1st Position or "Straight Harp"

This and the following page contain basic information on the two most popular approaches to playing the diatonic harmonica, 1st and 2nd Position (also referred to as "Straight Harp" and "Cross Harp").
  • 1st Position or "Straight Harp" - These two terms mean precisely the same thing. We tend to use the more modern term 1st Position here, but both are correct and interchangeable. Most beginners will start with simple songs played in the 1st Position.

  • "C" Harmonica blows a "C" chord- You'll notice if you blow anywhere on the key of "C" harmonica you will get a C chord (C, E, and G notes). Other key diatonic harmonicas are layed out exactly the same, so if you blow into a key of "A" harmonica you will get an A chord (A, C#, and E notes). Exact note layouts for all 12 keys of major diatonic harmonicas are available in the Theory section.

  • 1st Position puts you in the natural key of the harmonica- When you play mostly blow notes on your key of "C" harmonica you will be in the key of "C". If you have a diatonic harmonica in the key of "A", your 1st Position playing would then be in the key of "A". This style of playing is called 1st Position or "Straight Harp".

  • Simple melodies and folk rock style- 1st Position is typically used for simple melodies like "Oh Sussanah" or "Mary Had a Little Lamb" and widely used in a folk rock context, a la Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Bruce Springsteen, and many other singer-songwriters.

  • "1st Position" jamming, emphasize blow notes- If you take any song in a major key and use the same keyed major harmonica (i.e. key of "C" for both), you can instantly jam along with it if you stay in the middle of the harmonica and primarily, but not exclusively stick to the blow notes (Bob Dylan songs, with or without harmonica, are a great place to try this out). Resolution to the key of the music can be found on holes 4 and 7 blow. Remember, chose the diatonic harmonica that is in the same key as the key of the CD or "live" song, or it just won't sound right. If you play only by yourself, the key of harmonica is not important.

The next page contains basic information on 2nd position, the most popular approach to playing the diatonic harmonica for blues, rock, and country. Click here to read about the 2nd Position style of playing.

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