beginner forum: for novice and developing blues harp players > third position
third position
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191 posts
Oct 03, 2016
5:45 PM
What are three or four good third position songs to get started on?
Phil Pennington
1788 posts
Oct 03, 2016
11:38 PM
Now you're talking Fil. Here's some lessons from Tomlin Leckie, very nice, including one about playing to Green Onions...

Third position has all these different flavours: dark low end minor/diminished riffs, low end major, plaintive middle octave melody, middle and low chords, eerie top end notes and chords, or something like minor-cross harp in the middle octave.

Carey Bell, When I Get Drunk.

Little Walter, That's It.

Paul Delay, Keep on Drinkin'

Charlie Musselwhite, Rough Dried Woman
4162 posts
Oct 04, 2016
1:51 AM
Very good. I was waiting for MTG to comment. My 3rd position work is very limited to just a handful of melodies.
Actually saw a comment from Slaphappy on MF, with a tip from Denis Gruenling about practices to get comfortable in positions 1, 2, 3.
Seemed like a good idea; find a 1 chord jam track and jam along in the various positions. So play Without having to worry about following changes.
Nice list of 3rd position songs MTG.

I could add 'I'm Ready' though that's really a 3rd (or 10th) position Chromatic song, and I think "chromatic" is really a different category.
192 posts
Oct 04, 2016
5:52 AM
Thanks! Knew I could count on you gents.
Phil Pennington
193 posts
Oct 04, 2016
5:56 AM
Thanks! Knew I could count on you gents.
Phil Pennington
1789 posts
Oct 05, 2016
2:47 AM
Glad to oblige, and gratefully for the opportunity to go on and on again about how fab is 3rd position! It is fab!

I can't resist adding my hot tip, that once you know that 4D and 6D are like your 2D and 4D in crossharp (not quite the same, but close) you can start to wail away on root notes and 5ths just like in 2nd position.

Now we can all settle back down and get back to discussing how the amounts of zinc and copper in reed plate brass makes them sound totally different. :) Phew.

Last Edited by MindTheGap on Oct 05, 2016 2:49 AM
4164 posts
Oct 05, 2016
3:35 AM
1793 posts
Oct 06, 2016
2:26 AM
Yes indeed. 'Butter' seems to be word of choice at the minute. Brass was so much more buttery in the old days. If only we could rediscover the lost art of the ancient elders...

Actually there was a interesting radio programme last week about recreating the sounds of ancient instruments in archeology. For instance, the trumpets found in Tutankhamun's tomb. In the past, people just stuck a modern trumpet mouthpiece in and played them. But new standards around how to handle these things mean you can't do that. So they analyse the materials and the design, and use computer models to recreate the sounds.

Problem is, you'd go to all that trouble analysing and modelling a buttery prewar harp, only to sounds exactly like every other harmonica!

Last Edited by MindTheGap on Oct 06, 2016 2:28 AM
4170 posts
Oct 06, 2016
5:23 AM
it's funny to me; last time I asked a question on this topic the responses were more directed to playability rather than a difference in sound. This was contrary to my expectation, as prior to that, I felt I'd mainly seen people post about the superior tonal quality of the lost brass.
No doubt I've mentioned it before, but I've seen the seydel customiser Greg Jones write about replacing brass reeds with steel. In fact he was somewhat aghast/exasperated/bemused that I'd even consider seeking a brass reed to replace a broken reed on an otherwise all-brass-reed seydel harp. And the seydel solist pro 12 is currently a mix of steel and brass reeds from the factory. Out of expedience I once went the other way and mended a steel harp with a brass reed. I could detect no out of place tone, nor could I say the new reed had noticeable playing qualities. Perhaps had it been a bending draw reed rather than a 4 blow, I would've thought differently.
These things led me to become sceptical about the difference between brasses. I'm sure some are more or less malleable/durable.
I put a pair of the famously durable Lee Oskar reeds in a Hohner 365, of which the owner had said it was his 'desert island' harp. They were in a prominent 'bending' slot too, but the owner was happy to play it, proclaimed it good as new and I saw a video yesterday which showed him recording with it in studio.
That's a lot of blather. What I really think is that the player makes a great deal more difference than the harp.
1794 posts
Oct 06, 2016
7:58 AM
I don't have your depth of experience. So I can't comment on the playability. But for all the effort I'd be wanting to get a real difference in sound too.

Playing guitar you can choose different strings and both change how it feels to play AND hear a real difference.

