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English Concertina Finger Position?


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#1 geoffwright

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Posted 02 November 2004 - 07:11 AM

After spending a weekend watching Robert Harbrons' technique, especially his chord playing, it struck me

that much of it is made more difficult if you use the usual English hand position with the fingers at 90

degrees to the buttons.
N.B. If you don't want to play chords, this may still apply to you.

If you want to play chords, isn't it made easier if the fingers are parallel with the buttons?
Would this be made easier by
A) Tilting the concertina forwards through some 30 degrees so the buttons are nearer the angle that the

fingers usually lie in.
B) Posibly doing something with the finger rest to help this new position.

This technique (or something very similar) is used by Robert Harbron and Simon Thoumire, and probably

others.

Does anyone else use this technique - anyone any thoughts/suggestions on it?

#2 JimLucas

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Posted 02 November 2004 - 12:27 PM

After spending a weekend watching Robert Harbrons' technique, especially his chord playing, it struck me that much of it is made more difficult if you use the usual English hand position with the fingers at 90 degrees to the buttons.

That's like saying that cars would work better if they didn't have square wheels.

To me, the "usual" hand position is best described as having the length of the fingers parallel to the long "rows" of buttons, so your description, Geoff, makes no sense to me. When I last saw Robert -- now some years past-- I thought he was still using the hand orientation I describe, but he had only begun his investigation of chords. Simon Thoumire does orient his hands at 90 degrees to the usual orientation, and I find it believable that Robert may now also be using that technique. Anyway, the rest of my response will assume that you're asking about playing the English with the hand oriented so that the length of the fingers is perpendicular to the 4 rows of buttons.

If you want to play chords, isn't it made easier if the fingers are parallel with the buttons?

Is it easier to play chords with the fingers oriented at right angles to the "rows" of buttons? Instead of asking folks who have probably never tried that position, why don't you try it, and then tell us? Or ask Robert if that's why he holds the instrument the way he does?

I've experimented a few times with that orientation, and it's a technique I would like to really learn someday, but I'm still a beginner at it. I think it might give some advantage for Simon's particular style of playing, and I'd like to see what Robert does with it, but I also know that Robert was able to do things with the "normal" hand position that I think most players wouldn't even try. Like the differences among anglo, English, and different duet layouts, I would expect it to make certain arrangements easier and others more difficult. Would that orientation make it easier to play the arrangements in Dancing With Ma Baby? Even with practice, I doubt it.

But you asked about chords, so I'll turn that around by asking which chords? A chord is a combination of notes, or buttons, and I would expect that in each orientation some combinations would be easier to reach -- or to shift between -- than in the other. Various inversions and octave splits are also chords, some easier than others. Some "chords" are composed of closely clustered buttons, while others may have scattered distributions, and it can make a difference whether the scattering is along one axis or another.

Would this be made easier by
A ) Tilting the concertina forwards through some 30 degrees so the buttons are nearer the angle that the fingers usually lie in.

In one respect, I find that impossible to answer, since your description leaves me unsure as to what you're trying to describe. By I will say that a 30-degree rotation seems insufficient to make a transition between the two orientations I'm talking about. In fact, I would expect it to give problems with either orientation, being out of alignment with both.

B ) Posibly doing something with the finger rest to help this new position.

Does either Robert or Simon do something special with the finger plate? If not, what sort of "something" do you envision, and what makes you think that would help? My recollection is that Simon has done something special with his thumb straps, but doesn't use the finger plates at all.

This technique (or something very similar) is used by Robert Harbron and Simon Thoumire, and probably others.

No others that I know of, though that doesn't mean there aren't any. Meanwhile, my difficulty in matching your descriptions to my own experience leaves me wondering even how similar Robert's and Simon's techniques really are. I'm sure that just changing the orientation of the instrument isn't going to turn anyone into a Robert or a Simon, and my own attempts suggest that it would require relearning as radical as switching from English to anglo or vice versa.

#3 David Barnert

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Posted 02 November 2004 - 06:31 PM

Out of curiosity (and I think this is also what Jim is asking):

Is this the position you're suggesting or suggesting an alternative to:

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#4 Nanette Hooker

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Posted 02 November 2004 - 10:03 PM

I have read about Simon Thoumire's concertina technique, see here
Here is a picture of Simon taken from Concertina & Squeezebox (Issue 26 Winter 1992). Posted Image

#5 Nanette Hooker

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Posted 02 November 2004 - 10:05 PM

Simon with "concertina face"??

#6 geoffwright

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Posted 03 November 2004 - 07:57 AM

Just to make matters clear, I was talking about playing a tune and adding a bass line and/or chords at the same time. Possibly something different to "just" playing chords, which many people do on the E.C. using the standard finger position.
The photo of S.T. shows exactly what I was enquiring about. The only thing he does to his concertina is use the thumb straps as long as possible.

My point about the finger plate is that if it was moveable, possibly on a slot, it could be used to play in the usual hand position, but with the concertina rotated round at a bit of an angle. (Imagine S.T.s concertina with a finger plate nearer the bottom of the buttons - I know that is the extreme case).

