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What is 3rd Position on Harmonica? | Positions Lesson for Blues Harmonica

Hello! In today's harmonica lesson we'll be looking at third position. What is it, and how can you use it to improve your playing? (P.S. Check out this great lesson on 2nd position too!)

What are positions?

To understand 3rd position, we first need to understand the basic theory of positions.

When we talk about positions, we are talking about the relationship between the key of the harmonica and the key of the song.

Each harmonica is tuned to play in one specific key. However, it is possible to play a harmonica in mutiple keys in order to access different scales or make your playing more expressive. Talking about 'positions' helps to codify what we're doing when using the harp to play in an alternative key. In theory, you can play one harmonica in 12 positions, but this is extremely advanced. Most harp players use three positions. Third position is one of those three, and it has some great uses.

3rd position (slant harp)

Third position (occasionally called 'slant harp') is most often used for minor keys. It's tends to use a lot of draw notes. It's very expressive, the bends sound great with it and it can be surprisingly versatile in the right hands.

How do you find 3rd position on your harmonica? First, let's find our tonic note (the 'centre' or homebase of the position).

  • 3rd position starts on 1 draw (also 4 and 8 draw) and is a tone (two semtiones) up from the harp key (e.g. C harmonica = key of D).

From these starting notes, you can build scales.

Scales in 3rd position

Here are some useful 3rd position scales to start with:

Major pentatonic scale:

-1 2 -2/ -3// -3 -4

Full major scale:

-1 2 -2/ -2 -3// -3 -4/ -4

Minor pentatonic scale:

-1 -2// -2 -3// 4 -4

The blues scale:

-1 -2// -2 -3/// -3// 4 -4

Natural minor scale:

-1 2 -2// -2 -3// -3/ 4 -4

Dorian mode:

-1 2 -2// -2 -3// -3 4 -4

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

These are not the only scales you can play in 3rd position, they're just some popular and accessible ones to start you off.

The best way to really understand positions is to start playing! Try using the above scales and see how they feel to you.

Full harmonica positions chart

You can also use a Positions Chart to work out positions. Across the top row of the diagram, you can see each position from 1st to 12th. Down the left column you'll see each key of harmonica. You can use this diagram to find 3rd position, or indeed any other position, on any key of harmonica

Thanks for following this harmonica lesson. I hope you enjoyed it!

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