing this marvellous instrument. :lol:


Tell me, if you like more information about the Chordomonika II. I have lots of extensively detailed documents, layout charts, sheet music and links at hand. I just would have to seek them out of my archive. But most of them are in German. To make translations would take some more time. But layout charts and sheet music would be international anyway.


dear greetings
triona
Aw, Thou beloved, do hearken to the Banshee's lonely croon!
sinn féin - ça ira !
Cad é sin do'n té sin nach mbaineann sin dó


https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC1yI3H ... 9ktgzTR2qg

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Brendan
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Re: Playing Rolls or Turns on Harmonica

Post by Brendan » Sat Oct 16, 2021 2:37 pm

Thanks Triona. Yes I'd welcome more information about the Chordomonica II.

I'm a bit puzzled about how it can give you up/down rolls around one note of a single breath, however. Since the number of reeds is not increased, is it really possible?

For example, take a roll on the main note D in the key of C. On that hole, there are four reeds: two draw and two blow reeds. A smooth fast slider roll requires three reeds of the same breath. In this case it's a roll on a draw note. Ok, one slide can raise the D note to draw E in the same hole. But now all the draw reeds in that hole are taken. There cannot be a draw C in the same hole for the D note to drop down to, regardless of the fact that there are two sliders.

That's why I think a DoubleChrom would be required.

But perhaps there is some special way you can do it?

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Brendan
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Re: Playing Rolls or Turns on Harmonica

Post by Brendan » Sat Oct 16, 2021 2:48 pm

I had a listen Edvin, but I don't think those are rolls.

If you want to hear them played beautifully, listen to Mary Bergin. She is using rolls and other decorations constantly:

https://youtu.be/w725fJV3VXg

Listen at tempo, then choose the 0.5x speed option in the YouTube drop-down options. You will clearly hear how the rolls fit seamlessly into the rhythm of the tune.

To work properly they all need to be on one breath. The Wedin Tuning might offer the possibility of doing it because it has sequences of scale notes with the same breath in adjacent holes. It could be done with a slide press taking the note up combined with a jaw flick to lower it (or vice versa), all on one breath, but you'd have to be very good to get it fast and accurate at reel speed.

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Brendan
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Re: Playing Rolls or Turns on Harmonica

Post by Brendan » Sun Oct 17, 2021 6:32 am

Further to my speculation above that rolls might work well on a standard slide harmonica if you combine a slider jab for the note above with a jaw flick to the left for the note below, there's one place in Solo Tuning where this makes good musical sense: holes 4 and 8. Here you have the sixth, seventh and octave tonic all available on a draw breath, to give the legato flow required for a roll.

On a C chromatic it would be:

BcBaB (long roll)
cBaB (short roll)

I tested it out, and it sounds nice and smooth. That got me thinking about our recent discussion in another thread where I drew up a scale diagram for a variation on Edvin's Wedin Chromatic tuning, using principles based on my Slide-Diatonic approach. It's specifically designed for playing Irish/Celtic music in two keys a fifth apart, such as D and G.

Besides the many advantages I listed for it in terms of nice bends, adjacent fifths, many enharmonics etc, I just went back and had a look at the diagram with the roll possibilities in mind, using the slide jab/jaw-flick method. It's pretty impressive:

WEDIN SLIDE-DIATONIC

Code: Select all

Draw Slide-In	G	D	E	F#	G	D	E	F#	G	D	E	F#
Draw Slide-Out	F#	C	D	E	F#	C	D	E	F#	C	D	E
HOLE NUMBER	1	2	3	4	5	6	7	8	9	10	11	12
Blow Slide-Out	G	A	B	C#	G	A	B	C#	G	A	B	C#
Blow Slide-In	A	B	C	D	A	B	C	D	A 	B	C	D
You can get nice draw-breath rolls on the D, E, F# notes, and nice blow rolls on the A, B, C#. That's a significant number of notes in both D and G keys - from a standard chromatic construction with a single slide button!

Hmmm... It's even more interesting than I first supposed... This ability to play smooth flowing roll decorations adds yet another strong feature to its many other useful qualities for playing Irish/Folk music styles.

(Here's the other thread with the full description of this tuning:)
viewtopic.php?f=9&t=834

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Brendan
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Re: Playing Rolls or Turns on Harmonica

Post by Brendan » Sun Oct 17, 2021 10:55 am

Actually... After doing more practice this morning, I'm not sure. At a slow speed the slide jab/jaw-flick combination is ok, but when the tempo goes up it's just not fast enough.

After doing more detailed study of rolls in Irish music I've found that they are really better described as rhythmic events, rather than as a collection of distinct notes.

If you go back and listen to that Mary Bergin clip, you'll hear what I mean. The upper and lower notes barely sound as real notes. If you slow down to 0.25x speed you can hear them, but at tempo they are like a rhythmic stutter on the primary note.

It's described and demonstrated well in this video, about 1:40:
https://youtu.be/qwt4Qf6izpk

I'm finding the only way to get this subtle effect is on the DM48 by hitting two buttons virtually simultaneously. It's tricky, but coming along... 🙂

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