Tabluature/Tablature is simplified musical notation. While I dislike it (especially for guitar) because it does not include note duration (there are ways to do it, but most people don’t take advantage of them) and so is useless unless the song is already known to the player. But for simple wind instruments like the harmonica and pan pipes it is useful. The particular advantage of tabulature is that it makes transcription to the internet, which uses computerized type set, easier.
The song “amazing grace” is originally in the Key of G (scale G A B C E F# G). The first verse is below as written in that key with the basic melody noted above with simple text as you can find on the internet many places. This technique of describing a song isn’t great as duration is not included (a full musical staff is much better), but it’s an easy way to type it out (Note: When you do this sort of thing you should to use fonts which evenly space (sans-serif fonts) like “courier” in word-processing programs or just set it up as “preformatted” format in things like wordpress or emails to make spacing easier)…
d g b g b a g e d A-ma-zi-ing Grace, How Sweet The Sound, d g ba b a D(using capital for a high d That Saved A- Wretch Like Me! b D b D b g I Once Wa-s Lost, d e gg e d But No-w- Am Found. d g b g b a g Was Blind, Bu-t Now I See.
So we have a simple way to type out a song and we have ours up there already. The problem for an harmonica player however is that harmonicas are manufactured in particular keys and so a C harmonica played straight produces C and so playing the song as written is difficult because it is outside our normal range.
To solve this problem the song should be transposed downward and in a key easily played on the C harmonica (if that type of harmonica is what we have).
C and F are rather easy to play on the C harmonica and G can be played with the cross technique. Let’s start with F to keep things simple.
Luckily transposing the song from C to F is rather easy as it only requires that every note drop down one full step (one tone (not merely a semi-tone) which is two physical keys you could strike on the piano if your count includes the black ones) so that the first note which is d would become c, g would become f, and so forth.
The transposed song stands as…
c f a f a g f d c A-ma-zi-ing Grace, How Sweet The Sound, c f af a g C(high c) That Saved A- Wretch Like Me! a C a C a f I Once Wa-s Lost, c d f fd c But No-w- Am Found. c f a f a g f Was Blind, Bu-t Now I See.
Now the song is rather easy to play on the C harmonica because it is in the easily played key of F Major.
The F major scale contains a Bb note which would normally be hard for a beginner on the harmonica, but in this particular song the fourth note of the scale (Bb) is never played so we avoid that complication when playing the melody.
But our transposition does present difficulty when playing chords as the D note as found on the second to last line should be paired which a Bb and F note (making a Bb chord) for the proper sound.
But for now the transposed song is in a range available to us on a standard harmonica without any trickery (one full octave, from low c to high C).
That means we can make tabulature notation for our song pretty easily with each number signifying the proper hole (there are 10 holes on a standard harmonica) where a minus symbol signifies an draw (inhale). (Note: If we needed bends to be noted in our tabulature we could use the apostrophe ‘ symbol after a hole number with one signifying a change of one semi-tone, but we don’t need them in this case).
c f a f a g f d c 4 -5 -6 -5 -6 6 -5 -4 4 A-ma-zi-ing Grace, How Sweet The Sound, c f af a g C(high c) 4 -5 -6-5-6 6 7 That Saved A- Wretch Like Me! a C a C a f -6 7 -6 7 -6 -5 I Once Wa-s Lost, c d ff d c 4 -5 -6 -6-5 4 But No-w- Am Found. c f a f a g f 4 -5 -6 -5 -6 6 -5 Was Blind, Bu-t Now I See.
And there you have it; the melody of amazing grace easily played on the harmonica.
A major advantage harmonicas have over many other instruments is that because they are keyed switching to another key harmonica changes the key without any effort so you can play the same song in another key without relearning it or being forced to overcome your muscle memory. The disadvantage is that most songs will need to be transposed into your key so sheet music and song books are not as immediately useful, but with a little effort you can transpose those songs into the key of your harmonica. I’ll be posting more tabs for the harmonica soon. Enjoy!
Oh yeah… you want some chords tips? Easy… a C chord is played by blowing anywhere on a C harmonica, a F major chord will be played anytime an F or A note is found and that is played on the C harmonic by drawing on the 5th and 6th hole simultaneously and where Ds are found suck on holes 1-3 to play a G major chord. Where an D is leading to a closing c like at the word “now” use the Minor VII in a seventh flat five (Bm7b5 (called B minor seventh flat five)) by sucking on 3-6.