And don't laugh this idea out immediately, Jim - during the weekends discussions with Robert Harbron, he did say that he was having a special one-off concertina (with 4 extra buttons) made by John Dipper and he was going to do something different with the finger plate, but hadn't decided what to do yet.

Like S.T. who learned E.C. in isolation, hearing them but not seeing them being played, Robert Harbron heard concertinas playing bass runs and chords under the tune, liked it, and copied it on E.C., not realising it was an anglo he was listening to, hence his fingering style.

Someone else, somewhere, must have learnt to play like this?.
I fancy trying!

Edited by geoffwright, 03 November 2004 - 07:58 AM.


#7 BruceB

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Posted 03 November 2004 - 08:33 AM

Hi Everyone,

Is Simon Thoumire's and Robert Harbron's technique alike? Simon rotates his concertina about 90 degrees, if Robert rotates his about 30 degrees that would be very different, closer to the standard angle. I've also read that Robert plays the way Ratface (Danny Chapman) wrote about, which is fanning the bellows in a "V", keeping one side almost closed. This seems very different than photos of Simon show.

I think we need a much clearer understanding of exactly how Robert plays.

I've quickly tried playing like Simon, but as Jim says it is totally different than the more standard way of playing. To switch would be almost like learning a completely new system.

I don't see any compelling reasons to switch, and I love Simon's playing. He does amazing things with his technique, but so do players using a more standard position. I also don't understand why rotating the concertina would make chords or bass runs easier. What's difficult on english is playing chords or bass runs and melody TOGETHER, and that's due to the way scales alternate between hands, not because of the relation of the hands to the rows of buttons.

bruce boysen

#8 JimLucas

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Posted 03 November 2004 - 10:18 AM

Just to make matters clear, I was talking about playing a tune and adding a bass line and/or chords at the same time.

I know that's what Simon does, and I do think his rotated hand position does have advantages for that style, but that's not what you said.

Possibly something different to "just" playing chords, which many people do on the E.C. using the standard finger position.

Not "probably"; definitely. And also quite different from the arrangements -- as I mentioned -- in Dancing With Ma Baby. The "chords" Simon plays are most often not full chords, but adding one or two notes under a melody line can imply fuller chords. As I recall, Simon's technique is to use mainly the 1st and 2nd (index and middle) fingers of both hands for melody and the other two pairs of fingers for the underlying harmonies. For that, his hand orientation makes a great deal of sense, because it places the higher-note fingers over the higher-note buttons, and similarly for the lower notes.

The photo of S.T. shows exactly what I was enquiring about. The only thing he does to his concertina is use the thumb straps as long as possible.

I think that this allows him to twist the thumb straps so that the loop is essentially at right angles to the usual orientation. That would appear necessary to use his hand orientation. (Someone once told me that he had actually remounted the straps in a 90-degree rotated position, but maybe that was just a rumor.)

My point about the finger plate is that if it was moveable, possibly on a slot, it could be used to play in the usual hand position, but with the concertina rotated round at a bit of an angle.

Once again, Geoff, you're not making sense to me. Are you talking about rotating the plate but not the hand, or rotating the hand, but less than 90 degrees. If it's the latter, I think it would be wrong to describe it as "the usual hand position". I think it only makes sense to talk about the hand position relative to the instrument, not the body, since the latter can change while the former remains the same. (It frequently does when I play.)

But while I can see an advantage Simon's 90-degree rotation for his particular style, I can't see that something in between would provide any general advantage over either the "usual" orientation or Simon's. Have you tried playing any particular tune or arrangement with your hand in that partially-rotated orientation? You can get some feel for that by just bracing your little finger against the end in the location where you imagine putting the plate. Being able to rotate your hand between the two extreme orientations might be useful, but I would think that for that you would just have to ignore the finger plate. (Or have two of them? Hmm.)

And don't laugh this idea out immediately, Jim - during the weekends discussions with Robert Harbron,  he did say that he was having a special one-off concertina (with 4 extra buttons) made by John Dipper and he was going to do something different with the finger plate, but hadn't decided what to do yet.

I'm not laughing, and not just because Robert is contemplating such a change. But the very fact that Robert himself isn't yet sure what he would do leaves me wondering what advantage he might gain, if any. I see two problems with moving the finger rest for trying to play like Simon. One is that the distance from "top" to "bottom" of the keyboard is much greater than the "width". (Maybe that's less of a problem for people with longer fingers than mine?) The other is that I believe Simon uses his little fingers a great deal, so there wouldn't be much point in having plates to hold them away from the buttons. Contrary to his CD cover photo, I recall him telling me that he always played while seated, so that he could hold the instrument steady against his leg while keeping his little fingers free.

Someone else, somewhere, must have learnt to play like this?.

Maybe yes, maybe no. I haven't yet heard of others, but they could still be "in isolation". :)

I fancy trying!

Go for it! :) And please let us know how you do.

#9 JimLucas

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Posted 03 November 2004 - 10:29 AM

Is Simon Thoumire's and Robert Harbron's technique alike?

