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Beginner Help Choosing English Or Duet

Duet English Beginner

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#1 CelticKnotBook

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Posted 10 March 2015 - 07:03 PM

Hello. I am very interested in learning to play the concertina. My main reasons for learning are that I like the traditional styles of music that are played on it, and the sound in general, and also because it would be a small, portable, and versatile instrument. (And it's cool. B) )

The problem I have run into is figuring out what kind I want to learn. I'm sure that is a very common question among beginners, but I haven't been able to find the answers to my exact questions on here, so I'm posting this in hopes someone can help. I've done a fair bit of research but the internet has reached the limits of its efficacy. I am at the point where I need a real person with knowledge to answer specific questions, and I've had absolutely no luck finding anybody who knows anything about concertinas locally. (I live in Corvallis, Oregon, USA. Apparently concertinas are not big in the Northwest...)

I have played piano for about 18 years (since I was 6) so I am very familiar with music, can sight read very well, and I am very determined to learn, so I am not anticipating any troubles regarding the actually learning or playing of the concertina (beyond the normal learning curve of any new instrument.) So differences that effect ease of learning are not my main concern.

I have ruled out Anglo concertinas, for various reasons. So I am looking at English or Duet. My main goal is to have the most options as to what styles of music I can play. Though to be realistic, especially in the short run, the most likely music I will be playing (and one of the main things I want to be able to play) is traditional hymns. (If I get to the point where I can sit down and play hymns out of my hymnal for myself or even to accompany singing I will consider that success.)

From my research I had settled on the duet probably being the best fit for me, since it seems to be designed to easily play melodies and harmonies/chords (ideal for hymn playing). But I ran into the problems of cost and availability. I had decided that I could handle the cost of the Elise Hayden Duet from Concertina Connection, but then I realized that it is not chromatic. (I'm a pianist, so I'm having trouble dealing with the limitations of not having every note at my disposal!) How does one deal with that? Would you really just have to transpose any songs into the keys you have and hope there are no accidentals?? 

 

Is it possible to find chromatic duet concertinas that are not in the thousands of dollars range?

 

Or there is the option of an English concertina. From what I can find they tend to be more available/less expensive. And at least the version from Concertina Connection is fully chromatic. 

I guess it boils down to this, which is more limiting to versatility: a duet concertina that is not fully chromatic, or an English concertina's layout?

At first I had thought that English concertinas were not well suited to something like hymn playing, but they were very big with the Salvation Army, so obviously they work with hymns. So is it possible but just more difficult to play melody and harmony/chords on English (leading to the development of the duet) or did they mostly just play melodies if they were solo and play in a concertina band if they wanted harmony?

Also, if I am starting with a less expensive concertina with fewer keys is it difficult to switch in the future to a larger concertina? i.e. Should I wait and invest in a concertina with a larger range to start with, or does it make no difference?

Do forgive this novella I've just written... This is why I really need an actual human person who knows stuff to talk to; there are many variables and probably some that I don't even know about yet... Hopefully my dilemma is understandable and my questions do not sound silly.  :P 

Grateful to anyone still reading,
Rachel



#2 David Barnert

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Posted 10 March 2015 - 07:19 PM

There's no way around the fact that creating a decent concertina is very skilled labor-intensive, so they're not going to be cheap. I've been playing Hayden Duets very happily for nearly 30 years, now, but I don't have an answer to your conundrum. Perhaps the best chance of finding a reasonably priced duet is to keep your eyes open for a used Maccann or Crane (you won't likely find a used Hayden for sale).

 

I agree that it sounds like a duet would best suit your musical needs, but like I said, there are no easy answers. Good luck.



#3 mjsr

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Posted 10 March 2015 - 08:36 PM

I use an English concertina to play hymns either playing harmonies or chords as accompaniment.  I too came from a piano background and while I've occassionally coveted a duet for greater ease of chord accompaniments, I'm very pleased with my English instrument.  I'd be happy to talk with you more off-line if you would find that helpful.



#4 JimR

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Posted 10 March 2015 - 09:59 PM

It's like you're in my brain, CelticKnotBook! I have been asking myself these same questions for a while, even if my tastes run more to Jonathan Badness than the Hymnbook.

Edited by JimR, 10 March 2015 - 09:59 PM.


