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Type of concertina to purchase?


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I am looking to purchase my first concertina.

 

It all started a few monthgs ago when I developed this interest in sea chanteys.

 

I would like to learn what ever I can about sea chanteys.

Also, this past week got a concertina in my hands during the intermission at a folk concert ( a 30 buttom Anglo) and after playing with it a bit decided "I got to have one of these and learn to play it"!

 

So keep in mind the following:

 

1) I am not a musician

 

2) my main interest in the coming months would be to accompany myself as I learn some sea chanteys

 

3) I am interested in other types of folk music

 

4) my finamcial resources are quite limited (($395 to an absolute max of $550)

 

Three different people gave me three different piceses of advice: get a 30 button Anglo, traditionally used for sea chanteys; get a 30 key English since they can play songs in several different keys (not just two):

 

get a 34 key duet to be able to play chords and melody.

 

Should I consider more versitility for other types of music or not worry about it now?

 

Any further advice would be appreciated.

 

Barry

 

Brewster, NY

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My usual advice in this situation is to find out what someone was playing when you heard it and decided to get one, and get one of those. A 30-button Anglo is certainly a common choice for the kind of use you have in mind, but there is no wrong answer. There are people doing a nice job singing chanteys with English and Duet concertinas as well.

 

The problem is your budget. A decent concertina costs considerably more than that, and what you'll find available in your price range will likely have one or more of the following problems:

 

Difficult to play (stiff bellows and/or wonky action), out of tune, high maintenance, loses resale value quickly.

 

If you think about the number of moving parts in a concertina and the compactness of the mechanism, you'll realize that there's no easy and inexpensive way to make a concertina that doesn't have the above problems.

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If you're not a musician, a good way to start might be to find out if anybody teaches concertina in your area. I would have gotten nowhere if I didn't have a teacher. As it happened, I was interested in English, she played English, and I was able to start out with a borrowed English concertina. If the only person you can find teaches anglo, or duet, that probably would be the way to go.

 

I've known people who rented a concertina to see if they liked it and how they got on with it. I don't know if that is feasible for you, but I think it would be a good idea.

 

If you need to buy one, the Concertina Connection instruments would be in your range. They are good starter instruments, and good players can do wonders with them. You can find out about them by searching for Concertina Connection or look up the Button Box, which sells them and has a good descriptions. They are available in English, ango, and duet. Someone else might offer pros and cons. One pro is that you could trade up with either vender for one of their own make intermediate ranges and, as I understand it, get full purchase value from your old instrument. That's a very good deal.

 

You could also ask on this site if anyone has one to sell.

 

Good luck. I've only been at this for three years, and I find it wonderful!

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Given that you know it was a 30 key anglo that you played and were so taken with, the Concertina Connection Rochelle is the concertina you are looking at in the first instance ( and fits your budget).

You may find that you want to upgrade to a more expensive concentina after a few months or years of playing the Rochelle, but it will do you very well to get started, and some suppliers off er a trade-in on the Rochelle against an upgrade. Avoid the brightly coloured Chinese-made concertinas you find on eBay, they are much poorer quality than the Rochelle for not much less money.

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I would like to learn what ever I can about sea chanteys.

Also, this past week got a concertina in my hands during the intermission at a folk concert ( a 30 buttom Anglo) and after playing with it a bit decided "I got to have one of these and learn to play it"!

 

So keep in mind the following:

 

1) I am not a musician

 

2) my main interest in the coming months would be to accompany myself as I learn some sea chanteys

 

 

Learning to sing and learning to play an instruments for the first time at the same time is quite a challenge. Sea shanties are work songs from the age of sail, and from all the people I know who have researched this they were always sung unaccompanied, so perhaps a good way to start would be to start with the vocals, and save up for a concertina later.

Edited by Theo
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Agree with above that Sea Chanteys as work songs were often unaccompanied; basically the chanteyman himself was there to set the pace of the work - so the chantey iteslf WAS the accompaniment.

 

But yet, performances of sea chanteys and other folk songs go well with the concertina.

 

I also agree with the above, not to purchase the cheap asian imports. I bought an asian 30 button anglo online several years ago before I knew what I was doing, and was glad I had purchased from a reputable store so I was able to return it, because the quality was so poor. I waited another two years before I got my 20 button Anglo. I love it, but I do wish my budget allowed for a good 30 button. The Rochelle anglo is what I would recommend too. The reason I didn't buy one was because of the size and weight, as it is a bit heavier than the $2000-$2500 anglos out there. But you aren't going to get around that within your stated budget, unless you search for a good deal on a vintage 20 button anglo like I did. If you decide to upgrade later when you are ready to spend more, several places take the Rochelle model back in trade, often at full price, if you are purchasing one of their better instruments.

