2nd Position - checking my thinking

As part of an exercise I’m doing in a study group at improviseforreal.com I’ve been looking at the idea of dominant chords (a major triad with a minor third on top, so a flat 7). We’ve been working with a loop that is just chords 1 dominant & 4 dominant

Considered in scale degree numbers, that’s

1D = 1, 3, 5, b7
4D = 4, 6, 1, b3

Maybe it’s an obvious thing I’ve been missing, but I feel that something about this has given me a real lightbulb moment about why Blues are usually played on harmonica in ‘2nd Position’.

I know some theory and I’m aware 2nd position could be though of as as Mixolydian mode of the main key & that’s how I’d been thinking of it, The ‘light bulb’ involves how looking at the harmonica literally as being in the key of the 2nd position makes achieving those two flat (blue notes), the b3 & b7 much more practical.

I want to try to describe what I think I’m seeing in case someone wiser than me can see errors in my thinking & if so maybe say what they are? I’d rather write & be shown a to be a fool, than assume & be one without knowing it. LOL!

I’ll start my explanation by taking a step back from 2nd position to 1st.

Looking at a 10 hole diatonic tuning, in the usual tuning in 1st postiton, the notes (as scale degree numbers ) are.

Blow 1 3 5 1 3 5 1 3 5 1
Hole 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
Draw 2 5 7 2 4 6 7 2 4 6

I can’t yet bend (I’m working on trying), but if I could…

To get a b7 from 1st position the only options are a single draw bend on hole 3 (seems like quite a convenient place), or a single blow bend on blow 10 (so probably very high & shrill in most circumstances?)

To get a b3 the only option is a single blow bend on hole 8 (so upper octave & heading for shrill).

However, if 2nd position is literally seen as “the 1 is now at the 5th of the ‘main’ key’” the tuning becomes

Blow  4  6  1  4  6  1  4  6  1  4
Hole  1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10
Draw  5  1  3  5 b7  2  3  5 b7  2

So in 2nd position we get a couple of b7’s for free, i.e. without any need for bending.
There’s also scope for a b7 from the hole 2 double draw bend.

The b3 becomes available in the same places that were b7 in 1st position, i.e. a single draw bend on hole 3 (still quite a good place), or a single blow bend on blow 10 (still probably very high & shrill).

Of course we no longer have a 7 available (e.g. if we want the 3rd of a 5 chord), but it can be had via two different bends (hole 2 single draw, or hole 9 single blow).

For me that was a useful revelation. I’d much rather understand why something has become the ‘usual way’ rather than just accepting it. Sometimes a bit of study can reveal that ‘usual way’ doesn’t necessarily make sense… LOL!

In this case I think it does make sense. Well, it does to me. :smiley:

Have I made sense to you?


Hi David @DavidW

Excellent analysis. However, you might wish to also consider the following and incorporate it into your “mental construct”.

Since you do not do any bending yet you perhaps have overlooked a quite important additional reason for playing blues in 2nd position: the “sexy” low notes at -1, -2, -3 & -4 (the important scale tones V, I, III & V) can all be bent (which, together with their more pleasant low pitches, makes them really sexy) – and two of those (-2 & -3) have multiple draw bends available!

It becomes easy to understand why most blues harp solos are made using about 80-90% (and sometimes even more) draw hole notes. :exploding_head:

– Slim :sunglasses:

Blues without bends is sort of like food that has no flavor. :roll_eyes:


That’s all a bit above my pay grade @DavidW, but as I read it, my thinking was similar to @Slim 's…

It’s on the draw notes that we can really add a lot of expression.

Keep on working on the bending and you’ll get it. Pretending I am drinking a very thick milk shake seems to help :wink:


Great addition @Slim . That’s now firmly in the mix. :smiley:


This last few days I’m starting to see some movement. Bucking the trend it’s 2 & 3 draw I’m finding the easiest to get movement on. Bend it Better told me I briefly managed a whole tone on draw 3 today!

I’m rarely near a semitone on either 1 or 4 yet.

I’m seeing better results with my Bb Lee Oskar than with my C Special 20.

It seems sort of logical that the ones that can be bent most ought to be the ones easiest to bend a bit, but gather that’s not usual?

Maybe I have an unusual shape mouth cavity? LOL!


That’s exciting when we first are able to get those bends!

Keep at it and you’ll get them. In my experience it’s usually quite a bit easier to bend into and out of the notes rather than hitting them in tune on the fly.

I’ve also found that though there are differences between harps, with some easier to bend than others, and there can be spacing issues with the reeds, usually technique overrides the other factors :wink:


Yep, you’re making perfect sense and I love the way that you’re thinking here. Once bends start coming together for you, you might enjoy checking out this post:

Although you can just play the blues scale up and down, and it’s REALLY GRATIFYING, as you are studying in your improv course, to target notes in the chord over which you are playing, so practicing the arpeggios of I7, IV7, and V7 (as many of the notes as we have access too on the harmonica) from the very bottom of the harmonica to the very top.

This kind of practice will unlock all kinds of new ideas for soloing over blues compared to just running the blues scale and whatever licks we’ve learned.

I applaud you for the journey you are taking here @DavidW :raised_hands:t3: