We'd Rather Switch (or combine) than Fight...
...about which system is better
Collected thoughts on playing more than one kind of concertina
The subject of which fingering system to play on concertina, or how/when/why to switch systems or add a new one, comes up often on Concertina.net. I went through such an experiment myself in 2001-2002 and collected these remarks (with a few of my own added) off the old bulletin board system. Here they are, reprinted for your amusement and edification. — Ken Coles
Chris Timson, 30 Jan 2002 who gets asked alot, which system should I learn/play?
"My normal reply is: the correct type of concertina to play is the one you want to play. There are people who get on with both types (their comments are elsewhere in this thread) but many people find that they are comfortable with one or the other, but not both - their basic principles are so different. If you are happy with the system you will find ways of playing the music that you want to play. I must admit I always find myself bridling a bit when someone says that if you want to play Irish/English/Classical/Folk/Jazz/Klezmer/etc you *must* play an English/anglo/Hayden/MacCann/flute/serpent/stumpfiddle. 'Tain't so, folks!"
For those who play both English AND Anglo; why?
[Concertina.net forum topic]
Jim Lucas writes (10 May 2002)
The difference in sound between nylon- and steel-string guitars is more like the difference between wooden- and metal-ended concertinas. (And to a discerning ear, there are subtle distinctions among the different woods: ebony, mahogany, rosewood, amboyna, etc.)
The difference between an anglo and an English is more like the difference between the 5-string banjo and the violin or mandolin. They seem to favor different styles of music, different harmonies and different patterns of emphasis. And to continue the concertina vs. string analogy, I would liken the duets to guitars or lutes.
Del: If I am to believe the hyperbole, the English can be played to sound like an Anglo. If that is the case, then why go to the extra difficulty (and expense) of both instruments?
Me: It's not hyperbole; it's fact... up to a point. *My* testimony to that effect applies only to the currently popular "Irish" styles on the anglo. And I don't claim that it's as *easy* to learn to play those styles on the English as on the anglo. The "English" anglo styles, with simultaneous vamped chords and melody, or rich harmonies (or as Jody Kruskal has characterized his own style, "as many buttons as possible at all times") are another matter entirely.
So why do some of us (try to) play more than one type of concertina? For the same reason that *some* people play more than one of violin, banjo, and guitar. Or why some who play concertina also play guitar, fiddle, flute, or even bodhran... for the musical variety it encourages.
Posted by: Ken Coles, May 10, 2002
Curiosity. The fun I've had playing several instruments and trying new ones all my life. The fun I've had comparing what I can do on different instruments. Pure emotion -- sometimes just the way they look or sound. The interesting history of a given instrument. Music is an adventure for me, an endless road, a way to make my life better.
It wasn't right off the bat. I had 5 serious years on anglo before recently trying the English. I'm not having problems jumping back and forth. I'm even getting better at switching between Jeffries and Lachenal anglo layouts in the middle of a practice session (which I would liken to different tunings on a guitar). As others have noted, on all these (and on the other instruments I play) scales are my key: major, minor, even chromatic. I've worked up a song in Bb minor on [C/G] anglo (never mind how it came about, it was an accident); that's five flats. Mind you, it is not fast or fancy or flashy, but I have fun with it.
I don't ask myself if an instrument I want to play is user-friendly. The trumpet, which I have played for over 30 years, is arguably less friendly than any free reed (loosens teeth, bruises lips, 100 psi inside the mouth, hyperventilation -- gee, sounds like a good bar fight!). This is another question with no resolution or single answer to it, in my view.
All that being said, I don't care if others agree with me about styles, which instrument works better for xxx kind of music, etc. I agree with Chris Timson there. I don't care which church you go to either, or if you go at all.
Posted by: Rod Newman, May 10, 2002
This is my experience with the Anglo and English. It hope it may be useful to those trying to decide.
I started with an G/C Anglo, after seeing Bertram Levy play, and used his instruction book and tape to get started. I became involved with a morris side, and based my learning on William Kimber, and, later, John Kirkpatrick. I learned to play melody with the right hand, and rhythm bass with the left. I also had an English, and I would occasionally practice with it.
We started a band to play for contra dancing. I learned to play jigs, reels, polkas and waltzes with the Anglo, using single notes across the rows, in keys other than G and C. I concentrated on the melody, because others supplied bass and rhythm. Because of the "in and out" of the bellows, I couldn't play some tunes as fast as the fiddler unless I improvised and skipped some of the notes. I started to practice the English concertina more intensely and use it more in the band, playing melody and harmonies, and accompanying songs. I bought the CD "Northumbria Forever". Alistair Anderson became a model.
I went to the North West Noel Hill school, where I learned that the Irish style of Anglo playing is much, much different than the Kimber and Kirkpatrick style. I enjoyed the school, enjoyed meeting fellow concertina players, but decided to stay with the Kimber/Kirkpatrick styles of Anglo playing.
For me, the Anglo, at least while playing the Kimber style, is a much more "intuitive" instrument. The consequence for me is that it takes longer to wean myself from sheet music when I'm using the English. I also like the rhythmic feel of the Anglo for some types of music, for example: morris tunes and some hornpipes, polkas and jigs.
