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Technique For Beginner


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A few comments from someone who has recently started to learn Maccann Duet.


You sound like you haven't got a concertina yet. You are only going to start by getting one, and it is clear from your posts that you need to find out about them in order to find and choose one. I suggest you start by reading Chris Timpson's Concertina FAQ and then, for more detailed info on Duet concertinas, move onto The Maccann Duet Page, which has information on all the Duet systems, not just Maccann. There are also many useful nuggets on these pages.


Particularly interesting on the Maccann page is a recent article in which Robert Gaskins compares his experience of taking up a (new) Stagi 46-key Hayden Duet, and an (antique) Lachenal 46-key Maccann Duet, two concertinas which he obtained (about 3 years ago) for £500 (US$800) each - they would cost a bit more today - and you can't just wander into a shop and buy a Stagi Hayden as very few were ever made, though they are still available. Gaskins concludes the Lachenal is superior in practically every way. The comparision isn't quite fair, because he didn't include Crane sytem, and I suspect all of the advantages he claims for the Lachenal Maccann would apply equally (at least) to a Lachenal Crane, though I suspect you would have to pay a little more money, and wait a bit longer, to obtain a playable Crane. Also I think it is a straw man. It took me only a few seconds in a music shop looking at a Stagi concertina to conclude that this was not the small light-weight sensitive instrument I associate with the concept of "concertina". More better quality new Haydens may be available "soon", but there are already waiting lists in advance of production, and they will cost thousands not hundreds.


I have a Lachenal 46-key Maccann Duet. I got it because I needed to start to somewhere to find out if I really wanted to play concertina. I got it because I didn't want to spend too much money on that journey, in case I found it a journey I did not wish to continue on. I got it because it was sitting dusty in a shop with a large discount and so I could buy it now instead of waiting for one to "come up". Had it been a Crane sitting there in that shop instead, I would have bought that. I knew it was in concert pitch, had been restored sometime in the past decade or so, and that was as much as I could possibly know at that stage.


Simply owning the thing, solving the little problems that arose, etc, has been a big education, helped by ownership of Dave Elliott's Concertina Maintenance Manual, some children's PVA craft glue (white smelly stuff) some leather "balm" for the bellows, some instrument screwdrivers and some small fine-nose pliers. Now that I have got it, and know what I know, I probably would have paid a little more, and waited for the right one to "come up". But I needed that education to know how to identify the "right one". By the time I have solved some more of its little problems, the one I have will be close enough to the right one (for now).


Now how did I set out learning to play the thing? I have a big advantage in that I play piano and sing in choirs, even though I'm not very good. So I read music fluently and understand about chords and all that, and have large quantities of printed music in the house. So in the absence of a reputable modern Maccann Duet concertina course, I am quite capable of inventing my own exercises. In practice that is largely what I have done. If you are largely a non-music reader, hoping to learn to play by ear, someone else will have to help you with that, and they may suggest the Anglo route to that.


On the Maccann Duet page are pdfs of number of tutors (press "Instruction" link). (I was unable to print them off the page - I had to save them onto my computer before I could print them out.) Most of them are more of historic interest than much use to the modern player. Brian Hayden's "All Systems Workshop Tutor" is the best. It is definitely at elementary level, which is what you need to start with.


Towards the end of Brian Hayden's workshop, he is encouraging you to find own tunes and make your own simple arrangements, and largely that is what I now do, in fact I would do it without that advice. Since I need to transpose tunes to make them fit on the limited range of the concertina, (and because I prefer the sound of the lower reeds on the right hand) I have taken Jim Lucas' advice of finding a simple notation programme that allows me to transpose tunes. Since it took me time to find it, let me suggest some freeware that does that: Finale Notepad you only have to register to be allowed to download it for free. It is limited, but it does let you transpose, a huge time-saver.


The other thing that helped was some ideas on technique, intended for English system concertina, but relevant to Duet I'm sure. These are on Geuns-Wakker Concertina Connection pages at Playing Skills


The historic tutors on the Maccann site are of limited value for learning because they contain very little elementary material - mainly scales and chords before moving on to fairly complex tunes, nothing in the way of specific technique exercises like those I use for piano or singing. But what they do contain is designed to be playable on a Duet Concertina, and therefore you might find it of some use. At least it indicates what type of music Maccann thought a duet concertina capable of - very chordal. He must have been very skillful because when I press 6 buttons at once I only get about a microsecond before my 6-fold bellows are at maximum extent. I think Maccann's own tutor is marginally more useful than Rutterford's. Robert Gaskins has put his own method of playing chords on a Maccann on his site, though there are alternatives to his recommendations.


You can also obtain print copies of the Salvation Army Crane/Triumph Duet tutor, (eg, through The Music Room). Having flicked through the pages of one, I don't think it would be worth buying even if I had a Crane, except for its historical interest.


Have fun.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Ivan, what a great and encouraging post! It makes me feel a lot better about starting off as best I can. By the time I've put in a year or so on the little box I'm getting I'll be much more informed and appreciative regarding these instruments in general.

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