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Old-timey concertina style


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#37 Jody Kruskal

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Posted 13 December 2012 - 01:38 AM

Hi Crism, Bertram, Fiddlehead, Geoff and all,

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.


#38 david fabre

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Posted 17 December 2012 - 05:35 PM

Hi
I've also been away from this forum for some time and am discovering this thread with delight !
Jody, I'm a bit puzzled by your point #3 : dynamically shaping each note.
Could you please post an example, or indicate a track on one of your CDs where this can be well heard ?
Thanks in advance...
David

#39 Jody Kruskal

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Posted 17 December 2012 - 11:53 PM

Hi
I've also been away from this forum for some time and am discovering this thread with delight !
Jody, I'm a bit puzzled by your point #3 : dynamically shaping each note.
Could you please post an example, or indicate a track on one of your CDs where this can be well heard ?
Thanks in advance...
David

Hi David,

Well, I'll try. It's a somewhat subtle but very important effect, this backing off the volume at the end of a note to let the other players come through. It adds up to a smooth transparent mix on recordings, but because it's a technique of omission it can be hard to hear. Try listening to the first 8 seconds of "Multitasking Daddy" the first track on my "Sing to me Concertina Boy" CD. In listening to the whole song now, I hear myself doing this #3 technique throughout, coming forth and then retreating on many different scales, they being the large patterns of the verse chorus structure, the smaller patterns of phrasing in each line and the mico shapes of individual notes. Ask me about any of my recordings that you have, and I'll point you to a specific spot where you can hear #3. I do this wide dynamic playing/phrasing continuously on all of my recordings.

These micro variations of volume are also the only way the concertina creates that musical quality called "tone" in a single line melody. Tone is the distinctive sound quality that is created from the touch of any instrumentalist on their instrument. Concertinas have few options for tone creation and this micro-dynamic is really the only way to create "tone" on the limited concertina. It's not a fiddle, after all, thank goodness! Another micro example would be on the same recording, track 6 at 2:13 in "The Log Driver's Waltz". This example is very easy to hear because concertina is the only thing playing. Notice the way I very clearly come down in volume to a whisper to leave a little moment of almost silence at the end of the phrase. These little near silences and how we execute them in our own particular ways are key to why one concertina player sounds different from another.

Keep Squeezing!

Edited by Jody Kruskal, 18 December 2012 - 12:02 AM.


#40 Rod

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Posted 18 December 2012 - 04:43 AM

Hi
I've also been away from this forum for some time and am discovering this thread with delight !
Jody, I'm a bit puzzled by your point #3 : dynamically shaping each note.
Could you please post an example, or indicate a track on one of your CDs where this can be well heard ?
Thanks in advance...
David

Hi David,

Well, I'll try. It's a somewhat subtle but very important effect, this backing off the volume at the end of a note to let the other players come through. It adds up to a smooth transparent mix on recordings, but because it's a technique of omission it can be hard to hear. Try listening to the first 8 seconds of "Multitasking Daddy" the first track on my "Sing to me Concertina Boy" CD. In listening to the whole song now, I hear myself doing this #3 technique throughout, coming forth and then retreating on many different scales, they being the large patterns of the verse chorus structure, the smaller patterns of phrasing in each line and the mico shapes of individual notes. Ask me about any of my recordings that you have, and I'll point you to a specific spot where you can hear #3. I do this wide dynamic playing/phrasing continuously on all of my recordings.

These micro variations of volume are also the only way the concertina creates that musical quality called "tone" in a single line melody. Tone is the distinctive sound quality that is created from the touch of any instrumentalist on their instrument. Concertinas have few options for tone creation and this micro-dynamic is really the only way to create "tone" on the limited concertina. It's not a fiddle, after all, thank goodness! Another micro example would be on the same recording, track 6 at 2:13 in "The Log Driver's Waltz". This example is very easy to hear because concertina is the only thing playing. Notice the way I very clearly come down in volume to a whisper to leave a little moment of almost silence at the end of the phrase. These little near silences and how we execute them in our own particular ways are key to why one concertina player sounds different from another.

Keep Squeezing!


In addition to the more obvious fluctuations in sound volume available to the instrument, a very delicate, refined and appropriate application of 'tremolo' can play an enormous part in enhancing and shaping 'tone'. All a matter of personal preference of course and not relevant to all styles of music.

