Beginner need help with blues harp theory please.

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Beginner need help with blues harp theory please.

Postby zstevensclay » Thu Jun 23, 2011 5:47 pm

Practically speaking, what does playing in the 2nd position mean, besides playing exactly 5 scale degrees higher than the actual key of the harp. When you play in the 2nd position are you limited to certain notes only? Also had questions about chords. As I understand it a chord is a group of notes. However a book I'm reading says Blues uses three chords for its construction: the I chord, IV chord, and V chord. Does this mean your limited in the chords on the harp you can use to play the blues? Every blues song is played with chords? I"m very confused. Any help is greatly appreciated thank you.
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Re: Beginner need help with blues harp theory please.

Postby jeffl » Fri Jun 24, 2011 2:54 pm

2nd position gets its name from being the 2nd most common way to play a 10-hole diatonic harp. It is sometimes referred to also as "cross-harp". Many of the notes used in this position are achieved by sucking rather than blowing. You can create pitches that are not in the scale that the harp is built in by bending notes-- most commonly draw bends (sucking), but also by using a few blow bends when you develop that level of skill.
The majority of straight blues tunes are written in the three chord "I,IV,V" format, and derivations of that, however it is by no means the exclusive format. In this format, the chords are produced by drawing on the notes used to play the I chord, blowing on the notes used to play the major IV chord, and drawing (sucking) on the notes used to play the V chord. Most blues harping is done by the use of chords, and partial chords (not all the notes of the triad, and possibly the flatted 7th note in the scale), PLUS the use of single notes that occur in the scale being used.
If all the notes you need are not in the key that you're playing the harp in (for example playing a C harp in the cross position means you are playing in the key of G), you need to reach for a different key harp.

Also, there are numerous other positions to play a harp in, the most common being "third" position which results in playing in a key that is one step down from the key listed on the harp, and gives you a very jazzy sound. It's commonly used on a "Chromatic" harp.

This may all be very confusing, and if it is, you'll find that there are plenty of educational aids available online (easily found by googling "harp lessons" or "harmonica lessons") , as well as some book/CD formatted tutorials. Most of these will give you a good basic understanding of scale structure and how to find the corresponding notes on the harps.
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Re: Beginner need help with blues harp theory please.

Postby The Breeze » Sat Jun 25, 2011 12:32 pm

zstevensclay wrote:Practically speaking, what does playing in the 2nd position mean, besides playing exactly 5 scale degrees higher than the actual key of the harp.


Yep, 5 scale degrees higher. Which means you are playing G blues with a C harp, or, you are taking you harp and playing the V chord (G in the case of a C harp) and using it as the I chord (tonic). This means that your I chord is a dominant chord (I7, and not Imaj7 as it would be if you played the key of G on a G harp), and has the pull to resolve to the chord a fifth below (C the IV chord in your blues) which is at the heart of blues.

Also blues is non diatonic, treating all chords as dominants, so you need to be able to play notes out of key which is easy in the second position because all your bends on draw are right there on holes 1 to 6, (b3, b5, b7).

(added)

The blues is a fairly narrow musical format, really based around the I, IV, V, or primary chords. Using other chords would be out of context for the blues and would make the sound more jazzy or country even.
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