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

dh@xxxxx dh@xxxxx
Tue Oct 30 13:17:29 EDT 2018


I appreciate you taking the time to post more details about your approach to positions
I started learning the harmonica the same way as you describe it and I personally don’t think it is wrong if it works for you but
I also bet that if you’d try a different approach and mostly if you would need to play over more challenging chord changes than blues /country you might benefit from something different even more.

When you use the position to give you a root reference you might shorten your vision / options towards improvisation because you don’t see the whole full picture instead you see the position and the licks you attached to it. If you don’t use position your vision goes 360. Positions very very often sound like position playing.
There is a bit of similarity with guitar playing where you do have positions for fingerings but most (at least jazz and progressive rock) modern players have taken a different approach and see the instrument more horizontally than in a set of boxes / positions. The best example would be Pat Metheny following the work of Mick Goodrick (Berklee)
I don’t see it as just an approach to the instrument but mostly to a different way to approach music. A lot of great saxophone, guitar, bass educators have advocated in this way for the last 40-50 years or so.

The one thing that tickles me in this debate is the ones who preach for a different approach have all tried positions but the ones saying positions rule don’t seem to have tried other ways
The main reason I quickly walked away from positions was because they weren't helping me in my quest of playing the harmonica in other music genres than blues. They even are a limitation in Bluegrass.
Last if we teach harmonica players to use the same tools as other musicians they can communicate between them as other musicians.

David Herzhaft

-----Original Message-----
From: Harp-L <harp-l-bounces at xxxxx> On Behalf Of Richard Sleigh
Sent: Tuesday, October 30, 2018 10:48 AM
To: Richard HarpL Sleigh <harp-l at xxxxx>
Subject: [Harp-L] Positions, continued / Use the right tool for the job

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 degrees...

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