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Dylan harp keys

Christer Svensson has compiled a list of the keys of all the Dylan songs featuring a harp on the official albums. Very impressive work! I haven’t double-checked it, but it seems right.

General remarks

Below is a list of the harp keys used on Dylan’s albums. If the harp key is the same as the guitar or piano or backing group (this is known as first position), I’ll just write the key name. If he’s playing in second (also known as cross) position, or if the song is in a minor key and he’s playing in fourth position, I’ll give you the real key first and then the harp key, divided by a slash. E.g. G means the song is in the key of G using a G harp. G/C means the song is in the key of G using a C harp in second aka crossed position. Eminor/G means the song is in the key of Eminor using a G harp in 4th position. Blues players sometimes use 3rd position, C harp in the key of D for example. I don’t think I’ve heard Dylan use 3rd position, though with the possible exception of the Sly & Robbie song below.

So you’ll use a G harp in 2nd position for playing in D if you want a bluesy sound. Rita May is one example. You can use the G harp in 4th position to play in E minor. That’s the way he recorded Sara. Hurricane is also 4th position, A minor on a C harp. In 1st position the key note is in holes 1, 4, 7 and 10, all blow notes. In 2nd position the key note is in hole 2 draw, and holes 3, 6 and 9 blow. In 4th position the key note is in holes 6 and 10, both draw..

These are the relationships between harp and backing for second, third and fourth positions:

Harp G Ab A Bb B C Db D Eb E F F#
2nd pos D Eb E F F# G Ab A Bb B C Db
4th pos E F F# G Ab A Bb B C Db D Eb

Lately (2009) he seems to be using some minor key harps. I’ve heard Ballad Of A Thin Man in Bb minor with harp and it’s obviously not his standard 4th position stuff. It ought to be either a Lee Oskar Bb natural minor or a Hohner Eb natural minor. They are labelled differently but tuned the same and you get a Bb minor scale when you play in 2nd position. There’s a remote possibility that he’s playing an Ab harp in third position, but I very much doubt it.  

Harp keys by album

BOB DYLAN

You’re No Good: C Dylan sings You’re No Good in C but plays the solo in G on guitar using the C harp crossed. Pretty sophisticated.
Talkin’ New York: G
Man of Constant Sorrow: G
Pretty Peggy-O: G
Gospel Plow: D/G
Baby Let Me Follow You Down: A/D
Freight Train Blues: C.

FREEWHEELIN’

Blowin’ In The Wind: D
Girl From The North Country: Bb
Bob Dylan’s Blues: A/D
Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right: E/A
Bob Dylan’s Dream: G,
Talkin’ World War III Blues: Bb
Corrina, Corrina: F/Bb
I Shall Be Free: G
Honey Just Allow Me One More Chance: G

TIMES

The Times They Are A-Changin’: G
With God On Our Side: C
One Too Many Mornings: C
When The Ship Comes In: G
The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll: E
Restless Farewell: E/A

ANOTHER SIDE

All I Really Want To Do: A
Black Crow Blues: G/C
Chimes of Freedom: G
I Shall Be Free #10: G
To Ramona: C,
I Don’t Believe You: D/G
Ballad in Plain D: D/G
It Ain’t Me Babe: G

BRINGING IT ALL BACK HOME

Subterranean Homesick Blues: A/D
She Belongs To Me: A/D
Maggie’s Farm: G/C
Love Minus Zero/No Limit: E
Outlaw Blues: E/A
On The Road Again: A/D
Bob Dylan’s 115th Dream: G/C
Mr Tambourine Man: F
Gates of Eden: G/C
It’s Alrigh Ma: E
It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue: E

HIGHWAY 61

Like A Rolling Stone: C
Iit Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry: Ab/Db
From a Buick 6: C/F
Queen Jane Approximately: C,
Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues: G/C
Desolation Row: E

BLONDE ON BLONDE

Rainy Day Women: F/Bb
Pledging My Time: A/D
Visions of Johanna: A/D
Sooner or Later: F
I Want You: F
Memphis Blues Again: E/A
Just Like a Woman: E
Most Likely You’ll Go Your Way and I’ll Go Mine: G/C
Temporary Like Achilles: G/C
Absolutely Sweet Marie: D/high G
4th Time Around: E
Obviously 5 Believers: A/D (Charlie McCoy)
Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands: D

JOHN WESLEY HARDING

John Wesley Harding: F
As I Went Out One Morning: F#minor/A
I Dreamed I Saw Saint Augustine: F
All Along The Watchtower: C#minor/E
Frankie Lee and Judas Priest: C/F
Drifter’s Escape: A/D
I Am A Lonesome Hobo: G/C
I Pity The Poor Immigrant: F
The Wicked Messenger: A/D
Down Along The Cove: B/E
I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight: F/Bb

NASHVILLE SKYLINE

Nashville Skyline Rag: C/F&C! Not at the same time, though...

