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The Neanderthal Vs. The English Concertina

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#1 Bullethead

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Posted 08 October 2015 - 08:30 PM

Howdy All-

 

I'm a complete and utter beginner with this whole concertina thing  (totaly playing time so far about 1 hour)  so I joined this forum to learn from you all.  Glad to meet you all.  I've got me a brand new Jackie and hope to get the barest rudiments of playing it down eventually  I learn best via negative feedback and have the scars to prove it so please feel free to beat me about the head and shoulders when I need it.

 

Which brings me to the "Neanderthal" part of the thread title.  About 1/2 my bones are diagnostically Neanderthal according to paleoanthropologists and my brain seems to work the old way, too.  Just as Uncle Neanderthal chipped his rocks the same way for a quarter million years, and was considered avante garde by Grandpa Erectus who was stuck in his ways for over 1 million years, I have neither imagination nor capacity for innovation.  But I know a good idea when I see one.so slavishly copy the inventions of today's new-fangled H. sapiens in my crude, unskilled manner.  You could classify me as a Chateperronian Neanderthal, I guess.

 

I have a bit of history with musical instruments.  I played trombone all through school (and haven't touched it since), taught myself a tiny bit of harmonica (but had severe problems with the inhale/exhale thing), utterly failed at the bagpipe due to being left-handed, and reached my Neanderthal physical finger and mental creativity limits with a Stratocaster,  I have never been able to make sense out of a piano and have a 1-(MIDI)-track mind anyway.  But I can type 60 words per minute, learned on a manual typewriter.  Thus, of all types of concertina, I seem most suited to the English, so I'm going to give that a go.

 

Anyway, I look forward to this adventure and hoipe to learn much from you all.

 



#2 Ken_Coles

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Posted 09 October 2015 - 07:22 AM

Actually, if you can type fast on a QWERTY keyboard, the experts say you are ready for Maccann duet.   B)

 

Have fun,

Ken



#3 Bullethead

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Posted 09 October 2015 - 08:18 AM

Update #1

The Neanderthal test subject has, after a couple hours of effort, reached the point where he can play "London Bridge" from memory, hitting the correct buttons about 75% of the time and occasionally with legato all the way through.  The Neanderthal reported that so far, he was finding that learning the EC wasn't as hard as learning to flintknap with the Levallois technique, which took him several years.  However, the concertina practice was intensely unappreciated by a cat which had the misfortune to be shut up in the lab with the Neanderthal.  The cat will not be included in future experiments.

 

---------------------

 

Anyway, I seek advice on holding the box.  I'm having trouble coming up with a technique that works for my Neanderthal hands.  My wide palm won't fit in anything less than a size XL glove but my wrist-to-fingertip length falls in the range of size S.  Thus, my hand doesn't fit the end of a concertina very well.  The thumb strap and pinky rest are way too close together for me.  Thus, I've had to improvise.

 

The attached pic shows what I've come up with so far.  I have the straps cinched up all the way so that I can only insert just the tip of my thumb, about to the quick of the nail.  I insert my thumb with the nail to the box, which position allows my palm to arch up high enough above the buttons that my 3 middle fingers can angle in to the button rows, with the same sort of curve to them as used for a manual typewriter.  The arch of the palm then brings my pinky in so that its tip just barely catches the rear corner of the rest.  As you can see in the picture, however, I'll probably have to play the top row buttons near the strap with my middle finger.

 

Often, the pinky is only touching the box at all when that end is pushing in, and my wrist is several inches off the surface, so the thumbs bear the whole weight.  Which is OK because they're strong but because I'm essentially using the straps as thimbles, there's a tendency for the concertina to want to fall off my thumbs.  So, my posture when sitting to play is leaning way back in my chair so I can rest a foot on the edge of a table with my knee up near eye level.  Then, with the concertina on my knee, gravity keeps the straps on the ends of my thumbs.  I haven't tried standing yet because I don't have a harness and I'm sure I'll drop the box if I don't have one.

