What's new on harmonica learning

Do you want to learn how to play harmonica chords? Are you enthusiastic to know how many different chords, or their inversions you can perform - playing in any position - with your instrument? After reading this article, you'll gain a lot more knowledge about the blues harp.

C major and G major chords

Those who take the course of studying harmonica soon find themselves eager to learn the bending technique and to reproduce the solos, especially blues, of famous songs by giant sacred monsters from present and past.

There is an important aspect in playing this small instrument which needs to be cherished; i.e. the harmonica can play up to 10 notes simulteneously. What does this signify? It means that if we can identify precision of the notes in coherrence with various holes; we can certainly play many chords, reversals and shell chords. All these elements will contribute to our immaculate performances ultimately, and hence enabling us to play the harp in a more conscious way or vice versa.

Now, we'll analyze these elements to pinpoint all such holes that are favourable for playing harmonica in the first position. The same evaluation method can be applied for all positions and keys.

To find harmonica chords, we need to focus on the key of the song and then the position to play wherein. For example: a major C chord will be defined as first grade chord if we are in C key, but it becomes fourth grade chord if we change it to G. To grasp this concept, we need to get familiar with some relevant notions of musical theory; e.g. harmonization of scales, in particular.

Suppose we work on a C major song. The notes that comprise C major scale are C, D, E, F, G, A, B. These are also the grades of the scale, where C is the first grade and B: the seventh. To harmonise the scale, we form chords using third, fifth and seventh intervals and using only those notes which are part of the scale. These notes will define the type of chord obtained from each of the seven degrees.

Let's harmonize the C major scale:

A major 7th C chord is created on the first degree with the notes C, E, G and B.

On the second degree, we find a minor seventh D chord with the notes D, F, A and C.

On the third degree, we have a seventh minor E chord with the notes E, G, B and D.

On the fourth grade, we get a seventh major F chord known as F, A, C and E.

At the fifth grade, we find a seventh G chord known as G, B, D and F.

On the sixth grade, we obtain a minor 7th chord known as A, C, E and G.

On the seventh grade, we find a half-diminuished B chord with the notes B, D, F, and A.

If you want to know more about the various chord types, you may refer to my articles about playing harmonica in different positions, where I have explained the function of various intervals among the notes.

Returning to our tonality, the seven chords obtained are the ones we expect to find in the harmonic progression of the C major tune. Depending on the harmonica we pick, we should pay heed as where to find these notes and whether it is even possible to play them together, to generate a chord or a part of it, or rather an inversion of it altogether.

What is an inversion? It simplely means playing the same notes of a chord but with a different stack order. For example; the C major chord formed by the notes C, E and G, can be played as E-G-C or G-C-E too.

Another type of chord (which isn't a real chord) is the one called 'shell chord'. Practically, it is a matter of playing only some important notes like for example: the root note (the fundamental one of the chord), followed by third and the seventh. In case of the seventh major C, we can play C, E and B omitting the fifth grade which is G.

In addition to what we have just reviewed, we can also play chord fragments such as C and E to express a major C (E is the third major of C and it defines the major mode) or C and G to have a bichord that sounds pleasant on both major and minor songs. The missing third - an E in this case - allows this combination of notes to become neutral as well as effective in any context.

We can also play a set of two notes consisting of the root note and the seventh, such as C and B.

As you must have noticed, we have plenty of possibilities and what we have to do now is to figure out how to explore them with diatonic harmonica.

Let me be more precise about a couple of things:

First, in order to make learning easier and simpler, we'll consider only those notes obtained on the harp without tue using of the bending technique, as this isn't going to bring a substantial increase in the number of chords we can play.

Second, those who play harmonica with the tongue blocking technique have more possibilities to play the musical elements mentioned above, since they can simultaneously play notes located on distant holes, while blocking with the tongue those that aren't required to play.

Let's look at the following images, where I have highlighted such holes that allow us to play chords of every degree and their fragments:

First degree chord on harmonica
Second degree chord on harmonica
Third degree chord on harmonica
Fourth degree chord on harmonica
Fifth degree chord on harmonica
Sixth degree chord on harmonica
Seventh degree chord on harmonica

As you can see, if we play in the first position, the chord of grade l and its inversions are all present on the blow holes l to 10.

From the holes 4 to 6 and 8 to 10 draw, we find the second degree chord.

As for the third degree chord we can play root notes and third on blow holes 2 and 3, 5 and 6, 8 and 9 whereas third and fifth on holes 2 and 3 draw.

Of the grade four chord we find only the root notes and the third on holes 5 and 6 draw as well as on holes 9 and 10 draw.

The fifth chord, can be played on the first four draw holes where we can find all the other notes too; we can also play third and fifth on holes 7 and 8 draw.

Of the sixth chord, we only get third and fifth on holes l and 2, 4 and 5, 7 and 8 blow. Of the last degree, we find all the notes on the holes from 3 to 10 draw.

It appears from this analysis that the harmonica, played in the first position, allows us to play many chords and fragments among those that arise from the harmonization of the reference scale.

I conclude this article wishing you lots of good music!


If you want to comment this lesson use the contact form available here.

Leandro Berton
I liked also this theoretical lesson, just bought my harmonica last month and, after following your videos, I can play most of the beginner exercises. I liked also this theoretical lesson, chords are really important. Keep them coming, mate! Cheers from Australia.

Bone Lewis
Thanks as always for the lessons. I'm still working on learning to accpmpany with the harp, but it starts to work right now. I know it's not a simple chugging. Thank you.

Michael Ronnes
Awesome lesson as always! Thanks for sharing, finally getting to learn where the chords are on the harp. Thanks!

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