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

Harp music theory 101 (for those who are somewhat confused by this discussion):

Positions (as currently defined) are a conceptual mapping of the harmonica 
to the Circle of Fifths as a convention. As defined, 1st position maps the labeled
key of the harmonica to the corresponding key on the the Circle of Fifths. There
is an implicit mapping of modes to positions, simply because of the musical
nature of 1st position. 

With the ASSUMPTION that one is talking about the Richter layout (with one  
complete diatonic major scale octave from hole 4 blow up to and including hole
7 blow), 1st position is the ONLY position that has a complete diatonic major 
scale (all 8 notes in the middle octave). The lower octave has two missing notes;
the upper octave has 1 missing note from the octave.

Since modes are defined relative to a designated scale, there is a particular mode
associated with and beginning on each scale degree of the underlying diatonic 
major scale. There are 7 NAMED modes associated with a particular major scale,
coreesponding to the 7 notes in that diatonic major scale. Each mode begins
on a specific scale degree and also contains the exact same notes as the underlying
major scale.

Using the "C" major scale as the underlying diatonic major scale, the standard harp
naming convention would label this as a "C" harp. The association between positions
and modes is as follows:

1st position ("C") = Ionian mode
2nd position ("G") = Mixolydian mode
3rd position ("D") = Dorian mode
4th position "A") = Aeolian mode
5th position ("E") = Phrygian mode
6th position ("B") = Locrian mode
12th position ("F") = Lydian mode

It is important to remember that the modes are defined relative to an underlying 
diatonic major scale. Pick the starting note and the corresponding major scale, THEN
define the notes of the modes based on that reference scale.

There are other named modes associated with other than diatonic major scales, but 
that chases the rabbit further down into the briar patch. I'm going to get scratched
enough in this discussion.

This scheme is a means to an end: a convention that enables teachers and students
to converse using common terminology. That one can PLAY without ever knowing or
referencing this terminology should be an obvious fact, especially in the harp world.

The original question was in reference to how many play in all 12 (15, if you want to 
distinguish between enharmonic keys) keys using a single harp. I don't and have no
intention of ever trying to do that. I am sufficiently familiar with modal concepts to
use them as needed. I don't really use positions as such, although I've had harp players 
ask if I was playing in a particular position. There is a very good reason for NOT using
positions when I converse with other harp players.

The "convention" is based on a Richter layout of notes. I won't argue the appropriateness
of calling it the Richter layout. That's merely another fairly well-understood convention.
However, there is a serious "problem" with making a simplistic assumption that 1st
position is ALWAYS the same as the key of the harp. There are "non-standard" labeling
conventions (perhaps associated with non-standard layouts of notes) which make the
"convention" either very difficult to apply or make it just plain confusing.

I play Circular (Spiral) Tuned harps made by Seydel. Seydel names the key of these
harps based on the note in hole 1 blow, which mirrors the labeling convention for their
Richter layout harps. The problem is that hole 1 blow on a Richter layout harp is the
same as scale degree 1 of the underlying diatonic major scale, whereas on a Circular
Tuned harp, hole 1 blow is the 5th scale degree for the same underlying diatonic major
scale. If I told someone that I was playing a "G" harp in 1st position (blithely assuming
the same labeling convention and mapping to the Circle of Fifths), then I would actually
be playing in the "G" Mixolydian mode while they would be playing in the "G" Ionian
mode (the diatonic major scale). At some point in the song (assuming it was a tune 
based on the Mixolydian mode rather than the Ionian mode), we are going to have some
differences in notes, specifically on the 7th scale degree. My 7th scale degree will be 
flatted (an "F") while the Richter layout will NOT be flatted (an "F#"). If the Richter
player "knows" the tune is a "G" Mixolydian tune, he may pick a "C" harp and play it
in Mixolydian mode in 2nd position. Nothing prevents him from playing a "G" harp in 
Mixolydian mode--except limitations of bending or overblowing technique.

The "convention" ASSUMES that the labeled key of the harp is 1st position, and that all
other keys on the Circle of Fifths are relative to that designated starting key.

So how should I designate what I'm playing on a Circular Tuned harp? What about other 
popular "non-standard" tunings?

My own mapping convention is to know the underlying diatonic major scale that is built
into the harp. That becomes my reference key on the Circle of Fifths, NOT the labeled 
key of the harp. It is then my responsibility to KNOW the seven notes of that diatonic 
major scale and the "address" (hole location) associated with each of the scale degrees 
across the entire harp. As a consequence, I do not think in terms of relative "positions"
but in terms of the keys and modes. I suspect that I'm not the only one who takes this

Perhaps a little less dogmatism is called for. If "positions" make it easier to learn and
play harp, then by all means use it.

So, burn me at the stake in the appropriate "position;" I'm too crazy to care!

Crazy Bob


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