 

So, is there anybody else out there with retro-styled hands (or just big hands in general) who has come up with a better method?  If so, please tell me.  While my laid-back playing posture is actually quite comfortable, it does tend to limit me to playing only in places with the necessary furniture, and where house rules don't frown on feet on the table ;).

 

In the alternative, I'm considering modifying the box.  I'd move the pinky rest back and perhaps rotate it so the curved end points down somewhat.  Also maybe moving the attachment point of the thumb strap up and back.  But I'd rather not do that unless absolutely necessary.  I'm no carpenter and besides, there are all the inner workings to worry about.

 

 

 

 

Attached Thumbnails

  • Neanderthal Hand.jpg


#4 Bullethead

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Posted 10 October 2015 - 10:21 PM

Update #2:

The Neanderthal spent several periods of 1-2 hours each with breaks between practicing on the EC.  He has moved from using tabs to reading the alien treble clef.  He spent most of his time sight-reading new tunes and repeatedly practicing troublesome riffs.  Surprisingly, he still cannot name a given note on the staff without pausing to recite a mnemonic device learned in his childhood.  The cat is still suspicious of the concertina but curiosity is causing it to hang around more and more.

 

------------------

 

It's a strange thing and speaks to the genius of Wheatstone that I can actually do this.  I never have understood the treble clef.  I really don't associate a dot on the staff with a note name nor even a specific button.  Instead, I can tell lines from spaces so I know which end to grope, I associate the dots with tones, and I can recognize intervals between dots.  Then I just let my fingers do the walking.  This is truly a brilliant invention.

 

I stumble a lot, I can't play anything with any speed, and I'm still having trouble holding the thing, but I can actually play tunes and recognize them under all the mistakes and slow tempo.  Without even having to think too much, the music just flows out almost by itself.  The EC is an amazing creation.  It allows even Neanderthals to pretend they can make music after only a couple of days.  I'm surprised it ever went out of fashion.  I suppose back in the day (and even now), they just can't make enough of them for them to become mainstream.

 

I did find it a bit easier to keep a grip on the box today.  I was even able to sit up straight without relying on gravity to keep the straps on my thumbs.  Maybe that's developing the proper muscles, maybe the new concertina is starting to break in and become more flexible. In any case, it was much less of a struggle than before, although there's still a ways to go there.


Edited by Bullethead, 10 October 2015 - 10:24 PM.


#5 Defra

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Posted 11 October 2015 - 05:06 AM

Thanks for the fun read.

I'm enjoying the image of a Neanderthal getting to grips with an instrument originally designed for genteel Victorian ladies to play primly in their drawing rooms. 

Good luck with the learning!

Dean



#6 Bullethead

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Posted 11 October 2015 - 08:51 AM

@Defra:

Thanks.  For most folks, music is entertainment so I'm trying to keep in that spirit.  Besides, it's easier to keep myself from becoming frustrated if can laugh at my difficulties :).

 

Now, I'm certainly no expert on concertina history, but according to the dubious source Wikipedia, the EC was patented in 1829 while Queen Victoria didn't begin her reign until 1837.  So it seems to me the EC was originally intended for the more bawdy times prior to the Victorian Era :).



#7 Bullethead

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Posted 11 October 2015 - 07:58 PM

Update #3:

Today the Neanderthal spent his time refining his competence of tunes he'd already seen before, reaching the point where he could play, after a fashion and usually with many mispressed buttons, things like "Scotland the Brave" and "Atholl Highlanders" from memory.  But the Neanderthal spent a lot of time tinkering with the guts of the concertina using borrowed metal tools because his own Chatelperronoian toolkit did not contain jeweler's screwdrivers.  In the end, he reassembled the concertina in a different form than before and claimed it worked better for him than previously.  Meanwhile, the cat spent most of the day at a vet that was open on Sunday, to be treated for severe respiratory congestion.  Coincidence?

 

-------------------------------------------------

 

While playing today, I noticed my Jackie had developed a rattle so I turned it end-over-end until a tiny hex nut fell out one of the sound holes.  So then I inspected the box and discovered that the right thumb strap had beome rather loose.  There was then nothing for it but to take the machine apart and put the nut back where it belonged.

