3rd Position Quick Start

Thought I’d kick off the new year with a quick primer on third position playing. There’s a lot more to it than this of course, and I’ll write about third position a lot more in the coming year. Meanwhile, if you’ve not ventured into third before here’s a way to get started.

The other day a student asked me how to play the harmonica riff at the start of this JD Wilkes tune.

Turns out JD is playing an A harmonica in second position putting him, and the band, in the key of E. For kicks I improvised along for a short while in third position on a D harp – that’s also the key of E – and it worked out really well.

Third is an extremely useful position for playing very bluesy or minor feeling tunes as you can access a whole minor pentatonic scale in the middle octave without needing any bends.

We’re used to using draw 2 and 6 blow (both G) as our “home” note in second position. Third position uses the draw 4 and 8 (D) instead. Try playing this up and down:

4 5 6+ 6 7+ 8

Sounds pretty cool and is quite simple to learn and play. This is called a minor pentatonic scale. Minor because it’s a minor scale and penta, meaning five, because it’s got five notes.

You can turn the minor pentatonic scale into a blues scale by simply adding the bend on 6 draw.

4 5 6+ 6 6' 7+ 8

That’s really cooking now. Grab your D harp and you can jam along with JD all day long using just those notes and sound great. Enjoy!