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About Mikefule

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    Author of Bridge of Otherwhere, 2018, available on Kindle/Amazon. Dancer, Fool, and occasional musician with Dolphin Morris Men of Nottingham, UK. I play Anglo concertina and harmonica. My concertinas are a Dipper 30b G/D, Lachenal 30b C/G baritone, and Lachenal 20b standard and piccolo. I have composed a few tunes and also written songs for occasional performance at Morris events. Other hobbies include sailing my Cornish Cormorant (12 ft balanced lug), cross country unicycling, motorcycling (Moto Guzzi V7) and other outdoorsy stuff.
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    Lincolnshire, UK

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  1. As both ends of the instrument are driven by the same bellows, the relative volumes of the two ends are inextricably linked. There is no way of playing one side more quietly while playing the other side louder. However, there are things you can do. Sound reflects. If you sit with one end towards the wall and one end towards the room, you will hear the "wall end" as louder. From a technique point of view, it is probably not the volume, but the duration of the notes that is causing the problem. The duration of the notes on the right hand is dictated by the melody. A melody is made up of long and short notes. The duration of the notes on the left hand accompaniment is a matter of choice and practice. In the early stages of learning the instrument, it is likely that you are playing the melody slowly, and also giving too much value to each note. The notes should normally be distinct from each other. The gaps are tiny but should be there. Instead of playing something that sounds like "Da da daa da da da", a beginner will often play something more like "Daadaadaaaadaadaadaa." On the left hand, for the same "Da da daa da da da" tune, the accompaniment should be more like "D– d– -da– d d–d–d–" (These are sounds, not the note D.) For a beginner, it is common for the two hands to work together exactly, so that the notes on the right and left are exactly the same length and timing. This is easier, but it means that the accompaniment sounds muddy and overpowers the melody. Are you taking your fingers off the button between consecutive notes on the same button? This is a far better discipline than relying on changes of bellows pressure to start and stop each note. It means that the note starts crisply as the valve opens, and ends crisply as the valve closes. You have absolute control over the timing and duration of the note — at least insofar as you have absolute control over your fingers. There is an exercise that helped me in my early days This works for 6/8 tunes (jigs and some marches) but a similar idea can be adapted for other time signatures. Assuming a CG instrument: Right hand, play |C D E, C D E| repeatedly in a steady jig rhythm: "tid-er-ly, tid-er-ly..." Left hand, play a "tid (gap) ly" rhythm. |C — E, C — E| etc. So the left hand is not playing on the D note of the rhythm. Once you have that timing, play two notes (EG) on the "ly" part of the tidderly on the left hand. So the right hand will go |C D E, C D E| etc. and the left hand will go: |C — (E&G), C — (E&G)| etc. Aim for a clipped, almost percussive sound on the left. Keeps those notes as short as possible. Once you can do this, you can build on it, working further up and down the scale on the right hand, and experimenting with different bass notes on the left hand.
  2. All true. There is no single "catch all" description or analysis. Another important thing for folk music is which keys fit the singing style and the range of the typical untrained voice. As for instruments suiting particular keys, there is probably a two way street here. The current convention has not always existed, and we still have the irritatingly tricky situation of transposing instruments. When I used to play trumpet, what I read as C came out as B flat, so if I wanted to play in "real G" (Greenwich Mean G? British Standard G?) I had to do a calculation. Then there are E flat instruments with a similar problem. The violin is a great example, because it is not only a crucial instrument in the orchestra and the string quartet, but also a standard part of English folk, American country and Irish traditional music. The present violin as we know it is the product of evolution and selection. The size, range, and even number of strings, have changed over time, and will no doubt continue to do so. I'm no musicologist, but my general impression is that what we have today in terms of conventional instruments, popular keys, the stave and clefs are what has survived from a far wider range of options. The instruments, the music, and the notation have developed together, sometimes one influencing another, sometimes vice versa.
