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Who's practicing scales? why and why not?

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Civet Cat
Jan 16, 2009 7:58 PM GMT
Scales are serious biz folks. I think they are the single best way to break a musical stagnation rut! Who out there is rocking there scales? What scales? what positions and what scale exercises?

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Jan 16, 2009 8:25 PM GMT
DukeofEarl Replied:

Being new to overblow technique, I've been simply practicing a chromatic scale from the 4-7 blow; trying to perfect the sound and shape and lay it with finesse and legato. I got to tell you, it ain't easy but I feel as if my playing will improve with this ability. When I was learning chromatic, all I did for months was practice long tones and the chromatic scale. I will try to practice other scales, too, as I get the chromatic scale down.

Jan 16, 2009 8:26 PM GMT
DukeofEarl Replied:

I meant PLAY it with finesse and legato :-)

Jan 16, 2009 8:27 PM GMT
M N Replied:

I've been working on your You-Tube part one of playing fast. You've got some great presentation's.

Jan 16, 2009 8:43 PM GMT
Winslow Replied:

One thing I like to do with a new scale or position (on any instrument) is to first find the major and minor pentatonic scales. Once you get the hang of those, you can fill in the notes in between to find most other scales.

Sometimes a good rut buster is to play one of the modes of a pentatonic scale that doesn't have some of the notes you normally expect. For instance, if you take the C major pentatonic (C D E G A) and use it to play in D, you don't have F or F#, so you can't tell if it's major or minor - one of the main chord notes is missing.

Jan 16, 2009 11:28 PM GMT
Zack P Replied:

I do occasionally. I usually do once in awhile then get used to using it.

Jan 17, 2009 10:46 AM GMT
Christelle Replied:

2 months of scales exercises major and minor....No pentatonics though....And yes there's a huge difference "between/after" even if in my point of view it's a real pain in the ass to work this aspect (especially playing in B Major on a C harmonica)

Jan 17, 2009 1:58 PM GMT
Manlio Replied:

uhm scales... in italian scale or ladder is the same thing and doing both upside down is something more than boring, it's a brain killer to me. Still it's pretty useful exercise to repeat scales and find different patterns on 'em. Well, said that, I admit I don't work too much on scales beside the pentatonic, I've discovered my lazy synapsis work in pentatonic terms even when I have to write a new song.

Is it limited? Well it is, but it's strictly tied with what everyone of us wanna achieve.

Next thing I'm gonna study anyway it's middle east scales... pretty interesting since I'm quite close to balcanic, kletzmer and arabic music.

About music stagnation... well it's true, these kind of exercises are a big help, but I keep finding people who can invent things on the pentatonic that I've never thought were possible. So the problem is, once again, quantity vs quality. You can study one thing perfectly or you can study 100 things bad.

I'm one of those who study 1/2 thing bad... it's choice as well ;)

Jan 17, 2009 2:09 PM GMT
DukeofEarl Replied:

I've also found playing the different modal scales on say a C harp greatly helpful because you start to see the note potential of the instrument expand as you change perspectives. If your root note becomes draw 1 (Dorian) instead of blow 1 on a C harp it changes the way you relate to old patterns. I guess it's related to going to a new country or trying to speak a new language--the status quo of your playing habits is disrupted but you're invigorated by the new challenges. My theory is hazy as I studied it in college in the 1990s...I think scales can also help me get some of that back.

Jan 18, 2009 6:29 PM GMT
Duane C. Replied:

I've not been playing long, and some of the teaching materials I have has several scales in the text material provided. So I have been using them quite regularly, especially to begin each practice session. It gets me warmed up, and helps to get a proper state of mind/focus for me. I use them to work on my articulation of each note and make tempo adjustments as well, starting and stopping in different places.

Jan 22, 2009 4:54 PM GMT
Bluesie Replied:

I dont but, I know I should. Good matter for a chat discussion!

