Tag Archives: habanera

Improvise with the Habanera

In a recent post, I gave you improvisation ideas using the harmonic minor scale. One place that this scale shows up is in the Habanera (often confused with the tango). I’ll repeat the notes about tuning that I gave you then:

If your harp is tuned in C (or you’ve put up your levers for C), engage your G# levers. In your left hand, play the following chords in succession (called a chord progression): Am, E, F, E. (The notes in those chords are ACE, EG#B, FAC, and again EG#B). Let’s use 4/4 time and play the chord just on beat 1, changing chords every two measures.

By the way, if you have only F, C and B levers on your harp, disengage the B’s to create Bbs, and then engage the C#s. Now your harmonic minor scale is Dm. Play Dm, A, Bb, and A chords to go with this scale, and avoid the C# when playing the Bb chord. (Chord notes are DFA, AC#E, BbFD, AC#E).

Okay, so here’s the fun NEW part. Below is a simple pattern of chords in Am with the traditional Habanera rhythm. (If you’re playing in Dm, use the same pattern on the Dm, Gm, A, and Dm chords, with your C#s for the A chords).

Habanera

(click image for larger version)

Play through the chord changes with your left hand until you can do it without too much thought. Then you can start adding simple notes in your right hand. Try repeating just the chord roots (A, D, E and A) in your right hand in a rhythmic pattern, for example. (That would be D, G, A and D in Dm).

Of course, you can play the chords in any order and make up beautiful melodies for your right hand as you get more comfortable. Try to improvise for at least 20 minutes just to allow yourself to get bored with the pattern. Boredom means you’ve got it, and that’s when something new and magical can happen!

Have fun!

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This post is adapted from material that I originally published in the ezine, Notes from the Harp.