Spoon Bending – Improve Your 3 Draw Bend

Landing consistently on the 3 draw with a half-step bend is essential for cross harp blues, and it’s especially important if a song is in a minor key. As many have noted, you can play minor over a major song, but you can’t play major over a minor song.

For example, if a song is in E major and you grab your A harmonica to play cross harp, you can either play cross harp major (unbent 3 draw) or cross harp minor (bent 3 draw). Major will sound sweet, minor will sound bluesy.

However, if a song is in E minor, you can only play cross harp minor. Gotta land on the 3 draw with a half-step bend, every time. Playing an unbent 3 draw during a minor key song is the musical equivalent of chewing aluminum foil or scratching a chalkboard with your fingernails.

Ear Training

Building consistency with your 3 draw, half-step bend is a challenge in two parts. Sure, it’s about your bending technique, but it’s also about your ear. If you can’t hum, whistle, or sing the notes you want, you won’t be able to tell if you’re in tune or not. And staring at an electronic tuner is not an option when you’re in the middle of playing a song. You have to know the SOUND you’re aiming for.

This is why Adam Gussow’s “Spoonful” exercise is so perfectly on the money. It’s a dead-simple riff that everybody knows – and if you don’t know it, listen to my demo (or to Howlin’ Wolf or Cream) and after about 20 seconds you’ll have it in your head forever.


-2    -3'    
That spoon   

-2    -3'    
That spoon   

-2    -3'    -2
That spoon - ful

Spoonful, played on C harp
What To Do
Listen to the song, get it in your head, then sing, hum, or whistle that part to yourself. Now try to play it on your harp. The “spoon” part has got to be bent slightly, or it sounds too bright. It just doesn’t sound like the song unless you get that bend. Make it sound like you’re singing it, every time, and you’ll be on your way to a more consistent 3 draw half-step bend.

Surviving An E-Minor Emergency

E-Minor Emergency Scenario

Let’s say the band wants to jam in E-minor. Being a cross harp enthusiast, normally you’d grab an A harp and play 2nd position (cross harp) using the minor pentatonic scale (-2 -3′ 4 -4 -5 6). But when you reach into your bag, all you can find is a C harmonica! Is there no hope?! Must you sit down and give up all that free beer?!

Never fear – you can prepare for this emergency right now, by brushing up on the MAJOR version of the pentatonic scale. We’re going to use a hidden feature of the diatonic scale system to solve this problem…

2nd Position MAJOR Pentatonic Scale

-2 -3″ -3 -4 5 6

On a C harp, second position gives you G major. “Ok,” you say, “but how does playing in G major help me with an E-minor song?” Here’s the secret: because G major is the RELATIVE MAJOR of E minor, they’re basically the same scale. If you are comfortable playing 2nd position MAJOR pentatonic, you’re also covered for songs that use the relative MINOR.

Relative Major / Relative Minor

Relative major and relative minor have a special relationship, where the root note of the minor scale is a step and a half lower than the root note of the major scale. The note E is a step and a half lower than the note G. So if you’re playing the G MAJOR pentatonic scale, it’s exactly the same notes as the E MINOR pentatonic scale. This actually simplifies things for you: the same scale pattern will fit over two different song keys (G major and E minor).

5th Position

Anyhow, if you want to zero in even closer to the perfect Em position, try starting and finishing on E notes – that’s the 2 blow and the 5 blow on the C harp. Now the scale looks like this:

2 -2 -3″ -3 -4 5

You have just learned to play the 5th position MINOR pentatonic scale! It should feel pretty much exactly the same as the 2nd position MAJOR pentatonic scale, it just starts and finishes a little bit lower, and on blow notes. But the notes in the middle lay out the same.

Try it out – grab your C harp, practice the 5th position minor pentatonic scale a few times, then dial up some E minor songs and start jamming. Here are just a few:

E-Minor Song Examples

Come As You Are – Nirvana
Enter Sandman – Metallica
Got My Mojo Workin’ – Muddy Waters
Living on a Prayer – Bon Jovi
On the Road Again – Canned Heat
Riders on the Storm – The Doors
Wish You Were Here – Pink Floyd


Please note, blues scholars, I’m not saying Alan Wilson or James Cotton played 5th position on “On the Road Again” or “Mojo Working.” Interestingly, since much of what they play has a minor feel, you CAN pick up many of their licks in 5th position on a C harp. However, if you want to REALLY get their parts the way they played them, you’ll need an A harp, played in 2nd position. And in the case of Blind Owl’s parts, you’ll need to tune up your 6 draw a half-step. At any rate, I included these two songs because they’re both awesome blues songs for jamming, and 5th position on a C harp gives you some cool sounds in the key of E minor.