Jan 23, 2009 3:43 AM GMT
Diggs Replied:

Due to time I only practice major scales and blues scales on chromatic
Major arpeggios one and two octaves. Several times a week Maj7, Dom7,
Min7 and Min7b5 arpeggios two octaves. Sometimes diminished scales two
octaves. Jamie Ambersol Vol. 21. This a creative way to use scales and arpeggios.

Diatonic: Major 1st position two octaves. Cross blues scale 3rd positon and 5th. Cross pentatonic two octaves.
Major Pentchords thinking C harp c,d,e,f,f#, g, ab, a, Bb, b.
Practice on G, A, C, D, E, F harps.

Jan 24, 2009 2:16 PM GMT
Junior Wright Replied:

I've used David Barrett's instructional material, and I love the stuff, but his presentation on scales confuses me. He presents alot of variations on a Blues scale and has some notes in there that other people don't include in their Blues scale???

I'd love it if Adam Gussow or Jason Ricci, or someone would post a Blues scale in 1st, 2nd, and 3rd position and then explain how to practice with it (ie up and down, four patterns, triplet patterns, etc).

I've been convinced of the value of practicing scales, I just don't know how to effectively go about it.

Jan 24, 2009 4:45 PM GMT
jawbone s Replied:

Great idea Junior!

Jan 24, 2009 5:10 PM GMT
Honeycomb S Replied:

Just the other day I went through each and every Jason Ricci video to combine all the scales he's taught. I made a summary page, I can either post or email out if people are interested. (With his permission of course)
There are about ten in all, mainly 1st and 3rd position, and of course his latest minor scales, not much in cross harp.
I've just begun to practice them, already my old licks are gaining more structure. My intention is to play the lower octave up through the upper octave as one continuous thought, in all modes.
I should be practicing right now!

Jan 24, 2009 7:57 PM GMT
Fugazzi Replied:

I've been practicing a lot of 12th, 11th, and 4th. I always start with a full octave major or minor scale. I learn it in three octaves. Then I play around with the arppeggios and pentatonics.

I don't learn scale patterns to start. Just improv and jamming. Then when I have some vocabulary, I look for patterns. Some licks work in three or four positions quite easily.

I spend more time transposing to different keys then learning specific scale patterns. At one time, I spent a whole year on just action patterns.

Jan 24, 2009 8:50 PM GMT
Brown Ale Guy Replied:

Scales is where it's at for me. Though I'm really only maybe an advanced beginner who has had harps around for almost 40 years, I just started gettin a little serious in the last year, partly thanks to the wonders of playing scales. So far mostly blues, pentatonic, 3rd position, dorian stuff that I learned from the Civet Cat's videos. Love the youtube videos by Ricci and Gussow. I watch them a lot. Also am trying the patterns Jason taught in the "Playing Harmonica Fast" series. Trying to get an old fried brain to develop some good motor memory to replace a lot of bad habits.

Jan 25, 2009 12:43 AM GMT
Steve B Replied:

I would love some concentrated info on scales and scale patterns. I've been playing 40+ years and can play most of what I hear- with the exception of a lot of Jason's stuff and some other elite players. Only problem is, I have to hear it first - I don't think of it myself. I'm pretty fluid from playing constantly for so long, but don't know a thing about theory (Jason, we had this convesation in Seattle)I play weekly in two jazz/blues bands - both with saxes so am learning some stuff from the horn lines we play. I 'm clueless about theory and at my age 60+, I'm having troublr wrapping my old tired brain around all that goes into learning it. It'd be great if someone could point me in the direction of a place that had a bunch of examples of scales and patterns.

Jan 25, 2009 12:55 AM GMT
Backwoodz Bluz Replied:

Thanks for the reminder. I know how much practicing scales, keeps me moving forward on the keyboard. I'm certainly in a rut with the harmonica!

