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Choosing A Concertina: 20 Or 30 Buttons?

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#1 Nejrinni

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Posted 25 November 2016 - 12:14 PM

So I finally made up my mind to get a squeezebox for song accompaniment. I've never played one before, so I figured out an Anglo would be the easiest choice for a folksy beginner. However, I'm still in doubt whether I should opt for a 20-button or a 30-button model.

To be more precise: I'm aiming for good old folklore sound - think Peter Bellamy, A.L.Lloyd , Roy Harris etc., shanties, ballads and all that. Nothing fancy, just some basic accompaniment. Also, I'm a woman with a rather high-pitched voice, and I'm mostly planning to accompany myself but could do with a small band (say, a concertina, a tin whistle and two singers). What would you recommend? 20 or 30?

Thank you very much in advance.

#2 Dana Johnson

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Posted 25 November 2016 - 02:49 PM

30 has a lot more possibilities regarding keys available to you, but I would seriously consider what your comfortable singing keys are before making any choice. A Twenty button locks you fairly closely to the home keys of the instrument, so it is important to make sure those are in your preferred range. A lot of church hymns are written in keys that keep me having to jump octaves, and the ones in keys I sing well, everybody else has trouble with. I don't know if 20 buttons come in the variety of key pairs that 30 button concertinas do, but there should be some choice.
30 or 30+ button concertinas are basically chromatic through most of their range, and while each key pair c/g, Bb/f, Ab/Eb, g/d etc. has keys that are easier to play in right from the start, if you want to sing in a key not named by the rows, it will only take you a little while to work out the new scale and chords you want to use. It is perhaps better to think about the general range of the instrument. A higher pitched instrument might not be a good accompaniment for a high voice, and a low one like a g/d might give you more notes in a useful range for accompanying your singing without competing with it.
you might try singing along with recordings of your preferred examples, and try to find out what they play. Finding your ideal concertina may be difficult since some keys like G/D, C/G are more common than others, Some hybrid makers could probably make a concertina in the keys of your choice, better concertinas you'd need to get on someone's list for. Inexpensive starter instruments like the Rochelle might give you some idea of how to work with it with your singing, but the better an instrument you buy, the more rewarding it will be to play. A lot of people who play to accompany singing have Lachenal concertinas which generally have a mellow tone that goes well with the voice and don't cost the fortune good Wheatstones, Jeffries and Crabbs. They often have noisy actions, but it is rarely a problem accompanying singing, which is usually a slower pace of play.
I hope you can find something you like. It is hard to beat a concertina for a ballad or shanty.
Dana

#3 StuartEstell

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Posted 25 November 2016 - 02:51 PM

If your budget will run to it I'd say go for a 30. For song accompaniment you will have access to a far greater variety of chord voicings with a 30. You can accompany successfully on a 20-button (I used to drag out a nice Lachenal 20-key G/D when singing Miss Otis Regrets!), but they are by definition fairly limited.

 

It's also worth thinking about what keys you like singing in - that may influence whether you choose an instrument in C/G or G/D. If you really want that Bellamy sound you may want a 31-key -- i.e. with a thumb "drone" note.

 

(Edit: I see Dana just beat me to it  :) )


Edited by StuartEstell, 25 November 2016 - 02:52 PM.


#4 DickT

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Posted 25 November 2016 - 04:22 PM

For better access to more keys you might consider an English. Peter Bellamy used Anglo but A L Lloyd was accompanied by an English, afaik. Damien Barber uses English. It might depend on your affinity for or adaptability to the push/pull of the Anglo or the one key, one note of the English. I started with an Anglo, a very good Jeffries Bb/F, but could not get on with the push-pull. As soon as I tried an English I took to it straight away and have played EC ever since. There is an opinion that the EC is unsuited to dance music or punchy songs since it lends itself to legato playing but this is a myth; take Alistair Anderson's advice and treat the buttons as if they were red hot, get on and off them quickly and your music will be as bouncy as any Anglo. If you can, try both systems before deciding. I hope this helps.

 

Dick.



#5 BW77

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Posted 26 November 2016 - 04:23 AM

You have got one answer here http://www.concertin...showtopic=19203even though that topic dealt with the possible "need" for a 30 key Anglo playing trad Irish. For your declared intentions playing shanties and so on you seldom use/need but the simplest chords in home keys so you ought to get along pretty fine with 20 keys. You definitely don't need 30 but IF you absolutely want some additional half notes pick a 26 key instead and you do not need the"fast action" or loudness of a "top quality" model either. One alternative not mentioned if you want a cheap but good enough  chromatic instrument is a simple/small type  wooden ended Maccann or Crane duet. The "noisy action" Dana mentioned with cheaper line instruments often is just a matter of end plate button holes not being bushed and that can easily be fixed.



#6 Anglo-Irishman

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Posted 26 November 2016 - 05:06 PM

Hi, Nejrinni,

For what it's worth, I began concertina accompaniment of my own singing with a 20-button East German C/G concertina. I got on very well with it, The chords and arpeggios you need for accompaniment in the two home keys are pretty instinctive. I must add that I'm a baritone, and can sing most shanties, forebitters and other folk songs, and hymns in C major; those that I can't, I can almost always sing in G major. I don't know how high your voice is, but if you sing an octave higher than I do, C/G would fit you, too.

