[Harp-L] Re:Positions playing

       and if we are talking, as we are here, not jamming we need to use terms to describe what we do; descriptions of note patterns, scales, chords, rhythms etc.

>>> Steve Baker <steve@xxxxxxxxxxxxx> 13/03/2009 10:09 >>>
Geoff Atkins wrote:

<Re: Position playing (Robert Hale, John F. Potts, Winslow Yerxa)

I'm perplexed about the necessity to comprehend the details of the
Dorian, Aeolian, and Phrygian minor modes, when I'm not  Greek!
The 12th position on a ten hole harp also is kinda hard:
I use a single position, "harp in mouth" and instinctually play whatever
the music requires, on a harp suited to the guitarists' key.
I've played as a session harpist, so it  works for me.

JJ Cale was once asked: "Did you learn any music theory?"
His reply  "Yes, but not enough to damage my playing".

Erudition is a wonderful thing, when Art teachers meet, they talk  
about Art;
but when artists meet, they talk about canvas and brushes.>

I imagine Cale had his tongue firmly in his cheek when he made the  
above comment. Playing instinctually is without doubt also a  
wonderful thing, but the term can cover a multitude of sins and I've  
experienced many players claiming to do this who then proceeded to  
trample all over the chord sequence while ignoring the modal  
character of the song. Most of them didn't notice that they were  
playing notes or phrases which clashed gratingly with the chords they  
were supposed to be accompanying and which had little to do with the  
melodic character of the song. I don't wish to imply that you do  
this, Geoff, but it happens a lot and is one of the reasons why  
"proper musicians" often hate harmonica players (forgive me for  
repeating this pet rant, if it gets on peoples nerves then tell me to  
shut up).

The idea of learning the scales which correspond to the most commonly  
used positions on the harp is to be able to play notes and phrases  
which fit to the song you're playing, either because they share the  
same modal basis as the melody, or because they're more likely to  
harmonize with the chords of that tune than the notes of a different,  
less appropriate mode, due to the fact that they they share more  
notes in common.

For example, on a tune like "Nobody's Business If I Do" it sounds  
better if you avoid typical blues scale licks, because the song is  
much too major both in the melody and in the chording for the  
basically minor blues scale mode to sound pleasing. On the other  
hand, phrasing based on the major pentatonic mode, in any position  
you enjoy playing in, will sound much better integrated into this  
song. Another example recently and frequently quoted here in Harp-L  
is Sonny Boy's "Help Me", where the major pentatonic scale cannot  
help but sound wrong (to my ears at least) due to the fundamentally  
minor nature of the song. Of course if your ear is reliable enough  
that you automatically take these things into account and play  
accordingly then there's no necessity to be able to explain them in a  
theoretical sense, but not many intuitive players succeed in doing  
this on more than a limited range of material.

Ear training is a significant part of the process of learning to  
select the appropriate mode/position/special tuning for any given  
tune, but the basic rule is very simple: the song comes first and  
your job is to serve it, so it's best to learn how it goes before you  

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