To get a truly bluesy sound on the harmonica, a player must utilize cross-harp playing. Here’s a guide on how to play in cross-harp position (also known as second position) in a blues style on any diatonic harmonica.
1. Begin with a harmonica that’s the 4th from the key of the song. You cannot use a harmonica that’s in the same key as the song, because you won’t be able to get the bluesy sound–cross harping is basically playing the harmonica in a different key than its major scale. If you’re not familiar with music theory, that’s OK–musical scales mark each successive note with numerals. It’s a lot to get into in this little article. You can look at a harmonica cross harp chart (search Google to find one) to instantly find out which harmonica you should use.
2. Breath in more than you blow out. I hate to say breath with the harmonica, but I’m trying to avoid saying “suck,” because you don’t want to suck at the harmonica, right? But that’s what you need to do. Suck ina nd you’ll be playing minor pentatonic notes that sound good with any minor blues progression–you’re playing cross harp! Learn which notes work and which does. As you begin to play cross harp, you’ll probably stick to the left side of the harmonica, as the good, bluesy notes are easier to find, but as time goes on you’ll learn to incorporate the upper register.
3. Use bends. To hit all of the blues notes that you need to use while playing in cross-harp, you’ve got to learn how to bend notes. While sucking in, you’ll be using your mouth and tongue to make the air flow from your mouth to the harmonica smaller–this causes the metal reeds inside the harmonica to distort and lower the note. After a while, you’ll be able to bend notes at will, and you’ll learn that by bending at the 3rd and 4th hole on the harmonica, you can make some amazing bluesy sounds. Keep practicing bends until you can easily perform them on a single harmonica note.
4. Listen to the greats. Artists like Junior Wells, Carey Bell, and especially Little Walter formed the modern harmonica, so you’ll want to listen to them to see how it’s done. Try to copy their harmonica lines as you listen to them, and always carry a harmonica with you so that you can practice some of their licks whenever you get a chance. Incorporate those sounds into your own harmonica lines while cross harping.
Do you have any tips for playing cross-harp harmonica? Post in our comments section below.