Jan 25, 2009 6:49 AM GMT
Civet Cat Replied:

Feb 05, 2009 1:27 PM GMT
The Iceman Replied:

I teach that scales are NOTE CHOICES, not so much entities unto themselves, and have students play them as melodic lines. For instance, a major diatonic scale has 8 notes from start to completion. I'll add the major ninth scale degree and play it up and down without stopping at the highest note and repeating it before heading down. This turns the scale into a melodic line while giving you the same exposure to all the notes, leading to a more melodic understanding of what is going on.

Feb 05, 2009 1:47 PM GMT
John P Replied:

A practical and relatively easy way to learn different positions is to start by  learning the minor pentatonic scale in each position the player wishes to learn.  Once a comfort level is reached, the player can expand and and go on from there. For the most part, the minor pentatonic is technically relatively easy in positions 1 through 5, and so will allow the player to become familiar with getting around in each of those  positions before progressing on to learning more difficult scales and arpeggios in those positions.  Just a suggestion.


Feb 05, 2009 4:08 PM GMT
John P Replied:

TYPO CORRECTION: ... the minor pentatonic is technically relatively easy in positions 2 through 5.....

Feb 05, 2009 4:13 PM GMT
Jaybird Replied:

I'd like to learn the scales but I have avoided learning them mostly because they usually have overblows, which I cannot do, no matter how hard I try. I also don't think overblows are essential to learn... lots of great players don't play overblows.

Feb 05, 2009 4:44 PM GMT
André D Replied:

I've learn all the major,minor and blues scale with theorics than i translate on a C harp.It's lot of work to learn that but when you translate to your harmonica many thing'sbecome way easier. There's some cool scales C# blues could be play in first ocatve no overblow at all very good to work on pitch. F# harmonic minor is lot of fun playable on 2 octaves just 1 overblow. Tha one i really work hard is C# major on 3 octaves if you guy's are abble to master that scales you can play almost everything you want on a diatonic harmonica for sure. Maybe i will put some video of that on youtube at first i thought it was useless to put some video of playing scales but maybe it's not.

Feb 09, 2009 5:22 PM GMT
Mr So-So Replied:

I love Jason's vids on scales. As a player who is still learning technique, I find there are certain scales/positions the emphasize what I'm working on. Right now I'm working on the blow bends, so I do the blues scale, first position, upper octave, which has all the main blow bends (7, 8'+, 9, 9'+, 9+, 10''+, 10+). I mainly just run the scale up and down at present, but when I get that up to speed, I'll work on some of Jason's exercises.

Also, as someone who knew no music theory until recently, I found it very useful to work out the scales in harp tab. I did so for the major and blues scales in all 12 positions. Adam Gussow made it available as a free download from his site: here. I arranged them so that octaves and chord tones are easily seen. I hope some of you find the document as useful as I do. I have been working on an updated version with tabs for various chords (so far only in first three positions). Contact me if you want those.

Feb 09, 2009 5:32 PM GMT
Patrice R Replied:

Perhaps I should but I prefer to listen music and try to find notes to put on it while listening, so like that I force myself to listen to the other musicians and at the same time to feel and play a note in the correct ones :) fast as possible... Sometime even play to do same as the guy with as less as possible delay in time (that's funny... to try having less than one second for example)
I am not afraid to play scale, but always the same things because I am afraid to get automatisms...and after put often the same things (sentences? "Phrases" in French)in the music... I prefer to try to trust my feeling even if of course like everyone I get influences...

But perhaps I am totaly wrong? That's my way (but I play alone, no band and just for fun)

Feb 09, 2009 8:57 PM GMT
André D Replied:

That's very good to play by ear too i mean it's the best way to play music. But if you play postition only you'll get automatisms anyways... Scales are good to know notes on your instrument and practice your ear having the good pitch on bends and overblows that's it. While you master all the notes you'll have more posibility to let your "feeling" free. :-) Theorics is just a tool not a goal.

Feb 12, 2009 4:42 PM GMT
Mr So-So Replied:

Correction In my previous post, I put a link to a free download of major scale and blues scale tablature for the 12 positions. Unfortunately, that was an old version of the document that had some grievous errors in it (showed missing notes where there aren't any). Today, a corrected version was posted (the URL is the same as below). The new version also has some additional tabs for common chords as well (but only for the first three positions). So if you downloaded the old version, please accept my apologies and get the new one.

