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The English Concertina Fingerplate....


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#1 goran rahm

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Posted 02 October 2003 - 03:35 AM

The English Concertina finger plate

- revealed - reformed - rejected.



The finger plate (finger rest) of the English concertina is a common source of confusion not only for the beginner. It is obvious from instructions that the view upon the use of the finger plate varies a great deal – from taking the weight of the instrument to not using it at all – despite individual authors seem to be quite determined about the proper way. Some historic examples:

19TH CENTURY

Charles Wheatstone in the 1844 patent papers described his intention that the concertina should be played with 1st and 2nd fingers while having 3rd and 4th fingers on the finger plate…adding: "for the purpose of facilitating the fingering of particular passages the third finger is also employed"

Giulio Regondi (1844) in his first tutor): " The fourth finger of each hand must (except when employed in playing) rest against the projecting plate…."

Joseph Warren (c.1845): "The fourth finger is not intended to support the instrument, but is to be

placed freely with the joints bent, and the nail against the curved part of the finger rest…"

George Case (1848): " resting the fourth fingers in the middle of the plates…"

Alfred B.Sedgwick (1849): " the little fingers being lightly placed under the rests…Care must be taken not to allow the weight of the instrument to rest upon the 4th fingers as they are frequently required to finger passages in a more advanced stage…."

Giulio Regondi (1857) in his " New Method for the Concertina": "The fourth finger plates…. are useful to beginners in order to balance the hands and keep them from turning too much towards the thumbs; but in a more advanced stage …it is impossible to dispense with the use of the of the fourth finger….so that it is useless or even bad to accustom the fourth finger to press tightly on the holders."

William Wheatstone (1861) along with describing improvements of the instrument balance in his patent application: " the finger plates are also dispensed with, and the 3rd and 4th fingers of each hand not being required to assist in supporting the instrument can be employed in operating upon the studs or keys."

Richard Blagrove (1864): " The fourth finger must be placed lightly in the finger rest, except when it is requisite to employ it, or otherwise moving with the remaining fingers in order to obtain an easy position for the hand".

James Alsepti (c.1885): " As the fourth finger of each hand is to be used as frequently as the other fingers, the pupil should never use the metal plates as a rest for that finger. These rests are only useful as a guide."

20TH CENTURY

The Salvation Army tutor (1935): " The little fingers readily adapt themselves to the rests."

Alf Edwards (1960): " The little finger must be placed lightly in the finger rest, but on occasions it is necessary to employ it or otherwise move it with the other fingers in order to obtain an easier position for the hand".

Alistair Anderson (1974): " Put your little finger on the finger ‘rest’ ( not the best description – I find my little finger takes quite a bit of the weight of the instrument at times) "

Frank Butler (1976): " The little fingers should rest under the finger plates, so that the weight of the instrument is taken on the thumbs and little fingers, leaving the middle fingers on each hand free to press the buttons…."





COMMENTS

The original ‘" two finger method" explains the otherwise strange design and location of the traditional finger plate. With the two fingers in this position (figure 1) you achieve a fairly stable hold of the instrument if the 3rd is resting against the curved ‘ upper’ end and taking the load from the rotation ( clockwise, looking at the right end) by the instrument when it is held with forearms horizontal. This contact between the 3rd finger and the ‘ upper’ end of the plate motivates why a curved part is provided only there.

There seems to be a remarkable discrepancy between the views upon the matter related by the Wheatstone brothers but 17 years passed between the patents and you find that some of the major tutors above were published in the meanwhile indicating the development of playing technique. I find it noteworthy that there seems to be no biographic notes that Charles W. ever played the concertina or did take active part in the concertina business before the death of William W. in 1862. It would be interesting to know why the handle of the instrument was not reformed at this stage as the original finger plate arrangement evidently could be regarded as obsolete. Maybe Charles W. did not have the same feedback from player experience as William W? Maybe he wished to preserve the original design since in these decades it certainly was a ‘ winning concept’ on the market? Judging from the tutors performers seemingly accepted the construction and adapted to it despite the insufficiency.

