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Cross Row Fingering


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#19 ceemonster

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Posted 13 March 2008 - 11:33 PM

i came to irish concertina after five or so years on b/c accordion, which has less "across-the-rows" potential than anglo concertina of course, but the most of any diatonic button box, so i had already been introduced to the idea of having the same note available in different directions so you can make choices about whether to go for "punch" or "flow." also, i have a fascination with the large concertina known as the bandoneon, which has even more note duplication and directional choices than anglo concertina, and had done a lot of reading about how bandoneon worked. which is to say, i came to concertina not knowing that there was even any issue of "on the rows" versus "across the rows".....to me, it was all up for grabs, and that's how i taught myself to play. to me, the idea of schools of thought about where you play the high D is ludicrous---obviously, you use both options at will, depending on the tune or what phrasing or inflection you want. i also use all of the right-hand high "Gs" including the pull one on the accidental row. granted, this has taken a while to get into my neural pathways, but the payoff in terms of expressive choices is huge. i personally have not bought into the school of concertina, er, attack, where cross-row players are supposed to avoid same-direcction options so they can sound more, er, muscular. around about the time the "muscular" sound came into fashion, fascinatingly enough, a more flowing sound (which you can get playing on the rows no less than across the rows) began to be dubbed "feminine," in articles by commentators, a conceit which makes me want to upchuck and would probably strike smooth, flowing players such as packie russell or paddy murphy as hilarious. in irish music, a "punchy" sound or a smooth, flowing sound, are both legitimate stylistic options with no applicable gender stereotype. i personally want as flowing as sound as i can get short of sounding classical or like an English concertina, because the paddy carty-ish sound is my fave (ha, flute, like fiddle & pipes, has remained free of the "feminization" of flow-style playing, which seems to be in play only with concertina....i think this would be a great paper topic: "Oedipal Insecurity and the Bean Chairdin"!!!)

all of which is only partly digressive---it is to say that, if you sign up for a class that presents a method forbidding you to use certain note options in favor of others, the class may well be worth its weight in gold as a good introduction to a "default" approach that would give you a great start, but just remember in your secret heart that once you leave the class, .....as Friedrich put it, "Nothing Is Forbidden." All options are open, the only limitations being a) does a fingering choice snarl you up---i.e., lead to a "dead end" that snarls up the tune, or create intractable bellows-control problems; and limitation B ---does the fingering choice create an ambience outside the parameters of Irish music (they are wide parameters, with a nice wide spectrum of punch-versus-flow choice open to you before you start to sound too slack or too hurkledy jerkledy).

Edited by ceemonster, 13 March 2008 - 11:42 PM.


#20 Frank Edgley

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Posted 15 March 2008 - 10:38 AM

Let me first state that I really like Noel's playing. His latest CD is brilliant. I have a lot of respect for his playing. I also like to listen to other players. That's what makes concertina such a fascinating instrument. Depending on the style, and fingering is an important part of it, the same tune played by different players has its own unique sound and feeling. This is great! If concertinas were only played in one style, it would be boring after a while. I think concertina offers more in this regard than many other instruments.
Fifteen years ago, I went to Ireland and while my wife took set dancing classes at the Willie Clancy School, I signed up for concertina. Arriving a day late, I had to audition for Noel for him to decide which class I was to go to. This was in front of his class, which had been chosen the day before---very intimidating. After playing several reels, he placed me into his class. I was very pleased with that. However, his style of fingering was very different from mine, and noone was allowed to vary from it. The next morning, I approached Noel and asked him if I could be transferred to another class as I did not want to change. He tried to dissuade me, but in the end, I was placed into John(?) McMahan's class. Quite a difference there. We approached each tune and discussed what choices would work for that particular tune. Noone was compelled to conform.
and we all went away from the class feeling good about what we were doing and that we had learned something. I am very happy with my style of playing. It has continued to develop since then and I am still making modifications to it. My own personal style has been influenced by Chris Droney, Jacqueline and Tommy McCarthy, Chris Sherburn and a bunch of fiddlers I have played with over the years. Fifteen years ago, thanks to Mr. McMahan, I was given the freedom to develop my own way within the context of Irish traditional music. If I had remained in Noel's class, I would have come away frustrated, thinking that it wasn't really correct to play in the way I did. It would have always been at the back of my mind that somehow what I was doing was wrong.
Again, let me repeat, Noel is a great player and he has had a tremendous influence on concertina playing. Not many of us (certainly not myself) will ever become the great players Noel is, today. However, constricting yourself to play slavishly like any particular player is perhaps not wise, under those cicumstances. If you cannot be as good as XXX, playing in XXX's style will only make you a poor imitation of him or her, whoever that may be. However, if you can manage to stay within the idiom, play well, and do it in your own unique style, you will add to that richness which is concertina playing.

