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Harmonica Key Chart

Definitions:

Concert Key: This is the key that the band is playing in. You will also be playing in this key, but you may be using a different key of harp.

Straight Harp - Easy! the band plays in E then you use an E harp. No calculations needed. Straight harp is good for down home delta blues on the low side of the harp and shrill (but cool) Jimmy Reed style stuff at the high end. It tends to be simplistic and there are not a whole lot of good bend notes. Some of the usual bends used in cross harp are not available.

Cross Harp (2nd Position): This means to play in harp whose key is a fourth above the concert key. If you want to play cross and the band is playing in the key of A you count up on your fingers, 1-A, 2-B, 3-C, 4-D. So you use a D harp. Cross harp is the standard way of playing Chicago style blues. Lots of good notes and bends are easily found. Bend all the notes from 1 to 6 and they sound cool. There are very few bad notes in cross harp.

Slant Harp (3rd position): I have only rarely heard of third position being called slant harp, but it's a neat name, so I'll keep it. The slant harp concert key is one above the harp key. So if the band is playing in D step down 1 to a C harp. Slant harp has a minor sound to it and is good for minor blues. This is because the flatted third is available to the player without a bend. Always bend the 2 and 3 holes. All draw notes sound good. Don't blow until you are out of air.

How to use the chart. 1) decide if you are using 1st, 2nd or 3rd position. 2) go to the matching Concert Key column, 3) go town the column until you find the key that the band is playing in. 4) go to the left most column to find the corresponding harp key.

Harp Key
(This is the key that's
stamped on the Harp)
Concert Key
Straight Harp
(First Position)
Concert Key
Cross Harp
(2nd Position)
Concert Key
Slant Harp
(3rd Position)
A A E B
B-Flat B-Flat F C
B B F-Sharp D-Flat
C C G D
D-Flat D-Flat G-Sharp (A-Flat) E-Flat
D D A E
E-Flat E-Flat B-Flat F
E E B F-Sharp
F F C G
F-Sharp F-Sharp D-Flat G-Sharp (A-Flat)
G G D A
G-Sharp (A-Flat) G-Sharp (A-Flat) E-Flat B-Flat

 

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