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Posted (edited)

Hi all, might be a long post coming up so bear with me!

 

I recently acquired a new-to-me Rochelle and have been enjoying the last week or so, practicing an hour or two a day. I'm working through the beginning of Gary Coover's books Easy Anglo 1-2-3 and Anglo Concertina in the Harmonic Style.

 

I'm planning on setting up a couple lessons with a teacher soon, but wanted to plunk around for a little while first to get a sense of what challenges I might be facing. I have a feeling a lot of my questions will be addressed when it comes time for one-on-one lessons, but this community seems like a wealth of talent and experience.

 

I have some questions that I'd love input / feedback on from a concertina player's perspective - thanks for anything you have to share :)

 

Practice Questions

 

1. What is a good "structure" for an hour-long practice session?

 

Currently I start by playing a few of the "easier" songs from Gary's books to nail in the muscle memory. As they've become easier, I focus on consistent note length, tempo, and general "smoothness". Sometimes I see how fast I can or can't play something.

The bulk of the session is then moving farther "right" in the practice books, getting to the next song down the list that I can't play easily yet. I enjoy that Gary's books seem to slowly introduce new skills with each song - slowly adding the G row, then the pinky finger, and so on.

 

2. Should I be working in music theory time? And is learning to play solely via tablature going to hurt me in the future?

 

I'd like to make sure I'm "learning the instrument" and not just "learning songs". I have experience reading music / playing music from trombone in school for 6-7 years, but this instrument is, well, quite a bit different from low brass.

 

Instrument Questions

 

3. How do I not run out of air?

 

It seems like I'm constantly ending up with the concertina "closed". Maybe it's just the beginner songs I'm playing, but I don't often have enough "pull" time to compensate for how much "pushing" I do. I end up taking "breaths" via the air button between phrases, but this inserts a big pause into the music and isn't very smooth.

 

3a. How do I compensate for the lack of air pressure when using the air button while playing notes?

 

I try to fix #3's problem by using the air button while playing notes, but then whatever note I'm playing loses a LOT of power. I'm not very good at compensating by simultaneously pulling/pushing harder -- is this the right approach?

 

4. One or two of my middle row buttons on the right side sounds very "tinny" when I play it - is this an instrument problem?

 

The fourth button "down" in the right-hand C row has a sloppy buzz to it when I play - is this a function of a relatively cheap concertina, or could this be an instrument repair problem? I could record it tonight if it makes it easier. It's a little disappointing, I must admit.

 

**EDIT**

 

5. Totally forgot to ask - the left side of my concertina sounds SO much louder than the right side. Is this expected?

 

It seems obvious that the deeper notes would be louder than the thinner upper register, but is there a way to compensate for this while playing? Watching youtubes and such, I haven't noticed the low end completely overpowering the high end, but when I sit and play it definitely seems like the low notes are really "in front" of the higher ones.

 

 

That's pretty much what I've been dealing with for a week now. I appreciate any advice y'all might have to share.

Edited by perspiration

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Well you certainly have a good few questions here. No doubt others will chime in, but I'll give it a go.

  1. What is a good structure for a practice session? Sounds like you're on the right track here, but I would not spend too much time playing faster than you can. That can just build mistakes into your muscle memory.
  2. Should you be working in music theory time? I don't know what music theory time is. If you mean playing the notes with the exact same time values as written on the page, then the answer (for Anglo/Irish Trad, at least) is more often than not no. In jigs, not all of the eighth notes have the same time value (the first in any set of three is longer, and the second is shorter). In hornpipes, many of the notes are actually played as dotted. Exactly how much liberty is taken with the time values as written can vary with the player and regional style. A good teacher can work all this out with you. Will tablature hurt you in the long run? As to tablature, i don't know that that is. I don't think I have ever seen concertina tablature.
  3. How do you not run out of air? Depending on the key, you might be ending up too "closed" or too "open." There are a couple of ways to deal with this. First, you can substitute the push D on the inside row, left hand for the pull D on the middle row, right hand. If you are like many beginners, you are using the pull D, and this change to the push D can pave over a lot of "air trouble." Second, you can try to find that happy place in depressing the air button while playing a note that allows you to get the necessary bellows position to play the rest of a phrase. This can be very tricky, especially on an instrument that is not of good quality.
  4. How do you compensate for the lack of air pressure when using the air button during a note? This might be a problem with your concertina. A teacher can say whether in your case it is the instrument or the player. That said, you should not be needing your air button on the overwhelming majority of the notes you play. If you find that you are running out of air no matter what fingerings you are using, you might have bellows or valve leakage problems. A few minutes alone with a friend's good concertina might answer your questions here.
  5. As to the last question, it sounds like your instrument has some mechanical issues. A competent repair person could say if they are reparable. On a decent instrument, buzzes can usually be fixed with some attention to the offending reed or valve.