 

Later, I bought a 30-button C/G Anglo, and continued playing my accompaniments in C or G. When I branched out into instrumentals, I stayed in C and G, but found that I could work out much more sophisticated arrangements than I could with 20 buttons. This realisation also improved my accompaniments.

 

Hope this helps,

Cheers,

John



#7 BW77

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Posted 28 November 2016 - 07:26 AM

Later, I bought a 30-button C/G Anglo, and continued playing my accompaniments in C or G. When I branched out into instrumentals, I stayed in C and G, but found that I could work out much more sophisticated arrangements than I could with 20 buttons. This realisation also improved my accompaniments.

 

Hope this helps,

Cheers,

John

Ok...but do you ever use the 4 buttons making the difference from a 26 ? 



#8 wayman

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Posted 28 November 2016 - 09:58 AM

 

Later, I bought a 30-button C/G Anglo, and continued playing my accompaniments in C or G. When I branched out into instrumentals, I stayed in C and G, but found that I could work out much more sophisticated arrangements than I could with 20 buttons. This realisation also improved my accompaniments.

 

Hope this helps,

Cheers,

John

Ok...but do you ever use the 4 buttons making the difference from a 26 ? 

 

Depends what you're playing. If you're only ever going to play Irish music, you may well never use them. If you want to play other things, you might use them rather a lot!



#9 adrian brown

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Posted 28 November 2016 - 12:30 PM

 

 

Later, I bought a 30-button C/G Anglo, and continued playing my accompaniments in C or G. When I branched out into instrumentals, I stayed in C and G, but found that I could work out much more sophisticated arrangements than I could with 20 buttons. This realisation also improved my accompaniments.

 

Hope this helps,

Cheers,

John

Ok...but do you ever use the 4 buttons making the difference from a 26 ? 

 

Depends what you're playing. If you're only ever going to play Irish music, you may well never use them. If you want to play other things, you might use them rather a lot!

 

 

and if you do have extra buttons, in my experience you will soon find ways of using them!

 

Adrian



#10 Anglo-Irishman

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Posted 28 November 2016 - 04:07 PM

 

Later, I bought a 30-button C/G Anglo, and continued playing my accompaniments in C or G. When I branched out into instrumentals, I stayed in C and G, but found that I could work out much more sophisticated arrangements than I could with 20 buttons. This realisation also improved my accompaniments.

 

Hope this helps,

Cheers,

John

Ok...but do you ever use the 4 buttons making the difference from a 26 ? 

 

Definitely! One absolutely indispensable one is the leftmost buton, outer row, left hand (1a), and the button next to it (2a) is pretty useful, too. I seldom go up into the upper reaches of the right hand rows, so I suppose I wouldn't miss the last two accidental buttons there.

But I do like a good solid F-major chord with its root in the bass when I'm playing in C major, and some scale passages in the bass are easier with the 2a button - e.g. in "Sailor's Hornpipe" in C.

 

Cheers,

John



#11 BW77

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Posted 29 November 2016 - 04:31 AM

 

 

Later, I bought a 30-button C/G Anglo, and continued playing my accompaniments in C or G. When I branched out into instrumentals, I stayed in C and G, but found that I could work out much more sophisticated arrangements than I could with 20 buttons. This realisation also improved my accompaniments.

 

Hope this helps,

Cheers,

John

Ok...but do you ever use the 4 buttons making the difference from a 26 ? 

 

Definitely! One absolutely indispensable one is the leftmost buton, outer row, left hand (1a), and the button next to it (2a) is pretty useful, too. I seldom go up into the upper reaches of the right hand rows, so I suppose I wouldn't miss the last two accidental buttons there.

But I do like a good solid F-major chord with its root in the bass when I'm playing in C major, and some scale passages in the bass are easier with the 2a button - e.g. in "Sailor's Hornpipe" in C.

 

Cheers,

John

 

I see your point with the left hand notes you mention but as I suspected the right hand top ones may be dispensable. Anyway it is a matter in this case of how much you need them for song accompaniment vs the cost. A bit aside...but I once fancied 64 key englishes a lot but honestly I didn't see the need or the fun compensated the luxury but of course it IS a matter of what you want to play most of all. For most single note folk music a 32 key english ( or even a 24...) would do pretty well and for anglos ( or other systems) you certainly might get along likewise with much less than tradition or fashion seems to demand. 



#12 Anglo-Irishman

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Posted 29 November 2016 - 05:14 AM

 

For most single note folk music a 32 key english ( or even a 24...) would do pretty well and for anglos ( or other systems) you certainly might get along likewise with much less than tradition or fashion seems to demand. 

 

Single note folk music? I assume you mean simple music plpayed as a non-harmonised melody line. If that was what I wanted to play, I wouldn't need a concertina. I could just have stayed with the fiddle, which has a similar range and timbre but is fully chromatic, i.e. flexible in the matter of keys, and can be retuned on the fly to adapt to variatoins in concert pitch, e.g. old pianos, baroque instruments ...

