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

It was not a total coincidence from me.

It may surprise you Brendan, but I totally agree on most of your points.

I would just like to precise few things to conclude my own remarks.

To my opinion, if positions only refer to root notes, they are useless, and
the note name is a much better and precise information.
Especially when you communicate with other people from the band, who are
usually not harmonica players.
I'm surprised that harmonica players so much feel the need to use a separate
vocabulary, enabling them to better communicate with other harmonica
players, and complicates their communication with other musicians. Whereas,
to my opinion, playing music should mainly be the encounter of different

I agree on the fact that all this is new, and becomes complicated to
manipulate when arriving to chromatism.
And this is exactly the point.
Positions are great when they are used the way they were expressed to
explain harmonica playing until the 80's / 90's. I mean playing common
licks, without chromatism, worked out before hand, and exploited on tunes
which have a single key, and most of the time a single mode.
It works but it is totally empiric and disconnected from the music theory.
Or you can see it the other way around : it is totally empiric and
disconnected from any music theory but it works, which is the most
Why not. It can be very useful that way.

But in that case, and I would say "by definition", it won't work when you
derivate from the inner configuration.
So it is limited to a specific use.
First, one should not try to connect positions to any kind of logical
theory. It can not work because it has been developed to avoid it (and if it
was possible, then why not use the inner theory).
Second, if you incorporate chromatism, and different specific needs of sound
colors, ambiances, you'll have to go forward on scales anyway.
Not speaking about playing a parallel harmony suite than the one played by
the band ...

At the end, I have begun the harmonica with positions and switched to keys
and scales because I needed them to play the music I wanted to play.
And my personal conclusion is that it is much easier to learn the basis of
music theory from the beginning, than trying to understand a concept which
is only empiric.

BTW, I'll let you just think about one point.
For most musicians, a note is at the same time a name AND a position
(position of fingers, toungue, lips, etc). Still most musicians name their
position by the name of the note it gives.
Of course, most of musicians can not change their instrument's key at a
It is still interesting to know that some harp players do think all 4 draw
as being a D, on all harps, instead of "a third position". Like most
musicians not playing a C instrument do (sax, trumpet, etc).

Last but not least.
All my remarks are totally absurd as, as explained in my first email, I only
play on a C harp, which means I don't need all this philosophy :-)
And this is where I wanted to end : all depends on your needs !
One have to think what he needs to be able to play the music he loves,
knowing the strengths and weaknesses of each tool, and decide which one is
better for him.
Positions are not mandatory and are limited, classical music theory is not
mandatory neither, but it is not much more difficult to be learnt and it has
proven for centuries to be unlimited.

Thanks all who had the patience to read my emails whereas I guess most of
you disagree with my "position" :-)
I hope it was interesting anyway.

Best regards,


-----Message d'origine-----
De : harp-l-bounces@xxxxxxxxxx [mailto:harp-l-bounces@xxxxxxxxxx] De la part
de Brendan Power
Envoyé : lundi 2 avril 2012 12:14
À : harp-l@xxxxxxxxxx
Objet : [Harp-L] Re: positions you can use on diatonic 

JersiMuse inadvertently highlighted the essence of positions when he wrote:


".if positions are related to modes, then the whole system doesn't work. But
if positions are not related to modes, and only give the root compared to
the harp used, then, what is their utility?"


That's got it right there: that IS their utility! What does "Position" mean?
It means a place, a place related to other places. In harmonica terms, it's
a hole/breath/bend place on the harp. Jersi highlighted its function: the
word "Position" should only refer to the root note's place, or position, on
the harp - not the name of the note, or the mode or scale that starts there.


Take Third Position, as this seems the most contentious. The root notes of
Third Position are found on holes 1, 4 and 8 draw, no matter what harmonica
you use. We all agree on that! If that happens to be the key note of the
song you're playing, you can say you're playing the song in Third Position.


HOWEVER, what scale or mode of Third Position you use depends on what's
appropriate for the music you're playing. Commonly Third is played as a
minor scale, because that's what lays easiest. But you can play Third as a
major, and there are well over a hundred other scales you could use in that
position if you have the interest and technique to do so. Some will lay
easier than others.


So it's up to the player to say what Third Position mode they're using. "I'm
in Third Position Major/Minor/Wholetone/Raag Bhairav.." Or whatever. 


The confusion has arisen because the names Second, Third, Fourth etc relate
to the home key of the harp, called First Position by harp players. Other
scales starting on different root notes (if played with unaltered notes on
the harp) can be given modal names (Mixolydian, Dorian, Aeolian etc). But
that only gives you seven modes (or 'natural' positions). As soon as you
introduce chromaticism through bending/overblowing the whole system needs to
be refined. 


But this is relatively new. For a long time positions like Third, Fourth,
Fifth were ONLY played as minor keys, and others (eg. First) only as major
keys. That meant the scale used got identified with the position of its root
note - hence the confusion!


With advances in technique that's changing, and many players are now able to
play other scales within the same position. So now (in addition to the key
of the harp) both the position and scale used need to be stated if someone
asks what you are doing.


However the concept of position as a PLACE on the harp named after the
circle of fifths derived from First Position is still useful. For example, 3
draw semitone-bend is the starting note for Eleventh Position. That's a
useful notion for the player and anyone he's talking to, because it
describes its root position on the harp. But it has nothing to do with the
name of the note found there is or the scale used: those depend on the harp
used and the discretion of the player in relation to the music being played.


Brendan Power




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