Feb 14, 2009 2:54 PM GMT
Jaybird Replied:

Thank you Mr. So-So. You obviously put alot of work into that. I am inspired to work on the scales again. I can't do overblows or overdraws, so I'll just skip those notes.

Feb 14, 2009 5:15 PM GMT
Yuki Replied:

To me, scale practice is a way to win more freedom in improvisation. It gives me more choice what I might want to play. I can think "the band is playing this chord, so I can make use of this scale" instead of just following breath patterns of each position like a lot of harmonica players (including myself) do.
For a not mature player like me, it also gives a physical freedom. As I got better at scales, I now find easier to hit the note in the way I want to it to be sounded.

For the moment, I practise major and minor pentatonic scales and the blues scale in 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 11th, and 12th position (it takes 2 hours) every day. I can't over-blow/draw yet so some scales in some positions are limited. Using over-blow/draw is great and I would like to be able to do that sometine, but it is also true that people who can't over-blow/draw can do decent improvisation in many positions if they mix these three scales and chose the good note and play in a good way.

Feb 14, 2009 7:01 PM GMT
Eddie R Replied:

This same discussion you will find among guitarists as well. Some people can't do without and others will. I hear some guys who really know how pentatonics, minor harmonics and Lydian Augmented works and they sound just .... Others don't know anything about it and just sound crazy. And vice versa.
Perhaps this site is nice
You name it, they have it, talking about scales. Ever heard of a Kuwoi, Auxiliary Diminished Blues, Hirajoshi or Hungarian Major?
Wish you all good luck with practising the next couple of years :=)
Greetings from Amsterdam,

Mar 14, 2009 8:38 PM GMT
Boris Plotnikov Replied:

I regulary play all 12 major scales both diatonic and chromatic, up, down and in thirds. I wanna play all scales in 4th, 5th, 6th, 6th and 8ves, but have to practice more and more. Have to play more different scales. I work a lot at some jewish scales for one track in my band.

Mar 15, 2009 2:10 AM GMT
Sarge Replied:

I don't practice scales. Never have and probably never will. If I hear a song I want to play I will practice the song.

Mar 15, 2009 2:19 AM GMT
luke j Replied:

Poop the bed people. All these scales. . . . . . all these positions. . .. .. ... . I'd like to know the order of scales and positions I'd like to learn. 2nd pos blues I imagine is the 1st....>>> where to next?

Mar 15, 2009 5:53 AM GMT
John P Replied:

Learning the do-re-me scale in first position is goodexercisebecause it has a breath shift. Major pentatonic scale in first is useful to know. No bends in either of those. Blues scale in third position istechnicallyeasier to play than blues scale in second position, and then there's also the major pentatonic (country) scale in second position.

These would be a good place to start. Learn these 5 scales and you canbasicallyget around in 3 positions. AND you will have also learned the breath patterns for 2 morepositionssince the fifth position minorpentatonicscale is the same breath pattern as second position major pentatonic scale, just startng on a different note, and first position major pentatonic is the same as fourth position minor pentatonic, starting on a different note. Btw, addone note (flat 5) to any minorpentatonicscale and you have the blues scale.

So, learning those first 5 scales will actually give you the basic ability to play in FIVE positions if youwantto. None of this is very difficult so long as you are able to hit clean single notes and can bend when necessary. It'sactuallyno moredifficultto learn 5 positions at the same time than it is to learn 2. After first position, none of these positions is any more "advanced" than any other, so it's really no big deal to learn them all at once if you are willing to practice 4 or 5 scales andrememberwhich note to start on for which position..

Do you need/wanttab for any/all of these scales?

Mar 15, 2009 6:02 AM GMT
Oldwailer Replied:

" Do you need/wanttab for any/all of these scales?"

Yeah! Where do I go to get the tabs? Thanks in advance!