  3. Yes, a lot people forget there are several clefs. Probably most of us only use one and have passing familiarity with one more. Think of one continuous series of lines and spaces big enough to encompass the entire piano keyboard. For convenience, we choose to display only 5 of these lines, relying on ledger lines above and below when required. It makes sense to choose the 5 lines we're going to use most often, with the minimum use of ledger lines. Most of us will know the treble clef with the stylised G circling the line for the note G. Many of us will know the bass clef, with the stylised F with the two dots straddling the note F. Less well known is the C clef, with the heavily stylised C straddling middle C. Even less well known (I had to look it up) is that the C clef is "commonly" used in two positions: for Alto or Tenor, as required. These 4 give us treble, bass, alto and tenor. Even less well known than that (I just found out today) is that each of the stylised G, F and C symbols can be positioned in more than one way providing a total 9 distinct clefs". These 9 are all just 5 line (4 space) "slices" selected from the all of the lines and spaces that are possible. Then there are the octave clefs... So yes, it makes perfect sense that the staves/clefs were chosen to fit what was most convenient. However, it follows from that that familiarity with a convention will encourage writers to remain within the convention. If I write a tune, it will usually be in G or D, and I'll choose which key according to how far up or down I need to go on the treble clef. The clefs, chosen for convenience, become a self-fulfilling prophecy. "These are the notes you're most likely to need" has become "These are the easiest notes for me to write down and sight read."
  4. That's interesting. I looked it up and see it comes from church music. In the key of C, "authentic" would contain notes between C and c, and "plagal" would contain notes between G and g. It applies to some extent in my mainly English folk repertoire, but not so rigidly. Many tunes in C run from C to c but also include the B below C, or the d above c, for example. I normally play on a GD box and I "think in GD". I play cross row harmonic style. Referring only to the major keys: Some tunes sit most comfortably in G. These may have some notes below the tonic, but they sometimes go a little bit above the 8ve, often in the B music. These seem to be neither plagal nor authentic. Their compass is too wide to fit either definition, even approximately. Some tunes fit more or less equally well in either key (G or D). (e.g. Ring o'Bells). These are more or less "authentic". Some tunes only really fit well in D. These tend to be the tunes that spend a lot of time below the tonic, and don't go too far above it. More or less "plagal". Folk music is not church music, so there is no reason why the definitions from the one should fit the other perfectly, but there is something to be learned from the comparison. Thanks.
  5. What key I'm in depends which Anglo I pick up. I also transpose tunes from one row to another from time to time. As most Morris music is played in G or D, but many tunes are written in other keys, I just try to make it work. I certainly don't worry about playing in the same octave as the tune is written. I'll use the same fingering on my baritone as on my piccolo, and the tune comes out accordingly. G is the most convenient key to read just because it sits nicely on the stave. No doubt if my repertoire were different, or if I were playing in a band, I would have to take a more disciplined approach to reading.
  6. I am the Foreman now, and they do not seem afraid of pissing me off. In my side, we have teachers for each of our core traditions, and usually the teacher of that tradition will dance number 1 and lead the set. This is not an absolute rule, but there is a sort of unspoken understanding about who usually deputises. Therefore, the person dancing number 1 is solely responsible for hinting to the musician. Well, number 1 and the Fool — who is also me. Being a dancing Fool, I have the opportunity to skip merrily past the musician and offer suggestions as if it's part of the show.
  7. Play for number 1 in the set. They are leading the dance and it's up to them to give subtle and nuanced signals (the raising or lowering of an eyebrow, the slightest hint of an upwards or downwards gesture with the palm, or the frenzied shouting of a sarcastic comment*) so that you can adjust the speed as required. For corner movements, where number 1 is not involved, if there is a big disparity in athleticism (e.g. if one of the dancers is under 65 years of age) then play to the one the audience would be watching, if only there were an audience, which there isn't, because it's a rainy Thursday evening outside a dead and alive hole of a pub. *The traditional Dolphin MM verbal signals: "A tad faster would be nice if it's all the same to you, Martin," is expressed by the traditional call of, "Come on, some of us have to be at work tomorrow." "Just a gnat's slower if you don't mind, Nicholas," is expressed by the traditional call of, "Crikey, we'll have time to do another at this speed."
  8. If you're talking about an Anglo concertina, a 30 button is a 20 button plus an extra 10 that you can choose to ignore. The 20 button part is a standard layout common to all Anglos. (Strictly speaking, there is some variation in the pull note on the lowest left hand button on the inside row, but that will not affect a beginner.) So any tune learned on a 20b can be transferred with no change of fingering to a 30b. Which is best for a beginner? The 30b is more versatile, but if I had a limited budget and could only buy one instrument, I'd rather have a good quality 20 than a poor quality 30. There are arguments both ways.
  9. I watched the opening figure and chorus That's a stately pace and many older dancers would struggle to make it flow that slowly.