Good luck.

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Posted (edited)

Hey, welcome to the club! The Rochelle is a great instrument to start with.

 

On the subject of theory and learning the instrument, I'd say that you should treat the tablature as suggestions for how to get started, and that it's incredibly useful in that respect, but you shouldn't be afraid to deviate. Coover's books are excellent, and for someone starting out, they really get you used to the idea of having alternate fingerings for different notes that vary from tune to tune depending on the key and what notes are played around them. Sometimes it makes more sense to play a B on the G row than on the C row, because you need your right hand pointer finger for a C# a beat later, and Coover's tablature will point in the direction of those more efficient fingerings. If I try to sight read a piece that I've never looked at before, I'll probably make poor choices for some of the notes, and it's nice to have someone who's figured it all out beforehand and written it down. But sometimes you might disagree, and that's OK. Once you've got a decent handle on a piece, start substituting notes here and there - play the E with the right hand rather than the left, or make use of that draw G on the accidental row. See if you can play a tune entirely on the G row, and then entirely on the C row, and then with as many swaps as possible. Figure out what feels comfortable for you. Also, while you're playing, try to keep in mind what note it is that's being played, and not just which button. It's easy to fall into the habit of just thinking about them by the row and number. Let the numbers guide your finger to the right place, but then as you sound the note, think to yourself "D", "F#", "A", etc.

 

edit: About the running out of air, I remember having that issue myself for a number of the earlier tunes in Coover's harmonic style book. They've got a lot of C chords happening on the left hand, so get in the habit of pressing down that air button whenever he gives you an F or G chord. Adjusting the pressure just the right amount to keep the volume the same takes practice, but after awhile it just becomes habit, and you'll find you don't even need to think about it any more.

Edited by Mjolnir

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I’m not sure anybody’s really addressed the Theory question. As I understand the question, you’re asking whether to devote all your time to learning to play the instrument, or to devote some time to learning Music Theory: How chords and cadences work, what makes a good melody, countermelody, etc.

 

My answer would be that yes, Music Theory is a valuable thing to know, and it will enhance your playing and make it more fun.

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Posted (edited)

Glad to hear you're enjoying the books! But I'd love to know which tunes you're having air trouble with.

 

I've tried really hard to balance the push and pull whenever possible, but it's not always easy with the Anglo. As beginner you'll initially be playing more slowly with the occasional boo-boo and then restart, so that can certainly eat up a lot of air, especially with chords. You can try shortening the duration of some chords or even leaving some notes out.

 

Also, many folks tend to push harder than they pull, so that might also be a factor.

 

And, speaking of pushing and pulling harder, it's common in the early stages to push too hard trying to force the tune out by brute force - doesn't work that way! But it's only after your fingers and brain are comfortable (weeks, months, years?) that your touch will naturally lighten up, surprisingly so.

 

Sneaking little sips or big gulps of air is an acquired art and at times totally unavoidable. It usually just takes a light touch on the air button and after a while you hardly hear it.

 

But don't worry too much about air when you're learning a tune, comes with the territory of getting it all sorted out.

 

And yes, the left side is usually louder because you're playing more notes. If it's too much, just shorten the duration or leave some out.

 

Excellent comments from Mjolnir about eventually associating the note names with the buttons once you've used the tablature as a crutch to get started. It's just like learning to type (oops, it's called "keyboarding now") - madly frustrating at first, but after awhile your fingers just know where to go.

 

Sounds like you're doing good so far!

 

 

Gary

Edited by gcoover

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Jim:

 

 

 

Will tablature hurt you in the long run? As to tablature, i don't know that that is. I don't think I have ever seen concertina tablature.

