What are positions on harmonica?

Jan 13, 2016 | Advanced Beginner Harmonica Lessons, Intermediate Harmonica Lessons

Today’s harmonica lesson is all about positions! I will explain to you what different positions mean and what a key is in

What is a key?

Before we look at positions on harmonica, we need to understand what a key is.

In music, the key is a root note and chord around which everything resolves. This is quite a technical way of thinking. But, basically if we are playing in the key of C, the music will feel like it resolves when you play a C note.

The key also implies a selection of notes which are likely to appear in the melody and chords. For example in the key of C we have; C, D, E, F, G, A, B whereas in the key of A we have: A, B, C#, D, E, F#, G#.

The relationship between the root note (1st note) and the rest of the notes in the key is the same for every key. So, the musical distance between C and G is the same as musical distance between A and E. This is known as a fifth.

The best way to understand this is that you can play the same song in 2 different keys. The melody of the song is still recognisable but will be higher or lower depending on what key you’re playing in.

What does this mean for you? Well, you need to make sure that everyone in the band is playing in the same key.

Now let’s look a positions.

1st position (Straight Harp)

1st position just means playing in the key that the harmonica comes in. So, if you have an A harmonica you will be playing in the key of A. The root note will be the 1 blow, 4 blow, 7 blow and 10 blow.

2nd position (Cross Harp)

Traditionally, a lot of blues is played in 2nd position. 2nd position starts from the 2 hole draw. The main reason that a lot of blues is played in 2nd position is that the notes are laid out in such a way that you get access to the nice bent notes quite easily.

So, if you have an A harmonica you will be playing in the key of E in 2nd position.

The quick way to work out what key you are playing in 2nd position is to count up 5 from the root note of the harmonica.

For example, on a C harmonica you count up C, D, E, F, G to find that you are playing in the key of G in 2nd position.

It’s worth noting that a position is not a scale. You can play the blues scale in multiple positions. The position is just what hole you are starting on which then gives you access to a different key.

3rd position (Slant Harp)

3rd position is traditionally used for a lot of minor playing. This isn’t all it can do but it does do it well. The reason for this is that you have an easy-to-hit minor 3rd in the middle octave with the clean 5 draw.

3rd position starts on the 1 draw or the 4 draw.

It’s very easy to work out what key you are playing in 3rd position. All you need to do is go up one letter from the key of the harmonica. So, if you have A harmonica you will be playing in the key of B in 3rd position.

In conclusion

Although you can play major or minor keys in any position, you will start noticing that each position confers a mechanical advantage to certain styles of playing.

1st position starts on the 1 blow, 4 blow and is the same key as the harmonica

2nd position starts on 2 draw, 6 blow and is a fifth up from the key of the harmonica

3rd position starts on 1 draw, 4 draw and is one tone up from the key of the harmonica

Thank you!

Thank you so much for taking part in this lesson. I hope it was useful for you. If you enjoyed this lesson, please share it with your friends.

See you again for the next harmonica video!

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