 

The 30 button anglo will play more than just two keys. The 20 button already plays effectively in two keys (and the relative minor keys for each) and even that can be stretched into other keys if certain notes are not required , but the 30 button gives you quite handful of additional useful notes. For example the C/G is often used for D major as well, and many other keys are are possible, just not quite a easy, as I understand it.

 

Some say the anglo was considered more of a working class instrument than the english concertina, but that isn't necessarily so. If it was true it would suggest that the anglo would go well with sea chanteys. In any case I know of several good chanteymen who do perform with anglo concertinas.

 

I do have a good musical background, and play several other instruments, so the limited keys on my 20 button anglo do annoy me at times. I wonder sometimes about the english system with all the notes and no worries about bellows direction, but when I tried one I didn't care for it. (and that was before I had started learning the anglo system either) Alternating sides from one note to the next just didn't match my way of thinking, although I've seen others that seem to enjoy it very well. I also didn't care for the way the english is held; I found the thumbstrap and pinky bracket very uncomfortable. Again, others seem to enjoy the english concertina very well.

 

I am intrigued by the duet systems. I think that might be pretty good, but you aren't going to find one in your price range, and it is hard to find good instruction material for these systems, particualarly as a beginner. There is the concertina connection Elise model, but from what I read, it has too few buttons, and the missing notes compromise the flexibility in keys that the duet system is supposed to offer. Maybe someone who has tried one can say more about that.

 

I strongly recommend trying out several intruments of each type before spending any money. Make the trip up to Button Box. I've never done business with them but they appear to be well respected, and clearly have a variety of intruments on hand to try, which is exactly what you need. Try some of the more expensive instruments as well, so you have an idea what the difference is. It will make you pine for them, but you may as well learn on the system that will lead you toward the instrument you hope to upgrade to later. Amherst is a nice town to visit too. I have been there, although I didn't play concertina at the time, or know about Button Box.

 

Back to sea chanteys! The best way to get involved in these is to find other people that like to sing them, as these are call and response songs, and only really come into their own when sung in a group, not as a soloist. I don't know what there is close to you, but there likely is a group that gets together somewhere nearby, the trick to find them. In June there is a Sea Music festival at Mystic Seaport You really owe it to yourself to get there, if you hadn't already planned on it!

Edited by Tradewinds Ted
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So keep in mind the following:

 

1) I am not a musician

 

2) my main interest in the coming months would be to accompany myself as I learn some sea chanteys

 

3) I am interested in other types of folk music

 

Barry,

 

Your requirements 1 and 2 definitely indicate the Anglo, and requirement 3 is no impediment to it! :)

 

It has been pointed out that shanties are work songs, and were originally unaccompanied; however, the term "shanty" is often used loosely for sailors' songs of any kind. The aficionados speak of "shanties and forebitters," the latter being songs of various kinds sung purely for entertainment in the off-watch, that would have been accompanied by any instrument one had on board. The shantyman probably sat on the fore bitts - the rail to which the running rigging of the foremast was belayed - when performing them, hence the name.

In the days of sail, the Anglo-German concertina was the instrument of choice for the working-class musician, who had litle money to spend and no formal musical education (does that sound familiar?) The push-pull principle of the Anglo does make it very easy to play in the two home keys, even if you don't know what sharps or flats belong to a given key, or which notes of the scale form a given chord.

The 20-button Anglo has only two keys, but these are C and G (or G and D), which means that if you can't sing a given song in one of them, you can usually sing it in the other. On the 30-button Anglo, you can accompany other keys, though not quite so easily and instinctively. Save them for later! B)

 

It is true that the Anglo is limited to two easy keys and a few more difficult but still possible ones, but for your purposes of self-accompaniment this is not a show-stopper. Just as an example, in addition to my C/G Anglo I use the banjo, autoharp and guitar for self-accompaniment. The autoharp is easy to play in the keys of F, C, G, D and A, and with a capo, practically any key is easy on banjo and guitar - but I sing the majority of my songs in C, most of the remainder in G, and just a couple in A or D. So key versatility is not that important. You only need the two keys that suit your voice. ;)

By the way, I played shanties and forbitters and also other folk songs and hymns on a 20-button German concertina for years when I started squeezing!

 

Hope this helps,

Cheers,

John

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I know I mentioned Mystic above, but I just noticed that there is an event this Saturday afternoon, if you can get away. It shouldn't be more than a couple hours from Brewster, so you could even do it as a day trip, but you might want a place for Saturday night after a day in the pub.

 

Mystic Pub Sing and Chantey Blast

 

Might be a good way to start gaining those contacts you need to find a regular chantey group or song circle closer to home.

 

(Then you can make the trip up to Button Box next weekend instead of this weekend.)

