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A Lesson on the 4th Position Minor Scale
In this lesson, I’m presenting harmonica technique suggestions for how to approach the song Rock Lobster, by The B52s, using the 4th position scale. I’ll let you work out the riff using your ear.
Harmonica Key: G or E
If you’re jamming with a guitarist in standard tuning, they’ll probably start on the open 6th string and play in the key of E minor. To play along, you’ll need a G harmonica. When you play 4th position on a G harmonica, that gives you the key of E minor.
On the other hand, if you’re playing along with the original B52s recording, you’ll need an E harmonica. 4th position on an E harmonica is the key of C# minor, which is a weird key for guitar, but The B52s are a quirky band, and on the original recording of “Rock Lobster,” it sounds like they used a detuned baritone guitar to get a chunkier sound. Egad! Pick up an E harp.
4th Position Minor Scale
Rock Lobster is basically a surf-guitar freakout, leaning toward the spectrum of surf rock that favors haunting minor and Middle Eastern sounds. How do we do that on harmonica? To start with: learn fourth position.
Fourth position is the easiest way to play the “natural minor scale,” also known as the “Aeolian mode.” Here’s the low octave (my favorite):
-3" -3 4 -4 5 -5 6 -6
Here’s the high octave (no bends required!)
-6 -7 7 -8 8 -8 9 -10
Putting It Together: Use Your Ear
The first part’s easy, the rest is trickier. Just play the first three notes of either scale, then walk back down. That’s the beginning of the riff. You’ll have to jump a little higher in the next phrase.
Hum, whistle or sing the riff to yourself, and try get the sound of it really clearly worked out with your voice. Consult the original recording to keep yourself honest, but remember, if you’re playing along with the original, you’ll need an E harp, and you’ll probably sound an octave higher than the guitar.
This file is the author’s own work and represents his interpretation of this song. It’s intended solely for private study, scholarship or research.