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Playing In Octaves

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I've had a break from the concertina, but now am getting back to it (I was stolen away by the melodeon. lol). I've always found it awkward to play the concertina with other people as I find myself playing completely different tunes to everyone else. And what I find hard others find easy and vice versa.

 

So does anyone else here play in octaves? What instrument (key etc.) do you play? What tunes do you find easy and what do you find hard?

 

I have a C/G anglo.

 

Playing in octaves sometimes makes a nice break from chording and doing harmonies. Adding octave playing occasionally in tunes is a way of adding texture, but playing entire tunes that way can get tiresome, Scan Tester notwithstanding.

 

An example of really nice octave playing: Jody Kruskal's gorgeous waltz Fickle Moon. I do mostly chords and harmonies, but - like Jody - throw in passages of octave playing.

 

I also do octaves periodically when playing for Morris dancers because it can give a tune some extra punch and volume.

 

One more point: if you're having problems learning chording, use playing octaves as a point of departure. Take a simple tune like Shepherd's Hey and play it in octaves until you're proficient. THen gradually find places where you can add notes to the left hand to create chords. I've taught this to a number of beginners, and it seems to ease the path to effective chording. I would also suggest not worrying very much about chord names. Play what sounds good, you can learn the names later so you don't get overwhelmed.

Edited by Jim Besser

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I would also suggest not worrying very much about chord names. Play what sounds good, you can learn the names later so you don't get overwhelmed.

 

Or you can simply not bother learning names.

 

They'll sound the same. ("A rose by any other" -- or no -- "name...." ;))

And some harmonies or "chords" that sound very nice (in context) have "names" that make the variations of people's names in Crime and Punishment seem easy to understand and remember. (Most folks don't mention those when they tell you what chords they play. B))

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One song that I play in octaves is Amazing Grace. I'll play the first verse in octaves, the second on my right hand, the third on my left hand and then finish it out in octaves. The folks I have played it for have enjoyed it, though I originally started doing it as a practice exercise.

 

Alan

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The design of the Anglo Concertina is such that it is ideally suited for simple chord augmentation to a melody line. To restrict play to 'single note' or 'octave' style is to seriously neglect the instruments full potential. Might as well play a Penny Whistle !

I agree with this. It is like not getting your money's worth. Some people refer to that style of playing as being "Irish style". The best part of playing that way is that it takes less time to learn a tune. If playing on an English, I found that I could actually sight-read when playing that way. But, on the other hand, it gets boring. In my opinion, a concertina sounds best when it has harmony happening.

 

Then there are some 20 button concertinas that have 2 or more reeds per note, with the reeds tuned an octave apart. When you play chords on one of those, the chords can sound kind of mushy:

 

On the last portion of this one, I play in parallel octaves, and this is on that same box that already plays in 2 octaves per note:

 

My recommendation is to simply not buy a concertina that has multiple reeds per note -- just stick to a "real" concertina. If you want multiple reeds per note, play a melodeon or accordion or a Chemnitzer.

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Alex - I think it's worthwhile for us to note that although the single-note style is referred to as "Irish", it nowhere near encompasses the varieties of playing styles in Ireland. Ella-Mae o'Dwyer is probably the poster girl for heavily chorded and octaved playing on a double-reeded concertina. I also think it might be a bit reductivist to suggest that if you want a double-reed sound, you should just play a different instrument. Plenty of people used to play on double-reeded Germans because they were cheaper and more available, and people today might be interested in their playing styles if they opt for that type of instrument specifically. It is certainly a reach to say those aren't "real" concertinas!

 

--Dan

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I don't really play Irish music its never really appealed to me...I like some of the Irish tunes just prefer to play them in an english sounding 'style'*....but then I couldn't say I play mainly English Trad on the concertina coz the concertina I play anything that takes my fancy on. Usually songs TBH. Anything from pop to hymns to music hall to jazz (well I tried that once. lol) even gave a few tv themes a go. I play what I like and I like what I play. ;)

 

* disclaimer: I refuse to argue over what is or isn't Irish/english style or tunes so take that as you will.

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Lovely arrangements! You're selling yourself way too short. Your playing, much like Andy Turner's, is proof you don't always need fistfulls of chords to play beautifully. Simple can be quite effective, and your use of octaves helps keep the melody in the forefront. I sense a little hesitancy in your playing, so just keep after it with more and more confidence and expression - you've already got a great sense of accompaniment!

 

Gary

Aww, thanks for the nice complement. I'm glad someone like my playing. :)

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A friend who is cleaning house gave me a vinyl LP last night- "John Kelly-Fiddle & Concertina Player" recorded in 1974. Very simple recordings- almost sound like field recordings- of him playing on fiddle, concertina, and a double-

reeded (20 button from the sounds of it) concertina. Nice relaxed pace, but still very lively, and lots of octave playing (especially on the double-reeded box) mixed with chords and other ornaments. Well worth hearing if you can find it.

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A friend who is cleaning house gave me a vinyl LP last night- "John Kelly-Fiddle & Concertina Player" recorded in 1974. Very simple recordings- almost sound like field recordings- of him playing on fiddle, concertina, and a double-

reeded (20 button from the sounds of it) concertina. Nice relaxed pace, but still very lively, and lots of octave playing (especially on the double-reeded box) mixed with chords and other ornaments. Well worth hearing if you can find it.

