Hi, I've played guitar for over 30 years. Love the blues. I'd like to try some harmonica. So I got a key of A to play some E blues music in cross harp. It just didn't sound right... So I looked at the notes and see I'm playing a mixolydian scale. No b3rd note. :-( Most all the blues I play is using a b3. In fact the "blues scale" is your b3rd.
So my question: Wouldn't a natural minor key be the best for me to play blues? E natural minor for a E key - basically a dorian mode. I'd rather not have the 2nd and 6th and I'd rather have the #4 added though.
From what I understand I can play a Bb harmonica in 3rd position slant harmonica for a key of C for the dorian mode also. But It would sure be nice to have the root of the key on draw 1 etc. To me it just seems like it'd mare more sense.
Why is there none in the "blues key" though? 1 b3 4, #4, 5, b7?
I think you'll find the note(s) you're looking for via bends. You can play four separate notes, all a half-step apart on the three-hole draw. First learn the four-hole (draw) bend, a half step. Then tackle the two-hole bends, half step and full step, then finally the three-hole bends. Some songs, like In the Pines, work well with a minor-keyed harp.
If my advice is faulty, I trust someone will step in and adjust it some.
"Standard" blues on a minor-keyed harp sound kind of dark, almost too blue, like death-row blue, monster movie blue. I know what I want to say, but I'm just a little clumsy in expressing it.
You have to learn to bend to get the minor third in second position. There are other positions (3rd, 4th, 5th) that give you minor thirds without bending, but then you have to bend to get the major third or the in-the-cracks blue third.
Don't forget that, unlike harmonica, guitar bends up. You may find that you've been pushing many of your minor thirds into blue third territory when you play a major key blues on guitar.
But silly me wonders why not just play a natural minor tuned harp? The natural 3rd and minor 3rd sitting side by side is throwing me off. Generally the entire solo I'm either after the b3 sound or the natural 3rd.
Also rather than go to a slant 3rd position, why not just use the natural minor and have the root at the beginning? Just wondering if I'm missing something. To me that seems more easier and logical but what I know about playing harmonica isn't much. lol!
Dave Byers http://davebyersmusic.com http://christiansongwriting.org http://dcmusicstore.com http://writingsongs.com
This is one reason 5th position (E minor on a C harp)is so cool.
Blues scale: 1 3b 4 5b 5 7b octave
5th position blues scale, lower register: B2 D2/B3 D3** D3* D3 D4 B5
5th position blue scale middle register: B5 B6 D6 X D7 D8 B8 (X = 5b unavailable)
In the lower register you have to bend D3 for 4 and 5b but that's NBD. You can get 6b for natural minor by playing 4B or major 6 for Dorian minor by playing D4*.
Just avoid D5 and D9 which is 2b. If you want major 2, play 2D* or 9B*, Btw, 9B is 3b. *=half step bend.
The breath pattern for the minor pentatonic scale in 5th position is the same as the breath pattern for the major pentatonic scale in 2d position, just starting on a different note.
Natural minor harps have a a 3b and a 7b but also have a 6b which is NOT a great note for playing major key blues. Actually the 3rd of the blues scale is played as a quarter tone flat 3rd or "blue 3rd" for major key blues, NOT as a true minor 3rd, so harps that give you a true minor 3rd are actually more limiting for playing major key blues than harps that allow you to bend the major 3rd down a quarter tone OR a half step. And playing blues it can also sound pretty cool to release that bend up to the major 3rd which one can't do on a harp that has the minor 3rd built in.
2nd position (E on an A harp) is Mixolydian, but it's easy to bend for 3b (or "blue third") and 5b except in the upper register.
Oh yea, I LOVE bent and notes with vibrato. Big BB king fan and of course he has tons of bent notes and vibrato. So with what I've said I like to play, say in the key of E what would be your suggestion for me? Key harp / position?
I certainly don't want to run up and down a scale. Just wanting to be able to have those favorite notes handy.
Also: check out the scalefinder on overblow.com if you want all of the above a bit more graphic. You're obviously familiar with the diferent modes, it pans out a little different on the harp than guitar, for example most bending is to a lower pitch on harp.