#5 Daniel Hersh

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Posted 10 March 2015 - 10:02 PM

You might consider a 35-button or 42-button Crane duet - they're not too expensive (though a 42 can be hard to find) because they're not in high demand, but they might work for your purposes.   Keyboard layouts are at http://www.craneconc...om/layouts.html - take a look and see if the range on both sides would be adequate for you.    I have found that the Crane system works well for hymns and for melody + accompaniment in general.  The Salvation Army used them and called them Triumph concertinas - see http://www.concertin...tina_2nd_ed.pdf .


Edited by Daniel Hersh, 10 March 2015 - 10:04 PM.


#6 KCMetroGnome

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Posted 10 March 2015 - 10:47 PM

I was in your shoes a few years ago and had similarly narrowed it down to duet or English. There is also no concertina culture here in Kansas city, so I was left with the Internet. I found that Button Box has a rental program. If you don't like the instrument you return it and if you like it they apply part of the rental cost to the purchase. That way you could try a few things with less up front commitment.

I certainly think that what you've described calls for a duet concertina. I ended up going with the Elise, but it's also not my main instrument (I pull out my accordion when I want to play harder things). The Elise works fine much of the time for traditional tunes and kids songs, but at least once or twice a session I'm stymied on a song I'd like to play. As soon as I can save up and justify the expense it is my intent to upgrade to a more expensive instrument. I'm afraid I can't speak to benefits and drawbacks of other duet systems, as I've only tried the Hayden.

All said, contact the Button Box to try an English (I think you'll find it isn't what you're looking for) or an Elise. I think you'd find the Elise to be fine for learning on, but you'd want to upgrade before long. The good news is that there is a trade up offer for the concertina connection instruments.

#7 MatthewVanitas

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Posted 10 March 2015 - 11:28 PM

Kinda tied to what others have said: I mainly chose Duet because at heart I wanted an organ/harmonium, but wanted something nice and compact. I play a Hayden Duet right now, and enjoy playing the melody part on my right hand against a nice low harmony on the left, lots of dronal bits, etc.

 

While I do like the Hayden system, it does suffer for not having a body of vintage instruments to choose from. If having a quality Duet with chromaticity at a reasonable price is your goal, I'd contact Greg Jowaisas and see if he has any affordable Duets in the Maccann or Crane system. Maccann is a lot more common, though I've only played Hayden and Crane. You might be able to find a decent Lachenal-brand 46-button Maccann for $600-700 or so, and the great news is that a decent vintage concertina will hold its value over time, so you'd lose little other than time if you decide to resell it.



#8 CelticKnotBook

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Posted 10 March 2015 - 11:40 PM

Thank you all very much for you advice! This is all very helpful. 

 

-R



#9 CelticKnotBook

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Posted 10 March 2015 - 11:45 PM

You might consider a 35-button or 42-button Crane duet - they're not too expensive (though a 42 can be hard to find) because they're not in high demand, but they might work for your purposes.   Keyboard layouts are at http://www.craneconc...om/layouts.html - take a look and see if the range on both sides would be adequate for you.

 

I think those look perfect! The 35 should be able to play any hymn melody (and if the song was higher I wouldn't be able to sing it anyway!) and it goes low enough to add decent harmony. Especially since I'm just starting out. 
 



#10 Nighthawk

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Posted 11 March 2015 - 01:30 AM

I was in a very similar situation at the beginning of last year, with nearly the same desires.  What made the decision for me was finding a way to physically try a couple of instruments next to each other.  First, I was able to rule out the cheap Chinese versions right away.  And the difference in sound, size, and weight between a vintage instrument and the Elise/Jackie/etc was so apparent that I decided to make some changes in my budget.  Plus, I liked the idea of an instrument with some history to it, even if I didn't know much of what it was.  I ended up with a 48 button Crane duet, and have been very happy with it.

 

Another thing I found somewhat useful was playing with the various system fingerings on the iPad concertina apps (Duettina, EnglitinaXL, ConcertinaXL).  This gave me an idea how difficult certain types of music might be.  Unfortunately, I couldn't find an app for the Crane, so was limited to a paper printout.  

 

One downside to a duet - there are very few instructional materials.  There are some vintage tutors, and one modern one, but not multiple books and online courses like you can find for the Anglo.  Also the upgrade path, at least for the Crane, seems to be sparse, but that might not be an issue for a long time.    



#11 CelticKnotBook

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Posted 11 March 2015 - 02:07 AM

Another thing I found somewhat useful was playing with the various system fingerings on the iPad concertina apps (Duettina, EnglitinaXL, ConcertinaXL).  This gave me an idea how difficult certain types of music might be.  Unfortunately, I couldn't find an app for the Crane, so was limited to a paper printout.  