Mar 15, 2009 7:49 AM GMT
DutchBones Replied:

" Do you need/wanttab for any/all of these scales?"

I definitely would like to now too! Thanks!

Mar 15, 2009 3:05 PM GMT
John P Replied:

Okay, by popular demand, here they are: (B=blow, D=draw, *=half step bend, **=whole step bend, ***=step and a half bend). Tab is for standard Richter tuned diatonic harmonicas.

1ST POSITION, do-re-mi scale: B4, D4, B5, D5, B6, D6, D7, B7 [note breath shift at D6/D7]

1st position, major pentatonic: B4, D4, B5, B6, D6, B7 [a/k/a "country" scale]

2D POSITION, blues scale: D2/B3, D3* B4, D4*, D4, D5, B6 [D2 & B3 are the same note.]

2d position, minor pentatonic: D2/B3, D3*, B4. D4, D5, B6

NOTE: Playing the blues scale, the 3D* can be bent a quarter tone instead of a full half step for a "blue third." When playing the minorpentatonicscale, a full half step bend at 3D* is needed for a true minor third.

2d position, majorpentatonic: D2/B3. D3**, D3, D4, B5, B6

3D POSITION, blues scale: D4, D5, B6, D6*, D6, B7, D8 [can't get a "blue third' because third is D5]

3d Position, minor pentatonic: D4, D5, B6, D6, B7, D8

4TH POSITION, minorpentatonic:D6, B7, D8, B8, B9, D10

4th position, blues scale: Add B8* to the above, but 4th is not a very "bluesy" position.

5TH POSITION, blues scale: B2, D2/B3, D3**, D3*, D3, D4, B5

5th position, minor pentatonic: B2, D2/B3, D3**, D3, D4, B5

NOTE: Playing minor key blues is easier in 5th than in 3d. In 5th, just don't bend anything but D3, and, for the most part, try to stay away from D5 and D9, except on the V chord.

As a practical matter, pentatonic scales are cool because they are very useful for soloing over a wide variety of material and they are relatively easy to learn on the harmonica.

SUGGESTION: Get a diagram of the notesavailableon the harmonica, look at the notes that are in these scales and figure out how and to what extent each of these scales can be extended above and below what i have tabbed out. Diagrams of Richter tuned harmonicas in all 12keysare available on the Suzuki Harmonicas website.

Hope this is helpful!

Mar 16, 2009 12:55 AM GMT
DutchBones Replied:

Thanks John!

Got them printed out and on the wall above my bed... no... that's not true... because I don't have a bed (I live in Japan remember, we sleep on futons) plus my wife probably would not let me (putting scales on the wall)

I did print it out however and I'm planning to make good use of it. Thanks again!

Apr 06, 2009 10:11 AM GMT
TC Slim Replied:

Loving the 5th position stuff. Thanks for putting the scale up. I was playing it already pretty much anyway. Most the riffs i play in 5th are based around that scale, so it helps to practice them up and down the harp. Good to see it down in text format too.

cheers T

Apr 06, 2009 2:05 PM GMT
AirMojo (Ken H) Replied:

Hey TC Slim, I'm Lovin' 5th too.

Check out Richard Sleigh on YouTube doing "Play With Fire" and "Black Magic Harmonica (Woman)" in 5th... user is: rsleighharp

Another great song for 5th position is "Poor Wayfaring Stranger".

Apr 06, 2009 2:56 PM GMT
BluEyes Replied:

My wife keeps on saying i need to practice my Scale's.. I asked her to explain that to me... DO,ra, me and so on.....

im reading all the post and its seems a bit different.

Im reading John P's notes, im not going to ask any one to explain them to me....

I will make a hard copy and try and figure them out....

Have to go my cat needs something......


Apr 06, 2009 6:05 PM GMT
John P Replied:


The breath pattern for the major pentatonic scale in first position is the same as the minor pentatonic scale in fourth position. Same notes, different starting point, same breath pattern.

