I have a theory that one of the best ways to practice Blues Harmonica is to jam with songs in my music library. So I have looked up what keys several songs are in, so I can jam with them. The problem is that many of these songs are in Minor keys, making the process of figuring out which harp to play more difficult.
I’ve seen one bulletin board where somebody was asking about Am. This person, believing that C is the relative Major to Am, and that F is the cross-harp for C, thought that F would be the right cross-harp for Am. Others, responded and told him to use a G harp, explaining only that it sounds better.
So I contacted a relative who knows music far better than I, and he confirmed that G is the right cross-harp for Am. But he led me in the direction of understanding why. Combining what he told me with some of my own research, I see that E is the third note in the Am scale/chord. If they made harmonicas in Minor keys, you would use an Em. But since they don’t, you have to use its relative Major, which is G.
The pattern I think I see is this: Looking at any Minor key, find its third. The relative Major of that thrid’s Minor is the right cross-harp to use (in 2nd position).
Thank you for your input. But that leads me to another question. If the G harp in third position is appropriate for Am, what would be the right harmonica to use in 2nd position? More importantly, what is the proper method for looking at a Blues song in any Minor key, and figuring out which cross-harp to use?
Or should you always use 3rd position when playing over a Minor key?
Last Edited by HandicappedHarpist on Apr 14, 2019 2:36 PM
I think you’re making this a bit more complicated than you need to. Also, using the term ‘cross harp’ might be a little confusing because that is generally taken to mean ‘2nd position’
You can play to a minor tune using second position For your Am example, that would be a D harp.
Aminor: A B C D E F G A
Notes on D harp: D E F# G A B C# D
So you need to flat the C# and F# where they occur. The F is the minor 6th and maybe more easy to avoid playing, but the C is the minor 3rd and will be crucial to most minor songs, so avoid playing C# but you will need to play C. That means don’t play 7 draw or 3 draw, but you will need to play the 3 draw as a semitone bend, and you could play an overblow bend on 6 blow.
For this reason People often use 3rd position to play to minor tunes. For Am, this would be a G harp.
Notes on G harp are G A B C D E F#
So you get around the issue with C/C# and the notes are laid out quite nicely to facilitate breath direction and dynamic playing
You can also play a C harp, using 4th position. This is getting somewhere towards your thoughts about relative major/minor relationships. A is the relative minor of C major, so if you play a Cmaj diatonic in A, you have all the notes of Amin natural scale. Unfortunately it doesn’t always lay out very well as the A notes are only naturally available in 6 and 10 draw. You can get another A in 3 draw by bending, but as it’s the tonic of the scale it’s important to play it very accurately which can be a challenge. Also your minor 3rd and 5th fall on blow notes, which is fine but sometimes blow notes are tricky to play dynamically
You could also play Am in 5th position on an F harp. Maybe a Low F would be good for this. The F major harp carries a Bb note, in 5 draw and 9 draw. Also the 2 draw whole step bend. This is likely a clash note for Am so best avoided.
Yes, you can get harps tuned to natural minor, and harmonic minor. Sometimes these are labelled using the 2nd position key. Sometimes they are labelled (like Major diatonics) using the 1st position key. It can be confusing, especially to read about in a hurriedly written forum post.
F is absolutely a good harp key for playing A minor blues. The major pentatonic scale for C on an F harp is the same breath pattern as the minor pentatonic scale in A on an F harp. It just starts on a different note (blow 2 instead of draw 2). You get the flat third (C), flat sixth (F) and flat seventh (G) without having to bend. And you have the flat fifth at 3D* and 10B**. It's called FIFTH POSITION. Generally D5, D9, and D3*** are avoid notes in fifth position, but not always.
Last Edited by hvyj on Apr 15, 2019 2:47 AM
You can figure out what all the positions are with this. Say you have a C harmonica, you can count around the circle clockwise to find position, so you start at C (that's first position). G is next, that's second position. D, A, and E are 3rd, 4th and 5th respectively.
