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Which Instrument(s)?


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#1 JimLucas

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Posted 27 December 2003 - 05:52 PM

This is a follow-on from a post in a Topic in the General Discussion forum. I think the subject -- what concertina to choose to learn -- more properly belongs under Teaching & Learning, so I'm diverting that thread into this Forum.

The comments in this post are in response to a particular individual's request for assistance. The advice I would give to an individual with different experience and/or desires would be different. Will be different, if other individuals ask for similar advice, which I hope they will do, and under this Topic.

I am a serious quasi-professional mandolin player. But I've been curious about concertina. I love the sonic texture it gives to music. I am, however, confused about what instrument I should even be trying to test/rent prior to taking the $$$ plunge. The music I play includes a pastiche of bluegrass, contradance/old-time, country, Americana (a cover of The Iguanas aches for the sound of something with a bellows), Celtic and gypsy jazz. Perhaps I have been listening to too much accordion lately, but I would also like to play what I can only call global cafe music -- all of which has some sort of squeeze instrument in the mix. This includes French musettes, Italian cafe music, Argentinian and Brazilian music, lots of Piazzolla. And I would also love to learn some Nortenos. This obviously means I need accordion and bandoneon.

No it doesn't, unless you want to be indistinguishable from all the others who play those instruments. Robert Harbron has done some beautiful arrangements of melodeon and French accordion pieces on English concertina. I've heard excellent tangos on anglo, and Scott Joplin pieces on both anglo and English which sounded as if they were originally written for those instruments. The possibilities with any concertina will be limited more by your imagination than by the instrument itself.

It seems, based on what I have read thus far, that I might be best off thinking about a duet-style instrument.

Not necessarily. Your own best bet may be the English. A standard treble English is in many ways similar to a mandolin: same lowest note and a 3-octave range; fully chromatic; generally good for chords or melody, or melody with simple harmonies, but not for vamping chords against melody; etc. In fact, much of what you do on the mandolin might transfer comfortably note-for-note onto the English concertina, where you could then modify it to suit your own tastes and the idiosyncracies of the concertina. Such a "jump start" on your learning process could be worth a great deal.

The duets are a different kettle of fish entirely, with the two hands potentially independent, as in the piano. If that's the direction you want to go, that's cool, but keep in mind that if you do that you will not only be adding the concertina sound, you will be forcing yourself to learn an entirely different genre of arrangement, accompaniment, and thinking about music. If you do want to head that way, you might even be better off learning to play piano or piano accordion first, since there are much more extensive materials for learning different styles on those instruments. Then once you're comfortable with the separated-hands concept you could try applying it to a concertina.

By the way, there's nothing wrong (except possibly expense) with learning to play more than one kind of concertina. The English, anglo, and duet are as different as the mandolin, banjo, and guitar, and many folks play two or more different stringed instruments.

What from there? I assume apart from workshops, I will have to teach myself. Will this be difficult without significant piano training and calcified standard notation reading skills (tablature ... where was it when I began playing guitar!)?

Standard notation won't be a problem. The problem will be finding worthwhile teaching materials, no matter what type of concertina you take up. In general, the tutors that use standard notation also teach what they use. But none really go beyond the basics of either notation or playing. (Allan Atlas' recent book is an exception, but I understand it starts assuming that you're already competent at both.)

Most of the information out there seems to deal with playing in a Celtic or Morris setting only.

And it's mostly for the anglo. Allan Atlas' book is an exception on both counts, but I believe it also concentrates on a particular genre. Those few players doing the other kinds of music you're interested in don't seem to be publishing tutorial material or even arrangements. You'll have to be creative.

#2 ldpaulson

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Posted 27 December 2003 - 08:34 PM

Thank you for your thoughtful response, Jim.

I warned you I was confused. And you missed my winking icon after my comment about needing both accordion and bandoneon. Doesn't everyone need one of *every* instrument and to be playing them routinely?

