Years ago I inherited an old and beat up Anglo concertina, called The Gremlin. I suppose that is the manufacturer or brand name, but how do you say it in conversation? “I have a The Gremlin? Where’d you get that The Gremlin?” A Fender is a Fender; a Roland, a Roland. Why is there an article in the brand name? It’s confusing.
It works, but the thing really is a wreck—scratches and dents, candle wax drippings, yellow tape on the bellows, a small dog collar in place of the strap on one side. More seriously, on that one bad side, some of the keys are mashed a little at an angle, one key in particular has to be double tapped or the note will stick open, and on another key the note is just slightly off, so I assume the reed has been damaged.
But I don’t want to linger on the disgraceful state of my near ruined concertina for too long. Mainly I wanted to discuss the technique of playing concertina, and to see if anyone had any suggestions.
I’ve rejected YouTube instructional videos for the simple reason that none seem to use a concertina with my layout. It has 18 keys to a side, and I couldn’t find a fingering chart on the internet that matches that layout either, not with all the notes marked at the correct places, anyway. But a fingering chart was easily constructed with a pen, paper and chromatic tuner.
I also rejected the idea of practicing scales, which seemed to be the method put forward in the YouTube videos I sampled. Practicing scales is a perfectly logical way to learn to play, but to me it’s boring. Instead, I picked out a little melody that I liked and tried to learn that.
The song I picked was “Hog of the Forsaken” by Michael Hurley. It turned out to be a fortuitous choice, because the melody that I’m trying to copy (played by fiddle in the original) continually returns to the note of d, and I have three ways to play that note by either pushing or pulling the bellows.
I very quickly discovered that playing concertina involves a certain level of strategy. For example, the first dozen or so notes of my melody can all be played on the left hand side, but I have to constantly change the direction of the bellows to do that, which is awkward. On the other hand, I can play those same dozen notes on one continuous pull with a combination of right and left hand, but then, unless I’m playing at a very rapid tempo, I run out of air before I’m through the dozen notes. I had to find a good strategic place in the middle of those dozen notes to reverse course, so on the first six or so notes I’m pulling the bellows out, and then pushing them in. This was also important because for the next part of the melody I want to be pulling the bellows out again, so I want to end that first dozen notes with the bellows depressed.
I’ve more or less mastered this first melody I’ve chosen to learn. I’m open to any advise on technique that will advance my playing. Also, any suggestions for a new song to learn. I like old timey American music, and Irish music.
One further consideration. I really like this instrument, but like a said, it is in bad shape physically, so eventually I’m going to want to replace it. However, when I do a google search for a 36 key Gremlin, I’m not finding it. Is this a rare type of concertina? Will I have trouble replacing it?