Now, for dealing with minors, I personally use 5th position most, 3rd position sometimes and rarely 4th (the relative minor). 12 positions. A lot of players play 1-5th, and 12th. (If you think of it as a circle, 12th really isn't very far from 1st, and 3-5th cover the minors.)
Of course, if you know the song of the key you have to work backwards.
To keep it really simple, if you use only notes in the blues scale you can play cross harp in a minor key with no out of tune notes. From hole 1 to 6: +1 1’ 1 2” 2 3’ +4 4’ 4 5 +6.
Last Edited by sonvolt13 on Apr 14, 2019 5:54 PM
Circle of 5ths saved my feeble mind. It's a great reference to all 12 positions and what key harp goes with what position in a given song key. Most of this I do not use, I play in 1st, 2nd, and 3rd mostly, with a song in 5th as well.
Those first 3 positions cover a lot of ground in popular music. ---------- Music and travel destroy prejudice.
Em "nat minor tuned" harp-- my first choice because; 1] u can play the same way u would play a major tuned harp in a major Blues song U just play. No real avoid notes---It takes a little time adjusting to the different sound of a minor tuned harp ---but after u get use to it--I prefer it in minor
2] For rack playing its great playing a nat minor harp in a minor song--ALL THE SWEET NOTES R etc THERE----u can play draw 3 and 7 draw
I might have old examples on my u tube channel --with examples---I need to update it
BE aware if u want to try one from Lee Oscar [he labels them weird] [ read his explanation]---basically he labels them for the key ur playing in
ie key Bm ---i think he labels his "cross harp" for key of Bm as being a Bm nat harpits really a Em harp read his deal
I re label mine so its not so confusing
his sight https://leeoskar.com/natural-minor-harmonica/
be sure to check "note layout" ie for a song in the [key Bm]u want his Bm harp to play in cross harp
If u look at his chart for nat minor cross harp labeled Bm the 1 blow is E not B--chk it out
Last Edited by snowman on Apr 15, 2019 10:35 AM
HH, you said "... If they made harmonicas in Minor keys.." They do. (As snowman just pointed out.) Sometimes playing in third position sounds best; sometimes playing the natural minor sounds best. BTW, sometimes the minor key harp is labelled as the minor key that you get when playing in second position (I seem to recall sometimes it is labeled for first position as is the standard for non-minor harps -- worth knowing which it is.
Last Edited by TetonJohn on Apr 15, 2019 11:16 AM
See, that's why a forum like this is so great! My wife's uncle is a very good, semi-pro guitarist who knows far more about music than I do, and he works at a music store. I was relying heavily on his expertise, and he was confident that they don't make minor tuned harmonicas.
Just goes to show how even a person with as much experience as his does not know everything.
Thank you all for your patience, but I think I finally figured this out. I took the advice of looking at the circle of fifths, and I found one that shows both the Major Keys (on the outer circle) and their relative Minors (inner circle). And forgive me, but I am a geek by nature. So I am going to give you my logical progression here.
But let's start with this. We all know that C is the cross-harp for songs in the key of G. If you find G on the circle of fifths and move one step counter clockwise, you land on C. So the pattern is that the cross-harp for any key is always one step counter clockwise from the key that a song is in.
I have to assume that the pattern is the same for the Minor Keys. Any other pattern wouldn't make any sense.
Now, someone told me that Em would be the cross-harp for Am. But as I look at the circle of fifths, Em is not one step counter clockwise from Am. It is one step clockwise from it. So, rather than Em being the cross-harp for Am, Am is the cross-harp for Em. As I move counter clockwise from Am, I get to Dm, and the relative Major to Dm is F. So the cross-harp to play for a song in Am (unless you have a Dm harmonica) is the F.
I believe it was The Iceman who told me that playing 2nd position for Minor Keyed songs does require skipping the 3-hole draw. And I do appreciate that added piece of knowledge. But I do now at least understand how to ascertain which harp to use in these situations--without having to get Minor tuned harmonicas.