SELF PORTRAIT

Alberta 1&2: G/C
Early Morning Rain: C

NEW MORNING

If Not For You: E

MORE BOB DYLAN GREATEST HITS

I Shall Be Released A/D
You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere G
Down in the Flood: G/C

PAT GARRETT AND BILLY THE KID

Billy 1: G
Billy 4: A

DYLAN

Lily Of The West: A minor/C
Can’t Help Falling In Love: E/A

PLANET WAVES

On A Night Like This: F
Tough Mama: D
Hazel: E
Something There Is About You: G
Forever Young: D
Forever Young: G/C
Wedding Song: D minor/F (song in Am)

BEFORE THE FLOOD

Don’t Think Twice: C
Just Like A Woman: G/C

BLOOD ON THE TRACKS

Tangled Up In Blue: A
Simple Twist Of Fate: E/A
You’re A Big Girl Now: G
Idiot Wind: G
You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go: E
Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts: D/G
Shelter From The Storm: E

DESIRE

Hurricane: A minor/C
Isis: Bb/Eb
Oh Sister: G
Joey: G/C,
Black Diamond Bay: G
Sara: E minor/G

BUDOKAN

Love Minus Zero: D
Just Like A Woman: E

SAVED

What Can I Do For You: Eb
Are You Ready: G/C

SHOT OF LOVE

In The Summertime: A
Every Grain Of Sand: Eb

INFIDELS

Jokerman: Bb/Eb
Licence To Kill: F#
Man Of Peace: Bb/Eb
Don’t Fall Apart On Me Tonight: C/F

REAL LIVE

It Ain’t Me Babe: G
Tangled Up In Blue: A
Girl From The North Country: G

EMPIRE BURLESQUE

Dark Eyes: G

DOWN IN THE GROOVE

Let’s Stick Together: A/D
Death Is Not the End: A
Ugliest Girl in the World: A/D
Shenandoah: G

OH MERCY

Everything Is Broken: E/A
Man in the Long Black Coat: F#minor/A
What Was It You Wanted?: C#minor/E
Shooting Star: E

UNDER THE RED SKY

Unbelievable: E/A

BIOGRAPH

I’ll Keep It With Mine: C
Percy’s Song: D/G
Mixed-Up Confusion sounds like F#/B on my record-player; was probably recorded in G/C like the version issued on 45rpm
I Don’t Believe You: E
Visions Of Johanna: A/D
You’re A Big Girl Now: E
Abandoned Love: G
It’s All Over Now Baby Blue: D
Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window: G/C, Isis: A/D
Up To Me: E
Baby I’m In The Mood For You: G

BOOTLEG SERIES

He Was A Friend Of Mine: D
Man On The Street: G/C
Talkin’ Black Mountain Picnic Massacre Blues: G
Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Willie: C
Talkin’ Hava Negeilah Blues: G, Kingsport Town: C
Walkin’ Down The Line: G
Walls Of Red Wing: G
Paths Of Victory: Bb
Talkin’ John Birch Paranoid Blues: G
Only A Hobo: G
Moonshiner: E, Suze: E
Mama, You Been On My Mind: E
Farewell Angelina: G
Subterranean Homesick Blues: A/D
If You Gotta Go, Go Now: G/C
Like A Rolling Stone: Db, It Takes a Lot to Laugh, it Takes a Train to Cry: Ab/Db
If Not for You: G
Wallflower: sounds like a low F#, probably recorded in G
Tangled Up in Blue: E
Idiot Wind: E/A
If You See Her Say Hello: E
Golden Loom: G/C, Catfish: G/octave low C (Hohner 12- or 14-hole Marine Band) played by Sugar Blue
Someone Got a Hold of My Heart: B
Lord, Protect my Child: G
Foot of Pride: B

GOOD AS I BEEN TO YOU

Sittin’ on Top of the World: E/A
Tomorrow Night: F

WORLD GONE WRONG

Stack A Lee: C

MTV Unplugged

Shooting Star: E/A
Rainy Day Women: E/A
Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door: A/D

TIME OUT OF MIND

Trying To Get To Heaven: Eb/Ab

Bootleg Series 4: Live 1966

She Belongs To Me: C/F
4th Time Around: E
Visions of Johanna: A/D
It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue: D
Desolation Row: D
Just Like A Woman: F
Mr Tambourine Man: E
I Don’t Believe You: E
Baby Let Me Follow You Down: A/D
Like a Rolling Stone: C

