I'm sorry to have missed all the fun of this thread, but around the time of my last tour I lost track. Now I'm back. Yes, concertina players... be the banjo by all means. Be the fiddle, be the guitar, be the harmonica player... well not all of them at once, of course. I'm an Anglo player and so the EC is a bit of a mystery to me but some of the things I've learned about joining the sound of an American old-time session will apply, so here goes... The slides that Bertram does so well in the Chicken Reel, with the two notes slightly overlapping and the bellows finesse... that is a very cool thing. I do it often myself, but as he points out, it is only an ornament. Not at the core of how to play old-time on the box. Here is what I think is at the core... three points.
First off, it's the groove. You have to match the groove of the folks you are playing with or they will not be happy, and neither will you. In old-time, the guitar is going BASS WHACK, BASS WHACK, BASS WHACK, BASS WHACK, (plus a few other things) over the chord changes and this sets up the rhythmic groove. The BASS part of that is longer and quieter than the WHACK part. Also the WHACK is accented and short. You have to do that too on your box to get in the groove. If you are playing back up chord stuff like a guitar, well then it's clear what to do. If you are playing the melody though, (like a fiddle), you still have to play that way. What I mean is... constantly accent the back beat notes, the WHACK part of the groove. You really can't exaggerate this too much in melody playing and be wrong, but you can neglect the back beat accent and just be a wimpy squeezy thing. Avoid this fate and use your bellows aggressively to make that 2 and 4 accent every measure strong and deliberate. You understand that I'm talking 4/4 or 2/4 reels here, not jigs or waltzes... they have their own way.
This brings me to my second point about old-time on the box. The above comment does not mean "play loud", in fact, under playing in a session is always a good idea. Your box is probably the loudest instrument there (well mine is anyway) so as was mentioned already here... do your best to blend in and not be the dominant voice. Remember, fiddle, banjo, guitar and mandolin are "the sound", so you have to join them at their dynamic level. Still, because you are louder than they are, you can always kick butt and whip them into a frenzy, if you are up for it.
This brings me to my third point which is related and is really the main technique I use for blending in. This is so important, I don't know why I saved it for last. The idea is that each note you play has it's own micro dynamic that you create quite deliberately with the bellows. Your finger turns the note on and off, sure, but the "all important" bellows pressure you exert is what shapes the note dynamically. This shape should ideally mimic the plucked string. Aggressive attack, then abrupt and smooth decay... for each note of a tune. Every note of a tune has it's own dynamic shape and it's up to you to make that shape musical. For the music to sound right and match your friends on banjo, guitar and fiddle you should try to match the way they sound. Really... even for the fast notes... but especially the slow ones. If a tune has a long half note at the end of a phrase... don't be the last one to stop sounding that note. Stop early and make room for the tail end of the others to fill that moment out. It will sound so much better to hear their natural decay rather than your man-made one...This is key. A simple way to say this is... "play melody staccato on the box" but that's not really what it's all about. Rather, make there be a distinct silence between each of your notes as you decrease your volume down to zero for every note. Plectrum players do this without trying, but box players, whether EC or Anglo or PA or whatever, they have to do this with conscious deliberation and bellows control. If you play through the dynamic decay that the other instruments will be naturally doing... then you will be overplaying and they might give you dirty looks... Get it?
To learn how to do this, slow your practice way, way down and try to do #1 the accent thing, #2 play quietly #3 achieve active dynamics... all together. Attempt 1, 2 and 3 while playing the tune and harmony. It's quite a balancing act I know, but what I describe here is what I've been working on for years with my students and for my own playing and I still have a long way to go.
This makes my 900th post on C.Net. Wow! You'd think I'd get tired saying the same old thing over and over again, but no. I'm still kickin' the same old bucket.
Edited by Jody Kruskal, 13 December 2012 - 12:56 PM.