The impression I have is that the original design of the instrument was dominated by a wish to provide for great flexibility of fingering despite the locking of 3rd and 4th fingers to the finger plate at the same time counteracts this aim. Liberating 3rd and 4th fingers from their stabilizing duties is the natural consequence to get greater access to the notes but this inevitably means impaired management of the bellows – unless some alternative method regaining stability is offered. You do not find an analysis of this conflict in any of the tutors. William Wheatstone however, according to the patent papers referred to above, evidently intended to deal with the matter by a change of locations for keyboard and thumb strap and the introduction of a support for the hand. A natural continued development would have included some kind of utilization of the handle concept from (Anglo-)German and Duet concertinas since this does provide the means for using all four fingers in playing activities while still offering resources for more efficient management of the bellows.


MODIFICATIONS

When having just the 4th finger at the plate, using a "three finger method", conditions are much different from the original concept described by Charles Wheatstone:

If the 4th finger is allowed to slide up to the original position of the 3rd you are able to play in the highest octave but the lowest octave may be impossible to reach except with the nails. Consequently the 4th finger instead often will have an uncomfortable and unstable rest ( figure 3) in order to rotate the instrument into a better position.

It is evident that the original design and location of the finger plate is not suitable as a rest for just the 4th finger and I find it remarkable that the original concept survived despite being so obviously inappropriate. A few possible modifications in order to improve the situation are described here:

Using a flat-ended Wheatstone ( with equal interspaces between screw holes of the plate) the effect from relocating the finger plate to a position which is steadier for the 4th finger could be tested (figure 2).

A shorter plate located further towards the ‘lower’ end is another alternative ( figure 4).

If the instrument is held in a low position ( elbow angle 120 degrees or more) a curved supporting part also at the lower end of the plate is required ( figure 5). Switching sides and inverting the orientation of the original plates (figure 6) can test the effect from this feature.

In reality I have come across a modified finger plate according to the above only once - on a George Jones instrument - using a ‘ lower’ location as well and offering a more efficient hand position ( figures 7,8,9)

I have experimented with a few other variants myself. One with double curved parts, high lower end and located further down ( figures 10,11,12) and another open at the upper end ( figures 13,14,15) and at wish provided with a shorter stop for the nail of the finger ( figures 13,14) offering a more fixed position. The patterns for these plates are shown in figures 16 and 17.

On some wide range instruments you may find an extra long finger plate which does not offer any points of reference for the longitudinal finger positions in relation to the buttons.

To improve confidence a wave-like pattern of the plate side could be considered (figures 18,19) and to obtain a safer grip a ridge at the edge can be added (figures 18,20). Some original plates do have this feature.

ELIMINATION

As mentioned above William Wheatstone suggested that the finger plate could be dispensed with referring to the "cramped and restricted manner" resulting from " the necessity of employing the 3rd and 4th fingers of each hand to assist in steadying the instrument, and actuating the bellows."

This problem is touched by some of the tutor authors but the "three finger methods" merely offer a compromise since using the fourth finger to stabilize the instrument inevitably results in static load too, maybe even worse than if 3rd and 4th are engaged, obstructing optimal use of the other fingers for button work.

William Wheatstone also suggested a rearrangement of the keyboard and thumbstrap to achieve better balance of the instrument and providing a " rest for the wrist or ball of the palm of the hand" to improve the position of the hand.

It is not known if this type of instrument was ever realized but some prototype ought to have been made. As mentioned William W. died 1862 and it is hard to speculate why his insight was not passed on. Nevertheless the "four finger method" of Regondi, Alsepti and others has been practised by some prominent performers using the normal instrument despite the poor balance and difficulty to hold it makes the technique particularly demanding.

