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Absolute beginner's question


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I'm pondering how to get started on English concertina. My problem is, I've been pondering how to get started for a couple of years now.

 

I sing folk songs, unaccompanied; my goal is to be able to accompany myself on a box of some sort. The sound I imagine myself making is mostly chords and drones - like some of Peter Bellamy's slower numbers or John Kelly's less twiddly harmonium settings. The thing is, I only really know about chords on a theoretical level. I play the whistle by ear & can read dots, but I can't play guitar or piano. So I wouldn't just be teaching myself the instrument, I'd be teaching myself chordal accompaniment.

 

I've played around with a borrowed B/C melodeon; after writing out the tune I was going to sing, listening hard to a recording and doing a bit of guesswork, I managed to locate some appropriate chords & sing (or bellow) over the top of them, but it wasn't a very happy experience. I had trouble finding the notes & controlling the volume, both of which would get better with experience, but I also found the push/pull system very unintuitive; my fingers like to know where a note is without cross-referencing to what my arms are doing. (I've never been able to get the hang of a harmonica, for similar reasons.) So I'm thinking in terms of an English (or Duet) concertina rather than an Anglo; I guess a piano accordion would be another possibility.

 

The problem is the price of an instrument. I don't know if I would actually get on with a concertina (would I learn to 'find' chords by ear the way I can find melodies? would my little fingers stand the strain?) Even if I knew it was going to work out, the price of an entry-level English would cause me a lot of head-scratching and double-checking of bank statements; the thought of taking a punt on one makes my hair stand on end.

 

What should I do? Should I:

 

- practice accompanying myself on a cheap keyboard, to get over the problem with chords

- get a guitar and learn to accompany myself on that

- get an entry-level Anglo (less hair-raisingly expensive) and use that (good enough for Bellamy...)

- get an accordion (???)

- wander into the local Hobgoblin and ask to play with one of the English boxes on the shelf (NB high risk of looking stupid - never having handled one, I literally wouldn't know where to put my fingers)

- swallow hard and just get the damn concertina already (tell myself I've actually been saving for it for the last two years...)

 

Ideas?

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Firstly;

buying a good quality concertina should not be like spending money. It should be an investment, albeit one that you might not see make a profit. Good concertinas have a market value which, since the revival in the late 60's ,has not dropped on average ,well maybe some of the hyper-inflated Anglo prices have taken a bashing during the recent ecconomic crisis. Many of us here are playing instruments that have risen in value substantially over the years. If you buy a good instrument and do not pay silly money it should be possible to sell it on with out loss if you do not get on with the system. For current UK market prices see Chris Algar's website at Barleycorn Concertinas

 

Secondly;

there are several very reasonably priced "entry level" models which you could try... people speak well of the Concertina Connection starter instruments at around the £300 mark. Some may offer a 'Hire' service.

 

Thirdly;

If you can sight read the dots and pick up tunes by ear then you can certainly learn chords... there are books... but I do that by ear on the EC and now transfering that method to the Duet after studying the chord charts on Concertina.com

 

Fourthy;

If you are going to spend time and effort to learn a chordal instrument then you may as well start with the one that you wish to play.... in other words why try to do it on a piano (even more strain on the little fingers holding one of them up) or a guitar (when you say you do not play those instruments).... each instrument takes sustained study so if you really wish to do this with a concertina then start with one.

 

Fifthly;

my opinion.... chordal work is easier on a duet...

 

Buy a wooden ended instrument... you'll not have to Bellow so loudly.

 

good luck,

Geoff.

Edited by Geoff Wooff
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What should I do? Should I:

 

- practice accompanying myself on a cheap keyboard, to get over the problem with chords

There are two aspects of chord playing: 1) knowing what chord to play at what point in a tune; 2) knowing how to form that chord on your instrument of choice. Point 1) is the same for all chording instruments - guitars, banjos, autoharps, concertinas. I play all of the above, and when I've got an arrangement worked out on one instrument, it's easy to port it to another. Also, having learned to harmonise on the fly on my stringed instruments enables me to harmonise on the fly on my duet - as long as point 2) applies, i.e. I know which buttons to press to get each chord.

The most pragmatic way of learning chord accompaniment is to simply learn that you have to put your fingers like this for a C major chord and like that for an F major, etc., etc. You have to learn this for each instument individually, so it is not transferable from guitar or keyboard to any system of concertina. (If you're into theory, you can say: I need a C major chord; that's the root, major third and fifth; that means C, E and G; C is this button; E is this button; and G is this button. This is laborious, so you'd best make a note of which buttons you've just identified, and learn them by heart. However, chord charts are available for most concertina systems, and you can learn your "chord shapes" from them.)

- get a guitar and learn to accompany myself on that

Gives you a feeling for what chord when, but doesn't help with concertina fingering.

- get an entry-level Anglo (less hair-raisingly expensive) and use that (good enough for Bellamy...)

A good way to go, because the push-pull of the Anglo narrows down the choices of chord, making it harder to play a wrong chord! Once you've mastered this, you may not want an EC any more. B) The EC has completely different "chord shapes" from the Anglo.

- get an accordion (???)

No comment! :ph34r:

- wander into the local Hobgoblin and ask to play with one of the English boxes on the shelf (NB high risk of looking stupid - never having handled one, I literally wouldn't know where to put my fingers)

On first, brief contact with a concertina, you will probably be so mystified that you'll be scared off. Better to get someone who plays the concertina to show you the absolute basics. Even then, one attempt will not be enough to indicate whether you'll finally master it or not.

- swallow hard and just get the damn concertina already (tell myself I've actually been saving for it for the last two years...)

Good idea! There's absolutely no better motivation for learning an instrument than having one lying around near you all the time. A playing friend, or a printed tutor, are an essential adjunct to your random experimentation with the instrument.

 

Hope this helps,

Cheers,

John

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If you give some indication of where you are in the world (you mention Hobgoblin so I'm assuming the UK, so which region/county?), someone might be able to suggest an event or opportunity to get an introduction to the English concertina.

 

If it's the English that attracts you (and good for you if it is), I'd suggest that you need to get started on an English rather than diverting effort and money into another instrument first - the only way you'll learn to play EC is by playing EC.

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Phil, the EC sounds like an excellent choice, especially since it's fully chromatic and can theoretically play in any key that fits your voice. Basic chord shapes are just little "triangles", easy to go from major to minor, can get fancier once you've learned the basics. Get the Frank Butler tutor, available for free download - it's the best by far for getting started. And yes, a wooden-ended model or even a cheaper Bastari-esque one will be perfect for singing along with. Enjoy your voyage of discovery!

 

Gary

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- swallow hard and just get the damn concertina already (tell myself I've actually been saving for it for the last two years...)

 

This is what I did. And I've never looked back. The conundrum usually ends up being when to STOP buying concertinas once you've started! I love my little concertina and cannot go 24 hours without playing it. The beauty of concertina as back up for voice, as I see it, is its portablility; even easier to carry than a guitar. Best of luck in your choices! Michelle SE Wis USA

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Thanks for all the comments so far.

 

Based on melodeon frustration, I think the Anglo is out for me - as I say, I like instruments with notes that stay put!

 

Duets are an even bigger mystery to me than English - anyone compare them, particularly from the POV of song accompaniment? (I've also had the impression they were even more fearsomely expensive than English concertinas, but I gather there are some affordable duets out there these days.)

 

A couple of people have mentioned getting a wooden-ended box if possible. I'm intrigued by this - is there much variation in construction at the low end? (Barring a lucky find at a car boot sale, it will be a low-end box I end up getting.)

 

Steve - I'm in Manchester. I go to a tune session & know a couple of box players (hence the borrowed B/C melodeon), but don't know any EC players well enough to ask for a play with their delicate & valuable instrument!

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Basic chord shapes are just little "triangles", easy to go from major to minor...

I'd strongly affirm that!

 

Quite logical; a bit similar to any piano keyboard, both "chromatic" (with full access to any key) and "diatonic" (because of the melodic progression concerning the "middle" button rows).

 

You may then have a look at this; it's more about melody playing with bits of accompaniment, but might be usefull as well.

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Duets are an even bigger mystery to me than English - anyone compare them, particularly from the POV of song accompaniment? (I've also had the impression they were even more fearsomely expensive than English concertinas, but I gather there are some affordable duets out there these days.)

As vintage instruments go, duets (possibly excepting the relatively rare Jeffries system) tend to be cheaper even than Englishes.

 

But partly for this reason, no one is currently making entry-level or mid-range duets, except for the Hayden system, of which there are no vintage examples.

 

To get a better understanding of the duet systems and of the ways in which they differ substantially from both the English and anglo, and more subtly from each other, you should probably allot yourself some time for using the advanced version of the SEARCH facility here. (To get there, click on the little cog-wheel icon to the right of the Search field at the top.) E.g., search for topics (or even individual posts) that include all of "Maccann", "Crane", and "Hayden" (maybe even "Jeffries", too). Also do a separate search that includes all of "anglo", "English", and "duet", to see the many things that have been said about the relative merits of each for different kinds of music. (You will, of course, encounter some many differences of opinion.)

 

By the way, the English is my own main squeeze, for both tunes and song accompaniment, but I also play a bit on both anglo and duet (mostly the Crane/Triumph system). I steadfastly maintain that none of the systems is inherently superior to any other. Instead, each one may seem "best" for some individuals, yet not for others.

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Duets are an even bigger mystery to me than English - anyone compare them, particularly from the POV of song accompaniment?

 

I regard the Crane duet as the non plus ultra for song self-accompaniment - although, as Jum Lucas says, no system is really inherently better than another, but perhaps more accessible to you as an individual.

 

The beauty of the duet is that you can play chords (block chords, arpeggios, oom-pah ...) with the left hand, using easy-to-remember chord shapes, and have your right hand free for melodic intros, bridges and outros, or to take the lead in instrumental verses, or to play counter-melodies when you're a bit more advanced. Or, for effect, you can transfer your chord shapes to the right hand, and get the same chord an octave higher, because the layout of both ends is the same, only an octave apart.

 

Cheers,

John

Edited by Anglo-Irishman
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I regard the Crane duet as the non plus ultra for song self-accompaniment...

This may very well be so.

 

Nevertheless I'd like to point to that fantastic record of A. L. Lloyd named "Leviathan":

 

leviathan_tscd497.jpg

 

Really great accompaniment of those beautiful and haunting songs of the whalers (Topic Records has sadly - in a questionable effort of updating their shape? - deleted even the catalogue number) on the EC.

Edited by blue eyed sailor
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I play guitar and EC and I much prefer the sound of chords on the guitar over the concertina. I also play diatonic accordion and I prefer the sound of chords on it over the concertina too. It all depends on the sound you like. Chords on the EC to my ear are often not pleasant especially close voiced chords such as the 'triangles' mentioned earlier. The ear is more forgiving with string instrument chords than with single reeds. If you want to experiment with EC I highly recommend the Jackie from Concertina Connection.

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Duets are an even bigger mystery to me than English - anyone compare them, particularly from the POV of song accompaniment?

 

I regard the Crane duet as the non plus ultra for song self-accompaniment - although, as Jum Lucas says, no system is really inherently better than another, but perhaps more accessible to you as an individual.

 

The beauty of the duet is that you can play chords (block chords, arpeggios, oom-pah ...) with the left hand, using easy-to-remember chord shapes, and have your right hand free for melodic intros, bridges and outros, or to take the lead in instrumental verses, or to play counter-melodies when you're a bit more advanced. Or, for effect, you can transfer your chord shapes to the right hand, and get the same chord an octave higher, because the layout of both ends is the same, only an octave apart.

 

Cheers,

John

I agree that a Crane is worth considering. For your purposes a 35-button Crane might be sufficient, and they're priced very attractively for vintage concertinas. But I also agree with Jim that choosing a concertina system is very much a personal choice and I recommend that you try them out before buying if you can.

 

 

 

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Here's my suggestion:

 

Wander into the local Hobgoblin, pick up any concertina, and play a sustained open 5th. CG or GD or Bb-F or any other. Then start singing against it. Whatever the sound suggests, a known song, improvisation, anything.

 

I think two things will happen. You will be hooked and you will realize how little you need to know about theory to do it.

 

With a little practice, you will know when a particular drone no longer fits and it's time to change. Of course there's much more to be learned, but it doesn't take much to get started.

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I regard the Crane duet as the non plus ultra for song self-accompaniment...

This may very well be so.

 

Nevertheless I'd like to point to that fantastic record of A. L. Lloyd named "Leviathan":

 

Really great accompaniment of those beautiful and haunting songs of the whalers (Topic Records has sadly - in a questionable effort of updating their shape? - deleted even the catalogue number) on the EC.

 

I do not doubt that a top-class player of EC, Anglo or any of the Duets can play almost anything on his instrument, within reason. However, I think the point here is that a beginner who has a definite kind of music in mind may be better served by one system than by another.

 

Cheers,

John

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I think the point here is that a beginner who has a definite kind of music in mind may be better served by one system than by another.

You're right! I apologize for losing track of the topic. :o

 

I guess it was just my newly acquired enthusiasm for the layout of the EC.

 

Holding mine in my hands for the first time finally (having considered the diverse systems one after another before) had been sort of a revelation for me, because it suits my personal approach of musical "thinking" so well...

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- wander into the local Hobgoblin and ask to play with one of the English boxes on the shelf (NB high risk of looking stupid - never having handled one, I literally wouldn't know where to put my fingers)

 

Go into the local Hobgoblin and explain your aim as above and ask them for help with the EC. I'm sure you will get more helpful advice that way. Good music shop staff are accustomed to encouraging non-players to get started.

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