  10. I would not choose on folds. The number of folds is only one consideration. (An instrument could have fewer deep folds or more shallow folds, etc.) I'd choose on sound and feel. Most good quality instruments have between 5 and 7 folds. Some cheaper shinier instruments have many more.
  11. Playing across the rows is eminently achievable without a teacher. There are many routes around the maze, some better than others, but the basic CDEF on one row and GABC on the other, leading to easy parallel octaves can be found by experiment and practice. The ability to find an octave, one note on each hand, can be either the basis of a simple traditional style, or just a "get out of jail" when no other harmonic option is readily available. For those who already have a small repertoire in the "main key" (C on a CG) translating those tunes to the other key (G on a CG) and crossing the row for the notes below the tonic is a good exercise that can be done by experiment and practice. The Anglo was designed to be intuitive. It lends itself to some very sophisticated playing, but we should not forget the earthy Anglo sound that comes from a good understanding of the core 20 buttons.
  12. A chord is 3 or more notes that harmonise. (I will use upper and lower case to show the same note in different octaves: C is an octave lower than c, for example.) A simple chord is made of notes 1, 3 and 5 counting 1 as the root of the chord. So the chord of C major is made up of the notes C E and G. When a chord is major, the interval between the root and the 3rd note (C and E in the example) is 2 whole tones, and the interval between the 3rd and the 5th (E and G in the example) is 1.5 tones. When a chord is minor, these intervals are reversed. So C minor is C, E flat and G. The first interval is 1.5 tones, and the second interval is 2 tones. Any of the notes can be duplicated in a chord, so you could play C E G c, or C E G g. However, it is generally better not to duplicate the 3rd. So C E G e will be less common than the other examples. The notes can be played with different spacings, so you may choose to play C from a low octave and E and G from the next octave up, for example. You can miss out a note, making a part chord. So you could play C and G (omitting the E) or C and E omitting the G. You can put any of the 3 notes at the bottom. So you could play CEG, GCE, or ECG. The chord is more powerful and unambiguous in with the root note at the bottom. You can play the notes in sequence (arpeggio) rather than all together. You can choose only one note and play it as a bass. All of these options, and more, are available to you. Your question is how to decide which to choose. There are two guides: Your own ear. Experiment with different versions and see what sounds best. Context. What comes before and what comes after. Chords tend to progress in one of 4 ways: Moving to a chord sharing one of the notes of the present chord. So C major (CEG) may be followed by G major (GBD), keeping the same note G. This sort of change sounds like a "jump". Moving to a chord that shares one of the note names, but playing that shared note in a different octave. So C major (c e g) moves to G major (G B D). This sounds even more dynamic. Moving to a chord that shares 2 notes of the present chord. C major (CEG) may move to E minor (EGB) by the note C making a small step down to the note B. This sort of change can give a soft, fluid sound as if one chord is blending into the next. Parallel movement. So G major (GBD) may be followed by F major (FAC). This can be particularly effective if the progression can be continued through 3 or more chords. It's a lifetime's work of exploring and experimenting, finding your "voice", and transferring skills and techniques from one tune to another, revisiting old tunes and trying new approaches. You will find tricks that work for you, you will use them, overuse them, then come up with something new. The most important guide is what sounds good to you. Have fun.
  13. The 20 button layout is the heart of the Anglo. It combines the Richter tuning (harmonica, 1 row melodeon) with the two rows being a fifth apart (opposite of the 2 row melodeon, which is a fourth apart). Whether you have a 26, 30, or 40 button Anglo, it will be a 20 button plus the extra buttons. The extra buttons help in 2 ways: extra notes (accidentals), and duplicates. However, the duplicates can sometimes be a "two edged sword" tempting you to find easy solutions instead of working on technique. I have found that practising on the 20 button occasionally has brought me on as a musician. It has forced me to find solutions within its limitations. It has made me more confident in the "second key" (G on a CG, for example) and forced me to work on parallel octaves and block chords, breaking up the monotonous "oom pah" accompaniment that I used to do. My favourite remains my 30 button, but I am glad to own two 20 buttons and I love to to take them out for a thrash now and again. There is an honest simplicity and folkiness to the 20 b. It does not pretend to be more than it is. It's a double barrelled pump action harmonica, capable of producing some exciting and danceable music. Every Anglo player should have one in their "fleet".
  14. Look up Scan Tester on Spotify. Or (not comparing myself to Scan Tester) here's me on mine.
  15. No, according to the write up on YouTube, it's carved from a solid piece of walnut.
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