Edited by Tradewinds Ted
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A lot of us start with this question (I did) - but asking, "Which should I choose: Anglo, English or Duet?" is a bit like saying, "I'd like a stringed instrument; should I get a guitar, a banjo or a ukulele?"

 

The different types of concertina are completely different instruments which happen to look broadly similar. As practical choices, they have different pros and cons, but a musician's choice is likely to be dictated primarily by the sound he or she wants to make.

 

As for accompanying yourself singing: surely anything but the most basic accompaniment is a long way down the line. The musician who accompanies himelf when singing often sings less well, and plays less well, than if he was only doing one of the two. I would see it as a long term aspiration rather than an immediate goal.

 

And chanties were designed for a solo unaccompanied voice, backed with a big voice only chorus.

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As has already been pointed out, shanties were purely functional work songs and were unaccompanied, so if you choose to accompany them you shouldn't worry about your choice of concertina being "authentic". However, sailors were more likely to have anglos than the other types of concertina.

 

You say you are "not a musician". Many find the anglo is the most intuitive to play - it works rather like a mouth organ. On the other hand, some people cannot get used to the push-pull action and having different notes on each button. However if you can cope with that it is good for playing chords, which in my view is the best way of accompanying singing. Playing chords is also relatively easy to do while singing, however don't underestimate the difficulty of playing and singing at the same time - you must remember that it is the song which is the most important element, and you must be able to give most of your attention to the singing, leaving the instrument on "autopilot". To do this well requires a fair degree of competence and confidence on the instrument.

 

Although most anglos are in C/G they can be found in other keys, so it would be worth finding out which keys you prefer to sing in before choosing an instrument. Both English and Duet are also suitable for chordal accompaniment, and if you learn chords as fingering patterns rather than as musical notes then you may be able to play either of these without needing to understand too much music theory. However learning an instrument is a good way to pick up at least some music theory so don't be daunted by your lack of knowledge. Whilst EC and Duets are fully chromatic, you may find that your preferred singing keys may be more difficult to play in. The only way to decide which type is for you is to try them.

 

If you want to learn more about shanties you could do worse than get hold of Stan Hugill's "Shanties from the Seven Seas", and also listen to some of his recordings. He was an authentic shantyman from the days of sail (and a larger than life character!)

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Hi Brewster Barry,

 

Best of luck as you figure out how best to proceed with your concertina adventure. As you can see, there are as many opinions as there are posters, but where else could you get such friendly and well meaning advice?

 

If you decide to go with an Anglo, I would be glad to help with lessons on skype. Lessons in person might work too, though Brewster is pretty far from Brooklyn where I live. Whatever you decide, I suggest that you get an instrument soon, while the spirit still moves you. Whatever you get will be a lasting joy, frustration, challenge and pleasure in your hands and your ears.

Edited by Jody Kruskal
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Thanks to advice from many of you I was able to go to the Button Box and try several concertinas with a little more information under my belt.

 

I tried the 30 button Rochelle Anglo, 30 key Jackie English and 34 key Elise duet.

 

 

The Duet buttons were too confusing to me as a pure novice.

 

I do not like the thumb strap and metal finger rest for the pinkey on the English at all!

 

So, I'm sure I want a 30 button Anglo.

 

Also, after almost settling on the 30 button Rochelle, I tryed the Stagi W-15 LN. I like the way it sounded and the fell of the buttons better , even though my fingers are not really that long but again a pure novice when it comes to concertina and don't know how practical it would be to purchase this model..

 

If I can strech my budget and if I do decide on the Satgi I would also have to decide on geting it as C/G or G/D and don't really know which is best for me or which keys work better .

 

Purhapse I can find a local musician with a piano to help me out.

 

Barry

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If I can strech my budget and if I do decide on the Satgi I would also have to decide on geting it as C/G or G/D and don't really know which is best for me or which keys work better .

 

Purhapse I can find a local musician with a piano to help me out.

 

Barry,

 

At any rate, a Stagi will sound better than a Rochelle. My Stagi is good for both accompaniments and instrumentals - and I'm definitely not a beginner! I did upgrade at one point - but I kept the buttons, action and reeds, and just had a better bellows made for it.

 

A piano-playing friend is definitely a good idea. A guitarist or banjoist would be just as good. The main thing is to sing all the songs you already know in several different keys, and make a note of the most comfortable singing keys for you - the high notes not strangulated, and the low notes still audible. You'll probably find a certain concentration of songs around a particular key with a smaller concentration around the key a 5th higher (In my case it's mainly C major, with G major for most of the others). Then see if these two keys allow you to sing all the songs you know comfortably, and voilà! those are the keys for your Anglo!

