Playing Harmonica with the Kalimba
Cross Harp

The harmonica is a simple instrument that you can play with many instruments, including the kalimba! In this five part series, you will learn how the harmonica and the kalimba are related, and why the harmonica is such a great companion to the kalimba.


Last month we looked at some of the basics about playing harmonica with kalimba, and why they go well together. This month we address something called cross harp.

If you are already an accomplished harmonica player, you probably know about cross harp. So, a G harmonica will actually play in several different modes - G major, or E minor, or an A minor, or a D mixolydian. It turns out that most players who play blues will use their G harp to play in D mixolydian. When you add in the notes that can be "bent" or flattened, you have a great D blues scale. (On harmonica you bend a note by sucking in a particular way - I sort of choke up my throat, so I am sucking very hard, but not much air is coming through, and the pitch goes down.)

There is a great connection to African scales here - the karimba's traditonal African scale has the 7th, 3rd, and 6th in between the major and the minor intervals - i.e., they are in between the notes you have on the piano. Thelonious Monk knew this, and would simulate the African note by playing both the minor 3rd and the major 3rd (two notes right next to each other), which are the two notes closest to and on either side of the African scale's note. So, the harmonica can get those "in between" notes.

But back to cross harp. Your G harmonica can also play cross harp in D, which is a 5th above G (count G A B C D as 1 2 3 4 5). How does that relate to the kalimba? The G kalimba could actually play in "cross kalimba" in the D mixolydian mode.

Listen to this example of cross harp: Bb harmonica played with Bb Treble kalimba, both played with F as the root.

By the way, here is a table that matches the key name (the major key of the kalimba and the name of the harp) to the cross harp key, as well as the minor and the dorian (a milder minor key):

Harmonica Keys
This matrix will help you know which harmonica you need to play in various keys. The left-most column is the major key, or the name of the harmonica. If you have a C harmonica, it can also play in G cross harp (using the notes given to you in the C harmonica, but starting on the root note of G), A minor (making the A be the root note), or D dorian (another sort of minor scale). By the way, this chart is totally useful for any instrument - just replace the second column's name with "Mixolydian", a mode which is similar to the major scale, but with a minor 7th.

Next month, we will discuss how to connect the harmonica with African music.


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