 

One downside to a duet - there are very few instructional materials.  There are some vintage tutors, and one modern one, but not multiple books and online courses like you can find for the Anglo.  Also the upgrade path, at least for the Crane, seems to be sparse, but that might not be an issue for a long time.    

 

They make a concertina app? Haha, that's kind of cool. (Though I don't have an iPad or know anyone who does...so that doesn't really help me...)
 

I can read music and understand music theory well enough that I am not anticipating trouble actually learning to play. The vintage tutors I have seen online seem like they should be enough to get me off the ground and I am motivated (some might use the word stubborn) enough to teach myself if I need to. :-)



#12 Anglo-Irishman

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Posted 11 March 2015 - 08:40 AM

 

You might consider a 35-button or 42-button Crane duet ...

 

I think those look perfect! The 35 should be able to play any hymn melody (and if the song was higher I wouldn't be able to sing it anyway!) and it goes low enough to add decent harmony. Especially since I'm just starting out. 
 

 

Hi, Rachel,

I second what Daniel Hersh says about the Crane duet. I first heard it as a child at the Salvation Army, playing - of course - hymns! When I wanted to free myself from the key restrictions of the Anglo, I decided on the Crane duet (48 buttons), and I'm very satisfied with it, for both accompaniments and solo pieces.

 

Obviously, the models (of any system) with fewer buttons have certain limitations. But the limitations of the small Cranes and small Haydens (e.g. the Elise) are of a differnt quality.

You've noticed that the 35-button Crane is missing the high notes on the right-hand side that a 48- or 55-button has. Also, the overlap between the hands is smaller. However, the Crane is fully chromatic as far as it goes, and if you don't need those high notes, then you'll be OK in any key.

 

The small Haydens, by contrast, are lacking several sharps and flats over their entire range, limiting you (if I recall correctly) to the major keys of F, C, G and D. But if you're thinking of playing hymns from a standard hymnal, you'd need a duet that caters for the "flat" keys (Bb, Eb, Ab).

 

If you did start with a 35-b Crane and later noticed that you do need higher notes and more overlap (e.g. to give you more capability to invert chords in the left hand), you can migrate to a larger Crane with negligible learning effort. The additional notes are where you'd expect them to be.

 

Hope you get off to a good start with the concertina, whatever system!

 

Cheers,

John



#13 Wolf Molkentin

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Posted 11 March 2015 - 10:10 AM

Rachel, welcome to the forum and concertinas. It is very well possible to play melody with added harmony on the English concertina. You might listen to some of my recordings, one of them even of a hymn, just as a start...

 

Best wishes - Wolf

 

P.S.: My main instrument is (or at least: has been, prior to taking up the EC) the piano too (for some decades...).

 

P.P.S.: I have nothing against one of the Duet systems, I'd just suggest to not rule out the EC at such an early stadium of your inquiry...


Edited by blue eyed sailor, 11 March 2015 - 11:26 AM.


#14 Theo

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Posted 11 March 2015 - 01:10 PM

If you can find a recording of Peter Donald and Gordon Haxton you can hear the most magnificent hymn tunes played on English concertinas. 

Their CD is available here http://www.cfmscotla...og/All_CDs.html

I met Peter last year, and he was very pleased to tell me he had been playing for 70 years, all hymn tunes.

Edited by Theo, 11 March 2015 - 01:55 PM.


#15 gcoover

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Posted 11 March 2015 - 03:40 PM

Thanks, Theo - just now ordered a copy, really looking forward to hearing their arrangements!

Gary

#16 David Barnert

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Posted 11 March 2015 - 04:53 PM

They make a concertina app? Haha, that's kind of cool.

 

"They" is Michael Eskin, a member of this forum. See http://www.tradlessons.com/apps.html .

 

Not just for iPad. Here's me playing it on an iPhone 6+.



#17 CelticKnotBook

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Posted 11 March 2015 - 07:53 PM

Thank you all so very much for your advice! This is exactly the kind of information I was looking for. I feel much more confident about how to choose and what I want to look for (which is especially important with such a large purchase).



#18 Wolf Molkentin

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Posted 12 March 2015 - 12:56 AM

Hi Rachel,

 

teaching yourself will be perfectly fine considering your musical background.

 

And it should be added that you might want to try out specimens of the different systems - doing well with one or another appears to be a very personal and hardly predictable matter...

 

Best wishes - Wolf







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