Live 1961-2000

To Ramona: D
I Don’t Believe You: E
It Ain’t Me Babe: C

Bootleg Series 5: The Rolling Thunder Revue

It Aint Me, Babe C
Isis A/D
Mr. Tambourine Man C
Simple Twist Of Fate G
Its All Over Now, Baby Blue C
Love Minus Zero C
Tangled Up In Blue G/C
Oh Sister G
Hurricane Am/C
Sara Em/G

Bootleg Series 6: Concert at Philharmonic Hall

The Times They Are A-Changin’ G
Spanish Harlem Incident G
Talkin’ John Birch Paranoid Blues G
To Ramona D
Gates of Eden G
If You Gotta Go, Go Now G
It’s Alright Ma G
I Don’t Believe you D/G
Mr Tambourine Man E
Talkin’ World War III Blues G
Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right E/A
The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll E
Silver Dagger GWGOOS - C It Ain’t Me Babe G
All I Really Want To Do C

The Bootleg Series, vol 7: No Direction Home

This Land Is Your Land: G/C
Sally Gal: G  with lots of lovely draw chord chugging on the D sections
Man Of Constant Sorrow: G
Blowin’ In The Wind: D
When The Ship Comes In: G
Mr Tambourine Man: E
Chimes Of Freedom: G
It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue: D
Maggie’s Farm: D/G
It Takes A Lot To Laugh: Ab/Db
Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues: G/C
Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat: A/D
Memphis Blues Again: E/A
Visions Of Johanna: A/D
Like A Rolling Stone: C
Carnegie Hall The Times, They Are A-Changin’: G
With God On Our Side: C

Modern Times

Spirit On The Water: Bb/Eb

45 rpm

Mixed-Up Confusion: G/C, Corrinna Corrinna: F/Bb

If You Gotta Go, Go Now: G/C

Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window: G/C

George Jackson: G, both acoustic and big band version

Rita May: D/G

Angels Flying Too Close To The Ground: A

Other albums

Bangla Desh:
ITALTLITATTC: G/C
BITW: G
MTM: E

A Vision Shared:
Pretty Boy Floyd: G

Traveling Wilburys 1:
Handle With Care: G

Traveling Wilburys Shes My Baby:
Runaway: Bbminor/Db
Nobodys Child: Eb

Traveling Wilburys 3:
If You Belonged To Me: D

For Our Children:
This Old Man: C

Dylan as harp sideman

Carolyn Hester:
Ill Fly Away: E/A (both published takes)
Swing And Turn Jubilee: G
Come Back Baby: A/D (both published takes)

Harry Belafonte:
The Midnight Special: A/D (both published takes)

Three Kings And The Queen, with Big Joe Williams:
Sitting On Top Of The World: A/D
Wichita: A/D
Kings And The Queen Volume Two:
Big Joe, Dylan And Victoria: G/C
Its Dangerous: G/C

Jack Elliott (Riverside Radio):
Acne: B (slowed down on CD, was C on original tape)

Jack Elliott:
Will The Circle Be Unbroken: D

Dick Farina & Eric von Schmidt:
(not absolutely certain if Dylan plays harp here)
Glory, Glory: G/C (two harps heard)
Overseas Stomp: C (prob. Eric)
You Can Always Tell: A/D (two harps heard)
Xmas Island: C/F (two harps heard)
Cocaine: C/F (two harps heard)
London Waltz: C and C/F (two harps heard, no harp behind Erics and Dicks vocals)

David Bromberg:
Sammys Song: Bb

Doug Sahm & Band:
Me And Paul: E/A

The Sir Douglas Band Texas Tornado:
Tennessee Blues: G

Roger McGuinn:
Im So Restless: G

Booker T & Priscilla Jones Chronicles:
The Crippled Crow: G

David Blue Comn Back For More:
Who Love: E (Kreag Caffey?) and E/A (Bob?)

Keith Green So You Wanna Go Back To Egypt:
Pledge My Head To Heaven: G

Sly & Robbie Language Barrier:
No Name On The Bullet: A/G
(Im almost sure, but hes very low in the mix)

Warren Zevon Sentimental Hygiene:
The Factory: G

Nanci Griffith Other Voices, Other Rooms:
Boots Of Spanish Leather: A/D

Books

There’s a book by Amy Appleby called The Harp Styles Of Bob Dylan, which contains harp tabs to Blowin In The Wind, Don’t Think Twice, Baby, I’m In The Mood For You, Rainy Day Women, Just Like A Woman, I Want You, I Shall Be Released, All Along The Watchtower, I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight, Simple Twist Of Fate, Dark Eyes and What Was It You Wanted.


Feel free to ask me if something is unclear.

Christer Svensson