Music Theory for Harmonica Players Part 14 – Playing the Changes, 3rds and 5ths

Last time we played along with a 12 bar blues by matching the root notes. This time we’re going explore 3rds, and 5ths. We’ll cover the b7th notes next time as they need to be used a little more carefully.

Back in part nine and part ten we looked at the notes that build the chords we need and came up with this diagram.

And of course, here’s our trusty harmonica diagram) which you no longer need because you’ve memorised it, yes?).

And for the sake of completeness here’s the diagram of the 12 bar blues structure we’re playing in.

Since we’ve already explored the root notes let’s start with the thirds. Looking at our chord chart we can see that the third note of our G (I) chord is B.

I’m sure that without looking at the diagram you know that B is available on the 3 draw, 7 draw, and 10 half-step blow bend. That 10 hole bend is a pain to hit right and in all honesty, doesn’t sound great in this context so we can ignore that. So for our I chord we can pick either 3 draw or 7 draw.

The third note of the C (IV) chord is E. That’s available on 2 blow, 5 blow and 8 blow.

The third note of the D (V) chord is F#. This note requires some decent bending chops to hit cleanly. It’s only available on the 2 draw half-step bend and the 9 blow bend. (Note: Remember that Gb is the same note as F#. You can refer to the post on the chromatic scale if you need a refresher.)

Now that we’ve identified all of our thirds, we can see how they sound played over the 12 bar blues progression.

Here’s that video we were using for a backing track last time. We’ll use it again.

In the example below I’m playing 3 draw (B) over the I chord, 2 blow (E) over the V chord and 2 draw half-step bend (F#) over the V chord.

Pretty neat right? There’s a little more tension this time because we’ve moved away from the root note, but each 3rd fits quite well and would work great as part a lick.

We can do the same thing for 5ths. First, let’s identify the notes and where they are on the harmonica.

The fifth note of the G (I) chord is D. That’s on 1 draw, 4 draw and 8 draw.

The fifth note of the C (IV) chord is G. That’s on the 2 draw, 3 blow, 6 blow and 9 blow.

The fifth note of the D (V) chord is A. That’s on 3 draw whole-step bend, 6 draw and 10 draw.

In the example below I’m playing 1 draw (D) over the I chord, 3 blow (G) over the IV chord and 3 draw whole-step (A) over the V chord.

That sounds pretty good. In fact, the fifths sound like an even better match than the thirds.

Have fun experimenting with this. Don’t forget to try all of the notes available for each chord. Some will sound better than others. In this context, it’s usually the lower holes that sound best, but it’s important to be aware of the notes in the higher registers too because you’ll need them down the road.

Next time we’ll look at the b7th notes.