I see how you get there but the terminology is not right. If you know what you mean I guess that’s what matters, but if you say the cross harp for Am is F, no one is going to understand that. If you want to use an F harp to play Am, that’s fine. As several people here have mentioned, it’s 5th position and well suited to playing in minor. On an F harp breath pattern for the Aminor pentatonic is the same as the pattern for playing the major pentatonic in C, but the tonal center is on the 2, 5 and 8 blow. They’ll likely be a little flat unless you have an ET harp like a Suzuki promaster or Lee Oskar or Golden Melody, but it’s not likely to be a real big deal.
It’s not ‘cross harp’ though. Most people understand that term to mean 2nd position, and that would be a D harp.
HandicappedHarpist-You're on the right track with the circle of fifths,but there is a bit easier way. You have a C harp.Moving clockwise to G and counting C as 1,G is 2. So if you have a C harp and you're playing in G,you're in 2nd position. Move 3 clockwise and you're in D-3rd position. And so it goes around the circle. As to the minors(there are more than 1 kind), below the C,you see its Am. If you go around the circle,you'll see it is 4th position. The neat part is the notes for Am are the same as Cmaj. You just have to start on the A note and play the same notes as the Cmaj scale. Hope this helps and just doesn't confuse you.
O.k. wait a second. SuperBee said that the harp to play in 2nd position for a song in Am is the D harp. That makes no sense to me. If I look at the circle of fifths, and find Am, it shows me that the true cross-harp (if I have one) is Dm. But since I don't have a Dm, then I have to use its relative Major. And the relative Major to Dm is not D. It is F. That is clear from the circle of fifths.
Now, SuperBee and Tuckster, are you telling me that even though F is the relative Major to Dm, I can't play it in 2nd position, as I would the Dm if I had it? Does the fact that it is only a RELATIVE Major necessitate a different position?
Ah hell. One reason this conversation got so lengthy is that I've never played in 3rd position and have been reluctant to focus on learning even the 3rd position scale before getting better at 2nd position. So I was wanting to find a way to do 2nd position for Minor Keyed songs.
But I just watched a vid on 3rd position, and I can learn this. And the nice thing is that, according to the video, if I play 3rd position, I am in a Minor key.
HH, don't be a lazy sumbitch. Practice the 3rd position, and you'll be fine.
Second position by definition is playing a harp in a key which is a 5th above the key of the harp. So if you are playing in key A, major minor or any variation on the A scale you like, as long as A is the tonic, the ‘cross harp’ will be D. If you are playing in a key where A is the tonic, and you are using an F harp, that is 5th position. If you play in A (minor, major, whatever) on a C harp: 4th position On a G harp: 3rd On an A harp: 1st On an E harp: 12th
jon gindick said in playing 3rd position that you need to do half step bend on 2 and 3 draw......Ive stuck to that advice and it rings true......and I draw is very effective along with 4 draw as root notes that fit very well
Half step bend on 2 inhale = Major 3rd. Half step bend on 3 inhale = minor 6th.
Major 3rd doesn't work very well for a minor chord/minor blues.
Minor 6th over a minor blues depends on the "mode orientation" of that minor blues - will work on some, not work on others....sticking with the regular 6th (3 hole inhale) works best, as it is the same note as 7 inhale....to get minor 6th in middle octave one needs 6 OB.
So, not quite understanding Gindick approach to this without more detailed info..... ---------- The Iceman
In 3rd position blues the 3 unbent does clash in most cases. The two notes for hole 3 in the Blues scale would be 3” and 3’’’. The latter is used most often (see Telephone Blues by George Smith). The 2 draw does not clash in 3rd position blues and is used frequently.
You gotta be specific..bent to where?...there are more than one note available when you use bending technique in those 2 holes....some notes created through bending technique are just not right over minor chords....
3rd position on a chrom gives diatonic note 3 inhale (unbent) and there are TONS of minor blues played in which it does not clash. ---------- The Iceman
It is my experience that the 3 and 7 draw clash in 3rd position Most of the time.. Usually, this note, if used, is used a a passing note, a lot of times as part of a glissando (see Smith, George And Jacobs, Marion). It seems that the major 3rd is used more often in 3rd position blues when trying to sound less minor in a major key situation (see blowing the family jewlels). In those situations it clashes less to my ears. Of course Iceman, YMMV and your experience may differ from mine.
