Jean Labre (photos M. Vicent-Roubert)All the Harmonicas
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Pentatonic harmonicas
The Tremolo Pentatonic Harmonica enjoys a great popularity in the traditional music in Japan.

Click to see enlarged image.


This new instrument has been created by Juko Saito, A.J.H.F.*, chairman and itinerant harmonica teacher everywhere in Japan (a top reference).

Here is a technical summary of what he had explained me during an interview he gave me in Tokyo.

If the Tremolo Pentatonic appears as a new instrument in the mouth organ family, the pentatonic scale has got a long history. This scale is born 4500 years ago in China (have a look at our article "Birth and History of a small instrument" on our website).
The Pentatonic Harmonica offers a range of new musical possibilities because of the pentatonic scale concept, with only 5 notes, unlike the diatonic scale (7 notes) and the chromatic scale (12 notes). We will note that these two last scales appeared lately during the Meiji period (1868-1912).

Click to see enlarged image.


The japanese music includes 3 pentatonic scales :
1/C.D.E.G.A. This scale has no F and B, it's the major pentatonic scale.
2/A.B.C.E.F. The quarte and the seventh are excluded (no D, no G). This is the minor pentatonic scale.
3/C.E.F.G.B. Second and sixth are excluded (no D, no A). This scale is very popular in Japan and is called "Okinawa" pentatonic scale.

Juko Saito has created 6 pentatonic harmonica models in accordance with the preceeding 3 scales definitions. These harmonicas are manufactured by :
Tombo Musical Instruments Company in Tokyo :
http://www.tombo.co.jp E-mail :

Here are the technical characteristics of these 6 pentatonic tremolo harmonicas :

1/ Major Pentatonic Harmonica (ref : MA-1).

Click to see enlarged image.


G major model "Noma-3" (blow/draw). To agree to traditionnel japanese music arrangements.

2/ Major pentatonic Harmonica (ref : MA-2).

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We obtain pentatonic minor scale with the draw notes, these notes are : A.B.C.E.F. These pentatonic scale is an application destinated to the traditional japanese music, for example the famous tune : "Mago-Uta".
You must know that there is no harmony in the japanese traditional music, but these pentatonic scales are highlighting this very melodic and very popular music.

3/Major Pentatonic Harmonica (ref : MA-3).

Click to see enlarged image.


Scale based on the sixth and the second, allows to play with a 2 notes chord base.

4/ Major Pentatonic Harmonica (ref : MI-1).

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Harmonica based on a minor mode without D and G#. The blow notes are : A.C.E. This instrument allows to play western musics.

5/ Minor Pentatonic Harmonica (ref : MI-2).

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The blow notes are : A.B.C.E.F. (minor pentatonic), a F# has been introduced in the draw notes.

6/ Minor Pentatonic (ref : MI-3).

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This instrument is based on A minor chord. It is possible to play 3 chords with this harmonica : A minor (with blow notes), E minor and G (with draw notes). It allows to play it giving a different colour.

As western harmonica players, we still have to find applications in our traditional and present musics for this new instrument. This has been already made, for example, by Pete Pedersen in a "My Blue Heaven" recording... and by me in my CD "Humanitas".
A new way is now open for all harmonica players.
Many thanks to Juko Saito, great musician and talented innovator.

Jean Labre

*A.J.H.F. : All Japan Harmonica Federation
Published October 20th 2006

 

Copyright © Jean Labre 2005-18 - Updated on April 21st 2018 -