Epic Guitar Riffs on Harmonica? (Santanna's "Oye Como Va" on Harmonica)

Can Beginners Play Epic Guitar Riffs on Harmonica? (YES!)

Guitar licks on harmonica

Somebody recently wrote me:

I’m having so much fun playing “Oye Como Va” on the guitar, which some YouTube guy told me is in the Dorian mode. Would that be difficult on harmonica?

Great news for him and all of us : IT’S NOT HARD , and it’s a whole lot of fun playing guitar riffs on the harp :metal:

Here are some fun Santana guitar riffs that beginners can play on harmonica, from their 1970 rock hit cover version of Tito Puente’s 1962 cha-cha-cha entitled, “Oye Como Va”.

Note that the recording is in the key of Am, so you’ll need a G harmonica to play along with the original track. (If you only have a C harmonica, don’t worry, you can play along with me instead)

First Riff:

-4 -4 5 -5 6 5 4 -4

Stop Time Riff:

-4 -4 -4 -4 -4 -4 -4 -4 -4 6 -4 -5 -4 -4 -4 -4 6 -4 -5

1st Solo Lick:

-4 -5 -6 7 -6 7 -7 6

2nd Solo Lick:

-4 -5 -6 7 -6 7 -7 -8

Epic Solo Lick:

-9 -9 -8 -8 -9 -8 -9 -8 -7 -8 ( -4 -5 6 -5 -4)

-9 -9 -8 -8 -9 -8 -8 -9 -8

If you’re using a C harmonica that “Epic Solo Lick” sounds waaaaay better, simplified and down an octave, give this a try:

-5 -5 -4 -4 -5 -4 -5 -4 -3 -4 (pause) -5 -5 -4 -4 -5 -4 -4 -3 -4

That’s how I play it in the video.

:point_down: If you fancy a quick theory lesson…

The “ sound of Santana ” is achieved by playing what music theory nerds call “ The Dorian Mode ” and by playing the harmonica in what we call “ 3rd Position ”.

You might be aware that to play major, we play in 1st position. Here:

C Harmonica in 1st Position = Plays in the key of C

And you may already be aware that to play blues, we play in 2nd position, the key that is a “fifth” above the key of the harmonica (as I explain in Keys for Beginners). So here:

C Harmonica in 2nd Position = Plays in the key of G

What you may not be aware of is that to play the minor sounds of Santana, we play in 3rd position, which is up one letter name from the key of the harmonica:

C Harmonica in 3rd Position = Plays in the key of D minor

3rd Position Minor Pentatonic Scale:

-4 -5 6 -6 7 -8 (Descending: -8 7 -6 6 -5 -4)

3rd Position Dorian Scale:

–4 5 -5 6 -6 -7 7 -8 (Descending: -8 7 -7 -6 6 -5 5 -4)

If all that sounds like nonsensical jargon then you might want to check out my Beginner to Boss course, as I explain all this in more useful detail in Module 3. (For those of you who own the course, once you’ve logged in, here’s a direct link to that lesson)

And in case you missed it, here’s my video with tabs, playing on a C harmonica in the key of D minor:

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