 

Daddy Long Les has a video on what's inside a Jackie and mine was no different.  However, what he didn't mention was that when you undo the 2 tiny screws that hold the reed/action assembly to the outer end cap, the buttons all want to come off their rockers and you'll have the Devils own time getting the end cap back on top of the buttons while all the bottons are still properly connected to their rockers.  But the thumb straps and pinky rests are attached to the inner surfaces of the end caps so if you have a malfunction there, you've got to take the end cap off the action/reed assembly.  Needless to say, I made sure ALL the thumb strap screws were good and tight while I had it open---I had to tighten most of them.  So ye be warned----expect these to come apart.

 

So, having disassembled the box to that point, I decided I might as well try moving the pinky rests while I had the opportunity.  On the Jackie, the pinky rests are attached by 2 screws (with washers and nuts on the inside of the end cap above the action).  What I did was to move the pinky rests back so that what had been the rear screw was now the front and only screw, and tighten it down at an angle to the button rows.  I reinstalled the now-unused front screw in its hole both to prevent losing it and to stop that hole so as not to affect the instrument's sound.  The result is shown in the attached pic. 

 

Note that I then had to take the left end apart to do the same modification there, and it was MUCH harder to put that end back together.  The buttons have a tail that goes into a tiny hole drilled in the reed pan, and have a hole in their stems that the rocker arm goes into.  On the left end, the rocker arms were so short that the buttons had a strong tendency to fall off them if you nudged the reed pan at all while trying to fit the end cap back over the buttons.  It was a total pain, but I eventually got both ends back together.

 

And it was all worth it.  Now that I can get a proper grip on the box, the instrument is MUCH easier to play.  It has broken in some, in that when I pick it up out of its bag it stretches a bit, but now I can actually work the bellows without needing to involve my ring finger in pushing and pulling, because my pinkies now sit comfortably on the rests and thus can assist my thumbs.

Attached Thumbnails

  • Jackie Mod 01.jpg

Edited by Bullethead, 11 October 2015 - 08:01 PM.


#8 Bullethead

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Posted 14 October 2015 - 02:43 PM

Update #4:

The test subject is making reasonably good progress so, like in Young Frankenstein, I took the Neanderthal out in public to gauge the reaction.  While he made several mistakes both in playing and in his memorization of the tune, I think he did reasonably well.  The audience neither ran away in terror nor attacked, but they did keep their pitchforks and torches ready just in case.  All in all, not a bad show.  The cat was glad to have the Neanderthal and his concertina out of the house, too.

 

I wanted to show off my "progress" so here's my 1st recording of a concertina tune.  It was a lovely afternoon and I don't think I totally ruined it with this squawking :).  If you see anything amiss other than just sheer newbishness, please be as harsh as possible.  It's best to correct problems with the fundamentals up front rather than let them become bad habits.

 

I've started to get blisters from the straps on the insides of my thumbs.  While I'm waiting for them to become calluses, I've put some thin medical tape on them, which unfortunately makes them slippery.  So, while I was playing, my thumbs were sliding out of the straps, which caused a few problems.

 



#9 alex_holden

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Posted 14 October 2015 - 02:48 PM

Well done! Doing great for only a week's practice.

#10 Bob Michel

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Posted 14 October 2015 - 04:18 PM

So it seems to me the EC was originally intended for the more bawdy times prior to the Victorian Era :).


I'm sure it's a dreadfully inaccurate cliché, but my mental image of those early ECs always involves prim young ladies playing light classics in well-appointed middle class parlors.

You want bawdy, go Anglo.

Bob Michel
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#11 Bullethead

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Posted 14 October 2015 - 05:15 PM

Well done! Doing great for only a week's practice.

 

Thanks.  Do you see any obvious problems I need to correct before I enshrine them as muscle memory?  Use a cattle prod to point them out :).