The breath pattern for the minor pentatonic scale in fifth position is the same as the major pentatonic scale in second position. Same notes, different starting point, same breath pattern.

Apr 06, 2009 6:29 PM GMT
TC Slim Replied:

Hey Mojo

yeah it was the Sleigh videos that got me started on 5th position. They are great examples, playing the 'help me' riff is a good starting point to in 5th. Will check out Wayfaring Stranger too!


Apr 06, 2009 10:08 PM GMT
Brown Ale Guy Replied:

Jason knows what he's talking about. Just took some time off from playing scales and was rut slipping. Went back to his 3rd position video yesterday and just had a great time working on 3rd position scales while driving about a hundred miles today (also listened to a lot off Ricci, Gruenling and Satan and Adam)

Apr 07, 2009 2:19 AM GMT
dennis m Replied:

Can you please post thatparticularthird position scale site via Jason. Thanks. My best.

Apr 08, 2009 2:14 AM GMT
Brown Ale Guy Replied:

Dennis. I think it was this one:

Apr 08, 2009 11:36 PM GMT
Will Vogtman Replied:

Pentatonics in all 12 positions.

Apr 08, 2009 11:39 PM GMT
Will Vogtman Replied:

Other scale-mode-position relationships.

May 11, 2009 3:16 PM GMT
Bart L Replied:

I have about 30 workshops each year and I tell to my students: "C major is the most important scale (by 3 octaves) for harmonica players!

C D E F G A B C D E F G A B C D E F G A B C D E F...

When you play this from D to D or E fo E you can change style and sound of your music.

C D E F G A B C - great for popular melodies

D E F G A B C D - ballad, blues, irish

E F G A B C D E - spain, oriental music,

F G A B C D E F - I call it "polish highlanders mode" :o)

G A B C D E F G - good for blues or funky

A B C D E F G A - ballads, old fashioned tunes ( check Autumn Leaves)

B C D E F G A B - strange mode, for "half dim" chords like Bmb5 7

So if you practice C major mode, you have no problems with this 7 scales too :o)

Another step is knowledge about harmony, alterations and many many more.

BTW, Take a look basic jazz progressions "II-V-I" and "I-VI-II-V" in C first. Great fun!

May 29, 2009 4:31 PM GMT
blogward Replied:

Been doing Howard Levy's 'leapfrog' triplet scale in 12 keys on a C diatonic for about nine months as a warmup - funny how much better you sound when nobody but you is listening! But while the major scales of B and E are almost more trouble than they're worth in terms of when you're gonna need them - the harp needs to be set up juuussst right - blues scales in Ab, Bb, Eb and F, and the rest, really set your imagination going. Blues in Bb (11th pos. on a C harp) is a gas! Who was it said, 'There are no difficult scales, just unfamiliar ones'?

Sep 22, 2009 6:31 PM GMT
Filip Jers Replied:

Scales is good, its like taking a run in the forest!

i do major, jazzmelodic minor, diminished and augumented scales in all keys. I have been doing it in 3rds, 4ths, 5ths, 6ths and all modal chords in every scale. Its a lot of exercise but really worth it. i have done it on a C chromatic.

i have been working on it for 3 years, and now i know every one.

Major Scale and Jazzminor scale, covers many chords. Almost all. If there is an extra colour on the chord your hear, you can always alter just there.Its nice also to practise Harmonic Minor. But its close to the others.

all di good

filip j

Sep 26, 2009 5:00 PM GMT
Eric S Replied:

I practice the blues scale , and the C major scale from 4 blow up, am using Victor Wootens, non consentration technic, and I have found them easier to internalize, and not such a pain to do, but I would hate to be pulled over while doing this driving, so T.V. is the alturnative. My time is limited for practice but I do some every day.

Eric S

Sep 26, 2009 9:26 PM GMT
walterharp Replied:

for some on this technique Eric mentions about wooten, and lots of other stuff....he says things about Pastorious that I think apply to Jason re overplaying and getting away with it.