[Harp-L] 4th Position tips, prejudices

   Blues playing tips for 4th?  Going back to my previous post, I'd suggest
at first using a G harp to play the blues in E.  E is probably the most
common blues key and the G harp is easier to bend notes on than some
others.  It's a good, practical place to start 4th.
   One of first pieces of business for you is to tame the full step bend on
the 3 draw for your E note.  Get it in tune.  It opens up the bottom of the
harp for you.  Check it against the 2 draw or 3 blow on your A harp.
Practice varying the volume on it while keeping it in tune.  Myself, I
usually add an "oy, oy, oy" vibrato and/or a hand wah to disguise the fact
that it's a bend.
   Strategies?   I suppose you could put on a E jam track and noodle around
on a G harp until you stumbled upon some patterns that seemed to work.  Or
you could drill scales, triads, arpeggios, etc. until you feel
comfortable.  In the case of 4th, years ago I found it useful to draw out a
G harp and an A harp on a piece of paper, take inventory of what was there,
and start moving stuff I had been using on the A harp in cross over to the G
harp in 4th.  Warbles, chords, turnarounds, simple pet phrases, slow blues
heads, etc.  It's not rocket science, it's paint by numbers.  Match the
notes up.  Not everything will transfer, but you'd be surprised how much
will.  I tried to make my G harp sound like my A harp in the key of
E.  Used the A harp to double check my intonation.  I didn't have to move
too much stuff over before my brain rewired itself to the new position and I
was able to start connecting the dots and move around more fluidly.  The two
harps are not going to sound alike, as much as you might try.  Draw notes on
one harp might turn out to be blow notes on the other.  Simple draws or
blows on one might turn out to be bends or overblows on the other,
vice-verse.  Stuff that works in the lower register in cross position might
lie better in the middle or upper range of your 4th position harp.  That's
the beauty of it.  If you're jamming next to an experienced blues harpist
and you're playing a Sonny Boy II turnaround on the 9th and 10th holes that
this guy is used to hearing on the 2nd and 3rd holes, he's going to wonder
what the hell is going on.  Or if you're quoting from "Big Walter's Boogie"
or "Walking By Myself" using the first two holes of your G harmonica, the
guy on the A harp is going to wonder how you got those tunes in a lower
register.  And eventually, you're going to stumble upon stuff that is unique
to that position.  Stuff that gets other players scratching their heads.
   To me, the main work in this position is getting a good blues sound once
you find the notes.  If I'm playing the blues, I don't want to sound like
I'm giving an oboe recital at Juilliard.  Or hitting someone over the head
with a purse.  If it starts sounding too pristine or clean, or busy, or
soul-less; I'll go back and scuff up the notes like a baseball pitcher will
work over new ball.  If I have to cough into an octave, or tongue slap
something, or put a little extra throb into my vibrato, or grab a chunk of
another hole, or substitute a chord for a single note; I'll do it to give a
tune or phrase a little extra grime or crustiness.  For me, this is folk
music and I want to sound like I'm on somebody's back porch or in a smokey
bar playing behind a stripper.
    Not a tip, but my own personal prejudice: I'd rather play songs rather
than exercises.  I like to use blues standards and the notes behind the
words to probe these positions.  I will push these things all over the harp
to find where they can fit.  And then play them over and over again,
constantly tinkering with them.  To me, there isn't a more natural way to
move through a I IV V progression and develop good patterns.  It seeps into
my soloing, injects some history and hopefully some "legitimacy" into what
I'm trying to do.  By the time I get stuff like "C.C. Rider", "That's
Alright", "Last Night", "Gonna Move to the Outskirts of Town", "Little by
Little", "Good Morning Little Schoolgirl" and others phrased into a
position; I know where all the "pretty", melodic blues notes are and where
all the "nasty" violent sounding notes are.  Frankly, a harp position is
useless to me if I can't use it to play along with the Jimmy Rogers "book",
or the Jr. Wells repertoire.  Muddy, Wolf, the two Walters, etc.  I won't
tell you that I like 4th better than 2nd, 3rd, or 5th for blues, but I do
prefer it to 1st position and it definitely has a more "primeval" sound to
it than 12th.  And I dig primeval.
   You don't need overblows to make 4th work.  I do use them, mainly for
passing tones or connectors.  If I have to lean on, say, the 5th hole
overblow---holding it and hitting it with volume--I won't do it.  I'll jump
into another register and get that note as a half step bend on either the 2
hole draw or the 9 hole blow.  I'll reroute the phrase.  Good example, "Key
to the Highway".  5b,6b,6d,6d--"I got the key"; 7b,6d,7b,7d--"to the
highway".  Next note is a C# and I usually pick that up on the 9th hole blow
bend and continue the phrase from there.  Same deal with "Going to
Chicago".  8b,8b,8d,8b,7b,6d--"Goin' to Chicago";
8b,8b,8d,8b,7b,5b,6d "sorry but I can't take you".  And again, the next
phrase starts with a C#, which I grab either on the 2d or 9b bend.  The key
is to be flexible and learn how to move around roadblocks.  And learn how to
use your half step bends occasionally on the 1d, the 2d, the 4d, and the 9b
so you don't wind up sounding like you're in a minor key while the band is
in a major key.  And the half step bend on the 8b is essential; it's the
equivalent of the 4d bend in cross position.  "Mojo", "Smokestack
Lightning", "Wang Wang Doodle", and plenty of other tunes require that bend
on that hole in 4th.
   Sorry I went so long here.  Grab a cup of coffee some rainy morning, sit
down on the recliner with a pencil and a yellow legal pad, draw out big G
and A harps on paper.  It's like spreading out a roadmap.  Have some fun
with it.  Take a simple blues like "Spoonful" or "Key to the Highway" and
see if you can move it over.  Or some favorite, basic blues riffs.  Again,
it ain't rocket science.  And nobody seems to be working this position as a
Chicago blues position.  It's just been sitting there, waiting for blues

Mick Zaklan

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