That simply doesn't seem to be the case with changing the harp's materials. Playing amped harp and changing the amp and mic equipment and settings - now that give real differences.
194 posts
Oct 07, 2016
7:22 AM
Well, I jumped into 3rd position last evening at the jam. In a set of 5-6 songs, the leader called one of his own in Am, a strikingly soulful song. I debated with myself...2nd or 3rd...and what the hell.... After only about a week of working the 3rd scale, it was a bit rough and simple, but striking how it fit the mood. It was a lesson in not stepping in the 7d as well, which I did a couple of times. They are patient at this jam, but I won't abuse that. More lessons, more practice. I feel a new excitement about this journey. More like a race at my age....
"...the player makes a great deal more difference than the harp." I will post that on the wall in my studio, aka the upstairs back spare bedroom. Next to the one that says "simple is good."
Phil Pennington

Last Edited by Fil on Oct 07, 2016 7:23 AM
1795 posts
Oct 07, 2016
10:13 AM
Ace. Sorry for the diversion btw.

Yes, it's 7B you normally want there as in 6D 7B 8D.

But as a passing note in a nice Charlie Musselwhite flourish is 8B 8D 7B 7D 6D. And you can inflect those blow bends, or TB and slap them for effect.

When you are on the V chord though, another CM phrase involves 6D 7D 7B 7D...

Both of these from one of my favourite third position songs ever - CM's version of Help Me. Not at all like SBII.

Last Edited by MindTheGap on Oct 07, 2016 1:25 PM
195 posts
Oct 08, 2016
6:11 AM
Just added CM's Help Me to the 3rd position playlist.
Phil Pennington
1799 posts
Oct 08, 2016
10:33 AM
Just a note of caution that I particularly like that Stand Back album. When I've expressed this before, people lined up to tell me I was wrong, and that his later work is better.

I think I like it especially because the harp playing does sound different to the typical. So I do see the point that CM's harp playing became more conventional later on. For me music is about emotional response first and foremost, and I like Stand Back best of all.

So watch out - other harp players may think that CM's interpretation of 'Help Me' simply isn't right. They may expect you to attempt a copy of SBII. A tall order.

This is the advantage of having your own band rather than going to jams.

Last Edited by MindTheGap on Oct 08, 2016 10:38 AM
196 posts
Oct 08, 2016
2:37 PM
No worries. I listened to it enough to know I will like and learn from it. And it ain't about what they like, it's about what l/we like. It's what cracks me up about some threads on the big people's forum sometimes....judgement from on high.
Re your last point, I've just recently begun going out to jams and its clear that I do need to know more standards (and more grooves).
Phil Pennington
170 posts
Feb 22, 2020
9:45 AM
Bump. Trying to work more 3rd into my playing these days and thought i'd bump this to encourage anyone else who is thinking along this vain. Any other song suggestions that aren't listed here are welcome!
6504 posts
Feb 22, 2020
3:26 PM
When I spoke to Ronnie Shellist about learning to play 3rd he had some specific suggestions.
Later I was privileged to spend 4x1 hours talking harp with Mark Hummel and we spent some of that time talking 3rd.

I’m still some distance from being accomplished in 3rd position but I’m comfortable to improvise now.
Mainly I suppose I know that it’s a very versatile approach and I’m aware my skill is still rather limited. I’m good for a song or 2 but it won’t take long for me to start repeating myself if I’m relying on my ability to improvise.

Ok, that’s the disclaimer, and what I’m saying is that I’ve done enough to know the approach will work but one must put in some work.

Ronnie suggested to listen to George Smith’s ‘Telephone Blues’, and learn 1 or 2 licks from it. This is important to the concept: Don’t learn the whole song!

Then jam those licks with a track. Mess around using those licks in a repetitive way, change the emphasis, play with the timing etc. get really familiar with them.

I did that, and it was good. Later I did learn the whole solo but I kinda wish I hadn’t because now I can’t resist playing it and that shuts down my creativity somewhat, which I’d really hoped to avoid in learning 3rd.

The beauty of Telephone Blues though is that it’s basically a lesson in the 3rd position blues scale, from 1 draw to 8 draw, it demonstrates some octave splits and also shows the run down through 2 octaves.

On the topic of songs, while I think of it, Jr Wells’ ‘Please Throw This Poor Dog A Bone’ demonstrates a less minor approach to 3rd. I never know the right term for these things, I want to say “trill” but maybe I should stick to “shake”, anyway there’s a shake on 8-9 draw which works well. I’ll have to think a moment to work out how it works. Let’s see, on a C harp its D to F, and if you were playing a C harp in 3rd, you’d be playing in D
D major scale D E F# G A B C# D
So that shake is Tonic to minor 3rd
In second it would be 2 draw to 3draw half step bend, which may not be commonly heard because it’s slightly challenging but it’s a very harmonically pleasing sound.
It’s the same as draw 4-draw5, and works well in second position too.
In second it’s really the 5th to the Dominant 7th which is very ‘blues’ too, as the dominant 7th chord is so prevalent and really accounts for the popularity of the second position approach to blues on harp, but I’m digressing.