 

 

I'm sure it's a dreadfully inaccurate cliché, but my mental image of those early ECs always involves prim young ladies playing light classics in well-appointed middle class parlors.


You want bawdy, go Anglo.

 

Hehehe, my mental image of concertinas is that, because of their portability, they were found in the hands of soldiers, sailors, pioneers, and travelling preachers in Wild West times.  So they've always got a Sergio Leone background to them :).

 

Then there's the sound of them.  To me, Anglos sound like accordions and ECs sound like harmonicas or saxes.  I associate accordions with Cajun, Mexican, and Texas German/Bohemian music which typically have rather sanitized lyrics even when dealing with risqué subjects.  OTOH, harmonicas are with the blues, prison songs, etc., and usually the lyrics are explicit, and saxes play pure sleaze :)


Edited by Bullethead, 14 October 2015 - 05:16 PM.


#12 David Barnert

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Posted 18 October 2015 - 03:13 AM

Do you see any obvious problems I need to correct before I enshrine them as muscle memory?  Use a cattle prod to point them out :).

 

Yes, since you asked.

 

You have made remarkable progress and there's nothing here to be ashamed of, but it's not too early to learn how to be a slave to the beat.

 

Imagine yourself walking (or dancing, if that's your thing), one foot after the other in a constant drumbeat. This is your metronome and your jailer. Do not allow yourself to escape from it.

 

If you miss a note or have trouble fingering it on time, skip it so you can play the next one on the beat. Don't slow your tempo to try to get difficult notes. If you find you are missing the same note over and over, take the whole thing (or just the relevant phrase) at a slower (but constant) speed. Speed it back up to a normal tempo only after you can play it slowly without breaking pace.

 

See if you can sing it (out loud) according to these principles. Walk while you're singing. One step per beat. Then apply this to your playing. Your playing should make you want to dance.



#13 Bullethead

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Posted 20 October 2015 - 03:00 PM

 

Yes, since you asked.

 

You have made remarkable progress and there's nothing here to be ashamed of, but it's not too early to learn how to be a slave to the beat.

 

Oh yeah, that's what I had drummed into my head in marching band back in high school.  But that was long, long ago, so I'm rusty at that.



#14 Tradewinds Ted

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Posted 21 October 2015 - 10:23 AM

Smiling at the thought of a self described Neanderthal mentioning "But that was long, long ago...."

 

I'm enjoying your log entries and observations.  Keep it coming! :D

 

Was surprised to see you compare the English concertina to the harmonica, as the note structure of the Anglo seems the closer relative.  But I suppose since you were referring to the sound, that may be all in how you have heard it played.  Certainly the English has an easier time offering up a blues harmony than a simple Anglo can, but I haven't often heard an English concertina played that way.  Would like to!

 

I would agree that the Anglo does compare with accordion (or melodeon) and also noticed your entry offering a Cajun tune.  Will comment on that thread separately, but I enjoy playing Cajun tunes on my Anglo.



#15 Bullethead

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Posted 24 October 2015 - 01:10 PM

Update #5:

The Neanderthal's modification of the pinky rests of his EC has proved a great success.  The inability to hold the instrument properly with his lumpish hands was really holding him back and causing frustration, but now he finds playing the EC much easier than before.  As such, he is making fairly good progress.  He now can play about 20 tunes reasonably well and has several of them memorized.  He is focusing on tunes he's heard all his life although he's also dabbled with a few that he's heard recently and likes.  At some point, I might make a recording of one of these.

 

-------------------------------------

 

The more I play the EC, the more I like it.  And I've finally gotten the hang of the alien treble clef, and remembered how to sight-read, so have been playing all kinds of stuff.  If I like how it sounds on the EC, I add it to my list and then play it regularly.  Sheet music that's black with long runs of quavers and semis used to intimidate me but it seems the EC was designed especially to play such things, at least now that I can get a proper grip on it.  Just let the fingers do the walking in many cases, without really having to think about where the notes are.  And I've even started to be able to improvise a tiny bit thanks to knowing where the various tones are in relation to each other.