See my comment above on those half step bends you mention, groyster....not good advice for others here if we are talking minor blues/minor chord - especially 2 hole inhale first bend (1/2 step). Now, 2 hole inhale second bend (whole step) is totally appropriate. ---------- The Iceman
can't say I've read each post. But the do make harps in ,minor keys...super simple Plus You can play a minor harp in 3rd position just like any other harp I use a minor harp to play in G major for example... Good luck
Despite the confusion I've experienced along the way, you guys have given me a lot of useful information, some of which has given me fodder for my own research.
In particular (and I'll use the C harp for my example), 1st position obviously begins with the 4-hole blow, putting you in the key of C. The other thing I already knew was that 2nd position puts you in the key of the fifth, which is G.
What you guys were telling me, but I didn't get right away, is that 3rd position puts you in the Minor of the 2nd position's fifth. Hence, on a C harp, 3rd position is Dm.
And here may be where my confusion began. I was thinking that 3rd position simply put me in the 2nd position's fifth. I thought it put me in D, rather than Dm. A video I watched last night clarified that for me.
The other problem I had was this. When in 2nd position, I find it easier to bend the -2 than the -3 or -4. Based on that, I was thinking it would be near impossible for me to bend anything higher than the -4. So I've been reluctant to try.
Maybe on higher-key harmonicas, this will prove true. However, I just now grabbed my G harmonica and found it rather easy to bend the -6. I am quite pleased about it, since the 3rd position scale does require a half-step bend on -6.
I guess this old dog can learn new tricks. And again, I thank you all for your help and your patience.
HH, let me apologise in advance if this post turns out to bring more confusion than clarity. If it is at least clear enough to lead to further investigation maybe it’s worth reading.
I’m gonna use some notations; for a normal bend I’ll notate it with an apostrophe Like 1’ means a half step bend on the 1 draw. 2” means a whole step bend on 2 draw 3’’’ means a step and a half bend on 3 draw
In the post above you mention the 6 draw half step (6’)
In 3rd position that note represents the flat 5th of the major scale It’s the same note as 3’’’, albeit an octave higher.
On your C harp, 3rd position puts you in key of D. Tonic centre is note D. That’s in 1, 4 and 8 draw
Dmajor scale is D E F# G A B C#
Notes on the C harp are C D E F G A B. That means if you use D as your tonic, your 3rd note will be flat (F instead of F#) That’s a strong characteristic of a minor mode. Your 7th note will also be flat (C instead of C#). That will also be characteristic of minor
Your 6th note (B) will not be flat. Dminor natural will have a flat 6th, so the 6th note may not match. But you may not need to use it so it will often not be a big deal. Just watch out for the 3 draw and 7 draw, they might clash.
You also have other notes available on the C harp but you have to use technique to get them
You can get C#/Db in 1’ and 4’. You have F#/Gb in 2’ and 9’ (9 blow half step) You have Bb/A# available as 3’ and 10” (10 blow whole step)
These notes enable you to play in D Major or in D with a dominant 7th.
You also have Ab/G# in 3’’’ and 6’
That’s the flat 5th/sharp 4 and common especially in blues.
And Eb in 8’ (8blow half step)
If you can overblow/overdraw (I’ll just call it overbending from now on) you can add in a few more notes
It’s common to take the view that 3rd position puts you in Dminor, but it isn’t really the whole story. Yes, you can treat it as such, but the concept of position is not really just limited to the mode built into the harp. It’s more about the tonal centre.
The C harp is so named because it has C major built in. It also has all the notes of A minor built in but we don’t call it an A minor harp. For one thing that would be confusing, for another it doesn’t have an Aminor chord. The C major harp will give you a C major triad anywhere you blow 3 notes together. That is a big part of what makes it a C harp rather than a G7 harp or Aminor natural etc.
