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No More Excuses – Part VII: 1st Position, Part 2

11 October 2011 8,791 views No Comment

By David Barrett

Last issue we explored the standard three chords used in the blues, the I7, IV7 and V7 chords. If you spent the time necessary memorizing those three chords on the C Harmonica and playing the examples to a twelve bar blues jam track, then you’ve already experienced what amazing things it can do for your playing and you’re ready for this new study. If you haven’t, go back and do it. This article will do you no good if you haven’t mastered the basics. The focus of this month is to look at the commonly used ii7 and vi7 chords. These chords will be the most common non-I, IV, V chords you encounter.

Again, grab your C harmonica and let’s dig into blues in the key of C!

Let’s review the notes in the Key of C Major—your task was to memorize this scale in the last lesson.


You also memorized the note layout for the C Harmonica. Here it is again for your reference.

The ii7 chord most frequently precedes the V7 chord, and vi7 chord most frequently precedes the ii7 chord. A common chord progression that uses all of these chords is the I7—vi7—ii7—V7 chord progression. Let’s look at the notes for the ii7 and vi7 chords.

ii7 = D F A C

vi7 = A C E G

Here’s the same information in graph form:

It’s common to come across these chords in their major form. Though they are spelled out in minor when making the chords from the major scale, musicians will change these minor chords to major at will to match a sound they’re looking for in a given progression. This is something you need to be aware of so that you can adjust accordingly.

II7 = D F# A C

VI7 = A C# E G

You can see that the 3rd of each chord (third note of the scale from the root note) is raised a half step to make the chord major, i.e. C and G are raised to C# and G#.

Here’s the same information in graph form:

Below is the same type of chart we used last time to see where these chord tones are found on the harmonica. The first chart shows the minor form of the chords and the second shows the major form of the chords. Spend some time looking at the changes made between these charts; these chords will be presented in both their minor and major forms from song to song. You’ll need to be able to switch at a moment’s notice as you figure out which form is being used in a live situation. As you continue to work on memorizing the chords and where the notes are found on the harmonica you won’t need this chart.

Let’s now look at the I7—vi7—ii7—V7 chord progression and see how knowledge of it can help you. This progression—referred to as Ice Cream Changes—was used in early Doo Wop, Rock, Jazz and Blues, sometimes with the ii7 replaced by IV7. The most basic form of this progression is I—vi—ii—V7. Ballads often change the chords to Imaj7—vi7—ii7—V7. Blues commonly changes all of the chords to dominant 7th chords: I7—VI7—II7—V7. This variation of the progression was first heard in Vaudeville and Rag Blues. There are of course more examples of these chords and their variations, but this will take care of us for what we’ll see out there the most.

You’ll see this progression presented as one chord per measure for the main progression of a song, or as two beats per chord as a nice substitution in measures 11 and 12 for the standard turnaround in jump and swing blues. We’ll go for the version that uses each chord for one measure to give you more time to experiment with each of these chords as you play to the provided backing track. We’ll also choose the dominant 7th version of each chord for our spelling. Examples 1 and 2 below start the process of getting to know these chords one hole at a time on your harmonica. Make sure to do this with the rest of the holes of the harmonica. Give yourself a month of practice on this before moving on.

Ex. 1 – Hole 1

Ex. 2 – Hole 2

You’re now 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 3. As in the previous 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. 3 – Arpeggio Exercise for Holes 1 through 3


I have provided you with a recording in the key of G, so you’ll need a G Harmonica to play along with this track in 1st Position.

Thanks to John Garcia for his help on this article. Thanks to Diane Smith for proofreading.

I-VI-II-VProgressionGHarmonica1stPosition.mp3 | Printable Version

David Barrett




About the Author David Barrett


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