 

Alternatively, get your instumentalist to play each tune in C, G and D, and see how many songs are comfortable in each key. Probably C and D will work equally well for quite a few songs. If this is the case, a standard C/G Anglo will do fine.

 

Hope this helps,

Cheers,

John

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At any rate, a Stagi will sound better than a Rochelle.

Only if you bought it at the Button Box. New Stagis often come with leaks and intonation problems but at the BB they clean all that up before allowing an instrument to be sold.

 

A piano-playing friend is definitely a good idea. A guitarist or banjoist would be just as good. The main thing is to sing all the songs you already know in several different keys, and make a note of the most comfortable singing keys for you - the high notes not strangulated, and the low notes still audible. You'll probably find a certain concentration of songs around a particular key with a smaller concentration around the key a 5th higher (In my case it's mainly C major, with G major for most of the others). Then see if these two keys allow you to sing all the songs you know comfortably, and voilà! those are the keys for your Anglo!

I would word this (and think about it) differently:

 

What's important is not the key but the range. Determine the lowest note you are comfortable singing and the highest. If they are not separated by at least an octave you will have trouble singing all but the simplest songs and should work with a voice coach. More likely, you will find that your range is between an octave to an octave and a half. The more notes in your range, the more songs you will be able to sing and the more keys you will be comfortable singing them in.

 

Most songs bottom out on either the first or fifth note of the scale. Simple examples: "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star" has the first note of the scale as its lowest note, while "Happy Birthday" has the fifth note of the scale as its lowest note. In both examples, the first note of the tune is the low note we're talking about. "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star" has a range of six notes, while "Happy Birthday" has a range of eight notes, or an octave.

 

So if you have an octave singing range, you can sing both songs, but there's only one key you'll be able to sing "Happy Birthday" in: the one in which the fifth note is your low (and high) note. If, for example, you can sing from low G to high g, you will start the song on G and sing in the key of C. You have a little more flexibility with "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star," however, because it doesn't use as many notes. If you start on your low note (in this example, G), you are in the key of G and will use all the notes up to E. But you can also pitch it higher, using your high g for the high note. This puts you into the key of Bb. You can also sing it in any key in between (Ab or A) without running out of notes.

 

But "Redwing" (like many other songs) has a range of an octave and a half (or, more precisely, 11 notes). So you can't sing it if you have an octave range. But if you could sing from low G to high c, you could sing "Redwing" in C, "Happy Birthday" in any key from C to F, and "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star" in any key from G to Eb.

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At any rate, a Stagi will sound better than a Rochelle.

Only if you bought it at the Button Box. New Stagis often come with leaks and intonation problems but at the BB they clean all that up before allowing an instrument to be sold.

 

David,

Just for the record, my Stagi was not from the Button Box, but from a local (Stuttgart) music shop that made no pretentions about vetting their instruments. I did have a couple of mechanical problems at the start, but nothing that a screwdriver and a pair of pliers couldn't fix. I've been playing it intensively for over 10 years now, including public gigs, and timbre and tuning are two areas where I've had no issues at all! (The boys in the band actually prefer the Stagi tone to my Lachenal for ensemble work.)

 

Your run-down on voice range is, of course, correct and comprehensive.

 

I would add that, if you keep to the folk-song repertoire, you should have little problem with range as such. The songs that have survived oral transmission have done so because they did not rely on trained singers to hand them on. Art songs, show songs and jazz standards can be a lot more demanding.

 

However, the more limited you range, the wider the selection of keys you'll need to get every tune within your range.

 

Cheers,

John

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At any rate, a Stagi will sound better than a Rochelle.

Only if you bought it at the Button Box. New Stagis often come with leaks and intonation problems but at the BB they clean all that up before allowing an instrument to be sold.

 

David,

Just for the record, my Stagi was not from the Button Box, but from a local (Stuttgart) music shop that made no pretentions about vetting their instruments. I did have a couple of mechanical problems at the start, but nothing that a screwdriver and a pair of pliers couldn't fix. I've been playing it intensively for over 10 years now, including public gigs, and timbre and tuning are two areas where I've had no issues at all! (The boys in the band actually prefer the Stagi tone to my Lachenal for ensemble work.)

Well, I said "often," not "always." And what you call "nothing that a screwdriver and a pair of pliers couldn't fix" is just what I was referring to that they do at the BB.

 

Your run-down on voice range is, of course, correct and comprehensive.

Thank you.

 

I would add that, if you keep to the folk-song repertoire, you should have little problem with range as such. The songs that have survived oral transmission have done so because they did not rely on trained singers to hand them on. Art songs, show songs and jazz standards can be a lot more demanding.

Good point.

 

However, the more limited you range, the wider the selection of keys you'll need to get every tune within your range.

That's pretty much what I was saying.

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