Both those songs will take you down from the middle octave into the lower octave. Telephone blues makes heavy use of the step and a half bend in 3 draw, which gives it that very blue quality. In some way, if a single note can be said to have blues character, this is the bluest note. It’s the equivalent of the bent 4 draw in second. Smith used both the 3’’’ and 6’ (same note, different octave) heavily in telephone blues.
It’s just not the same to use the 3”, but it’s still musical to do so.

Please throw this dog a bone is a song I learned by ear, and I did not realize it was 3rd, so I tried to play it in 2nd. There were some things I couldn’t match from the recording, obviously, because I was playing a D harp and the recording features a G harp. So I made up something to fit.

This brings me to Mark Hummel.
Two things Mark said to me which have stayed in mind.
One was to listen to James Cotton ‘Blues keep falling’. You can find this on the Chicago: The Blues! Today! record; I think it’s on volume 1 but it’s such a classic album I consider essential to have all 3 volumes. I think you can get a 3 volumes in 1 edition.

Mark pointed out that Cotton built his solo around a basic lick which is 4 5 6 draw, with some bending on the 6 and also some 6 blow.
That is a pretty decent way to get started with 3rd, and a good demonstration of what you can do with just 5 notes in 3 adjacent holes.

It’s huge really, the implication of that concept in playing harp.

MTG also talked about this in a post above, about the equivalencies between 2 draw-4draw in second and 4 draw -6 draw in 3rd

And that’s the other big message from Hummel, to take things you play in second and translate them to 3rd. Hummel plays Juke in 3rd and its a great way to start understanding 3rd beyond simple knowledge of where the scale notes are, and getting a feel for how to move around in 3rd and get the licks happening.

Ok, that’s what I’ve got.

Oh, no, I more thing: chromatic.
Once you have some idea of the scale, start with a chromatic playing the minor blues scale notes. Find the button push. I found I’m Ready really helped me get a feel but remember the original recording of I’m ready with little Walter on the Chrom is in Eb so he is holding the button in the whole time (so it’s really 10th position but people seem to like to say “3rd with button held in”)
6505 posts
Feb 22, 2020
3:37 PM
So on the Chrom, if playing in D that flat 5th is in hole 3/7 and you pus the button on the blow note.
The practice is pretty simple, blow 3, push button, then simultaneously inhale and release the button, the back ythe other way i.e. simultaneously exhale and push the button then release the button and repeat.

If you are playing in Eb, holding the button in, the flat 5th is obtained by releasing the button while inhaling.
22 posts
Feb 27, 2020
11:57 PM

Not sure if this tool will help. I think you'll have to read the manual if you want to transpose 2nd position to 3rd position to get the best out of it.

Seydel also do a harp in easy third tuning:

Easy 3rd / Do it! (by Dale King) - (Low Octave)

This tuning is the ideal alternative to play pieces in minor keys, because you can easily play pieces in the third position without needing to use the double bends which are required to play the dorian scale on a standard Richter harmonica! The draw chord becomes the minor chord (D F A D, on a harmonica in C) of the 3rd position instead of major chord (D G H D, on a harmonica in C) of the 2nd position. Believe it or not, this is the most intuitive way to simply play in minor keys. This is not only interesting in a Rock/Blues context but also useful for many Irish Folk pieces which can now be played with a full chord accompaniment! Because of the available chords (D-minor and C-major) the Easy 3rd-variant also could be named "The Reaggae harp";-). In the 12-hole variant (Low Octave) the lower notes in 1-3 are tuned as holes 4-6 but one octave lower. Originaly this tuning is based on an idea of Dale King, an American harmonica player, living in Germany.

