I have a musical protege named Nick Wong, and he was playing at a little spot in town tonight called Gertrude’s Jazz Bar - just him and an acoustic. I had told him I’d try and stop by and sit in after a rehearsal I had, but of course in getting everything ready for the rehearsal, I totally forgot to put my case of harmonicas in the car.
So I arrived at the club, like “dang!” But, I ransacked the car and found one A harmonica and one C harmonica. I tell Nick I’m limited on keys, and he says, “Okay, great you’ve got a C harmonica, let’s do Ain’t No Sunshine in A minor.” (He doesn’t play harmonica.) I’m like, “okaaaay…”
He says, “Wait, that’ll work right? Because the songs in A minor and that’s the same thing as C major right?” (What can I say…I’ve taught him well! )
I’m like, “Yaaaa. You’re right. It’s true. It’s the right notes. But that’s 4th position. That’s like super-hard… But that’s cool! It’ll be a good challenge for me!”
A few minutes later we’d finished an epic jam to one of the most enthusiastic applauses of the night. Moral of the story? 4th position actually ROCKS, and the experience made me want to play it more!
Most important thing to note about 4th position, it’s a MINOR key! On a C harp, it works well over a song in A minor like The Thrill is Gone, or as we did tonight, Ain’t No Sunshine by Bill Withers. (I saw people with phones videoing, so if I can track down a video, I’ll share it.)
If you’ve gone through my Beginner to Boss course, you’ve played (or will soon play) songs in 4th position because we do a section on it in the Single Notes module playing song like Stairway to Heaven by Led Zeppelin, and the old Gershwin standard, Summertime.
The thing that makes 4th position so dang hard is that the ROOT note, the TONIC, the HOME BASE is the fricken -3" which is challenging to play in tune. So that’s a challenge. Definitely! BUT, as you go up from there, it’s really quite fun.
Here’s the minor pentatonic scale in that octave:
-3" 4 -4 5 6 -6
Here’s a couple notes about this part of the scale, starting with the bad stuff:
besides the difficulty of playing that -3" confidently and in tune (which is enough to be a deal-breaker for most!) you also can’t bend down the 5 so you don’t have that blue note that we get with the -4’ in cross-harp.
HOWEVER, here are 2 wonderful things:
TRILL on the 5 and 6 = the same as the trill we know in love in 2nd position -4 and -5
So THAT’s fun. Because hey, when in doubt, TRILL people! It’s always a crowd pleaser.
And then also:
You can bend up into that -6 and it sounds really soulful (just like you can bend into the -2 (and 9) in cross-harp)
The next octave of minor pentatonic scale is:
-6 7 -8 8 9 -10
1.) You can bend down the 8 a half-step to get that Blue note that you get when you bend down the -4’ in cross harp, which means you can play a full blues scale in this octave (since the Blues scale is just a Minor Pentatonic scale with the addition of that one note:)
-6 7 -8 8’ 8 9 -10
And of course descending:
-10 9 8 8’ -8 7 -6
2.) Bending into the 7 yields a pleasing result (commensurate with swooping into -3’ from -3")
3.) You can trill on 8 and 9 = trilling -4 and -5 in cross-harp
4.) And we have that great iconic lick in cross-harp -4’ -4 -5 (repeated over and over) now translates to 8’ 8 9 (repeated over and over)
5.) What I call “the answer phrase” in my Blues for Beginners lesson, which is -4-4’ -3’ -2 in cross-harp, can now be played 8 8’ 7 -6. It feels a little bit awkward at first because, compared to cross-harp where it’s all draws, now we have to switch from 2 blows to a draw. BUT, with some practice it’s not too hard and sounds great.
And, if you’re playing in the key of Am, all of the notes are beautiful. There are no bad notes.
I’m glad that I dared to play in 4th position tonight, even though I was scared, lol. Trippy to think it never would have happened if I wasn’t comfy enough with 4th position to dare. And this is a side benefit to learning different positions: you have more options of keys of songs you can play with people when you only have one or two harps, like I did tonight.
So that gets us started on the subject of 4th Position. What’s your experience with it? Love it? Hate it? Have any questions about it?