You can think of minor as a mode too. You already understand the concept of relative minor/major. Natural minor is also known as Aeolian mode. For minor on a major harp, you could be forgiven for thinking 4th position would be ideal. It is sometimes, but maybe not as commonly as maybe expected. Yes all the notes are there but they aren’t really laid out wonderfully well. 4th has been used to great effect, but it’s a bit like 1st (relative major/minor)
If you play the notes built into the C harp using D as the tonal centre, you have a Dorian modal scale. This has both the 7th and the 3rd note flattened, compared to the D major scale. Because the flat3rd and flat 7 are such important distinctive features of minor tunes, 3rd is often great for minor. But it’s not limited to minor. The flat 7 is also a feature of blues, and the flat 3rd often sounds great in a blues song where the chords are not ‘minor’.(whereas this doesn’t work the other way: a major 3rd will usually sound wrong over a minor chord)
Many people use 3rd to play non-minor songs. 3rd has very good features beyond its ease of use for minors. For instance, there’s a split octave available for the tonic (1 and 4 draw) that is a very powerful sound. Also the split on the dominant 7th. Octaves are great in 3rd. Also, take for example Jr Wells’ song ‘please throw this poor dog a bone’. He plays in A using a G harp. If he used a D harp in second it would work fine but the G harp gives him an octave below where he could go with the D harp. He has the 1 draw as his lowest note of resolution rather than the 2 draw of a D harp, and that is a full octave lower.
It may seem a small point, but I think it’s good to avoid being locked into thinking of 3rd as just for minor keys
In 3rd position minor, you'd want to use the 2D and 3D whole step bends, not 2D half step and 3D half step, though there are times, depending on the chords, where 3D half step can be used, and of course, so can 3D step and a half bend (3D''') for a flat 5.
The regular 3D and 7D notes don't necessarily "clash" in 3rd position minor playing. On a C harp for example, if you played 4-5-6-7 draw, this would make the chord a D minor 6th chord. So, the 3D and 7D notes have their place. This would be the same thing in 2nd position minor if you added in a 5B note. It's not always the best choice, but I would say it adds an interesting "color" to the solo. If you watch Iceman's solo from the NC harp fest, he used this note correctly (or perhaps 2B) when playing in 2nd position minor for a nice effect.
That being said, you WOULD want to avoid the 2B and 5B in 2nd position minor on the minor 4 chord (Cm), as it would definitely clash there, as it would be the major 3rd instead of the minor 3rd. And in 3rd position minor, you would avoid the 3D and 7D notes on the minor 4 chord (Gm), as this would clash, beong the major 3rd instead of the minor 3rd.
Hope this helps!
Last Edited by Todd Parrott on Apr 18, 2019 9:26 PM
I think I grasped some of what you were saying, but some of it is also over my head at this time. I know what a 3rd is, a 5th, and a 7th. But I really have no idea what you're talking about when you mention the G7 chord, even though I've heard the term.
I also do understand the concepts of the half step, whole step, and step-and-a-half bends. The question is how well and how consistently I can bend as far as I want to bend. And just how bad will I sound if and when I either bend farther, or not as far, as I ought to?
Yeah, that’s fair enough. A plain major chord is made up of a major triad, which is the root note plus the 3rd and the 5th note in the scale So for instance a G major chord would be made of G B D
If you add other notes to that chord, or change notes, you have to find another way to name it. If you change the B (the major 3rd) to Bb (the minor 3rd) you have made a minor triad so you call it G minor.
If you add a flat (aka dominant) 7th (F) to the Gmajor chord, it’s called G7 If you add a major 7th (F#) instead of the dominant 7th, it’s called Gmaj7
If you know the chords you are accompanying, it’s a pretty good bet the notes which make up those chords will be harmonious. At its most basic level this could be just playing root notes, or it could be playing the notes of the chords (arpeggios), or spelling them out in a similar way to how the bass might do it.
What you said about the G7 and Gmaj7 makes a lot of sense, even though I don't know why the flat 7th is said to be dominant. But then, I suppose I don't need to know why it is. I just need to know that it is.
