1st Position & 2nd Position Major Pentatonic Scales

The Major Pentatonic scales are so awesome. Their most obvious use is in Country, Bluegrass, Folk, and Jam Band genres and all their cousins, but I find the Major Pentatonic scale to be equally helpful in R&B, Soul, Pop, and as a different flavor to add to the Blues Scale when playing Blues genres.

Here’s the lowdown on the major pentatonic scale harmonica tabs in 1st position. The easiest place to play the scale is in the middle octave:

Up: 4 -4 5 6 -6 7
Down: 7 -6 6 5 -4 4

You can also play the high octave without requiring any bending:

Up: 7 -8 8 9 -10 10
Down: 10 -10 9 8 -8 7

The low octave is a good challenge because it forces us to do the whole step -3" bend. If you have been bending for awhile, this is a great thing to work on:

Up: 1 -1 2 3 -3" 4
Down: 4 -3" 3 2 -1 1

To play all 3 octaves from 1 to 10 and back down:

Up: 1 -1 2 3 -3" 4 -4 5 6 -6 7 -8 8 9 -10 10
Down: 10 -10 9 8 -8 7 -6 6 5 -4 4 -3" 3 2 -1 1

And now here’s the lowdown on the major pentatonic scale harmonica tabs in 2nd position. The easiest place to play the scale is in the higher octave:

Up: 6-6 -7 -8 8 9
Down: 9 8 -8 -7 -6 6

It’s also satisfying to add the -10, which is the 2nd note of the scale in the top octave. You can play the whole thing like this:

6-6 -7 -8 8 9 -10 9 8 -8 -7 -6 6

The lower octave requires that same challenging whole-step bend -3". (In 1st position that bend was the 4th note in the scale. In 2nd position, it’s the 2nd note in the scale.)

Up: -2 -3" -3 -4 5 6
Down: 6 5 -3 -3" -2

The -1 and 2 are also in the scale, so when I’m descending I like to go all the way down to the -1 and then finish on the root -2 like this:

Down: 6 5 -3 -3" -2 2 -1 2 -2

So putting this altogether, you can play the whole range of the harmonica in 2nd position major pentatonic like this:

Up: -2 -3" -3 -4 5 6 -6 -7 -8 8 9 -10
Down: 9 8 -8 -7 -6 6 5 -3 -3" -2 2 -1 2 -2

Of course, you can always play a 3 instead of -2 if it makes it easier for you. I like practicing using the -2 because I can add a throat vibrato to the -2 (vs. only a tremolo on the 3.)

Technically the 10’ is also in the scale, and if you’re playing one a lower tuning (G, A, Bb, or one of the low tunings like LF, LE, LD) it sounds sweet. It’s a bit screechy on keys C and above in my opinion. It’s also a bit challenging to play it in tune. But a good challenge it is for practicing!

Also, you can always start on -1 instead of -2 if you want to. I’ve written about it in this order so that hopefully you’re well aware of where the roots of the scale are: -2 (or 3), 6, and 9.

Putting it all together then, playing the entire range of the harmonica in the 2nd position Major Pentatonic scale from hole 1 to 10 and back down:

Up: -1 2 -2 -3" -3 -4 5 6 -6 -7 -8 8 9 -10 10’
Down: -10 9 8 -8 -7 -6 6 5 -3 -3" -2 2 -1 2 -2

Of course you can play the major pentatonic scale in other positions as well, but these are the 2 positions you’re likely to get the most mileage out of. These are really great scales to practice. Their applications are many!

LMK if you have any questions…

Rock on,
Luke

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All this “stuff” is way over my head, YET, but I love this pentatonic scale sound and spending quite abit of time working on it lately. Being completely new to harmonica and playing music in general, it’s still quite hard for me to get the blow / draw PLUS the note / number pattern under control. What seems to help me is to get the blow / draw pattern under control, ie: blow, draw, blow, blow, draw. blow and just do that numerous times until is comes out right. Then put the note numbers in, ie: 4,-4,5,6,-6,7,7,-6,6,5,-4,4. Is it ok doing that, trying to get the pattern figured out or is that gonna mess me up later on down the road? I can get doing up then down scale fairly well well but putting it all together and adding note / #'s, well, so far once in a row, error free, other than in extremely slow mode is my record. Did learn taking a break when getting frustrated helps immensely tho . . . Thanks, Butch

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Nah, that’s all G @Butch! That’s exactly the way to learn anything well, break it up into smaller pieces that are easier to handle.

I never think about what hole number I’m on when I’m playing harmonica. I’m just thinking about the sound of the note I’m playing and the sound of the note I want to play next and where that is in relation, if it makes sense.

So, my recommendation is get the sound of the scale in your head (singing it is probably the best way to accomplish this) and then exactly what you’re doing with working out the blow draw combinations and where to move to get those sounds.

See if you can connect that sound and the feeling of what you are playing, and then forget about the hole numbers and just get into the sound / feeling relationship if that makes sense. That’s my 2 cents.

Everybody learns different. But for me the hole numbers have really played into my learning process to much (except for occasionally when I’m learning something from tabs.)

Rock on Butch!

Aloha,
Luke

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