What Does 1st Position & 2nd Position Mean

So one of the questions I get the most is, what’s the difference between 1st and 2nd position? I wish I could just snap my fingers and then it would all make sense for ya, but being able to hear somebody playing and to know what position they are playing in, or even to know what position to play in for a given song, and certainly understanding the theory behind positions is something that takes some time to grasp.

I thought it would be cool to start a thread here where we can talk positions and really geek out a bit. But, we’ll start very simply with trying to achieve a basic grasp on the difference between 1st and 2nd position, and not some best practices.

I think this is a good quick & easy guide to hearing the difference between 1st position and 2nd position:

1st position is playing major in the key of the harmonica, blowing more than drawing

2nd position is playing in the key up a 5th from the key of the harmonica, which if you’re a theory nerd is Mixolydian mode, meaning it sounds more bluesy, and you want to be drawing more than blowing.

I want to re-emphasize this point: to sound great playing in 2nd position, you want to be doing more draws than blows! Most beginners, when trying to play blues, do too much of draw blow, draw blow, draw blow.

Alternating draw and blow every note can sound ok in 1st position folksy stuff sometimes, but when you’re trying to play bluesy, focus on drawing holes 1-5. This is a super-quick tip that will make you sound way more advanced on harmonica!

All right. We’ve broached the subject of positions on harmonica. So let’s hear your questions and comments!

Aloha,
Luke

P.S. if you happen to have any exposure to the ideas of modes, that knowledge will serve you well as there is a close link between harmonica positions, and the modes of the major scale.

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So in 1st position we are playing the key of C. So our I chord, C major, can be played 123 or 456 (7 8 9 and 10 are all also part of the C chord.)

When we draw on -234 we are playing a G chord, which within the context of C Major is the V chord.

When we play in 2nd position, we are playing in the key of G, so -234, a G chord, is our I chord.

Within THIS context, when we play a C chord on 123, 456, 789, we are playing the IV chord.

In my beginner to Boss course we do a lot of this stuff.

We play an island and a folk jam in 1st position, key of C, alternating between I and V (C and G chords.)

And we play a lot of swampy blues stuff in 2nd position, key of G, alternating between I and IV chords (G and C chords.)