[Harp-L] All this Positions and Modes stuff
Fri Oct 26 13:37:24 EDT 2018
Excellent explanation about the modes!
Regarding the positions, I'd say harmonica players would benefit from leaving it behind, learning harmony and using a transposition concept: say for example that playing in C dorien on a Bb harp is equivalent to playing D dorian on a C harp.
There is a tune in C dorian but I don't know the scale? I know well D dorian on a C harp?
Ok I switch harps and it transposes naturally.
Saying Am on a C harp is 4th position or Em on a C harp is 5th doesn't really make sense. What minor are we referring to? Actually we are referring to modes (respectively aeolian and phrygian), which implies that we only consider the notes of C major. But all the notes are available on a C harp!
I may sound picky and stupid, but I really think the concept of positions prevent lots of harmonica players from learning harmony and adventuring beyond the I7, IV7 and V7 chords. Even if one doesn't master the overblows, he would largely benefit from learning harmony and use the harp in the key that proposes the best sounding notes.
Of course, this is much less important for harpers who only play classic blues. For them, positions really are useful.
And anyway, everyone does what he likes (
On 26/10/2018 18:56, "Michael Rubin" wrote:
1. Yes and people do. If you restrict yourself to a C chromatic. there is
no need to do it, but if you own chromatics in multiple keys positions are
the way to think.
F can definitely be referred to as 1 flat.
2. Modes go much deeper than the white notes on a keyboard.
Many people begin to think about modes by using the C major scale as a
starting point. The C major scale is all of the white notes on a keyboard
from C to C.
C D E F G A B C
If you played it as is that would be the 1st mode of the C major scale.
This is also known as the C major scale.
If you played the same notes but began on D that would be the 2nd mode of
the C major scale.
D E F G A B C D
This no longer sounds like Do re mi fa so la ti do. It has its own
feeling. To get that feeling, the band has to be in the key of D. (or
over a D chord)
There is more than one kind of music. In general, songs can be categorized
into three types of music, major, minor and bluesy. Notice I did not say
blues. Led Zeppelin is not as bluesy as Muddy Waters, but they are a heck
of a lot bluesier than John Denver. Bluesy music can be subcategorized
into two different types, major blues (think Let the Good Times Roll) and
Minor Blues (Think The Thrill is Gone). To get the feeling of the 2nd mode
of the C major scale, the band NOT ONLY has to play in the key of D, but
has to be playing the appropriate style of music. For example, if you
played D E F G A B C D as you scale during a song in D major, it would not
sound good. BUT if you played in D minor (for example) it would sound good.
Since there are seven distinct white notes, there are seven modes of the C
Now let's look at the G major scale.
G A B C D E F# G
If you played it as is that would be the 1st mode of the G major scale.
This is also known as the G major scale.
The feeling you get from the 1st of mode of the C major scale when the song
is is in C major is the SAME feeling you get from the 1st mode of the G
major scale when the song is in G major.
If you played the notes of the G major scale but began on A that would be
the 2nd mode of the G major scale.
A B C D E F# G A
Notice this is a mode that has a black key in it.
The feeling you get from the 2nd mode of the C major scale when the song is
in D minor (the style of music is an example) is the same feeling you get
from the 2nd mode of the G major scale when the song is in A minor.
So there are seven modes of EVERY major scale. The feeling you get from
the 1st mode of all 12 major scales is the same no matter the key. The
feeling you get from each mode of all 12 major scales is the same no matter
Here are the names of the seven modes of major scales and an explanation of
the generally agreed upon feelings they create when in the key that shares
their root. Remember different people hear music differently and so a
discussion of everyone's take on the feelings would be welcome:
1. Ionian aka the major scale. Happy music.
2. Dorian works in minor music but it is important to know there is more
than one type of minor song. For certain types, Dorian sounds great, for
others, not so much. However, most listeners are very forgiving with minor
harmony so don't worry too much. Generally, if the IV chord is major,
Dorian is a great choice.
Dorian works in major blues. That is not major songs and blues songs.
That is blues songs that are major in quality.
Dorian works in minor blues. (although like I mentioned above, not ALL
3. Phrygian works in some chords during jazz songs.
Phrygian works in middle eastern music, often.
Phrygian works in flamenco music, often.
4. Lydian works in some chords during jazz songs.
Lydian works in creepy music in scary movies.
There is a school of music where lydian is the main scale that all other
musical ideas are built from, in the same way that most westerners base
their ideas off of the major scale.
5. Mixoyldian sounds good in major blues.
6. Aeolian aka the natural minor scale, aka the relative minor scale.
This is the main way Americans play minor music. It does not work in all
7. Locrian works in some chords during jazz songs.
Locrian works in creepy music in scary movies.
It is good to realize we have only been considering the modes of major
Let's look at the C jazz melodic minor scale.
C D Eb F G A B C.
There is only one black key. Eb.
Of all the major scales, only two contain only one black key:
G A B C D E F# G
F G A Bb C D E F
Neither of these major scales contain an Eb. The G has an F#, otherwise
known as Gb. Gb is not Eb. The F major scale has a Bb. Bb is not Eb.
Therefore the C jazz melodic minor scale is not a mode of any of the 12
major scales. It is unique and separate from the major scales.
If I played the C jazz melodic minor scale starting on C
C D Eb F G A B C
I get the 1st mode of the C jazz melodic minor scale.
If I played the C jazz melodic starting on D:
D Eb F G A B C D
I get the 2nd mode of the C jazz melodic minor scale. To get its proper
feeling, I would need to play in the key of D (or over a D chord) and
during a song with the type of feeling that works with the second mode of
the C jazz melodic minor.
Therefore there are 7 modes of the C jazz melodic minor scale.
So here is the important takeaway:
There are as many modes as there are notes in all of the scales in the
Sometimes when you are hearing someone play unusual music they have chosen
a scale that is not a major scale and become very adept at one or more of
its modes and have found places where it sounds good.
For most people, we playing simpler music, blues, rock, pop, country,
gospel, folk, punk, reggae. We benefit most from Ionian, Dorian,
Mixoyldian and Aeolian. Becoming adept at these modes will enable you to
participate in almost every song in these genres.
On Fri, Oct 26, 2018 at 9:27 AM Aongus Mac Cana <amaccana at xxxxx> wrote:
> I have to admit that I know as much about music theory as "a dog knows
> 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
> Hoping that someone may indulge an ignoramus,
> Aongus Mac Cana
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