[Harp-L] All this Positions and Modes stuff

Michael Snowden mike.snowden@xxxxx
Fri Oct 26 11:48:09 EDT 2018

So let's turn it around the other way - how do they sound?

Classical music has "modes", by starting the scale successively higher, without changing the underlying notes  (ie your Q#2).  You get a difference in how they sound against the original root note, as well as where you start.  So look up terms like 
    Ionian - 1st mode, conventional major scale
    Lydian    Mixolydian
    Aeolian - 6th mode, natural minor

First: When you arrange these modes in the circle of 5ths, you get the diatonic positions.

Secondly, each mode/position has a characteristic note which defines how the scale feels.
Going back to a diatonic harmonica, what makes that special is not just how the straight notes fit the scales, but which notes fit on where you can bend.  So, when you play blues harp, 2nd position (aka Mixolydian) or 3rd position (aka Dorian), they put the characteristic notes of the scales onto "interesting" places to play.  

And finally, to answer Q1 - I would say a chromatic lends itself to modes, rather than positions, but technically they are equivalent.

      From: Aongus Mac Cana <amaccana at xxxxx>
 To: Harp-L List <harp-l at xxxxx> 
 Sent: Friday, 26 October 2018, 15:27
 Subject: [Harp-L] All this Positions and Modes stuff
I have to admit that I know as much about music theory as "a dog knows about
a wireless". However I am trying to pick it up on a "need to know" basis.

Question #1:      Can you use the terms 1st 2nd and 3d positions for a
Chromatic harmonica?

In other words on a C Chromatic is G 2nd D 3d. and A 4th. (and on a G
Chromatic would D be 2nd and A 3d.)

Some Irish Trad players use the terms: 1 sharp 2 sharps and 3 sharps to
describe the keys of G,D. And A. With this system I guess F would be called
1 flat?

Question #2:      As regards modes are these simply defined by where you
start your scale on the piano keyboard while confining yourself to the white

Hoping that someone may indulge an ignoramus,


Aongus Mac Cana


More information about the Harp-L mailing list