Introduction To The 3rd Position Blues

3rd position
Mastering the 3rd Position Blues Harmonica, HarmonicaForAll

The harmonica, a staple in blues music, offers a world of expressive possibilities. One such possibility is the 3rd position, also known as the "slant harp" or "3rd position."

While not as common as the 1st or 2nd positions, this playing style is unique in the blues genre. It allows for a more soulful, expressive sound, adding depth to the music.
The 3rd position harmonica is not just about playing notes. It's about conveying emotion, telling a story, and connecting with the listener on a deeper level.
This article will delve into 3rd position blues, exploring its history, unique sound, and the techniques needed to master it.
Whether you're a beginner or an experienced player, this guide will provide valuable insights into this fascinating aspect of harmonica playing. Let's dive in and discover the magic of the 3rd position blues.

Picture of Eamon - Iman RP

Eamon - Iman RP

Founder of Harmonica For All, Instructor

Mastering the 3rd Position Blues Harmonica, HarmonicaForAll

Understanding the 3rd Position Harmonica, Slant Harp

The 3rd position harmonica is a playing style that involves choosing a specific key. This key is typically minor (Dorian Mode), giving the music a soulful, melancholy tone.

In technical terms, the 3rd position involves playing a diatonic harmonica in the minor third key above its labeled key. For example, if you’re playing a C harmonica, you’d be playing in the key of D minor.

If you begin playing from hole 4 draw, which is D, you’ll be playing the D Dorian mode on the harmonica.

D Dorian mode on the harmonica, HarmonicaForAll


If you want to play the Dm scale, you’ll need to include a Bb note. To do this, you can start from hole 1, but you’ll be missing some notes like F and A, which you’ll need to produce using bending techniques. Therefore, to play Dm from hole 1, you must use three bending notes: F, A, and Bb.

F, A, and Bb, HarmonicaForAll


Understanding the harmonica positions might sound complex, but it’s all about understanding their relationship and the music’s key. Here’s a simple breakdown:

  •  1st position: Playing in the key the harmonica is labeled in.
  • 2nd position: Playing in the key a perfect fifth above the harmonica’s key.
  • 3rd position: Playing in the key, a minor third above the harmonica’s key.

Harmonica Keys & Positions, Harmonica For All


You can use our Key Finder online tool to quickly find positions based on your harmonica key.

Blues players favor the 3rd position for its emotional depth. It allows for a broader range of expression, from the mournful wail of slow blues to the gritty growl of a fast shuffle.

Mastering the 3rd position requires a solid understanding of harmonica techniques. These include bending notes, controlling your breath, and developing a robust embouchure.

It also requires practice and patience. But the reward is a richer, more versatile sound that can truly express the soul of the blues.

The History and Evolution of 3rd Position Playing

The 3rd position harmonica has deep roots in blues music. It emerged as players sought new ways to express the complex emotions of the blues.

Early blues players often used the 1st and 2nd positions. But as the music evolved, so did the techniques. The 3rd position offered a new palette of sounds.

Famous blues players like Little Walter and Sonny Boy Williamson II were known for their 3rd position playing. They pushed the boundaries of what the harmonica could do.

Today, the 3rd position is a staple of blues harmonica. It continues to evolve, influenced by a wide range of musical styles.

The Emotional Tone of 3rd Position Blues

The 3rd position harmonica is known for its emotional depth. It allows players to convey a wide range of feelings.

This position is often used to play minor keys, which are associated with a melancholic or introspective mood.

But the 3rd position is not limited to sad songs. It can also express joy, excitement, and other emotions.

The key is in the player’s technique. With practice, you can use the 3rd position to tell any story you want.

3rd Position vs. 1st and 2nd Positions: What’s the Difference?

The 3rd position harmonica offers a unique sound. It differs from the 1st and 2nd positions in several ways.

The 1st position, or straight harp, is the most basic. It’s where beginners usually start. This position is excellent for playing melodies in the key of the harmonica.

The 2nd position, or cross harp, is a step up. It’s used for playing blues and rock music. This position allows for more note-bending and expressive playing.

The 3rd position takes things further. It’s perfect for playing minor keys and bluesy tunes. It offers a broader range of notes and more complex harmonies.

Here’s a quick comparison:

  • 1st position: Ideal for melodies, key of the harmonica
  • 2nd position: Blues and rock, which allows for note-bending
  • 3rd position: Minor keys, Irish music, and blues, more comprehensive range of notes

Each position has its place. The best harmonica players master all three.

Choosing the Right Harmonica for 3rd Position

Choosing the right harmonica for 3rd position playing is crucial. The harmonica should match the song’s key.

For example, if you’re playing a song in the key of D minor, you’d use a Bb harmonica. This is because Bb is the relative minor of D.

It’s also important to consider the type of harmonica. A diatonic harmonica is often used for 3rd position. This is due to its ability to produce a bluesy sound.

Remember, the right harmonica can make a big difference and help you achieve the sound you’re aiming for.

Techniques for Mastering 3rd Position Harmonica

Mastering the 3rd position on the harmonica requires practice and patience. It’s not something you can learn overnight.

One of the essential techniques is bending notes. This allows you to achieve the bluesy sound characteristic of 3rd position.

Another essential technique is breath control. Proper breathing can significantly affect the sound you produce.

Emphasize embouchure as well. This refers to how you shape your mouth when playing. A good embouchure can help you hit the right notes.

Overblows and overdraws are also used in 3rd position. These techniques allow you to play notes not naturally present on the harmonica.

Improvisation plays a significant role, too. It allows you to express yourself and add your touch to the music.

Here are some tips to help you master these techniques:

  • Practice regularly and consistently.
  • Start slow and gradually increase your speed.
  • Listen to blues music to understand the sound and feel.
  • Record yourself playing to track your progress.
  • Don’t be afraid to experiment and make mistakes.

Remember, the goal is not to play perfectly but to express yourself through the music.

Practicing the 3rd Position: Scales and Exercises

Practicing scales and exercises is crucial for mastering the 3rd position. It helps you familiarize yourself with the layout of the harmonica.

Start with the major scale. This is the most basic scale and a good starting point.

Next, move on to the blues scale. This scale is essential for playing blues music.

Here are some tips for practicing scales and exercises:

  • Practice slowly at first, then gradually increase your speed.
  • Use a metronome to keep time.
  • Repeat each scale and exercise until you can play it smoothly.

Remember, consistency is critical. Practice regularly to see improvement.

Incorporating 3rd Position into Your Blues Repertoire

Incorporating the 3rd position into your blues repertoire can add depth to your music and allow for more expressive and soulful playing.

Start by experimenting with it in your favorite blues songs. You’ll notice a distinct difference in the sound and feel of the music.

Remember, the 3rd position is versatile. Don’t be afraid to use it in different genres beyond blues.


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