Third Position Beginner Riffs

Playing in more positions than just second position is a great way of becoming more versatile. One of the first positions to work on then is third position. I think getting to know the scales and chord tones of the new position you are working on is very important but learning a few riffs can get you started quicker. Here I have collected some third position beginner riffs to get you going.

Descending riff

First off we have a nice decending riff that uses the blues scale and resolves on the root note.

third position beginner riffs - descending riff

Descending riff resolving on root.

You can listen to it here in 70 bpm.

Ascending riff

Here is an ascending riff for you that moves from the root note to the root note one octave higher.

third position beginner riffs - ascending riff

Ascending riff from root to root.

Listen to it here in 70 bpm.

V-IV-I-tunraround riff

Handling the V-IV-I-tunraround can feel a bit akward in a new position so it is a good thing to have one in your arsenal to begin with. This one has quite a standard feel to it and is quite easy to play.

third position beginner riffs - V-IV-I-turnaround

IV-IV-I-turnaround riff.

You can listen to it here in 70 bpm.

Summary

These third position beginner riffs won’t make you an expert third position player but they will definately give you a place to start. In later articles I will focus on how to build your riff bank further and how to reuse what you already know in second position. To get inspiration for playing third position, Little Walter is a good idea to listen to.

If you are looking for second position riffs you can also find them in previous articles, beginner riffs, V-IV-Is, turnarounds and buildup riffs.

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Exploring minor blues, third position and rhumba

A few years ago I got very interested in minor blues as it is something we blues harmonica players tend to shy away from. Some people even think you cannot play blues over a minor chord progression.

This is of course incorrect but I can kind of see why people get the idea. If you are a player who always play in second position and have tried playing a solo when the band is in minor you probably noticed that some of the riffs you usually use weren’t working as well. This leads people to believe that blues and minor don’t mix or that it is too difficult to bother with.

Understanding minor blues

When I started thinking about minor blues it was quite apparent that it wasn’t the fact that the chords were minor that was the problem. The blues scale is based on the minor pentatonic scale so a minor key should be no problem at all. After thinking about it for a while i realised that it was the minor third that was causing most players problems in second position. Playing a minor third over a major chord sounds really bluesy, even if the tone is not 100% in pitch. For example playing the 3-draw half step bend a little sharp (maybe just a quarter note bend) over the I-chord is perfectly alright. You can also play the 3-draw unbent which then matches the chord without being part of the blues scale. This means that you will rarely be really off in 2nd position.

Over the I-chord all blow notes are chord tones so that is pretty easy as well in 2nd position. The V-chord is trickier but most people handle it by using standard V-IV-I licks.

Second position challenges in minor blues

If we look at minor blues the minor third now becomes a chord tone as well as a blues scale note. Since it is a chord tone you really want it in tune, too sharp or even 3 unbent will not be any good and certainly not bluesy. Looking at the iv-chord the 2-blow will no longer be a chord tone, in fact unless you have mastered overblows the minor third is not available. This also means that all full blow chords are out which takes away some of the power of 2nd position. Even the draw 1-3 chord which is very commonly used won’t work because it is the major chord.

Third position

What you can do is stay away from the chords, 2 blow on the I-chord and make sure to play 3 draw half step bend in pitch. Or you can do what I did and opt for third position. Why is third position good for minor blues? Well simply put the minor third is quite easily accessible meaning that you won’t get in so much trouble playing it. In fact, the blues scale on holes 4-8 is dead simple and you only have to bend for the minor fifth. Here is what it looks like:

4 5 6+ 6′ 6 7+ 8 (Root, minor third, fourth, minor fifth, fifth, minor seventh)

It is a bit trickier in the low octave but it is not impossible:

1 2” 2/3+ 3”’ 3” 4+

Basically, if you stay above hole 3, third position is very easy and you can always develop the lower octve later.

Now, there are some misconceptions about third position. Some people think that third position is exclusively for minor songs and that is not true. You are playing the same scale so it’s not a specific minor scale you are playing. Third position works just as well over a major chord progression. I think this misconception comes from the fact that it sounds a bit darker playing in the third position but that comes from the fact that the minor thirds are more easily controlled.

Exploring rhumba

Another thing I wanted to explore at the same time was blues rhumbas so I chose to write a rhumba in third position. You can check it out below. If I had written the song today I may have included a part where I play the very well known rhumba riff you often hear as backup.

Check out my “music video” on YouTube!

Reap what you sow blues harp in Dm on a C-harp.

All in all going outside what I usually play was a great learning experience and I recommend i to everyone.

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