On the other hand, with the English it's easier to play in keys other than the basic keys of the Anglo. You can have a smoother and faster flow of notes where it's called for. It's easier for me to play chords and harmonies to support the melody using the English than the Anglo. It seems to be more flexible for use with different types of music.
What's next for me, Anglo or English? I'll continue to keep trying to improve my English concertina skills. But I'll continue to use the Anglo for morris dancing and for some of the band tunes. I've recently heard a slightly different Anglo style by Andy Turner, of Magpie Lane band. I like it. I'll spend some more practice time with the Anglo, to see if I can master the style.
That's a summary of my experience with the Anglo and the English. As you can see, I continue to enjoy both instruments. I wouldn't want to recommend one instrument over another.
Irish tunes on English
Posted by: bruce boysen, May 12, 2002
Fellow concertina players, Since the anglo/english comparisons are a recurring theme, I thought I'd mention the current tune I'm working on. I play an Morse Albion english concertina. The tune is "The Cuckoo" and the version I'm learning is from The Anglo Concertina, by Frank Edgley. He mentions that it's one of Chris Droney's standards.
It works great on english almost as written. I play the first page (P.29) exactly as written. Sounds really nice and I think pretty much sounds like the way Frank plays it on Anglo. Not exactly alike, maybe a bit smoother, but close enough. Page 30 has some variations that are harder to play. This is the B part of the tune where right after the triplet you play a D, G then a low octave G & D together, followed by a G or in the next measure a B. (Just check out the first two measures on P. 30 if you have the tutor) The low G & D are hard to get as you have to do it all with just the right hand. It works much better to use the left hand and play a G & B. Sounds a bit different, but is so much easier to play. I'm having a lot of fun with this, but for the most part I don't have a lot of interest in trying to sound like an anglo on my english. I'd much rather play to the instrument's strengths. I've started to put a few variations of my own in, and as I get really comfortable with the tune I expect it to vary more from how it might be played on anglo. This is fun to do and I'm going to try some more tunes from this tutor/CD. I wonder if I'll find some of the variations too awkward to use. Perhaps the playing in octaves on Page 28? Not a strength of the english, but possible.
Ken's own story:
I doodled chords on 20-button anglo for some years. Eventually I got instruction in Irish style from several teachers and began playing 30 and 32-button anglos (Lachenals and a Morse). After about 3 years of effort, I hit a frustration point. The people I was working with didn't address my desire to add notes and harmonies to my playing. Whether they were disinclined, distracted at that moment, or I was outside their style I'm not sure.
This was a ripe time to be tempted by another system, and just then a decent used Lachenal English treble was dangled before me. I bought it and began a new exploration. Shortly thereafter I sought out an anglo player of the style I wanted to emulate and convinced them to give me some lessons on anglo. So I addressed my learning frustration (common with intermediate-level players) in two different ways. Sticking to one might be faster, but I don't want to give up either one now!
Here I want to take some musical examples to show how I address them differently on the different system instruments, but I haven't thought about it enough to articulate what I'm doing. Others on Concertina.net (like Bruce Boysen, quoted above) have done this. "Fanny Power" is the second tune I learned on English ("Keel Row," from Anderson's tutor, was the first). One of the things I noticed is that jumps of a fifth can be tricky on both systems! In both cases you can find yourself jumping to an adjacent button with the same finger. The way around this on anglo may be to find an alternate button or use another finger, which is also the case (in a different way) on English.
It occurred to me one day while sounding out a tune on English in a common key (I forget now if it was C, G, or D) at an introductory anglo concertina workshop I was teaching in Indianapolis, why English is turning out to be easy for me to play by ear. If the note is a third up or down, go for the next button on the same side. A second, the next button on the other side. A fifth, go for the (awkwardly) adjacent button on the same side. Those intervals cover much of what you get in traditional music. I articulated this once to an experienced player, who replied thinking that way doesn't help him at all! I'm not thinking this way consciously, just analyzing what my brain may be doing.
[in response to question by a beginner who wanted to try both systems]
RE: Would you buy a Stagi English?
Posted by: Ken Coles, May 2, 2002
I know right away which I am playing (after about one week), and am getting more confident with the G scale on English. But I think it helps that I played anglo steadily for five years before trying English. At your stage I would pick one or the other and focus on it, or you might find it frustratingly counterproductive (just my hunch, not true for everyone).
In the English concertina world a beginner has more affordable choices than for anglo. I got a playable, pretty good steel reed Lachenal treble in A-440 for $800, hardly more than you would pay for Stagi. Brass reed Lachenals go as low as $400-$500 fixed up (try calling Chris Algar, he seems to have more than he gets buyers for, so he puts them on ebay). And I've seen brass reed Wheatstones at $800 to $1000. Sometimes these are in old pitch, which may deter you, you have to decide. I won't be playing with others for awhile! And imagine owning a prewar Wheatstone, something an anglo player can only dream of. People will criticize brass reed tutor models, but they are OK for some of us to learn on.
Another strategy, which I neglected to mention, is to see if the Button Box is still renting Stagis and try it that way.