And since every chord would have its 7th, let me make sure I've got this by looking at another one. The C chord is made of C E G. Based on what you just told me, I would make the C7 by adding a Bb. Or I could make the Cmaj7 by adding a B.
Good reminder, but yesd, I was aware that 3 consecutive blow notes are always the major triad for the key of the harp. I also knew that three draw notes on holes 1 through 4 (1, 2 and 3 or 2, 3, and 4) is the major triad for the fifth of that harp's key. On a C harp, it is the Gmaj triad, This, of course, is 2nd position.
What I previously was not fully aware of is that the triad on 4, 5, and 6 is the Minor triad for the note on draw 4. Had someone told me it was also a major triad, I would have believed them. This is because, until recently, I knew practically nothing about Minor keys. I had simply thought it simply meant removing some of the notes from the Major scale.
There is a lot I don't know even after 4+ decades of messing with these things. What I DO know is, the circle of 5ths has showed me what harp to play for what position in a given key. Past that and into music theory, I just have never gone there. And to me a wrench is a wrench even if I use it as a hammer sometimes. The tools available are tremendous if you can understand what they are and how o use them. For me, I'm pretty sure I've lived with some sort of learning challenge my whole life never diagnosed or treated. At 64 and going strong with my music partner/wife, I am not about to change gears now. But that does apply, when I first saw the Circle of 5ths and began to see what a resource it was even in my limited way, things completely improved re my playing and the options I had on a given song in a given key. ---------- Music and travel destroy prejudice.
The "Wheel" as I like to call it (you can say clock) is great, but with the missing notes on a diatonic (and the great chords), I tend to play mostly in first or second. If I want minor, I use a chromatic, or a custom tuning--but not natural minor. The best thing is to know what notes are available, and what notes you want to play.
Not only do manufacturers make minor keys, but some even label both ends for 1st and 2nd position. Lee Oskar, for example will put first on the left side and 2nd on the right. You can also choose between Natural and Harmonic minors depending on what type of music you play. Manufacturers also have note layout charts for each key on their websites, so if you have any question about the note layout or chords, just consult their charts.
My brain works a bit oddly... But here's how I process the wheel of 5ths as a tool here.
There's a way that each major scale is built using the wheel of 5ths, AND all the chords in the key as well. ..........Ab -Eb- Bb- F - C - G - D - A - E - B - F#- Db ..... Notes in C-maj.....4 - 1 - 5 - 2 - 6 - 3 - 7 Chords in C-maj..IV - I - V - ii - vi - iii - viidim These are the same notes and chords as in Am (the relative minor of C) lower case roman numerals represent minor chords. Capitals are major chords. The relative minor is always the iii in the chord sequence, and the equates to 4th position.
So, the C harp will play C major (I) well in 1st pos (obviously). It will play G maj (V) in 2nd pos (cross harp). It will play Am well in 3rd pos. It will play Em in 4th. It will play Bm in 5th.
I honestly dont stray much beyond this... But I can shift the maj/min layout around the wheel based on what harp you have and what key (major or minor) you're aiming at.
My wheel of 5ths starts looking more like a manual flight computer (if you've ever seen one)!
So, you want to play a song in Am? Which major keys include an Am chord? To me, that means a G(3rdpos), C(4thpos) or F(5thpos)...
Of course, you can just play Am using an A harp in 1st position or a D harp in second (cross) if you know what notes to avoid and which to bend... And sometimes that ends up being the right choose for the song...
Is it massively overcomplicated, and does it only work in my head? ... Maybe?
Does it mean I can play Amin diminished blues using a Bb harp in 6th pos??.... Or Amaj blues on an E-harp in 12th position?? Hell if I know... That's way above my pay grade. I dont even know where I'd start with that sorta thing.
... Make sense to anyone else?
---------- Rob Laferrière Russell, MB, Canada
Last Edited by WoozleEffect on Apr 30, 2019 5:07 PM
I play "Summertime" in A minor on a Lee Oskar Am harp that he Labels as 2nd position Em.. I play it tight with the vocalist ( my wife) note for note in one section. I'm not wild about the lyrics but kind of make an exception for that one.
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