#41 Geoff Wooff

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Posted 18 December 2012 - 03:30 PM

Very nice points Jody.
Thanks!

#42 david fabre

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Posted 19 December 2012 - 03:02 AM

Thanks Jody.
I'll listen that carefully on the recording.
I guess it's in my car (I mean the CD, not the concertina !)

Btw i personally find multitasking easier with the whistle :)

#43 Jody Kruskal

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Posted 19 December 2012 - 11:33 PM

Thanks Jody.
I'll listen that carefully on the recording.
I guess it's in my car (I mean the CD, not the concertina !)

Btw i personally find multitasking easier with the whistle :)

Yeah... a really good one is the the three hole pipe, 'cause then you get a whole free hand to steer with.

#44 blue eyed sailor

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Posted 20 December 2012 - 01:15 AM

Thanks Jody.
I'll listen that carefully on the recording.
I guess it's in my car (I mean the CD, not the concertina !)

Btw i personally find multitasking easier with the whistle :)

Yeah... a really good one is the the three hole pipe, 'cause then you get a whole free hand to steer with.

...or take a recorder, perhaps an "alto" or "tenor" model - thus you could steer applying the instrument itself...

#45 Jody Kruskal

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Posted 04 January 2013 - 03:29 AM

In addition to the more obvious fluctuations in sound volume available to the instrument, a very delicate, refined and appropriate application of 'tremolo' can play an enormous part in enhancing and shaping 'tone'. All a matter of personal preference of course and not relevant to all styles of music.


Right you are Rod. Bellows movement is directly audible as fluctuations in volume. That is the joy of the concertina. Even the slightest impulse adds character to your sound. Tremolo is a repeated oscillation in volume but even a few tiny waverings of the bellows can add enormous musical content in tone. As you point out, delicate and minimal variations are the most musical because this effect is easily over done... unless you are playing South African Boer music which uses this effect in the extreme to great effect.

#46 Rod

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Posted 04 January 2013 - 04:36 AM

In addition to the more obvious fluctuations in sound volume available to the instrument, a very delicate, refined and appropriate application of 'tremolo' can play an enormous part in enhancing and shaping 'tone'. All a matter of personal preference of course and not relevant to all styles of music.


Right you are Rod. Bellows movement is directly audible as fluctuations in volume. That is the joy of the concertina. Even the slightest impulse adds character to your sound. Tremolo is a repeated oscillation in volume but even a few tiny waverings of the bellows can add enormous musical content in tone. As you point out, delicate and minimal variations are the most musical because this effect is easily over done... unless you are playing South African Boer music which uses this effect in the extreme to great effect.


Yes Jodi. You and I are of one mind on the subject of 'tremolo'. The concertina is a musical instrument, not a fog-horn !!

#47 Jody Kruskal

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Posted 13 January 2013 - 05:12 AM

I was listening to track #1 of my CD, Poor Little Liza Jane - Old-Time Tunes and Songs and it crossed my mind that I'm very clearly emulating a bunch of different instruments or rather instrumental roles to be played in the band... along the lines of this discussion. The concertina can take on varying functions in a band setting and here I'm taking on a number of them. The track is available here or on itunes.

We are starting with Puncheon Floor

In the long intro and then from 0 to 36 I'm playing guitar stuff, a bass/strum sort of thing, on the concertina that's a clear Um Pa feel.
36 - 52 horn section riffs plus melody. I know there are no horn sections in old-time but that's how I think of this sort of material.
52 - 1:08 melody and harmony together like a harmonica in thirds
1:08 - 1:40 single line melody like a fiddle then back to the harmonica idea in the B section

Then we go into Bell Cow at 1:40.

1:40 Melody and harmony with the fiddle
2:11 fiddle and concertina trade 4's
2:28 I go into a banjo uke sort of rhythmic groove especially around 2:59 - 3:15. a very cool sort of chugging thing like Bubba George or the Horseflies.
3:15 to 3:50 and the end, I'm pretty much unison with the fiddle

So in the course of less than 4 minutes I'm playing the Anglo as a guitar, horn section, harmonica, fiddle and banjo uke. Of course this is all in my head. I'm not actually playing anything but an Anglo concertina... still the rolls these different instruments take on in the band are what I'm going for in this very transparent mix where you can actually hear what I'm talking about... I hope.

Edited by Jody Kruskal, 13 January 2013 - 05:13 AM.




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