[Harp-L] Positions and Modes

Guitar Scales for Harmonica Players: An Amateur's Guide

Working with the key of C

The Key of C:

Note           Name

C                Root or Root Note

C#/Db      Minor Second

D                Major Second

D#/Eb       Minor Third

E                 Major Third

F                 Fourth

F#/Gb       Flat Five

G                Fifth

G#/Ab      Sharp Five

A                Sixth

A#/Bb       Seven or Flatted Seventh

B                 Major Seventh

C                Octave

Musicians do not speak of a flat root, minor root, sharp root, flat fourth,
minor fourth, major fourth, sharp fourth, minor fifth, minor sixth, flat
sixth, sharp sixth, minor seventh, sharp seventh. Those all make sense, but
the names just aren’t typically used in referring to notes. Where these are
used, they are exceptions, or are referring to something quite different
than what you probably think (super technical tuning stuff)

Please NOTE: Modes and Positions overlap but do not correspond. “Position”
refers to the way you play a particular key harmonica over a particular
song key or chord. “Mode” refers to the notes that compose a particular

Here are seven scales:

C Major Ionian

D Dorian

E Phrygian

F Lydian

G Mixolydian

A Natural Minor Aeolian

B Locrian

These 7 scales or modes all use the same notes: C D E F G A B

So to play a C Harp in the Key of C major, using first position, you will
be playing the C Ionian Scale. But this does not mean that you can really
say First Position is the Ionian Position, since it is also the F Lydian
scale and the B Locrian scale and the D Dorian scale, as well as all the
others listed above. So you see, there is overlap, since any given position
will be using a scale of some sort, but they do not exactly correspond.
This doesn’t mean, however, that we as harmonica players cannot use mode
names with some FUNCTIONALITY.

I play guitar, where we use these modes, and I also play harmonica. This is
how I blend the ideas of position and mode (all with reference to a C
harmonica... you'll have to transpose these ideas to other harmonicas):

Position     Harp          Song Key            Sort of Useful Mode Reference

1                 C                C                           Ionian

2                 C                G                          C Lydian

3                 C                Dm                      D Dorian

4                 C                Am                      A Natural Minor

5                 C                Em                       E Phrygian

6                 C                B

7                 C                F#/Gb

8                 C                C#/Db

9                 C                G#/Ab

10               C                D#/Eb

11               C                A#/Bb

12               C                 F                           C Mixolydian

Alternate 1st position: using the C Melodic Minor scale (rather than

C harp playing  with an overblow Eb instead of an E

This is using a “flat” or “minor” third instead of a “major third”

(Since E is the third note in the C major scale)

Notes: C D Eb F G A B

Alternate 1st position: using the C Harmonic Minor scale (rather than

C harp with an overblow Eb instead of an E and an draw bend Ab instead of
an A.

This is using a flat third and a sharp five

Notes: C D Eb F G Ab B

This position/mode overlap is useful to me, because if I'm playing a song
that uses, for instance, the Dorian mode, I know I can play harp in 3rd
position and get basically the same effect as on guitar (and vice versa).

Hope this helps.


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