Re: [Harp-L] positions you can use on diatonic

This is really just a discussion of nomenclature.  Using numbered
positions is a short-hand for the location (starting point) and feel
of a certain scale in relation to the harmonica on which it is being
played.  3rd position, or playing D on a C harp, has a feel to it with
certain little opportunities that aren't there when you play another
position on the same harp (say A on a C harp).  It is these
opportunities we seek that cause us to play positionally -- to choose
to play D on a C harp rather than D on an F or a D or a G harp.
Whether or not you think in numbered positions, you are still playing
in a position on the harmonica.  You have simply learned to call it
something else.  As long as you know where you are going, that is what
counts when you play.  You can label the places you wish to play on
your harmonica any way you like.  However, when you do, if your
nomenclature is too different from everyone else's, you may have
difficulty communicating with them -- which appears to have been the
cause of this thread in the first place -- confusion over what was
meant by certain terms.

Interestingly, when I first started playing harmonica and following my
ears, I had no clue what was meant by straight, cross, or slant harp
-- but that was supposed to be how you played harmonica.  Someone
later told me that cross harp was playing only draw notes, no matter
what -- and that didn't help.  In the world of melodic music, you need
a few blow holes, too.  So I did things my way, and it worked.
Whatever those other folks were talking about didn't affect me.  Of
course, I was playing straight, cross, and slant (and more), but I had
no idea what the terms really meant, so they meant nothing to me.
Once I learned the positional nomenclature and could apply it to the
terms, I finally understood.  Of course, by the time I understood, it
never had any hope of helping my harmonica playing.  It just made it
possible for me to be conversant with someone who used that

Learning to use the position nomenclature has helped me communicate to
others and help them see the opportunities provided by each key on the
harmonica and develop ideas on how to utilize them.  It takes the
worry out of the way of keeping up with sharps and flats so that they
can move forward and find even more harmonica to play -- simplifying
what they are doing to concepts.  You are doing the same thing when
you talk "C harp" even when you are playing a harmonica of a different
key.  The nomenclature removes the particulars that are incidental and
the focus of thought then goes to the sharps and flats that matter for
the discussion -- the sharps and flats that will matter when you play
-- which will probably be referred to then as bends and overblows,
because knowing that they are sharp of flat doesn't remind you of what
you must do to get the note to play.

Another nomenclature that I have used is "white keys" and "black keys"
(in reference to the piano).  The harmonica has only white keys in the
middle and top octaves, so, if you need a black key, you have to bend
or overblow.  It is simplistic, but it is just another way to remove
the worry about keeping up with sharps and flats, half steps and whole
steps, and to give the learner a picture or mnemonic for their mental

Call it anything you like when you play.  We use these terms to
communicate, and some of us are helped by the concepts and the
pictures they paint in our heads.


On 4/1/12, JersiMuse <jersimuse@xxxxxxxxx> wrote:
> Ok, I understand the way you use it.
> In fact, I do the same but without using any position concept.
> I don't have to know all the harps of course, but I know the C harp, and I
> just think about the note transcription, like a sax or a trumpet would do.
> For example, if I know a lick in D maj on a C harp, then I know the exact
> same lick in B maj on a A harp.
> In fact, I think all the notes of the A harp as being the ones of a C harp.
> In a certain way, I consider my A harp as a C instrument, like a sax would
> do (BTW, saxes also play on instruments with different keys).
> As you can see, I think it the same way as you do, without thinking about
> positions but about scales (it would work the same way for the D min
> harmonic scale for example).
> The difference is slight.
> Another example is for reading music. Let's say I have a music sheet for
> trumpet, in Bb.
> Either I use a C harp, and I transcribe a whole tone above the music sheet,
> or I use a Bb harp and I don't transcribe, or I use a A harp and I
> transcribe half a tone down, etc ...
> In any case, I'll consider the harp I play with as a C instrument.
> Regards,
> Jerome
> -----Message d'origine-----
> De : harp-l-bounces@xxxxxxxxxx [mailto:harp-l-bounces@xxxxxxxxxx] De la part
> de michael rubin
> Envoyé : dimanche 1 avril 2012 15:53
> À : Brendan Power
> Cc : harp-l@xxxxxxxxxx
> Objet : Re: [Harp-L] positions you can use on diatonic
> Jerimuse,
> The utility of positions is high even when they are not only modal.
> Let's say you wanted to play a third position major scale in the key of D on
> a C harp.  You would have to know your C harp layout and that the notes in D
> major are D E F# G A B C# D.
> If you wanted to play in B major on an A harp but did not think with
> positions, you would have to know your A harp layout and that the notes in B
> major are B C# D# E F# G# A# B.
> If you did not have positions, you would have to know the layout of all 12
> harps and know the names of the notes in every scale you want to play in all
> 12 keys.  Then you can also play in any key on any harp!  Considering that
> even without jazz I play around 10 different scales on a regular basis, that
> is a lot of memorization!
> But if you can think in positions, learn it on a C harp and then use the
> same blow draw, bend, overblow pattern on any harp!  You do not need to know
> the layout or the names of the notes in the scale!  You do need to know the
> name of the key but that's about it.
> Michael Rubin
> On Sun, Apr 1, 2012 at 5:21 AM, Brendan Power <bren@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
> wrote:
>> I also think in positions. Since we play so many different key
>> harmonicas, that way of thinking makes sense to keep ones bearings
>> when switching between harps.
>> However within each position there are MANY possible scales: the basic
>> 7 note major and minor scales we use a lot in the West, pentatonic
>> scales, and a myriad of others: eg. diminished, augmented, the
>> hundreds of maqams or ragas used by Arabic, Indian and other musicians,
> including microtonal ones.
>> It's a huge and complex field once you start studying it!
>> To answer the question posed in the thread title, I find a good way to
>> get myself familiar with what positions/scales are USABLE on the harp (ie.
>> musically flowing and technically comfortable) is to concentrate on
>> pentatonic scales in different positions first. In some positions both
>> major and minor pentatonics are easy, in others I'd only pick one or the
> other.
>> Here are improvising examples of 11 usable major and minor scales on
>> the PowerBender (most will work well on standard Richter too, though
>> overblows will sometimes be required). If you ignore the sales angle
>> and just listen to the music, it will give a good idea of the wide
>> range of relatively easy scales possible with just one A harp:
>> The scales/positions featured are (not in order):
>> 1st Position Major - 2nd Position Major & Minor - 3rd Position Major &
>> Minor
>> - 4th Position Major and Minor - 5th Position Minor - 6th position
>> Minor - 11th Position Major - 12th Position Major
>> Some surprised me! Before doing the video I'd never used 6th Position
>> before, but it turns out to be a really expressive minor mode on the
>> PowerBender. Another good minor pentatonic not featured on the video
>> is 7th position Minor (D#m on an A harp).
>> Brendan Power

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