 

The physical manipulation of the EC isn't the only skill I'm having to learn.  I've had to learn ABC notation, how to write in it, and how to use various software to manipulate it.  But it's worth it for the sheer utility and convenience.  Where has ABC been hiding all my life?  And also, I've had to learn the European language of music.  All this talk of quavers and such.  There's at least as much difference between US and Brit musical terminology as there is between their car terminology :).  Who knew?  Music being so mathematical, I figured everybody used the same names for the same elements.  Oh well, life is full of surprises.  In any case, so far I've found that learning the EC is as much a mental as a physical challenge.

 

I think the main reason I'll record myself playing next time is to get some feedback on volume.  I find that I need more bellows force to make the notes on both the high and low ends of the EC's range sound the same volume as those in the middle, and I get the impression from reading this forum that this is somewhat common.  However, I especially have to force the high-end notes and that raises a question.  I've got a lot of high-frequency hearing loss from a war and a lifetime around loud machinery so I'm wondering how much of this extra effort on the high end is a real thing and how much is just that I'm deaf?  IOW, when I play so all notes have the same volume to me, do I make the higher notes too loud for everybody else?

 

Was surprised to see you compare the English concertina to the harmonica, as the note structure of the Anglo seems the closer relative.  But I suppose since you were referring to the sound, that may be all in how you have heard it played.  Certainly the English has an easier time offering up a blues harmony than a simple Anglo can, but I haven't often heard an English concertina played that way.  Would like to!

 

I would agree that the Anglo does compare with accordion (or melodeon) and also noticed your entry offering a Cajun tune.  Will comment on that thread separately, but I enjoy playing Cajun tunes on my Anglo.

 
I look forward to your comments on Cajun music and hope you post up some tunes.  It's hard to find such stuff  online.
 
I was talking about the sound of the different types of concertinas.  Sure, harmonicas are genetically/functionally closer to Anglos than ECs because their tones change depending on which way the wind's blowing.  However, when listening to them, accordions are always playing chords/unisons because they always have multiple reeds going at once.  While this is quite easy to do with the harmonica as well, often you don't want to, so I associate harmonicas with the sound of a single reed, the way an EC sounds.  But with Anglos, I often hear multiple reeds at once, whether this is by accident or design.

Edited by Bullethead, 24 October 2015 - 01:18 PM.


#16 JimLucas

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Posted 24 October 2015 - 03:45 PM

So it seems to me the EC was originally intended for the more bawdy times prior to the Victorian Era :).


I'm sure it's a dreadfully inaccurate cliché, but my mental image of those early ECs always involves prim young ladies playing light classics in well-appointed middle class parlors.

Depends on how early. There was certainly that period, but didn't the first concertina sold by Wheatstone (Stephen Chambers' avatar) go to a military officer?



#17 Bullethead

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Posted 28 October 2015 - 03:14 PM

Update #6:

It being 3 weeks since the Neanderthal experiment began, I decided this was a good point to show progress so far.  It being a beautiful day après une déluge (9.75" of rain in a 36-hr period!), I let the Neanderthal out of his cage temporarily.  The result was a musical atrocity but does show that the Neanderthal is still making some progress with the instrument.  Fortunately, the traffic on the busy dual carriageway nearby covered most of the more hideous noises the Neanderthal produced.

 

 

---------------------------------------------------

 

Sometimes I can play this tune perfectly, sometimes can't even get started, but most times it's kinda like this with more or less mistakes scattered at random.  I find it requires intense concentration.  Some strains are physically easy but mentally challenging, and sometimes I forget where I am :).


Edited by Bullethead, 28 October 2015 - 07:05 PM.


#18 David Barnert

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Posted 29 October 2015 - 05:07 PM

Tremendous improvement along the lines of what I was talking about in my last contribution to this thread. Of course there are some groaner moments, but it's really beginning to sound like music. Keep at it.

 

Here's a suggestion: Now that you know your way around the instrument, see if you can get your hands on a decent one and give it a go. See if it doesn't convince you that it's time to trade up.





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