 

The Richter note arrangement of the Anglo is intended expressly for harmonisation, after all!

 

Cheers,

John



#13 BW77

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Posted 29 November 2016 - 08:14 AM

 

 

For most single note folk music a 32 key english ( or even a 24...) would do pretty well and for anglos ( or other systems) you certainly might get along likewise with much less than tradition or fashion seems to demand. 

 

Single note folk music? I assume you mean simple music plpayed as a non-harmonised melody line. If that was what I wanted to play, I wouldn't need a concertina. I could just have stayed with the fiddle, which has a similar range and timbre but is fully chromatic, i.e. flexible in the matter of keys, and can be retuned on the fly to adapt to variatoins in concert pitch, e.g. old pianos, baroque instruments ...

 

The Richter note arrangement of the Anglo is intended expressly for harmonisation, after all!

 

Cheers,

John

 

I actually agree completely that the Anglo is more useful for "expressive harmonisation" than single note music but the strange fact is that by so called "tradition" it is now used particularly with irish music in a "single note" way while it seems more "intended" for british Morris style music ( truly "expressly for harmonisation").

When saying "single note folk music" I clearly referred to "english" . "Anglos ( or other systems)" were mentioned in general terms :

"get along likewise with much less than tradition or fashion seems to demand". Talking fiddle, the english no doubt is the concertina most suitable as a fiddle substitute and it is not surprising it was marketed ( and used) as such in the beginning.



#14 Mikefule

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Posted 02 December 2016 - 01:54 PM

If I were going to sing and accompany myself, I would prefer the 30 button.

 

A common example: for tunes in G major, it is common for the melody to harmonise with either the chord G major or E minor.  On a GD 30 button, that rich E minor is readily available and adds flavour to what might otherwise be a "3 chord trick".

 

I own a 20 as well as two other boxes with more buttons,  I enjoy playing bouncy brisk dance music on the 20, but I miss that rich chord (the equivalent is Am on a CG box).

 

Another big advantage is that the 30 button gives you the 5th note of the primary key in both directions and this opens up some different harmonic opportunities.  The same chord played push or pull has a different feel to it.

 

Nothing wrong with 20 buttons and you can do a lot on them, but you come up against their harmonic limitations fairly quickly.  For melody and accompaniment (dance music) you can always bluff with an octave note accompaniment, but I/m not sure that would work well with singing.



#15 BW77

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Posted 03 December 2016 - 03:00 AM

If I were going to sing and accompany myself, I would prefer the 30 button.

 

A common example: for tunes in G major, it is common for the melody to harmonise with either the chord G major or E minor.  On a GD 30 button, that rich E minor is readily available and adds flavour to what might otherwise be a "3 chord trick".

 

I own a 20 as well as two other boxes with more buttons,  I enjoy playing bouncy brisk dance music on the 20, but I miss that rich chord (the equivalent is Am on a CG box).

 

Another big advantage is that the 30 button gives you the 5th note of the primary key in both directions and this opens up some different harmonic opportunities.  The same chord played push or pull has a different feel to it.

 

 

What I opposed against partly was that you don't have to choose between 20 or 30 , you also got 26 (and 28)  models,  which as Stephen Chambers pointed out in another thread (concerning playing Irish with less than 30 keys) often may offer what you "need" to a considerably less cost. As far a I can see the chords you mention here can be done with a 26 and the 5th in the primary key is available also in both directions isn't it?



#16 Nejrinni

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Posted 24 December 2016 - 05:09 AM

Thank you all for your comments! 20-button Chinese boxes are out of the question now, definitely. However, now that I've read it all, and many related topics on the forums as well.... another problem begins to, em, rear its ugly head in a dirty bonnet.

Maybe my decision was wrong from the start, and I should really get an English, as DickT suggested? Unfortunately, in this neck of the woods a concertina is as hard to find as a polar bear, so I have to rely on recordings. On the one hand, the trouble with my voice is its being -soft-. High, but not shrill, more lyrical and mellow, I'd say - and not exactly loud. So an English should suit me better, but... but on the other hand, I somehow managed to adapt this very voice to shanties. And shanties on an English... (But there's A. L. Lloyd, yes).

#17 wayman

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Posted 24 December 2016 - 05:24 AM

Shanties on English concertina ... also Lou Killen, Ian Robb, and many others besides. You'll not want for good role models, whether you go English or anglo, for song accompaniment.



#18 Ivanhoe

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Posted 15 January 2017 - 09:14 AM

Hi ,
I hope you can give me some advise.
Im new to the concertina. I've been playing an Anglo c/g for about a year now.
I play by Numbers using Dave Mallysons book and am taking lessons to learn to read music. I do not know of any other concertina players in my area.
A number of tunes I can play by memorizing the buttons.
If a were to buy a concertina in d/g, can I still use the same book and press buttons on the same place? Only the scale changes right? The button positions wont change, will they?
Am I making any sense ?

Regards





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