#21 tombilly

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Posted 15 March 2008 - 02:36 PM

Sounds like good common sense and all very interesting and intriguing. However I do think the origin of this thread was someone seeking specific info. on cross fingering technique. Obviously threads have a life of their own and go here & there but wouldn't it be good if a few more people suggested tunes and different approaches to fingering them along with .mp3 files to illustrate the differences? Just wondering ..

#22 JimLucas

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Posted 15 March 2008 - 04:46 PM

Again, let me repeat, Noel is a great player and he has had a tremendous influence on concertina playing. Not many of us (certainly not myself) will ever become the great players Noel is, today. However, constricting yourself to play slavishly like any particular player is perhaps not wise, under those cicumstances. If you cannot be as good as XXX, playing in XXX's style will only make you a poor imitation of him or her, whoever that may be. However, if you can manage to stay within the idiom, play well, and do it in your own unique style, you will add to that richness which is concertina playing.

Just as there are many different playing styles and different styles of teaching, there are also individual styles of learning. From your description, Frank, it seems that Noel's teaching style wasn't compatible with your learning style... and that would be partly -- but not entirely -- because you already had your own playing style. I, too, could never slavishly follow another person's style/fingering/technique... in the long run. But I would be willing and even glad to do so for the duration of a week-long course, because I would hope to learn from it at least a few useful details that I wouldn't have "discovered" on my own. After the course, I would return to my own style, but it would be (I hope) somewhat expanded and (perhaps) somewhat altered.

So my advice to anyone considering taking classes from Noel Hill -- or anyone else -- is that when you listen to others' experiences, you consider not just what it tells about the teacher, but also what it tells about the student/teller. Then compare yourself to the teller: "Would I react the same way to that teaching style? If not, how? Would it work for me if I liked the instructor's playing technique? Could it work for me if I didn't?" Because there's no one answer that's right for everyone. You're lucky Frank, that you found a teacher that worked for you. But it's more than luck: You had both the sense to realize that Noel wasn't working for you and the courage to say so and do something about it. :)

#23 ceemonster

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Posted 16 March 2008 - 02:46 AM

well, the original poster did bring up the issue of the noel hill method and in fact asked for examples of that method, which wouldn't really be appropriate to give since mr. hill's own teaching materials are proprietary. but the discussion which has followed, does flow logically from the original post.

but one way to get an illustration of the difference between "cross-row" fingering and older-style "on the rows" playing might be to acquire the instruction book by Mick Bramich titled "The Irish Concertina: A Tutor for the Anglo Concertina in the Irish Style." this book gives "across the rows" diagrams of common irish-key scales. get the book, but before you look at anything in it, pick a scale, say, the "G" scale. play this scale to yourself on the concertina "on the rows," like you would on a harmonica. then open the book and compare what you did to Bramich's diagram of how one might do that scale using all the rows. i actually did that once, for the G scale, and again for the D scale, and never looked at the book again. i didn't learn using scales, but comparing his scale diagrams to scales played "on the rows" ought to give you the idea.....according to the intro in the book, mr. bramich stumbled on this way of playing, on his own.

