Unlock the Secrets of the First and Second Position Harmonica

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Have you ever heard someone play the harmonica and wondered what secrets are hiding behind their technique? Have you ever wanted to know the difference between playing in first and second position? If so, then you have come to the right place! In this article, I will explain what first and second position harmonica playing is and how to unlock the secrets behind it.

What is a Harmonica?

What Is A Harmonica?
A harmonica is a free reed wind instrument that is played by blowing air into the reeds, causing them to vibrate. It is small in size, usually with a range of two to three octaves and is typically made of metal or plastic. It is one of the most versatile instruments and can be used in a variety of genres, from folk and blues to jazz and pop. The harmonica is also known as a mouth organ, mouth harp, or simply harp.

What is First Position?

What Is First Position?
First position is a type of harmonica playing which uses a single key, or ‘hole’, for each note. This means that all the notes are in the same key and are played using the same holes. This makes first position harmonica playing a much simpler style than other types of harmonica playing, such as second position. First position harmonica playing is the most common and basic way to play the instrument and is great for beginners. It is also used in many popular songs and is often used in blues, country, and folk music.

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What is Second Position?

What Is Second Position?
Second Position is a type of harmonic playing technique used on a diatonic harmonica. It is based on a particular arrangement of notes in the scale, and requires re-tuning of the harmonica. Second Position is characterized by playing the same note on different holes, which produces an interesting and unique sound. It is most often used in blues and jazz music, but can also be used in other genres.

Benefits of First Position

Benefits Of First Position
First position is the most common and basic position for playing the harmonica. It is where the notes of each hole are the same as the notes of the corresponding key on the piano. The benefit of the first position is that it is the easiest for beginners to learn, as the notes are the same as what is written in standard notation. The diatonic scale is more limited than the chromatic scale for more experienced players, but the simplicity of the first position makes it ideal for a beginner. It also allows for some basic improvisation, as players can bend and draw notes to create new notes and sounds. First position is also used in blues, folk, and country music, as it allows for a more natural sound.

Benefits of Second Position

Benefits Of Second Position
Second position is a playing style used in blues and jazz music. Commonly referred to as “cross-harp”, it is played on a diatonic harmonica in the key of the song, but a full octave higher than the key the song is in. This allows for a wider range of notes to be played and more complex melodies and chord progressions. The most notable benefit of second position is the ability to play chromatic, or “bent”, notes. This is done by over-blowing or over-drawing the note, which produces a flat, out of key note that adds a unique flavor to the music. Furthermore, second position allows for more bass notes to be played, and combined with the chromatic notes, makes for a much wider range of sounds.

How to Play First Position

How To Play First Position
First position is the most commonly used position for playing the harmonica. This position uses a simple pattern of notes, referred to as a “straight harp”, in which all the holes are played in order. To play in first position, hold the harmonica with the lower row of holes facing the mouth and the upper row facing away. To begin, take a deep breath and blow into the harmonica, using your tongue to make sure the air is evenly distributed across all of the holes. Start with the first hole, then move to the second, third, and so on. As you move up the scale, be sure to alternate between blowing and drawing (sucking in air) while playing. To play a melody, simply change the order of the holes and select which ones to play. For a more precise sound, use vibrato or “bending” techniques. Bending involves changing the pitch of the notes by varying the pressure on the reed. Experiment with different techniques to find the sound you like.

How to Play Second Position

How To Play Second Position

  • Start by learning the basics of single notes and chords.
  • Practice playing in the first position, or straight harp, until you have a good understanding of its key signature.
  • Learn the notes of the second position by familiarizing yourself with the alternate key signatures. The second position is also known as the cross harp.
  • Play the same notes as the first position, but with a different twist. The second position’s notes are a semitone higher than the first position’s.
  • Practice playing scales and chords in the second position. You may find that some chords sound better in the second position than in the first.
  • Explore the second position with different songs and genres. Incorporate the second position into your playing for richer and more varied sounds.

Differences between First and Second Position

First position harmonica is a diatonic harmonica that is played in the key of the instrument. It has a single row of openings and it is the standard major key for 10-hole diatonic harmonicas. On the other hand, second position (or “cross-harp”) is a type of harmonica playing that uses the same instrument, but with a different approach. It has two rows of openings, one for the major key and one for the relative minor key. This allows the player to access a greater range of notes and create different sounds. The two positions also require different techniques, as second position requires more breath control and a greater range of notes. Additionally, second position harmonica playing often involves bending notes, which is not possible in first position.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the benefit of playing the harmonica in first and second position?

Playing the harmonica in first and second position allows the musician to access a wider range of notes, chords and scales. It also allows for the creation of more complex riffs and melodies. Additionally, the ability to switch positions mid-song provides the player with greater creative freedom, allowing them to explore a variety of musical styles and techniques. Finally, playing the harmonica in both first and second position can help a player to become more versatile and develop a deeper understanding of the instrument.

How does playing in first and second position differ from other positions?

First and second position harmonica playing is different from other positions in that it uses a different tuning of the harmonica reeds. When playing in first and second position, the same note is played on different holes, allowing for a more fluid transition between notes and chords, as well as a wider range of sound. It also allows for greater control over vibrato and bending techniques. Additionally, first and second position harmonica playing is more versatile, as it can be used to play in a wide range of musical genres, from blues, folk, and country to jazz, rock, and Latin.

What techniques are necessary to play harmonica in first and second position?

Players must learn embouchure control to play in different positions. To switch from first to second position, the player must press their tongue against the roof of their mouth and blow or draw while keeping their tongue in place. This technique creates a “valve” effect which allows them to play notes in the higher octave. To switch back to the first position, the player must release their tongue and blow or draw without any obstruction. Additionally, players must learn bending, a technique which allows them to change the pitch of a note. By adjusting the pressure of their breath and the shape of their mouth, players can bend notes up and down in pitch. This technique is essential for playing in first and second position.

What kind of music can be played in first and second position?

First position is the most popular key for playing blues, folk, country, and rock music. It is also used for playing jazz, swing, and traditional music. Second position is used mainly for playing blues, jazz, and swing. It can also be used for folk, country, and rock music.

How can I practice playing the harmonica in first and second position?

To practice playing the harmonica in both first and second position, begin by familiarizing yourself with the notes of the different positions. Practice playing a single note at a time and then progress to combinations of two, three, and four notes. Once you are comfortable, try playing simple melodies and progress to more complex ones. Work on your improvisation skills by learning different techniques and playing scales. Additionally, practice with a metronome to improve your timing and accuracy. Finally, practice playing along with recordings of songs to develop your ear and ability to play in time.


Playing harmonica in first and second position allows a greater range of musical expression and provides the player with more techniques. This includes the ability to bend notes, play vibrato, and use cross-harp techniques. With practice and understanding of the different techniques, a harmonica player can master playing in first and second position. Given the wide range of styles and techniques, there is a great potential for creativity and improvisation.

Learning the fundamentals of first and second position playing is essential for any harmonica player. With the right amount of practice and experimentation, a harmonica player can unlock the secrets of playing in first and second position.


About the author

Hey, my name is John Peters, and I’m a co-founder and Jack’s co-editors. My country sole was born when I was not more than 4 years old and my dad brought several country records home. These were the records by Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Asleep at The Wheel, and Neil Young. I fell in love with the genre forever back then. Before entering the university, I managed to gather a collection of over 1200 vinyl records with both classic and modern country releases.

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