 

 

My hero! His playing has, imho of course, everything you could want in a concertina style: tasteful ornamentation, rich and rhythmic chords, and a vivacious pulse.

 

And his fiddle playing...swoon!

--Dan

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Very simple recordings- almost sound like field recordings-

They in fact were weren't they?
I suppose so, although I gather that John Kelly was a well known and influential player at the time, at least within his circle. In my mind the term "field recording" conjures up images of ethnomusicologists wandering the outports of Newfoundland with a tape recorder! I do like the straight forward, no-nonsense way this record was made, and appreciate that I can hear what he is doing withoout a lot of other instrumentation getting in the way! Edited by Bill N

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Didn't Neil Wayne and John Tams do just that, wander around Ireland with a tape recorder to record people in their home or wherever they could? As far as I know the John Kelly recording was done exactly that way.

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Thanks for the additional information. The notes on the album cover are pretty scant. In any case, a great and valuable recording, and I'll be working on a few of the tunes in the next little while. I recently got the reissue of William Mullaly's recordings and will be interested to compare the playing.

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This thread set me thinking (always dangerous) and I am also reading Dan Worrall's "Social History of the Anglo" book which discusses the styles used by the early players.

 

I have now experimented a bit with playing in octaves.

 

Those of you who do it: do you play every single note of the melody in octaves, or do you do an accompaniment in octaves just on the strong beats of the bar?

 

Also, when the melody goes a long way up or down the register, so that the two notes an octave apart are both on the same hand, do you still play in octaves?

 

If I play the entire melody note for note in octaves, it sounds rather dry, and the rhythm can be rather wooden. I would get a smoother sound playing right hand only on a melodeon choosing the octave setting on the stops.

 

If I play only an octave-based accompaniment on the strong beats of the bar, it gives it a bit of punch, but less "bounce" than if I do a more elaborate accompaniment.

 

My own style, such as it is, is not too many rich chords, but a lot of bass walking about the left hand key board, with occasional pairs of notes on one hand or the other (sometimes both) and, more rarely, full chords for contrast or emphasis.

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Will Duke is a wonderful player in the style of Scan Tester, which is described as "octave playing" but is actually much more decorative than just straight octave playing. Will is doing a presentation about ScanTester and his playing in Lewes this Saturday and it is well worth coming along to hear about this style, and also to hear Will's wonderful playing.

 

http://www.lewessaturdayfolkclub.org/i

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Don't know how I missed this thread....I guess I have been busy.

 

If you search out my CDRom, House Dance (thanks for the plug, Gary), you will find early recorded players from four countries, most of whom played in the octave style or a variant thereof. It was an essential way of playing in the days of house dances, and offered volume, steady rhythm, and better accuracy of playing. It was not well suited to rapid-fire reels, but the huge popularity of Irish reels is pretty much a twentieth century revival thing....in the late nineteenth century most country Irish were dancing polkas, quadrilles and waltzes in their house dances, just as other folks were in Australia, South Africa and England. Concertina players played for dancing, not for pub sessions and contests. Fine octave players of that day include Mary Ann Carolan (Ireland), Dooley Chapman (Australia), Scan Tester (England) and Kerrie Bornman (South Africa).

 

As for playing for Morris dances, octaves have a historical precedence and are entirely suited to that genre. Oldham and Royton morris players used octaves, for example..listen to Ellis Marshall and Norman Coleman on the House Dance CDRom, for example. And William Kimber's style is a simple variant on octaves. Like many octave players, he regularly dropped out every other lower octave note to help provide a danceable pulse to the music, and then added simple third interval partial chords above or below each remaining lower octave note to provide interest and more volume to the pulse. The modern way of playing for Morris, with complex oompah chords, is a revival thing, born of new Anglo players in England copying the styles of superb English melodeon players when Anglo-playing role models were not available. That has been covered elsewhere.

 

I love listening to modern Irish players ripping through reels at breakneck tempos and playing singly with lovely pipe ornaments. And to revival Morris players adding in hugely musical chords to their playing. Keep it coming! But more than occasionally (not in this thread) one hears that those are 'the' traditional ways of playing the concertina! Styles of playing the Anglo continue to develop, in ways that our great grandparents would not even recognise.

 

Octave playing was designed for playing for medium tempo ballroom dances, full stop. Today players mostly want to play for listening in pub sessions, instead. I think it somewhat tiresome to hear that octaves aren't 'musical'...to say that is to miss the point. Playing for dances is the pinnacle of concertina playing, IMHO. But that is just me!

 

Have fun, whatever style you play!

 

Dan

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I play in octaves precisely because I can't make my own chords coz I'm too dumb (no matter how many times its explained) to do them. And when people talk 3rds, 5ths and 6ths I just glaze over. If I want chords I'll use the ready made ones on the melodeon. ;)

I don't think I play this note on the right so I play this one on the left because its mathmatically correct. I go I press this button on the right so I'll jab buttons on same row on the left and pick one that sounds nice.

That works fine if you have the ear and others like it. I'm sure it's what a lot of old trad players did and it can lead to good unexpected chords too. But I]'d work on single note playing too to get the melody crisp .I wondered where you'd gone !

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