A harp. Second position. Key of E. Stay at it. Search youtube for "blues scale" and maybe "bending". Adam Gussow, Ronnie Shellist and Jason Ricci have good vids. You have to realise that it takes some time though. The harmonica is a instrument like all others, practise make perfect.
Timbre. You're right about the notes when you think of them like a piano, but a huge part of blues harmonica is the timbre.
The semitone vend of the 3 draw (major third) sounds "bluesier" than the actual minor third.
Think of how you bend guitar strings for dynamics, etc. Another advantage of playing it with a bend rather than tuning is the ability to jump between scales that fit over the Dominant 7 chords of most blues. With one harp, you can move from a very major feel all the way to a very minor feel.
To a greater extent, it can also help with following the harmony of the I IV V changes.
In 2nd position on a Richter tuned harp (regular diatonic tuning), you can easily play the pentatonics, major scale, minor scale, mixolydian mode, etc by using the bent notes.
Since blues has traditionally been played in this position on the lower part of the harp, we are lead to believe it is "right".
IMO, learning to play blues - to play blues, not to necessarily sound like blues harp from past recordings - is maybe even easier to learn from 3rd position than 2nd. You get a more complete scale the length of the harp (the high end in 2nd is under utilized by almost all players and the middle octave is missing notes unless you learn additional bending techniques), and you still get to bend notes like in 2nd - but you don't have to to get blue notes in multiple keys.
Specifically, your blue third is a standard note in two octaves (and a 2nd position style bend in the bottom octave) and your flat 7th is in there, without bending, in four octaves! By contrast, the minor 3rd in cross harp can ONLY be played bent and only exists on the harp twice - unless you learn to overblow.
Add to that the fact that when you follow the harmony of the changes, 2nd position sucks over the I chord compared to 3rd (you get to play 2nd position over the IV) and the only advantage to 2nd pos. for blues is some of the chording - although that can be debated when looking at music theory...
Your post will get responses that either sound like, "Duh, it has always been done that way", to "There is more than one way to skin a cat".
I agree with FM that it can sound too dark, but I am sure there are ways to work around that. You can't really bend up a draw bend higher than the original note, so if the 3 draw is too dark, you can't sharpen it without killing your tone.
****When playing D7 type blues and blues scales in 3rd, the actual tuning of your harmonica makes a huge difference. If the harp has a flat 5 draw to begin with, it will sound really dark. If you use a tuning with a sharp or ET 5 draw, it might not.
****There is give and take, pros and cons, to all harmonica positions, so it is sometimes beneficial to learn a couple approaches and use what you think sounds best. Personally, I play a lot of non-minor blues in 3rd position, but it doesn't always work as well as playing 2nd.
You may as well purchase a minor-tuned harp at this point and give it a try. It's great for In the Pines and Ghost Riders in the Sky. I have a couple, but I rarely use them...until today in researching your post.
When I advised learning the 4, 2 then 3-hole bends, I certainly didn't mean to imply that those are the only bends available. And I purposefully didn't mention overblows. But I think most will agree that these are the bends that you want to master first, and it will take a little time and effort. When I was a beginner I actually filed the 2 hole blow reed to get the note I couldn't bend to. I found that I could get the note, that is, the frequency; but as stated above, a bent note has a qualitative difference. In any event, those first three bends (actually six bends on three holes) is plenty to have on your plate at this point.
HarpNinja "2nd position sucks over the I chord compared to 3rd "
Maybe that's it. I tossed a blues progression down on the guitar in E and recorded it and looped it so it'd play forever. I grabbed the A harp and started blowing my brains out (lol) and I was sitting there thinking "where the heck are all the notes I'm hearing in my head? Do I have the right key or what?
So I'll try putting down some blues in B and using the A harp (slant position I believe) and see how that sounds. If I can find a few cool notes I know the interest will peak big and I won't be able to put it down. :-)
There will be cool notes there, but see if it is too dark sounding, etc. The bends are what make the blues so bluesy, for sure, but the main thing is to have fun and enjoy yourself.