You can geet the reed plates using the confurator

Last Edited by Dai on Feb 28, 2020 12:15 AM
6516 posts
Feb 28, 2020
2:48 AM
I have a Seydel Solist 12 tuned easy 3rd. It’s Low C or Low D, depending how you want to name it. It’s intended to play in D, but the lowest blow note is a C.
I believe there’s a video of Paul Lamb playing his fantasy on Summertime which he calls ‘Summertyne’, using the very thing.
Lowest couple holes are half valved.
I should use it I suppose but a Low harp always seems to be such a burden of responsibility. I play my 12 hole chromatic in 3rd where I suppose I could use this.
6517 posts
Feb 28, 2020
3:48 AM
Two more 3rd position thoughts:
That 456 draw thing, just playing around with those three holes you have the root in 4 draw and the flat 7th in 4blow, that’s cool. That’s like 2 draw, 2 whole step bend in 2nd. You can almost make a song from those 2 notes.
Then you have 5 draw which is the minor or flat 3rd. So 4 draw, 5 draw, 4 blow in 3rd is like 2 draw, 3 draw half step bend, 2 draw bend in 2nd

And you can add in the 6 hole and you have the blow, bend, and draw and that is like your full 4 hole action is in 2nd.

So that section of 4-6 is really the heart of 3rd position and you can do a whole lot with that, just like you can do a whole song with 2-4 in 2nd position.

Once you have the hang of that, and I’d say just play around with it, remembering the 4 draw is your home base, try adding the 7 blow. That’s the same note as 4 blow. It’s your flat 7. It’s like the 5 draw in 2nd position so think how useful that is. Try sliding up on it and hitting the top of a phrase with the 7 blow in the way you might use the 5 draw in 2nd.

Once you are comfortable with that and moving across 4-7, try adding the 8 draw, which is the equivalent of 6 blow in 2nd.

Now you’ve got the entire blues scale from 4 draw to 8 draw and you have a good feel for it, the beauty of 3rd can start to unfold. The 4 blow is like the 2draw whole step bend which is great, but you can go lower. If you are good at bending the 3 hole you can hit the whole step bend which is like the 1 draw in 2nd. Very useful note. You probably know that bending 1 draw in 2nd works well; in 3rd you can bend the 3 draw the extra half step for the equivalent effect, and also hit 3 blow or 2draw for the equivalent of 2nd position 1 blow.

In 2nd position, this is where you run out of harp, but in 3rd you can keep going down. This is one reason 3rd is so cool. Play a D harp in A and you can only get down to the D4, but play a G harp in A and you can get to G3. You’re already at D4 in 2draw/3blow!
You’re an octave below the 6 blow, now you can bend 2 draw the whole step which is the octave below 5 draw. That’s the very important flat 3rd. Use 1 draw for the root or tonic depending on how you like to name first note in the scale. And you still have 1 blow which is the flat 7th.
Of course, if you can play the octave splits there are powerful splits on the root draw1 and 4, flat 7th +1 and +4. Blow 3 and 6 together is a powerful sound as well, as is the blow 4 and 7 together. If you get a little more advanced you can start using the draw splits 4 and 8, 5 and 9, even 6 and 10.

I’ve been looking at the low end but also check out above hole 8 because all of holes 9 and 10 are your friends in 3rd too. Blow 10, draw 10, blow 9, draw 9, draw 8.
Draw 8, draw 9, blow 9, draw 10, blow 10. That’s the tonic, flat 3rd, 4th, 5th, and flat 7th available with no bending.

So you can just play around and build familiarity, one note at a time, learn how to do it piece by piece and in not too long traverse the whole harp, playing in 3 octaves, and having a really good feel for it.

That’s enough. I forgot the other thing I wanted to say
6518 posts
Feb 28, 2020
3:53 PM
Wow, that was long winded! I started out with intent to share a simple idea, but I fear I lost the intent in the detail.

The idea is just to learn a part of the scale first, and I think that section from holes 4 to 6 gives a lot of value, so it’s a good start.

And then, once you’ve become really familiar and comfortable with moving around in that space, add another scale note to your jam.

That’s it. Just keep doing that.

It’s a really simple idea and I can hardly believe I have taken 25 years to think of it.

On reflection, we probably all do this anyway but maybe in a more haphazard way.

It’s sort of like a puzzle or learning a song, where you start with not much and find a bit you can understand and keep building around it and as you go the thing becomes progressively clearer.

Then you try to explain your vision and it falls apart in front of your eyes, like if you try to pick up your newly completed jigsaw puzzle in bare hands. Ha!
6519 posts
Feb 29, 2020
2:27 PM
You know, the other night when I wrote that post that grew so long, I had 2 things in mind. I just can’t get back the 2nd one. It’s annoying because it was the inspiration for the post but I decided to write the other thing first and that got so out of hand I forgot what I had wanted to say. That’s the sort of thing that might happen in conversation with drinks but I was not inebriated. Just became so caught up in expanding a simple idea that i lost the thought which preceded it.
Oh well, it will probably come again at some point.

I believe I’d been thinking about chromatic harps though.

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