During the almost 150 years which have passed there probably have been players trying to improve the situation on their own without going public and in recent years at least two variants of improved handles have been presented (by Michael Bell and myself) aiming for comfortably holding the instrument also when playing standing and using four fingers in a relaxed manner.

Still a redesign according to the outlines presented by William Wheatstone would be desirable to improve the balance of the instrument.

CONCLUSIONS

The original finger plate is not purposeful when using the common ‘three finger method’ of playing since it was designed and located in regard to using both 3rd and 4th finger to hold the instrument. If a finger plate is used for just the fourth finger conditions could be improved by reforming the shape and location of the plate.


It can be seriously questioned however if the finger plate is useful at all since the option including the fourth finger in actual playing activities is an essential additional advantage and also because

any immobilization of the fourth finger inevitably reduces relaxed activity by other fingers.

It seems to me as if the initial introduction of the finger plate in fact was an unfortunate mistake, which may have held back development of the instrument as well as progress of playing technique. Eliminating the finger plate presupposes however that other means to support and control the instrument are provided - demands which indicate that the original English Concertina design and construction may need a profound reformation.



Goran Rahm

Uppsala

Sweden

January 2003

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#2 Guernsey Pete

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Posted 26 January 2004 - 10:30 AM

Just a footnote - whilst most english players I know DO use the fingerplate, the noted young musician Simon Toumire does not - he also holds his forearms up at about 45 degrees if playing standing up - and he does play very quickly and fluently.

GP

#3 RatFace

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Posted 09 July 2004 - 05:56 PM

Rob Harbron doesn't really use/need the finger plate either - he's happy to lift his little finger up to either use it or just free up the hand, though sometimes his little finger does seem to rest on the finger plate when neither of those things are needed. He keeps control of the bellows by not opening them very far, resting them on his knee/upper leg and opening the top of the bellows more than the bottom. I play in this way too.

#4 geoffwright

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Posted 13 July 2004 - 06:58 AM

I am working towards not relying on little finger on the plate.
Once the thumb-straps get bedded in to your thumb position, by an large, I can control the bellows, taking most of the weight on the knee, leaving the little finger either for use, or at total rest in a comfortable position with no weight on it.
I guess this is the problem that causes a lot of the pain/discomfort amongst players?

#5 JimLucas

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Posted 13 July 2004 - 07:12 AM

Once the thumb-straps get bedded in to your thumb position, by an large, I can control the bellows, taking most of the weight on the knee, leaving the little finger either for use, or at total rest in a comfortable position with no weight on it.

I find that difficult to do in a standing position. :)
Playing while standing, with the instrument supported only by my hands, is what I prefer. I know that many others avoid that.
I mostly keep my little finger under the plate, to help support the instrument, but I will occasionally take it out to use on a button, if it makes a sequence significantly easier.
Different strokes.

I could write an essay on "my" way. But not today. ;)

#6 Lester Bailey

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Posted 13 July 2004 - 10:54 AM

I agree with Jim that the "best" way to play a concertina is stood up. You can then play it with your whole body. If you look at the likes of John Kirkpatrick and Alistair Anderson when they play their instuments its from from the toes up.
Your mileage will almost certainly vary.

#7 JimLucas

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Posted 13 July 2004 - 11:10 AM

Your mileage will almost certainly vary.

Indeed.
... E.g., Alistair is at least 1/10,000 mile taller than I am. :D

#8 Henrik Müller

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Posted 29 December 2005 - 04:59 AM

Just a footnote - whilst most english players I know DO use the fingerplate, the noted young musician Simon Toumire does not - he also holds his forearms up at about 45 degrees if playing standing up - and he does play very quickly and fluently.

GP

If I play a "foreign" (somebody else's) instrument I may use it, otherwise not. I always sit down, and forget about it. The instrument I am (stilol) building has no fingerrest, but an (angled) handrest and a handstrap.
/Henrik




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