I think we sometimes talk like everyone is trying to be a harmonica-ace or gigging harp player...really, we should worry about just having fun. The only rules in music are the ones forced upon it. Stupid humans screwing things up!
Re-reading my last post I see that it can come out as rather harsh. That wasn't my intention. All I say, as a beginner myself, the draw-bends is what makes the harp bluesy. Listen to any second pos Sonny Boy II and hear him do that turnaround from 2 draw to 2 draw wholestep bend to 1 draw. That's the stuff a harp beginner should aim for IMHO. Making that sound good. And that kind of bending takes some practise but not too much and I believe those bent notes in second are the "few cool notes" that you are looking for. Good luck!
"I think we sometimes talk like everyone is trying to be a harmonica-ace or gigging harp player...really, we should worry about just having fun. The only rules in music are the ones forced upon it."
I endorse this idea, though I don't think we should "worry about just having fun", we should just have fun making music!
The rules may become important later when/if we want to make music with other musicians and choose to follow rules for that purpose.
Music is a journey with many paths that can be taken.
Sometimes you just need to explore and leave the guidebook behind.
That is why I think that as a beginner you should first explore the instrument by picking out songs by ear, and don't use tab too much in the early stages. There is time for tab (and theory) later... ----------
I'm used to a flat third not a natural one. For most blues at least. Some in the upbeat BB king style I use a major scale so natural 3rd. Cross position gives me the flat 7 which is cool but I am just feeling awkward with the natural 3rd there. Working on those bends though...
Now I'm a complete newbie so forgive my silliness. lol!
Could NOT get the hang of bending (seems common) but yesterday after blowing my brains out for a while I was able to flat the 1 hole draw. (yea baby!) So I worked some more and found I could bend the blow also. I can more in the center but it seems a little tougher. Still working on my single notes (puckering still) my pitch and consistency.
Having fun. Weird getting used to flattening bends rather than raising the pitch like I have playing guitar some 30+ years. It's like having to learn to walk again. ;-)
But I'll keep at it and always appreciate any input.
Dave Byers http://davebyersmusic.com http://christiansongwriting.org http://writingsongs.com
It will take some time to master the bends. The easiest to master, I think, is the 4 hole. If you can whistle while inhaling, it can give you a clue as to how it "feels." Once you can bend the four in a "wah-wah" fashion, move on (baby steps) to learning to "stab" that bend note in a vacuum. You will want to be able to hit the 4 bend ascending from the 2 and 3 holes when doing a turn-around, for example. The 2 hole is harder, especially in lower-tuned harps.
Well this is fun. I'll certainly work on this folks. Cool thing about the harp is I stuck one in my coat pocket and now when I drive to work and get stuck at a light I bust out the harp. :-) Last night I was stuck in a line getting KFC. Harp sure came in handy. My guitar might just get a tad bit jealous.
I try to think of a simple melody and then find it on the harp.
Interesting thread--I think it's good to think about "the way it's always been done" now and again.
One point here, that is just my humble opinion of course, is that the blue third can be thought of as a "note in motion" rather than as a note that is just a note. You might notice on the guitar that it sounds great to start it at the next lower fret and then bend into it--and sometimes even go a little short or a little long--it just moves around. It's just a VERY cool note--and essential to the blues sound.
Well, on the harp, you bend down to it in second position--but there are all these micro-tonal shades between that you can play with. It's a very cool sound--which is why the 2nd position is so popular in blues when you get good enough at bending.
I took some bottleneck lessons from Steve James once--and his only real rule in playing blues is to never really hit the third square on--just stay a little short of it and play around in its neighborhood--that is pretty easy to do on slide guitar--not so much with the harp.
BTW--I think the two minor harps I have in my bag are essential to me--great for playing Summertime in 2nd position. . .
Another reason 2nd position is useful for blues, it that the draw123 gives you the i chord and the blow123 gives you the iv chord. Good for playing rhythmic patterns etc. Especially if your playing on your own.
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