The possibilities with any concertina will be limited more by your imagination than by the instrument itself.


Sigh. This is great news. As is this...

A standard treble English is in many ways similar to a mandolin: same lowest note and a 3-octave range; fully chromatic; generally good for chords or melody, or melody with simple harmonies, but not for vamping chords against melody; etc. In fact, much of what you do on the mandolin might transfer comfortably note-for-note onto the English concertina, where you could then modify it to suit your own tastes and the idiosyncracies of the concertina. Such a "jump start" on your learning process could be worth a great deal.


I do play a lot of rhythm on mandolin, so I'm curious about your comment about the English not being suitable for vamping. Would it just sound horrid to play chords while others are taking their turn on the melody?


Those few players doing the other kinds of music you're interested in don't seem to be publishing tutorial material or even arrangements. You'll have to be creative.


Always good to know what I'm up against. I'm certain between enlisting the help of the few accordion players I know and you lot here, I'll be headed in the right and creative direction.

I'm currently waiting for a response from someone locally who might let me borrow a concertina that is languishing, unplayed because of a stuck button. He's not sure what type it is. I expect to hear more within the week. Once I've tootled around and done some additional research, I'm sure I'll have even more questions including whether I should get that 18-button Stagi I found online. But that's a post for another day.

And thanks for moving this topic into the proper spot. I had thought I was in the right place with that thread.

ldpaulson

#3 JimLucas

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Posted 27 December 2003 - 11:24 PM

Doesn't everyone need one of *every* instrument and to be playing them routinely?

Well, at least intending to learn to play them, eventually. ;)

I do play a lot of rhythm on mandolin, so I'm curious about your comment about the English not being suitable for vamping. Would it just sound horrid to play chords while others are taking their turn on the melody?

Sorry. I was unclear. The English is great for vamping, just not for simultaneous vamping and melody, as is commonly done on instruments where chording and melody can be done in separate hands, such as piano, accordion, and anglo concertina.

I'm currently waiting for a response from someone locally who might let me borrow a concertina that is languishing, unplayed because of a stuck button. He's not sure what type it is.

Best thing would be to take some pictures (both ends and bellows), which you could post for us to see. You would soon get plenty of information. Probably opinions, too. :)

I'm sure I'll have even more questions including whether I should get that 18-button Stagi I found online.

I would recommend against it. You would almost certainly find the range inadequate, but more important is that the design of that model is poor and construction quality inconsistent at best.

And thanks for moving this topic into the proper spot. I had thought I was in the right place with that thread.

Well, there may be those who think you did put it in the right place, and that putting it here makes the scope of this Forum too broad. No one is enforcing where to put things, but I gave my reasons why I think here is the place, and I hope others will join me. Your question has been asked more than once under General Discussion, but that forum is so general that those Topics have disappeared from sight.

#4 ldpaulson

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Posted 28 December 2003 - 03:51 PM

Thanks for the additional post. I'm sorry I didn't see your reply earlier. The e-mail notification is a nice feature, but it appears it was checked on the previous post rather than this thread. Oh well!

Best thing would be to take some pictures (both ends and bellows), which you could post for us to see. You would soon get plenty of information. Probably opinions, too.


This is provided he does decide to let me borrow his instrument. He isn't selling it. That was made very clear in our brief conversation. We didn't have an in-depth conversation because we were talking between tunes. I hope to find out more information in the coming weeks.

I mentioned the Stagi only as a possible starting place because of its price (about $400) and portability. I know it's best to get the best instrument you can afford. My pocketbook would prefer a rent-to-own. I don't think that's feasible/possible. When I began playing mandolin I started out with a playable, but inexpensive instrument for starters. In fact, it was a loaner that I later bought. I didn't upgrade instruments until it was time and I knew I was going to stick with it. I think that is a prudent course of action -- at least for me. And I firmly believe the instrument you were meant to have finds you when the time is right or before you're ready.

Thanks for the note,

ldp



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