 

mr. gcoover here has come up with some pretty handy tablature to accompany sheet music, with right-hand button numbers above the staff and left-hand button numbers below! A line over the number indicates push v. pull.

 

 

Mjolnir:

 

 

 

as you sound the note, think to yourself "D", "F#", "A", etc.

 

This is great advice. I think the Rochelle starter book suggests something similar. A friend of mine also suggested learning how to play the entire instrument chromatically from the lowest note to the highest, and working that until it becomes comfortable. Seems maybe a bit dull, but I can see the use!

 

David:

 

s I understand the question, you’re asking whether to devote all your time to learning to play the instrument, or to devote some time to learning Music Theory....

My answer would be that yes, Music Theory is a valuable thing to know, and it will enhance your playing and make it more fun.

Yes - you have the spirit of my question correct. I'm wondering if theory stuff comes naturally as I learn to play via sheet music, or if perhaps some dedicated extra time would enrich practice and lead to more marked improvements on the instrument -- sounds like that is indeed the case.

 

Thank you for confirming this. I'm not sure where to start with theory besides learning scales and notes, but it would be fun to learn keys/chords so that I could try to transcribe popular music to the concertina, might make it easier to bring to parties :D

 

Gary:

Well hello there!

 

 

But I'd love to know which tunes you're having air trouble with.

I'm only up to the slow air / jig after Shepherd's Hey in Harmonic Style and about as far in Easy Anglo but I think I consistently run out of air on every tune. I refill the bellows after each repeat/before moving on to the next "section" of a tune. I know Irish Washerwoman is especially tough for me because of all the left hand stuff at the beginning, though there is that nice long pull section to even it out some. I'll get specific song titles tonight if you'd be interested - I'm sure it's more to do with my novice playing than with the song arrangements themselves.

 

 

 

it's common in the early stages to push too hard trying to force the tune out by brute force

 

I notice as I'm playing that I'm constantly pushing closed as I move through a "push" section, and constantly pulling throughout a "pull" section - should the bellows generally be moving smoothly in whatever direction I'm playing in, or do I only push/pull when I press the button to sound the note? (as in four quarter notes would be push / push / push / push instead of puuuuuuuuuush)

 

 

 

General side note from practicing yesterday, it's interesting how my brain equates bellow management almost like actual breathing - I start to get nervous and feel suffocated as the bellows get closer to closing all the way, and sometimes feel the same relief as a deep inhale when I refill them! I imagine this goes away with time?

 

Thank you all for the responses. I'm sure I'll keep y'all apprised of my progress and come back with more questions as they arise :)

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Practice Questions


1. What is a good "structure" for an hour-long practice session?



It gets easier the more material you have to practise. When you start, you bang away at the same one or two tunes, but a year later you have a couple of dozen tunes and you can ring the changes. I start by playing a few tunes I know well. Then I spend some time on one or two that I'm working on improving. Then I play some more that I know well, but experiment with alternative fingerings and chords. I include a few scales across the rows in parallel octaves. I don't try to play fast for its own sake. I sometimes concentrate on tunes of a particular type (e.g waltzes) or in a particular key.



2. Should I be working in music theory time? And is learning to play solely via tablature going to hurt me in the future?



Should you be including time specifically for working on theory? Yes, but make sure that it is relevant to what you're playing. If you're playing folk music, you need to understand the common chord progressions and figures, and why they work. It helps you to work out finger and ccompaniments to tunes that you are learning by ear.



Instrument Questions



3. How do I not run out of air?



When you play "briskly" (not "fast") and use short "percussive" notes, you will use less air than when you're playing slowly and with long drawn out notes. To some extent, the problem solves itself as you improve. However, you need to get confident with the air button, tapping it with the side of your thumb now and again when the tune allows. Lots of small "breaths" not one or two big gulps. The air button is the hardest button to learn on the whole instrument, then one day you wonder why it was ever a problem.



3a. How do I compensate for the lack of air pressure when using the air button while playing notes?



Try using the air button percussively, rather than holding it down. Every tune has some natural places where the instrument can breathe. Find them.



4. One or two of my middle row buttons on the right side sounds very "tinny" when I play it - is this an instrument problem?



