The Draw -3' Half-Step Bend + G minor Backing Tracks

Here’s a new thread for stories, confessions, ideas and resources for conquering the challenging -3’.

On the subject of bending, I think it’s safe to say that the -3 is the most challenging hole to master on the harmonica. The -3’’’ is fairly easy (pretty much just bend it as low as you can) it’s the middle notes, the -3’ (half-step) and -3" (whole-step) bend that are so challenging, even the masters are constantly refining their technique here.

CONFESSION: I’ve avoided playing 2nd position over minor tunes. For example, I’ve avoided using a C harmonica to play over a tune in G minor. Why? Because of my lack of control over the -3’.

@Slim has made posts talking about how you can play minor in 2nd position, and I’d cringe thinking, “Yeah, you CAN, I guess…but it’s FRICKEN HARD!”

RESOURCE: Here’s a great simple 12 bar blues that you can play that’s fun, and FANTASTIC practice for the -3’ and -3" bends:

(I: ) -2 -2 6 6 -5 -5 -4 -4
(I:) -2 -2 6 6 -5 -5 -4 -4
(I:) -2 -2 6 6 -5 -5 -4 -4
(I:) -2 -2 6 6 -5 -5 -4 -4

(IV:) 1 1 4 4 -3’ -3’ 3 3
(IV:) 1 1 4 4 -3’ -3’ 3 3
(I:) -2 -2 6 6 -5 -5 -4 -4
(I:) -2 -2 6 6 -5 -5 -4 -4

(V:) -1 -1 -4 -4 4 4 -3" -3"
(IV:) 1 1 4 4 -3’ -3’ 3 3
(I:) -2 -2 6 6 -5 -5 -4 -4
Turnaround: 1 -1’ -1

If you play this on a C harmonica, you’re playing a G Blues (NOT a G MINOR Blues.) I’m super-comfy playing 2nd position on this kind of tonality. The -3’ doesn’t have to be perfectly precise.

Here’s an excerpt on the subject from Joe Filisko’s free Blues Horse Power document:

The precise half-step bend is very bluesy but VERY difficult to play. A sharp half-step bend sounds bluesier than a flat half-step bend but not as bluesy as the sharp half-step bend played dirty.

There’s a lot of fascinating things to consider in this statement, but the one I want to draw out here is:

A sharp half-step bend sounds bluesier than a flat half-step bend

The reason I draw this out is that it describes my approach to the -3’ for most of my harmonica life.

IN FACT: My understanding is that the note that the African slaves in America (who gave birth to the blues) were trying to achieve (from the echoes of their motherland) was neither a Major 3rd nor a Minor 3rd, but a pitch half-way in between. (So on the harmonica between a -3’ and -3)

NOTE: It’s coincidental that the -3 happens to be the interval of a Major 3rd in cross-harp. There is no actual correlation between intervals and harp tabs.

And playing that note with upward motion has a very satisfying effect. You can hear it beautifully in the playing of the great slide guitar players like Duane Allman, Warren Haynes, and Derek Trucks. They’ll very often play that note starting on the minor 3rd, but it’s in motion up toward the major 3rd, as will many blues masters on all instruments across the genre throughout time.

A slightly sharp -3’ sound great on a regular blues because, both the the -3 and -3’ are beautiful color tones of the underlying chord (in music theory mumbo jumbo: the major 3rd, and the #9th of the I chord.)

HOWEVER, on a MINOR Blues - say a G minor blues for example, the minor 3rd of the G minor chord is the -3’. PLAYING the -3’ SHARP in this context DOES NOT SOUND GOOD!!!

STORY: My wife is a badass trumpeter, and many years ago I learned that all the notes she plays in her highest register are by ear making embouchure adjustments (just like the notes we play on the -3 are by ear with embouchure adjustments.) BOOM! :boom: That was a wakeup call for me (because if she’s playing all kinda crazy jazz lines just using her ear, :exploding_head: then certainly I should be able to master all the difficult harmonica bends by ear!) Of course she has a MUCH better ear than me. BUT it still breaks the glass ceiling of “oh this is too hard” and shake me out of my apathy.

Nonetheless, I wasn’t even really conscious of the fact that I avoided playing minor tunes in 2nd position like the plague, until the other day…

I’ve been working on various improvisation ideas and techniques and thought recently: I REALLY WANNA GET GOOD AT PLAYING AN ACCURATE -3’

So I was thinking about various exercises for accomplishing that, when it struck me like a bolt of lightning :zap:


It kinda sounds obvious now, but if felt like an EPIPHANY in the moment.

So I want to share some awesome G minor backing tracks I’ve tracked down (pun intended) which I’ll include at the end of this post. But first…

A WORD OF CAUTION: Playing minor in 2nd position is easiest to achieve between holes 1-6.

The -7 is the major 3rd and so is to be avoided at all costs.

I’m really enjoying playing the first 5 notes of the minor scale and going down the flat 7 like this:

-2 -3" -3’ 4 -4 4 -3’ -3" -2 -2" -2

As well as the regular blues scale:

-2 3’ 4 -4’ -4 -5 6
6 -5 -4 -4’ 4 -3’ -2 -2" -1 -1’ 1
-1’ -1 -2" -2

Making up melodic ideas from these palette’s of note choices over the G minor backing tracks below is a SUPER-FUN, TOP-NOTCH workout for getting better at accurate -3’ bends.

For more songs and exercises about -3’, check out my How to Master the -3 Bends (For Harmonica Nerds Only!) post.

Here’s some of my favorite G minor backing tracks I’ve found:

Gm Soul Blues Jam - good to practice minor sound in cross-harp Soul Blues Jam | Eric Gales Style Guitar Backing Track (G Minor - 50 BPM) - YouTube

Albert King Gm Blues Smooth Blues Albert King Style Jam | Wanna Git Funky Guitar Backing Track (G Minor) - YouTube

Fleetwood Blues in Gm Dorian - Slow Fleetwood Blues in G | Guitar Backing Track (55 BPM) - YouTube

The Thrill is Gone Sexy 12 Bar Minor Blues Jam | Guitar Backing Track (G Minor) - YouTube

Green Onions Grimy Green Onions Jam | 12 Bar Blues Guitar Backing Track (G Minor Blues) - YouTube

Happy Harpin’!
Luke :sunglasses: