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Playing Fast on the C/G Anglo Concertina


David Levine
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Most people play too fast. The best music happens when one is unaware of the speed and gets caught up in the swing of the music. We who play Irish music on the C/G Anglo are in the minority on this board. We could learn something from the Brits. The people who play English music generally seem to be much more relaxed and less hurried in their pacing. To some extent it is easier to play up and down the rows, in C or G, than to play cross-row in D. Morris dancing is a lot slower than an Irish set. On the other hand, Irish music doesn't ask for the tricky chording that is present in much of the English music, though playing the melody on both hands at once, as some Irish players do, amazes me.

 

The other thing that seems to be the case is that most people here started to play when they were adults, rather than, as with Edel or Noel, when they were kids. We cannot expect to play as fast as they do, having started as late in life as many of us did. It's hard to get those 10,000 hours on the instrument if you start when you're forty or fifty years old. We should all note how relaxed such older plays as Kitty Hayes and Mary Ellen Curtain are with the music. As Shay Fogarty said, "Speed chokes the music, strangles it right from the start."

 

If you've played, or still do play, another instrument, then there is a crossover. Those hours count towards the 10K. It's easier to learn to play a tune on the concertina if you already know it on the whistle or the fiddle. One thing the Irish kids have is that they learned (and have learned how to learn) tunes on the whistle. The whistle, or the flute, is a lot easier to play than the concertina. One finger for one note. None of this choice business to worry about. So one piece of advice I'd offer is to buy a whistle for $10 and learn tunes on that. Then you can learn a tune without struggling to find the correct fingering, and work on the fingering with the tune already in your head.

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Most people play too fast. The best music happens when one is unaware of the speed and gets caught up in the swing of the music. We who play Irish music on the C/G Anglo are in the minority on this board. We could learn something from the Brits. The people who play English music generally seem to be much more relaxed and less hurried in their pacing. To some extent it is easier to play up and down the rows, in C or G, than to play cross-row in D. Morris dancing is a lot slower than an Irish set. On the other hand, Irish music doesn't ask for the tricky chording that is present in much of the English music, though playing the melody on both hands at once, as some Irish players do, amazes me.

 

The other thing that seems to be the case is that most people here started to play when they were adults, rather than, as with Edel or Noel, when they were kids. We cannot expect to play as fast as they do, having started as late in life as many of us did. It's hard to get those 10,000 hours on the instrument if you start when you're forty or fifty years old. We should all note how relaxed such older plays as Kitty Hayes and Mary Ellen Curtain are with the music. As Shay Fogarty said, "Speed chokes the music, strangles it right from the start."

 

If you've played, or still do play, another instrument, then there is a crossover. Those hours count towards the 10K. It's easier to learn to play a tune on the concertina if you already know it on the whistle or the fiddle. One thing the Irish kids have is that they learned (and have learned how to learn) tunes on the whistle. The whistle, or the flute, is a lot easier to play than the concertina. One finger for one note. None of this choice business to worry about. So one piece of advice I'd offer is to buy a whistle for $10 and learn tunes on that. Then you can learn a tune without struggling to find the correct fingering, and work on the fingering with the tune already in your head.

 

I have two problems with learning the C/G Anglo. I had many years playing folk and classical guitar plus times on the 5 String Banjo and even a tenor sax.

 

1. I continuosly make mistakes by not reading the music and playing what I 'think' comes next. I would really like to play Mairi's Wedding without mistakes but even with the tune in my head, I still get it wrong.

2. I didn't realise for some time how the two rows worked so I am very C concious. I am really struggling to play on the G line but it is hard to break even a short term habit.

 

It is nice to hear that what I am going through is due to'struggling to find the correct fingering, and work on the fingering with the tune already in your head'

David

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If you've played, or still do play, another instrument, then there is a crossover. Those hours count towards the 10K. It's easier to learn to play a tune on the concertina if you already know it on the whistle or the fiddle. One thing the Irish kids have is that they learned (and have learned how to learn) tunes on the whistle. The whistle, or the flute, is a lot easier to play than the concertina. One finger for one note. None of this choice business to worry about. So one piece of advice I'd offer is to buy a whistle for $10 and learn tunes on that. Then you can learn a tune without struggling to find the correct fingering, and work on the fingering with the tune already in your head.

 

What you said there is the story of my life David!

 

I play the tin whistle in sessions here in Galway and the concertina at home. I will never bring the concertina to a session. There is no way I'm going to play the concertina at the same speed they play in the sessions.

 

At one time I had the dream of playing at the same speed as they do. I got to do it with the tin whistle (I recognise that not with a perfect ornamentation). And I came to the conclusion that it is not as good as I thought, I even got tired of it.

 

I'm still going from time to time. But to tell you the truth, when I really enjoy music is when I play my concertina at home, learning tunes that people play in internet, people like me playing in their houses.

 

And to play the tin whistle sometimes can be more difficult than the concertina! depending on the tunes... because if you have to make middle holes in the tin whistle, the thing becomes really tricky... and tunes with low notes like many fiddle tunes are really hard as well, you have to use some notes from the higher octave, in the concertina you have all those notes.

Edited by fernando
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Most people play too fast. The best music happens when one is unaware of the speed and gets caught up in the swing of the music. ...

David,

 

I've played instruments nearly all my life, starting on piano at age 6.

 

I took up English concertina in my 30's and learned to play ... fast.

 

At age 50, I took up C/G Anglo. In part, this was a half-century challenge to my mental and physical agility. But mostly it was because had fallen in love with Irish traditional music.

 

I'm seven years into it now, and my love for this instrument and music only seems to grow without limit.

 

Not playing fast, and working to find the pulse and swing, are constant struggles ... but also the source of great rewards.

 

Thanks for your elegant and thoughtful statements. I couldn't agree more.

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Most people play too fast. The best music happens when one is unaware of the speed and gets caught up in the swing of the music. We who play Irish music on the C/G Anglo are in the minority on this board. We could learn something from the Brits. The people who play English music generally seem to be much more relaxed and less hurried in their pacing. To some extent it is easier to play up and down the rows, in C or G, than to play cross-row in D. Morris dancing is a lot slower than an Irish set. On the other hand, Irish music doesn't ask for the tricky chording that is present in much of the English music, though playing the melody on both hands at once, as some Irish players do, amazes me.

 

The other thing that seems to be the case is that most people here started to play when they were adults, rather than, as with Edel or Noel, when they were kids. We cannot expect to play as fast as they do, having started as late in life as many of us did. It's hard to get those 10,000 hours on the instrument if you start when you're forty or fifty years old. We should all note how relaxed such older plays as Kitty Hayes and Mary Ellen Curtain are with the music. As Shay Fogarty said, "Speed chokes the music, strangles it right from the start."

 

 

I certainly agree with you, David. After 5+ years I've come to the realization that I was trying to put speed ahead of rhythm and phrasing. It is only lately that I've begun to force myself to slow down. Many of the tunes "cry out" to be played faster, but my attempts at faster playing always resulted in poorer interpretation of the music. So I am learning the wisdom of what you stated and hopefully, when I'm a bit older and more adept, I will be able to bring up the speed and not lose the music. I am definitely one of those late starters ( began at 54) you mention in your post. But I certainly love playing and hope to continue for "many a year".

 

Cary

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Good comments David and others. I'm in the same position , I'm glad all those years on other instruments can go in the 'shopping basket' and count towards my 10k! as i'm fast running out.

 

I advocate diddling or lilting to learn tunes and get the ornaments you like and then playing along with players who have that lovely lilt and lift to their concertina playing.

 

I no longer worry about playing with the tearaways ,if I don't feel comfortable I wait and then start one off my way and hope they have enough sense not to try to take it over. But you can't always 'educate pork' as we say in Sheffield.

 

Maybe I should advertise a 'nice steady session' like some adverise 'slow sessions'.

 

Anyway back to listen to Tommy McCarthy etc.

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Most people play too fast. The best music happens when one is unaware of the speed and gets caught up in the swing of the music. We who play Irish music on the C/G Anglo are in the minority on this board. We could learn something from the Brits. The people who play English music generally seem to be much more relaxed and less hurried in their pacing. To some extent it is easier to play up and down the rows, in C or G, than to play cross-row in D. Morris dancing is a lot slower than an Irish set. On the other hand, Irish music doesn't ask for the tricky chording that is present in much of the English music, though playing the melody on both hands at once, as some Irish players do, amazes me.

 

 

 

Years ago I developed an aversion to playing Irish music, mostly because of the way people play it around here - as if every tune was a race. The result - a jumble of melodies that all sounded much the same.

 

Then, at a regular (non-Irish) session I used to attend, a very good musician stopped us in the middle of one of the rare Irish tunes we played. "Slow it down a lot, and see what a lovely tune it is," she demanded. We did and she was right. What I realized: this is a fantastically rich source of great tunes, but that's sometimes obscured by a session ethic that stresses speed above feeling and nuance. It also helped when I toured Ireland a while back and heard players who treated the tunes respectfully, not as speed contests.

 

 

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Most people play too fast. The best music happens when one is unaware of the speed and gets caught up in the swing of the music. We who play Irish music on the C/G Anglo are in the minority on this board. We could learn something from the Brits. The people who play English music generally seem to be much more relaxed and less hurried in their pacing. To some extent it is easier to play up and down the rows, in C or G, than to play cross-row in D. Morris dancing is a lot slower than an Irish set. On the other hand, Irish music doesn't ask for the tricky chording that is present in much of the English music, though playing the melody on both hands at once, as some Irish players do, amazes me.

I couldn't agree more. I love to play in a relaxed tempo. Gerdie Commane once told me that people tended to play too fast in these days and if you played in a slower pace you will find the music more lovely. (I can't remember the exact words, though.)

:)

--

Taka

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All well and good, fair comments all, but moderation in all things, including moderation!

 

This is a fast music, a part of its joy and character is in speed.

One of the wonderful things about many Irish tunes is that they work well over such a range of speeds.

Well chosen tempo, lovely phrasing and articulation is a great thing, but there's also joy in rattling along at a fine pace.

 

There is Too Fast, but let's not deny one of the fundamentals of this music.

 

Let's also be completely honest with ourselves, and not say "I prefer" to play steadily when one doesn't actually have the choice.

 

(It's entirely valid to say "I prefer to concentrate on playing the tunes at a steady pace etc etc," but one can't "prefer" not to play a tune at a tempo at which one can't play it!)

 

 

(I'm speaking as a fiddle player here. I'll provide a link to my own playing if it matters to anyone.)

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He wasn't a concertina player, of course, and there's nothing Irish about ragtime, but Scott Joplin often put a note on his published sheet music warning the musician not to play it too fast. "It is never correct," he said, "to play ragtime fast."

 

Joshua M-S

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I feel a lot of pressure on sessions that usually doesn't happe a my home's kitchen... I think Irish music ha s gone mad in last years & I'm not into wild sessions anymore, too much hormones to my taste.

 

So getting in my forties only go to one session of old farts, whose younger old fart is me :D A lot more joy in playing at a steady - not slow, mind you - pace with a strong rythm. Actually, tunes seem to be played faster than they really are...

 

Cheers,

 

Fer

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He wasn't a concertina player either, but here's what Giraldus Cambrensis wrote about Irish music in 1185, speed is nothing new....

 

"I find among these people commendable diligence only on musical instruments, on which they are incomparably more skilled than any nation I have seen. Their style is not, as on the British instruments to which we are accustomed, deliberate and solem but quick and lively; nevertheless the sound is smooth and pleasant.

 

It is remarkable that, with such rapid fingerwork, the musical rhythm is maintained and that, by unfailingly disciplined art, the integrity of the tune is fully preserved throughout the ornate rhythms and the profusely intricate polyphony—and with such smooth rapidity, such 'unequal equality', such 'discordant concord'. Whether the strings strike together a fourth or a fifth, [the players] nevertheless always start from B flat and return to the same, so that everything is rounded off in a pleasant general sonority. They introduce and leave rhythmic motifs so subtly, they play the tinkling sounds on the thinner strings above the sustained sound of the thicker string so freely, they take such secret delight and caress [the strings] so sensuously, that the greatest part of their art seems to lie in veiling it, as if 'That which is concealed is bettered—art revealed is art shamed'."

 

 

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@TomB-R. There's a difference between fast and lively. I hope you know that. I’m not sure you do.

 

You talk as if speed is a fundamental quality in this music: "...let's not deny one of the fundamentals of this music." That’s just not true. You may be a hot-shot, but I doubt it. Sure I’d love to hear a post of your playing. Accomplished players generally don’t argue that speed is a fundamental. You could have just said that it’s fun to play fast and I’d have agreed with you. But that isn’t anything to do with the point I started out with, which you seem to have missed.

 

You say, “Let's also be completely honest with ourselves,….” Ok. Being honest, I play with some players who play fast. I also play with players who play slowly. I enjoy playing with both players. But that’s not the point either. The point is that one shouldn’t try to play fast. One should try to play well, and speed is totally irrelevant to playing well.

 

Your rather condescending post really pissed me off. Speaking as a concertina player.

 

 

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Hi David, how are you?

 

I seem to have "rattled your cage" (again.) It wasn't intentional.

 

Your post goes well beyond anything I said, ("putting words in my mouth" - sound familiar?)

 

You care about the music, so I won't just say "**** off" but will reply positively.

 

I liked and agreed with your original post, and individually appreciated, and generally agreed with the subsequent comments, but I felt that collectively there was a potentially false concensus building that the music "should" be played slowly, and possibly that this is the only "correct" way to play it. I felt a balancing comment was needed.

 

Good - we can agree that it can be fun to play fast.

 

Now you've raised the point, I can see that there is a way in which it could be argued that speed is not "fundamental" so I'll re-phrase and say that a fast pace is one significant aspect of the music, and that to deny that would be to significantly change its character.

 

The fiddle point was of no significance other than that I have the experience of enjoying brisk playing on fiddle, but not concertina.

 

I'm neither purist, specialist nor hotshot, my playing is mainly guided by social, functional and community aspects of the people I play with, and the dancers I play for.

Fiddle clips at

http://www.fiddlehangout.com/myhangout/music.asp?id=1097

Two reels at a BPM requested by Irish dancers, and a couple of other tunes, not Irish.

Tom

 

 

 

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I'm neither purist, specialist nor hotshot, my playing is mainly guided by social, functional and community aspects of the people I play with, and the dancers I play for.

Fiddle clips at

http://www.fiddlehangout.com/myhangout/music.asp?id=1097

Two reels at a BPM requested by Irish dancers, and a couple of other tunes, not Irish.

Tom

 

Well, the way I see it, this is not something that can be debated. The speed discussion is something you get or you don't. The clips of reels you've got on your page might sound amazing to many people, but it sounds very irritating to me, too fast and out of control, lacking depth in phrasing. I always thought, if it *sounds* fast, it's because there's a problem. In the following clip, the speed isn't far from yours, but the phrasing is more relaxed, there is more breathing between the notes and the music are controlling the music, not the other way around.

 

http://comhaltas.ie/music/detail/merry_blacksmith/

 

Please note that I'm not saying my own playing is better. I think I'd sound better if I played the tune slower than you, but not at that speed, as you probably would. But discussing tastes and ITM phrasing can require lot of energy, attracts the usual "ITM nazis" comments and usually leads nowhere :lol:

 

David is doing a good job at reminding us to try to play slower. In the irish music world, it's easy to get excited and try to 'push' it a bit. "Everyone's doing it, why can't I?".

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I thought you might have included a link to your own playing there Azalin, but hey.

 

Fair enough, I'm sticking my head above the parapet here and trying not to get defensive. I'd just comment that the Comhaltas clip is running 112/224 and we were going 120/240 because that was what the dancers had asked for. Was it faster than we were comfortable with on a one-take recording for a specific purpose? Yes, but we were having fun.

 

"As you probably would" - no, that was the speed requested. The "Morpeth Rant" clip on the link is a better example of how I prefer to play. That's running a shade below the speed of the Comhaltas clip. (No. it's not meant to be Irish in style.)

 

 

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