A New Tremelo Harmonica

My new harmonica came with some sort of songs and tablature that I can’t read – fortunately, the website listed 江苏天鹅乐器有限公司 – and when I type it in, google offers to translate from Chinese.   So my latest harmonica – a Swan Tremolo harp in C and G is a Red Chinese import.

I’m not particularly surprised – tremolo harps are more an Asian thing than American – the standard we measure against is the old Marine Band and the Chrometta – my grandmother got me into the Chromettas

and I don’t know who it was that turned me on to Marine Bands and Blues harps

Still, years ago, I found out that I like the Tremolo harp.  The Swan Both Sides flips over to shift from the key of C to G . . . and I’ve been using a standard single-sided Tremolo harp (well, a couple of them, really) for over 20 years.  This article at  describes using them . . . and I still need the standard harmonicas for blues.

The Tremolo Harmonica

“In recent years I’ve become part of the Asian harmonica scene, due to a Chinese harmonica lesson website I launched in 2006 with a Chinese partner. While the site has over 70000 members, most Asians don’t play 10 hole harmonica, the subject of my lessons. Instead, many play the Tremolo.

I was initially unimpressed with the Tremolo. I’ve changed my mind.

The Tremolo has either 21 or 24 holes. The comb has a divider down the middle which doubles the number of holes. The Tremolo is actually two harmonicas, tuned slightly apart and played in unison. The beating which occurs between the notes creates the Tremolo sound, not unlike a piano accordian. It’s an acquired taste, I’m starting to like it.

This double reed layout means that two notes are played at once. It also means that notes can’t be bent (actually, single tremolo notes can be bent a little, not the double ones however). Unlike the diatonic, each hole has one note only, either a blow or a draw. This takes getting used to, applying air at the wrong place means no sound. Also, no bending limits options for blues.

However the Tremolo is great for tunes. It’s also (kind of) laid out like a diatonic, as the diagram shows. The top holes in the diagram are the blow ones, and make a C chord, just like a diatonic. Each note is doubled, so the space in the diagram above the first hole D has another D reed, the space below the second hole C has another C and so on.”

From “Harmonica World” Oct-Nov 2010

Foy the rest of the article, click the link above . . . but if I haven’t turned you on to the tremolo harp already,  the challenges are:

“The problem is that the draw notes change position. The diagram shows higher draw notes to the left of the blow notes in the bottom octave. The middle octave has the higher notes one space to the right of the lower ones. In the top octave the higher notes are 3 spaces to the right of the adjacent lower notes.

Hard to remember, hard to play. At least for me. Initially I kept missing notes in the bottom and top octaves, especially the top. However, the feel of the two reed plates working (almost) together is nice.”

Personally, I like the tremolo harp – and I don’t mind buying an instrument from China.

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