Considering that you also mentioned bellows technique, Bruce, maybe a better question would be, "In what ways are Simon's and Robert's techniques alike, and in what ways are they different?"

What's difficult on english is playing chords or bass runs and melody TOGETHER, and that's due to the way scales alternate between hands, not because of the relation of the hands to the rows of buttons.

See my description of Simon's technique in my reply to Geoff. The combination of the orientation and "dividing" the hand can have advantages. I just made another try at Simon's technique, but this time with a tune that lends itself to a simple alternating bass, and for that it felt almost intuitive, in spite of the awkwardness from not reorienting the thumb loops.

#10 geoffwright

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Posted 03 November 2004 - 11:40 AM

I was sat watching R.H. and commenting on the various points mentioned as they came to mind. As usual, he had to think for a minute how he actually did it, as he does it automaticly without thinking about it.
I don't think he does do a full 90 degrees rotation, which was why my 30 degrees came into discussion.
As far as moving the plate goes, in the discussion on Sunday, we both agreed that even placing the little finger on the near corner of the finger plate rather than the curved end moved the concertina position round to an angle where the bottom notes are easier to reach as basses when playing a tune. Just moving the plate an inch back with a slight adjustment to the angle would help IF you wanted to alter the hand position just a little.

I also remember inspecting S.T.s thumbstraps and didn't see any modification - they were just at full length.

In answer to Bruce, the bellows technique is probably where the two differ, but due to the speed they operate at, it is hard to tell. R.H. plays with rapid changes in direction to suit the tune and as you say, keeps the ends quite close together in a V shape. Neither play in the smooth in/out flow that most E.C. players use.

#11 David Barnert

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Posted 04 November 2004 - 12:30 AM

The photo of S.T. shows exactly what I was enquiring about.

In that case, I suspect that the source of Jim's and my confusion is your reversal of the meanings of the words "parallel" and "perpendicular" (or "90 degrees"). Simon T's fingers in the picture are clearly perpendicular to the rows of buttons while the fingers in the photo I posted (the traditional position) are parallel to the rows.

You originally wrote:

After spending a weekend watching Robert Harbrons' technique, especially his chord playing, it struck me that much of it is made more difficult if you use the usual English hand position with the fingers at 90 degrees to the buttons.

and

If you want to play chords, isn't it made easier if the fingers are parallel with the buttons?



#12 geoffwright

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Posted 04 November 2004 - 04:19 AM

OK, to be specific, we need to use a database analogy and talk about rows and columns of buttons .
I meant to say the fingers lie parallel with the middle two columns of buttons (the piano white notes). Does that make sense?

#13 JimLucas

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Posted 04 November 2004 - 09:27 AM

...we need to use a database analogy...

Why? Not everybody builds their life around databases. :ph34r:

I meant to say the fingers lie parallel with the middle two columns of buttons (the piano white notes). Does that make sense?

Your use of "rows" and "columns" makes sense to me, but I've long since given up trying to convince others to use that terminology. What you (and I) call "columns" on the English is what are normally referred to around here as "rows".

But once again, you've left off crucial information that's needed to understand what you're talking about. When you say "parallel with the middle two columns of buttons", are you referring to the "usual" way of holding the instrument, or the Simon Thoumire way? It is the usual way, but in your first post on this Topic you said "the usual English hand position [is] with the fingers at 90 degrees to the buttons." Do you wonder that we were confused?

#14 David Barnert

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Posted 04 November 2004 - 11:56 PM

I meant to say the fingers lie parallel with the middle two columns of buttons (the piano white notes).

:huh:

Geoff, are we talking the same language here?

As I see it, my guy has his fingers in the position described in this quote, and Simon T has his fingers across the axis of the arrays of buttons that represent the white notes of the piano (see, I've avoided saying "row" or "column").

Jim, do you see something I don't?

#15 JimLucas

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Posted 05 November 2004 - 01:45 AM

Jim, do you see something I don't?

David, I think you and I are in agreement about parallel and perpendicular, and also which is the major axis, whatever we call it.

I even think Geoff agrees with us, but just said it wrong the first time. I'm waiting to see if he'll confirm that.

#16 Nanette Hooker

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Posted 05 November 2004 - 03:24 AM

Your use of "rows" and "columns" makes sense to me, but I've long since given up trying to convince others to use that terminology.  What you (and I) call "columns" on the English is what are normally referred to around here as "rows".


Now I'm confused.

#17 geoffwright

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Posted 05 November 2004 - 04:20 AM

Oh dear, I will try another tack.
Simon Thoumire plays it similar to an anglo player - and I thought I had my fingers parallel to the (non-database) C/G rows when I play.

#18 David Barnert

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Posted 05 November 2004 - 09:03 AM

Maybe this will clear things up. On the left is Simon, on the right is the traditional position. Below are schematics of the pictures above. Buttons, thumbstraps and pinky rests should be recognizable though crudely drawn. The direction of the fingers is represented in red.

Does everyone agree that a) the schematics accurately represent the finger orientation and b)Simon's fingers are perpendicular to the buttons while the traditional guy's are parallel?

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  • fingers.jpg





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