just to keep this in perspective, in my opinion there is a little silliness afoot right now in the portentous pronouncements of ITM historians about the Big Breakthrough in Playing Across the Rows. The point in Irish music where concertina players began to do this is described like Benjamin Franklin with the kite or something. it might be helpful to remember that when Irish players starting playing across the rows, they were merely figuring out how the damn thing was SET UP to be played. before 30-button (and more than 30) concertinas ended up in ireland, the english upper-classes were playing complex classical chamber music on them. 20-button concertinas gradually became 30 and 30-plus-button concertinas buttons precisely to duplicate notes in added directions, to enable sophisticated, complicated music to be played on it. this is also what happened with the evolution of the bandoneon layout. it is perfectly understandable that when the fad for these concertinas abated in england and they began to turn up in ireland, rural irish farm people would not have known this, and would have initially played these complex concertinas like their more rudimentary 20-button predecessors, and in that context it was indeed creative and innovative to start using those extra buttons to get smoother sounds---but they were not inventing the wheel. rather, they were waking up to the potential of what all those extra buttons are there for.....and that is all that learning to play "across the rows" is about.

#24 ceemonster

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Posted 16 March 2008 - 02:47 AM

sorry, duplicated above post.

Edited by ceemonster, 16 March 2008 - 02:56 AM.


#25 tombilly

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Posted 17 March 2008 - 11:37 AM

well, the original poster did bring up the issue of the noel hill method and in fact asked for examples of that method, which wouldn't really be appropriate to give since mr. hill's own teaching materials are proprietary.


Thanks for the suggestions and ways of going foward...
I can't really fathom the above though, I didn't think anybody could possibly hold the intellectual property rights to a sequence of button presses on a concertina. Or even a teaching method - we're talking a folk music here. Surely no one person can possibly say, this is my method and no one else can copy it or deliver instruction in it except by my agreement. Perplexed!

#26 Daniel Hersh

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Posted 17 March 2008 - 01:51 PM

Just curious: what's your source of information for this? What you're saying sounds like an accurate history of the English concertina, but I'm not sure that I've heard this said about the Anglo-chromatic before. The Anglo (and the German concertina before it) was certainly popular in England, but I was under the impression that it was more of a folk/working class instrument there.

Daniel

before 30-button (and more than 30) concertinas ended up in ireland, the english upper-classes were playing complex classical chamber music on them. 20-button concertinas gradually became 30 and 30-plus-button concertinas buttons precisely to duplicate notes in added directions, to enable sophisticated, complicated music to be played on it. this is also what happened with the evolution of the bandoneon layout. it is perfectly understandable that when the fad for these concertinas abated in england...



#27 gzeg

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Posted 20 April 2008 - 06:13 PM

Here are some comments on this subject from a friend who is an occasional student of Gearoid O hAllmhurain. Sorry about the delay - I wanted to check before posting this quote from a personal email, which is a response to my questions about Gearoid's views on using the C or the G-row D as your "base" fingering:

"I use the high D on the G row more often than the D on the C row. It's especially useful when playing D tunes with a lot of D-C#-D combinations. Sucks when it's an A on the C row back to a D on the G row - I can do this fairly quickly now but sometimes switch down to the A on the G row. I have also heard that Noel uses that D a lot - which follows his theory of using the strongest finger whenever possible.

Gearoid uses both and uses the D on the C row more often than I would. If I'm playing up into the higher octave, I always use the D on the G row - so I will play from the C/B on the C row to the D/E (push/pull) on the G row and then up the scale. If I'm playing mostly down in the lower octave and just going up to the D or E then back down, I will use the D on the C row. He also makes a nice triplet on the pull from B, C (G row), and D.

The D/E combination on the G row to the G/F# combination on the G row is especially handy for triplets involving those notes. Also, if I play E/D on the C row and then have play B/A on the G row - my fingers get all twisted up. Playing the D/E on the G row off either G/F# or B/A on the other side makes it bouncier too. I like bounce.

One more thing - the D and E cran is done on the G row using the D/E button and the first two buttons on the G row, right side. So a D cran will be all push - D-B-G-D-D and an E cran will be all pull - E-A-F#-E-E. Love those crans - just wish I could do them better. I think that is probably the most compelling reason for using the D/E on the G row.

Having said all that, it's a personal preference and you should do what feels comfortable - there are times when playing it either way works. I just find that whatever I do, I need to do it fairly consistently or I get myself all mixed up.

So, some thoughts from someone who's spent a fair bit of time figuring out cross-row issues, and is quite a tasty player.

I'm adding this in the hope that it will provoke more informative discussion on this topic.



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