Possibly a hair or similar in the reed, or the reed catching the plate. The first of these is easily sorted if you are intrepid enough to open the instrument.



**EDIT**



5. Totally forgot to ask - the left side of my concertina sounds SO much louder than the right side. Is this expected?



It may sound louder to you, but it probably doesn't to everyone else. Maybe you're holding the bass notes down longer than you need to and over emphasising them. Maybe you're sitting in such a way that the bass end is pointing more towards you. Maybe you're sitting near to a wall and the sound is reflecting. Most likely (and I had this with my Dipper when I bought it) you've become over-sensitised to a perceived problem that will go away when you stop worrying about it..



I started on a Rochelle. It's a good basic box and will give you a lot of pleasure, but if you're as committed as your post demonstrates, you will probably upgrade as soon as you can. Every box has its foibles.



Play crisply with a light touch, don't aim for fast, and don't aim for very loud or very quiet. Remember, very tune should lift the dancer or help the singer - even if no one's dancing or singing.


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Thank you, Mikefule - that was a very thorough and thoughtful response. I'm hoping to save for a nicer box, maybe by the time I have the pennies in the jar, I'll have hit my limitations on the Rochelle :)

 

I recorded some of the buzzing my right side C row is making - does this sound familiar to anyone?

 

https://drive.google.com/file/d/1ntMv4R3Ctql7IYTDXcvFNxCieXOW3Da2/view

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This is what Wim Wakker told me when I complained about hearing a buzzing sound on my Elise:

"The buzzing noise is caused by the button and lever : You can put a small amount of synthetic grease on the lever where it meets the button. An other option is to glue a thin strip of plastic or even paper on top of the levers. Just make sure there still is enough play in the button/lever joint."

 

The buzzing seems to be a resonance being set up at the lever/button joint. On better concertinas there will be a felt bushing at this point.

 

I found that it went away after I opened up the box and moved the levers around a bit. I did not try the paper or grease solution.

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It looks like every question you asked has been answered. But let me pop in a few thoughts.

 

Music theory will grow on you are you learn new tunes. You find out one is in the key of d, another in the key of g, and depending on how aware of the nuances of Irish Trad your teacher is you will find out some tunes you thought were in minor modes are actually dorian. But let this stuff build up gradually. And these things WILL grow on you gradually. When kids learn music they often learn a new note a week. As far as reading tab or abc's instead of music on staff lines: I'd encourage you to make an effort to read the notes. Right now you are learning if you press such and such a button with such and such a finger it is a g or c or whatever. If you can add the picture of the note on the staff into that learning piece it will benefit you in the long run. You are in the treble staff now, so your trombone memory will fight with you a little bit, but you will get there.

 

I am a great proponent for learning tunes by ear and notes at the same time. I do not sight read well, but having the notes available helps me keep my memory honest.

 

You've also been told that the detailed rhythms played in Irish Trad are usually not printed on the page. We will see a series of notes with exactly the same time value and play them with slight differences. This comes with listening and experience. Every now and then someone tries to "score" an Irish tune with exact notation and it's almost comically hard to read.

 

And you will be using less air as you play faster. That's going to come too. One thing I did when I started out was play every not really loud. A teacher told me once to play a phrase or to of each tune as quietly as your instrument will allow during every practice session. You will give your ears a rest, develop more control of your instrument and a sensitivity that will help you as you continue to play.

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Posted (edited)

I think that if you are interested in theory, you should treat it as a separate subject and dig into that independent of your concertina playing. It's an interesting subject, but can get deep and irrelevant quickly, unless you are composing. Playing, a lot of the theory has been done for you already, and whether or not you understand what's going on can be relatively irrelevant, and as Late says above, you'll stumble into what you really do need to know. That said, understanding what lies beneath what you're doing definitely helps appreciating what you are doing. Some things are as clear as glass, but you don't appreciate them until they're pointed out.

 

I started concertina with a long background in music, and I started learning directly from written music. Now I am glad I did--it's opened some doors for me, both in terms of what I can do on my own now without having to hear things played first, and for playing opportunities, like the year or two I spend playing early music with a viol player, and quartets with some string players (both of which I never anticipated when I started concertina!)

Edited by mdarnton

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