Pentatonic Scales in Cross Harp

Originally posted July 2014

Each position has strengths, but cross harp, also known as 2nd position, is so flexible and expressive that it’s worth your time to just live there for awhile, especially in the lower octave, from holes 1-6.

The minor and major pentatonic scales each have five distinct notes, then an octave repeat of the root note. The following examples use a C harmonica.

Minor Pentatonic in Cross Harp

-2	-3' 	4 	-4 	-5 	6
 G	 Bb	C	 D	 F	G

You’ll have to land on the 3 draw in a bent position, lowering it a half-step from the unbent position.

Major Pentatonic in Cross Harp

-2	-3"	-3	-4	5	6
 G	 A	 B	 D	E	G

For this one, you’ll need to land on the -3 draw, bent down a whole step.

Whoa! They’re Really Different!

Our normal minor and major scales, which I refer to as the “Do Re Mi” scales, each have seven notes. A pentatonic scale, by definition, leaves out two of those notes. And major and minor pentatonics leave out DIFFERENT notes.

G minor scale: G A Bb C D Eb F G
G minor pentatonic scale: G Bb C D F G

G major scale: G A B C D E F# G
G major pentatonic scale: G A B D E G

See what I mean?

The minor pentatonic skips the 2nd and the 6th notes of the seven-note Do-Re-Mi scale, which leaves us with notes 1,3,4,5,7,1.

The major pentatonic skips the 4th and 7th notes of the seven-note Do-Re-Mi scales, leaving just 1,2,3,5,6,1.

The High Octave

Major Pentatonic is no problem in the high octave:

6 	-6 	-7 	-8 	8 	9
G	 A	 B	 D	E	G

Once again, that’s root, major 2nd, major 3rd, perfect 5th, major 6th, and the octave. No bends required!

Minor Pentatonic requires an overblow:

6	(6)	7	-8 	-9	9
G	Bb	C	 D	 F	G

We’ve got a root, a minor 3rd, a perfect 4th, perfect 5th, minor 7th, and octave.

To get the minor 3rd, the Bb in the key of G, you need to play an overblow on 6 blow. Overblows are played similarly to blow bends, except they’re played on “unbendable” blow notes on holes 1-6.

Unlike a blow bend, which lowers the pitch, an overblow results in a pitch that’s a half-step higher than the draw note. It’ll help your overblows if you take the coverplates off and adjust your reeds lower into the slot, a procedure called “gapping” or “adjusting reed offset.”

Before you learn to overblow, though, you’ll need blow bends. One way to start is to learn some first position, Jimmy Reed-style blues licks that require blow bends on 8,9,10. Then move the same technique over to the 6 blow in cross harp.

Conclusion

Cross harp is where it’s at. The low octave contains the history of the blues. Gotta get the bends on 3 draw dialed in – a half step for minor, a whole step for major. Learn your major and minor pentatonic scales in the low octave first, then move them up. There’s a strong case to be made for exploring the second octave of the minor pentatonic scale using an overblow on 6. If the lower octave contains the history of the blues, the higher octave may hold the future.

Need help with your bends? Download my bending lesson.

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