Now what about starting on the note G?
g c e c e d c a g 3 4 5 4 5 -4 4 (?) 3 A-ma-zi-ing Grace, How Sweet The Sound,
That presents a problem since there is no A note in that octave on the harmonica. We could use the higher A note which is produced by drawing hole 6. That’s probably the easiest solution.
We can also bend the draw of hole 3 from b to a, which is difficult since we have Bb getting in our way, but it is possible as the range of the bend of that hole on the draw is from B-Ab actually but it’s quite difficult for a beginner to do. That is why the melody should be played as laid out in the key of F if possible, but still…
g c e c e d c a g 3 4 5 4 5 -4 4 (-6) 3 A-ma-zi-ing Grace, How Sweet The Sound, g c ed e d G(high G) 3 4 54 5 -6 7 That Saved A- Wretch Like Me! e G e G e c -6 7 -6 7 -6 4 I Once Wa-s Lost, g a c ca g 3 (-6)4 4(-6) 3 But No-w- Am Found. g c e c e d c 3 4 5 4 5 -4 4 Was Blind, Bu-t Now I See.
Now the good thing about playing the song in C is that the chords are easier. The chords for the Key of C are as the scale; I = C, II = D, III = E, IV = F, V = G, VI = A, VII = B. Any time a G, C, or E, note is present just play the first chord (C). Even though there is an G note in the G chord we rely on the C chord which also contains an E because this follows the principle of preferring the primary (tonic) chord which forms the tonal center and the resolution chord of our song which is the first note in the scale (C for the key of C).
For the other chords anytime a D or B is present play the fifth (G), and anytime an A is present play the fourth (F). The G chord is made from the notes G, B, and D so that’ll work. The F chord is F A and C and so sounds good in the Key of C since it contains one.
This is a pretty common selection of chords in a Major Key. The I, the IV, and the V chords in your scale can get you very far. And so because you likely have a C harmonica you should learn how to play the C chord (blow anywhere), the F chord (a draw on holes 5 and 6 together), and a G chord (a draw on holes 1,2, and 3 together). There are more chords below…
Major I (C chord), blow anywhere…
Major V (G chord), suck 1-3
Major IV (F chord (this is technically note a chord because it only have two notes since the A is missing by the way)), suck 5-6.
Major V in a seventh (G7), suck 2-5.
Minor II (Dm), suck 4-6 or 8-10
Minor VII in a seventh flat five (Bm7b5), suck 3-6, 7-10.
THIS SECTION IS STILL IN DRAFT FORM – IGNORE as these are random notes.
Chords progressions and the timing of the switches are very flexible so you’ll see many different chord notations for any given song in books and on the internet. The main idea is that you do not want to play a chord at any particular time that contradicts the notes in the song. At those points you should either remain silent or just sustain the last chord you played.
For Amazing Grace in the key of C one chord arrangement could be…
I,IV - - - I IV VIIb IV c f a f a g f d c 4 -5 -6 -5 -6 6 -5 -4 4 A-ma-zi-ing Grace, How Sweet The Sound, I, IV -- - I I c f af a g C(high c) 4 -5 -6-5-6 6 7 That Saved A- Wretch Like Me! IV - - - - - a C a C a f -6 7 -6 7 -6 -5 I Once Wa-s Lost, IV VIIb IV VIIb IV c d ff d c 4 -5 -6-6-5 4 But No- w- Am Found. I, IV - - - I IV c f a f a g f 4 -5 -6 -5 -6 6 -5 Was Blind, Bu-t Now I See.
So you could say the chord progression is…
I, IV, I, IV, VIIb, I – I, IV, I, I – IV, IV, VIIb, IV, VIIb, IV, I, IV, I, IV
C, F, C, F, Bb, C – C, F, C, C, – F, F, Bb, F, Bb, F, C, F, C, F
The problem is that on the C harmonica we do not have a simple way to play a Bb chord. The most common solution is to play the melody during those parts of the songs instead of the chords. We could also try replacing the VIIb (Bb) with a V7 (G7) or a Minor VII in a seventh flat five (Bm7b5).