[Harp-L] Positions, continued / Use the right tool for the job

Richard Sleigh rrsleigh@xxxxx
Tue Oct 30 12:47:34 EDT 2018

I recently posted on the system of thinking of harmonica positions based on
the circle of fifths.

I am summarizing this system and adding some more notes to clarify how I
use this process...

- That you visualize the circle of fifths with the key of C at the top, go
clockwise to G, D, A, E, B, F#/Gb, etc
-C is 1st position, G is 2nd, etc
- That position only refers to the starting note of whatever construction
you want to think in - usually the key you want to play in
- that the harmonica is a transposing instrument, so memorizing one note
layout instead of 12 makes sense, and that key of C is the one to memorize
/ visualize. You then use the Key of C harmonica as the archetype for the
rest. Saves time and energy
- that using the archetypal key of C note layout and the circle of fifths
gives you a couple of powerful tools for organizing and understanding what
you can do with your set of diatonic harmonicas.

The whole point of the system of organizing harmonica options by positions
is to help you choose what harmonica you would play for a particular song.
A way of narrowing down the number of guesses you need to make.

What I did not say was that I also use the terms 1st position, 2nd, etc as
a shorthand for my own personal understanding of the strengths and
weaknesses of using that starting note or position. Every position has a
particular flavor. Sometimes my understanding has to do with the mode,
sometimes with the notes that are easy or hard to play, what notes have a
strong vibrato, etc, etc...

Trying to understand the diatonic harmonica from some theoretical system
that tries to ignore the reality that some things just don't flow or sound
good depending on what harmonica you are playing does not work for me.

So each position on the harmonica is a personal shorthand for what sounds
good / works and what doesn't sound good when I use a particular note
(position) as a starting point.

I also use the concept of positions to communicate with other harmonica
players. Most of them know what I am talking about.

Communicating with other musicians is a different problem that requires
different tools or language.

If I am talking to a piano player, I tell them what key the song is in and
anything else that might help in standard musical language or scale

Other people have other tools to solve different problems. Lee Oskar
invented a system to help people negotiate alternative tunings. Other
harmonica teachers approach teaching the harmonica differently than I do.

Before you talk about tools or systems, it helps to know what problem you
are trying to solve...


Richard Sleigh
rrsleigh at xxxxx

More information about the Harp-L mailing list