Harmonica Positions Taught in Beginner to Boss

The subject of positions is so confusing at the beginning. All it refers to is what key song you’re playing along with. So for a C harmonica:

1st position is playing in the key of C major
2nd position is playing in the key of G major, but with a bluesy kinda sound
3rd position is playing in the key of D minor
4th position is playing in the key of A minor

For those of you who are going through my course Beginner to Boss, I just wanna make sure that you’re aware that I teach a scale or two in each position (as well a several songs supporting songs) that provide a good sense of what the tonality of each position sounds like.
Module 3 Lesson 14 - Major scale and Module 3 Lesson 19 Major Pentatonic Scale both give you the sound of 1st position (Along with all the songs in lessons 16-30, and 46-48)
Module 3 Lesson 6 - the “Almost Blues Scale” and Module 4 Lesson 5 - The Actual Blues scale give you the sound of 2nd position (along with all the songs in Module 3 Lessons 2-12, and 49-51, as well as all of the songs in Modules 4,5,6 and 7)
Module 3 Lesson 31 - The D Minor Pentatonic Scale gives you the sound of 3rd position (along with the songs in Lessons 32-40)
Module 4 Lesson 43 - The A Minor Pentatonic Scale - gives you the sound of 4th position (along with the song Summertime in lessons 44 and 45)

If you’re ever feeling confused about the sound or geography of the harmonica as it relates to a particular positions, those could be helpful lessons to review. LMK if you have any other questions about positions!

Rock on,
Luke

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I am thoroughly enjoying working my way through Beginner-to-Boss and feel like I’m learning a lot about music theory, musicianship related to the harmonica. However, there is something mystifying me - Is it possible to tell what position I’m playing in just based on the tabs I’m reading? I’ve been playing random tabs I find on the internet (e.g Sade’s Smooth Operator) - I know a song can be playing in any key so the tabs can’t tell me the ‘correct’ key but do they reveal the position I’m playing in?

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First of all, welcome to the forum Keith, we are very happy to have you here. Secondly, what a great question! Hmmmmm…

OK, so when you change what POSITION you are playing in, you are changing what KEY you are playing. It sounds like you are comfy with that concept, right? OK, Cool.

Next question: What the heck is a key? Oh boy, that’s not a simple concept to tackle, but to simplify it - it’s the place of greatest resolution and rest. It might not be the first or last note of the song, but if we were to listen to a song, turn it off, and hum what feels like the fundamental “home base” of the song, and then go to a piano and play the note that we are humming, the note name of that piano key would be the name of the key of the song.

Understanding keys is much more complicated than that, but that kinda gets to the heart of the matter.

In the example that you provided, “Smooth Operator” if you were to try this humming excercise, I think we’d probably agree the “home base” of the song is the note Sade is singing on the syllables “-er-at-or.” Right? You with me?

If we did it on “Mary Had a Little Lamb” I think we’d agree the “home base” is the note we sing on the word “snow.”

So if know the HARMONICA TAB of the ROOT NOTE of each position, then we can extrapolate from the tabs what position we are based on this humming excercise. Here’s the cheat sheet on root notes of each position:

1st Position = 1, 4, 7, 10
2nd Position = -2, 3, 6, 9
3rd Position = -1, -4, -8
4th Position = -3", -6, -10

So if you’re playing Smooth Operator -5 5 -4 -4 -4, then you’re playing it in 3rd position (because we determined that note is the key of the song by humming the note where we feel the most rest and the least tension, and we see on our chart that -4 is a root of 3rd position.)

If you’re playing Smooth Operator 7 -7 -6 -6 -6, then you’re playing it 4th position.

It’s also possible (but more challenging) to play Smooth Operator in 2nd position: -3’ -3" -2 -2 -2. (@martorgan if you know this song, this would be another good one to practice your -3’ Bends! :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye:)

So I hope as you go on this journey that you will come back to this post share your journey of figuring out what position you’re playing in from tabs you’re working on. Great question Keith! Rock on. :metal:t3:

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Wow - this helps a lot! I see how it fits in with everything I’ve been learning from your course and I now know that I’ve been playing in the key of E on my G harmonica since resolution is on the -6 (in the tabs I’ve been using), so fourth position! Thanks!

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That’s exactly right @KeithH well done! Rock on. :metal:t3:

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