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No More Excuses – Part VI: 1st Position, Part 1

29 July 2011 7,125 views No Comment

By David Barrett

We’ve finished 2nd and 3rd Positions, so it’s time to move to our last most common blues harmonica position—1st Position. Again, let’s start with the basics—which notes match the three blues chords for each hole on the harmonica in 1st Position. This is your first step in moving from being an intuitive player to a purposeful player. This knowledge is also imperative for accompaniment playing. Grab your C harmonica and let’s dig into blues in the key of C.

We’ll start by listing the notes in the Key of C Major. Memorize this scale.


The three chords used for the twelve bar blues progression are as follows. Memorize these chords.

I7 = C E G B-flat

IV7 = F A C E-flat

V7 = G B D F

Here’s the same information in graph form:

Chord Root 3rd 5th Flat-7th
I7 C E G B-flat
IV7 F A C E-flat
V7 G B D F

Now here’s the note layout of the C Harmonica. Memorize this.

These notes can be found by playing the following holes. As you continue to work on memorizing the chords and where the notes are found on the harmonica you won’t need this chart.

Hole = 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
I7 1+ 2+ / 2 3+ / 3’ 4+ 5+ 6+ 7+ 8+ 9+ 10”+ / 10+
IV7 1+ 2” 3” 4+ 5 6 7+ - 9 10 / 10+
V7 1 2” / 2 3 4 5 6+ 7 8 9 / 9+ 10’+

Here’s the twelve bar blues progression for reference:

There are some challenging bends involved in the following exercises. Take your time and dial in your half step bends to make sure you’re playing in tune—this is imperative if you want to sound good. A bend slightly out of pitch is very dissonant—and in the end is the wrong note.

The following three examples are presented in the common Charleston accompaniment rhythm.

Ex. 1 – Hole 1


Ex. 2 – Hole 2

Ex. 2 – Hole 3

Follow this process for each hole on the harmonica. Also experiment with different combinations. Notice how Example 2 used the 2 draw for the I7 Chord (fifth of the chord)—you can also choose to play the 2+ (third of the chord). Explore these options. It’s important to say the note names in your mind as you play them. As I play the I7 Chord I’m talking to myself, saying “1 blow… C… C is the root note of the one chord.” For the IV7 Chord I say “1 blow… C… C is the 5th of the four chord.” For the V7 Chord I say “D… D is the fifth of the five chord.” This is essential to this study… don’t skip this.

Did you notice that the I7 Chord in 1st Position is the same as the IV7 Chord in 2nd Position? If yes, then you also noticed that the V7 Chord in 1st Position is the same as the I7 Chord in 2nd Position. You’ve already done 2/3 of the work needed for 1st Position!

Now that you’ve spent a couple of days per hole on the harmonica (expect this to take about a month’s time of daily practice) you’re ready to move to arpeggio playing (playing the whole chord one note at a time). I’ve done this for you on the first three holes for Example 4. Like in the pervious examples, I’m not providing the rest of the holes for you—YOU must do this. YOU must work on these yourself to get your brain engaged in this process. Reading the music notation is of no help—YOU need to be part of the creation process.

Ex. 4 – Arpeggio Exercise for Holes 1 through 3


In our next issue we’ll explore the ii7 and vi7 chords.

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David Barrett


About the Author David Barrett


David Barrett Plays Hohner Harmonicas & MegaTone Harmonica Amplifiers

www.hohnerusa.com & www.megatoneamps.com

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