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Minor Keys with Major harps

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Eric S
Jun 26, 2009 4:28 AM GMT

I have been playing at a jam, and one of the guitarists loves to play in minor keys, harps of which I have none. My circle of fifths has minor keys above ? I think.

C=Am, G=Em, D=Bm, A=F#m, E=Dbm, B=Abm, F# =Ebm, Db= Bbm, Ab=Fm, Eb= Cm, Bb=Gm, F=Dm,

Is this accurate? I have used it some times and it will sound right, and other times it doesn't,
Is there a circle if fifths, for minor keys with major harps? or should I sit out.

Looked In "Harmonica for Dummies" could not find information, Is there some were else to look?
Thanks in Advance Eric S

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Comments (15)

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Jun 26, 2009 4:38 AM GMT
Zack P Replied:

Well, that is one way to do it. You are working with relative minors. But third position might be the way to go.

Jun 26, 2009 5:25 AM GMT
BlowsMeAwy Greg Replied:

Agree - third position is the easiest way to get into playing minor. There are other positions but they require more skill, precise bending and more notes to avoid. Take the key of the music - say, D - and choose the harp one full step down the scale - in this case C. That's the 3rd position harp.

Jun 26, 2009 2:51 PM GMT
John P Replied:

Personally, I think it's easiest to play minors in fifth position. It's a lot like second position, just start on blow 2, and don't bend anything but draw 3. (Use a harp 2 steps lower than the key of the tune: C minor=Ab harp/ A minor=F harp, G minor= Eb harp, etc.) Try to avoid draw 5 and draw 9 except on the V chord (the turnaround), if you can, but it's not a diaster if you don't.

There are 2 commonly used minor chord structures: Natural minor and Dorian minor. For Dorian minor (no flat 6 in the scale), third position works best. For Natural minor (also called Aeolean), which does have a flat 6, fifth works great, and fourth position (which Eric S has charted out, above) works fine, too. I happen to think fifth is easier to play than fourth and is more "bluesy." I use fifth quite a bit.

I do quite a bit of playing in minor keys. A couple of the bands I play with play minor key tunes about 60% of the time. I do NOT use (or even own) any minor key harps. I only play standard Richter tuned harps. When a minor key gets called, I ask (usually the guitar player) if it's Natural minor or Dorian minor. If it's Natural minor (Aeolean), I'll play fith position. If it's Dorian, I'll play third position. I only use fourth position to do "All Along the Watchtower" because it sounds better in fourth than in fifth and Dylan played the original in fourth.

The problem with using third position for Natural minors is you MUST avoid the major 6 (draw 7) in the upper register and MUST either avoid draw 3 (major 6) or do a consistently precise half step bend on draw 3 to get the flat 6 in the lower register, because if you are playing Natural minor and you hit a major 6, it really sounds terrible and is a diaster. Everyone in the room will know you hit a bad note. But, Third position is the best to use for Dorian minors

The website "Diatonic Harmonica Reference" has helpful reference information on third and fifth positions.

Jun 26, 2009 4:30 PM GMT
Zack P Replied:

Well, if you want to play Aeolian mode on your harp, play fourth position. That means if the key is Am, get a C harp and play it in first position.

Jun 26, 2009 6:53 PM GMT
Barbeque Bob M Replied:

For some minor key tunes, you may want to find out which minor scale is being used, as there are the natural minor, harmonic minor, and melodic minor, and that's just for starters. However, the most common ones are usually natural or harmonic minor.

Jun 26, 2009 7:24 PM GMT
blogward Replied:

Fourth pos'n (Am on a C harp) works well. Third pos'n (eg Dm on a C harp) gets very old very quick, especially if you use it all the time, so be subtle. Fifth position (eg Em on a C harp) needs an overblow or two to really cut loose. Now 11th pos'n (Bm on C) is interesting!

Jun 26, 2009 7:25 PM GMT
blogward Replied:

Did I say 11th? I meant 6th.

Jun 26, 2009 8:28 PM GMT
John P Replied:

You don't need any overblows to play minor in 5th position. I don't OB and I play fifth position all the time. Fifth position is Phrygian mode. You have the same notes as Aeolean, except you have a flat 2 instead of a major 2 (draw 5 and draw 9). BUT, because of how a diatonic harp is laid out, there's no 2 in the lower octave, and, if you want, you can bend draw 2 a half step to get major 2. But 2 is not an important note for most blues material and isn't in the blues scale. You can play Aeolean in fifth, if you leave out the 2. And it is actually pretty hard to hit a really bad note playing natural minor blues in fifth.

Fourth position is a little tough because you need to bend for root in the lower octave, but it's easy to play in the upper register. I don't think it's particularly easy to play with blues phrasing in fourth, though, so I don't like fouth position for minor blues.

Jun 26, 2009 11:10 PM GMT
jawbone s Replied:

Hey Eric - I use 3rd position mostly, use 4 draw as your root, come down two semi tones from whatever key the band is in. ie, Am use G harp, Fm use E flat harpetc. Hope this helps.

Jun 27, 2009 12:49 PM GMT
John P Replied:

Two questions for BBQBob:

1) Since harmonic minor has a flat 3, flat 6 and major 7, what position would you use for a harmonic minor tune? I've always just laid out, so I'm open to suggestions.

2) On a melodic minor you play a minor third all the time, and play major 6 and major 7 ascending and flat the 6 and 7 descending. I've always assumed this could not be done on a diatonic harp. But, if it can, how do you do it?

Jun 28, 2009 1:00 PM GMT
eric h Replied:


i thought i had a handle on this minor key stuff till i tried reading thru theses replies!! i guess i got to go back to the reference material.

Jun 28, 2009 1:52 PM GMT
blogward Replied:

Let's not forget minor 1st position, either.

Jun 28, 2009 1:54 PM GMT
blogward Replied:

Hey, John. You may not need OBs for fifth. I do:)

Jun 28, 2009 7:27 PM GMT
Eric S Replied:

Thank You all for your help, sound like every one has their own idea of how it works best, and I will explore more to see how they work. The march for knowledge continues. Thanks again Eric S.

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