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Go Cat Dave

Greetings From Maine

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Hello,

 

My name is Dave and I have recently taken an interest in the concertina. I'm hoping that this forum might be a good place to meet friendly folks who are enthusiastic and knowledgable about this very unique little instrument. I have yet to purchase a concertina of my own. I am still in the research phase.

 

I do have some prior background in music. Mostly, I play guitar and ukulele. I also play piano and tenor sax to a lesser degree. Still, I feel like I'm searching for my holy grail instrument. An instrument that is portable like the ukulele, but not as quiet. An instrument where melody notes can be be played with a lot of sustain like with an electric guitar, but without the need to drag an amplifier around. An instrument that excels at playing both melody and accompanyment simultaneously like a piano, but which can be easily picked up and brought outside to play in the back yard. An instrument that can be very expressive like the saxophone. I think that the concertina may well be my holy grail instrument.

 

Now that I've begun focusing on the concertina, I've become aware of how many variations there are. In a word, MANY. I am hoping that perhaps some of you folks who have been on the concertina path might be able to share some guidance and tips to help get me started on my journey.

 

So far, I think I've narrowed it down to the English style concertina. Most of the music I play, I figure out by ear/memory. So I would want an instrument capable of playing in any key. I understand that the Anglo instruments are more limited as to which keys one can play in. Also, I think that the concertinas, which play two different notes on the same button depending on whether you are squeezing or pulling the bellows, would make things more complicated for me. But, obviously, I cannot say from personal experience.

 

So I was wondering if some of you might introduce yourselves and tell me which sorts or concertinas you prefer and why. I am excited and curious to see what the concertina community is like and I'm anxious to learn as much as I can about this instrument.

 

Thanks!

 

Go Cat Dave

 

 

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I do have some prior background in music. Mostly, I play guitar and ukulele. I also play piano and tenor sax to a lesser degree. Still, I feel like I'm searching for my holy grail instrument. An instrument that is portable like the ukulele, but not as quiet. An instrument where melody notes can be be played with a lot of sustain like with an electric guitar, but without the need to drag an amplifier around. An instrument that excels at playing both melody and accompanyment simultaneously like a piano, but which can be easily picked up and brought outside to play in the back yard. An instrument that can be very expressive like the saxophone. I think that the concertina may well be my holy grail instrument.

 

So far, I think I've narrowed it down to the English style concertina. Most of the music I play, I figure out by ear/memory. So I would want an instrument capable of playing in any key. I understand that the Anglo instruments are more limited as to which keys one can play in. Also, I think that the concertinas, which play two different notes on the same button depending on whether you are squeezing or pulling the bellows, would make things more complicated for me. But, obviously, I cannot say from personal experience.

 

So I was wondering if some of you might introduce yourselves and tell me which sorts or concertinas you prefer and why. I am excited and curious to see what the concertina community is like and I'm anxious to learn as much as I can about this instrument.

 

Thanks!

 

Go Cat Dave

Hallo Dave and welcome; pleased to meet a man of such clearly impeccable taste. I went down a similar decision-making process a few years ago; starting from similar criteria to yours but I wanted to play classical music too. It really is a wonderful instrument and will do all that you think. You won't be dissappointed.

 

From what you say you really need to look at a duet. The English is less versatile and more expensive. Do some more reading and bounce some more Q's off us!

 

Duets, themselves, also come in several flavours; I came out of the decision process with a Wheatstone duet; a 'Maccan' as it is usually called these days. Look at my previous posts and you'll find examples of my playing. Also track down Ralph Jordan's bits; he does the by ear bit with great style. (My choice was more by luck than judgement at the time because there was very little information about but it was the right one for me)

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Welcome. The key message I've always tried to relay is: choosing a concertina system based on theory alone is an inherently risky business. You might get it right, but the thing of it is that the choice of instrument is a personal thing that is not entirely susceptible to reason. I, for instance, would be driven up the wall if I had to try to play the English system but took to the anglo like a duck to water. Conversely my partner (soon to be wife :-) ) Anne is happy with the English, would be driven quite spare by the anglo, and for the last few years has been learning the fiddle because she is driven by a passion for it. None of it particularly rational.

 

What you need to do is get somewhere where you can try out a number of different systems (somewhere like The Button Box down in MA) and try some boxes out.

 

Best of luck. If you're not careful you're letting yourself in for a major obsession!

 

Chris

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Hi Dave,

sounds like your suggestion to be able to play melody and accompaniment at the same time would appear to point you to one of the various Duet keyboards. However it is also possible to play the English as a melody with accompaniment instrument.. that many people stick to just melody line only on the English is their choice. Anglo can also do the melody with accomp. bit very well.

 

I have played the English for many years and recently started learning a Duet ( Maccann) and wish I had done this years ago... but that is like many things in life... If only !

I choose Maccann as my duet to learn after reading all the advice I could find here on Cnet . Websites like this and the information they provide were not available when I started my Concertina Journey back in 1972 so it was just a chance encounter with a concertina player that got me interested.

 

Some of the problems are that certain keyboard types are still being produced and others have rarely been produced since the Concertina renaisance (of the 1960/70's).. the Anglo is most popular and almost all of the new makers produce them... The English is made by just a few current makers and the Hayden Duet is available from an even smaller selection.

 

So, if it is possible to give any advice at this stage I would say listen and watch lots of videos on Youtube and read all you can here and certainly follow the advices give by Dirge and Chris.

 

Have a nice musical journey :) .

 

Geoff.

Edited by Geoff Wooff

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Hi, Dave. I play the Anglo 30 CG Wheatstone style mainly because I was given a German 20 button CG. I can get all the keys I need on this instrument (C,D,E,F,G A, Bb come to mind.)I tried the English but the sequential notes on opposites sides fingering without regard to the bellows just defeated me. I'm not really a musician and my ears aren't the way I learn. One other instrument I have tried that works is the melodeon. I play a one row, 4 stop in C (Cajun type) and have thought about a two row in BC which would give me all the keys on the right hand and base and chords on the left. I would never give up my concertina, but the melodeon has some charms of it's own.

 

Chris Timson is right. This is a dangerous deal that can quickly get out of hand.

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I have often thought about the duet, but I began with the English and have stuck with it. There is an amazing underlying logic to the English that I find appealing. If one had experience with a piano, I think that the Duet might appeal, but I started out many years ago with stringed instruments -- banjo, guitar, dulcimer. I realized that what I really liked was melody and that for the guitar there were simply too many variations in forms of playing. What I really wanted to play was a fiddle but felt too old to begin. So I took up the mandolin but again found that there were too many varieties of style -- which finally frustrated me. I had often thought about the concertina and eventually tried it and found that the English was the same range as the fiddle and mandolin but also had real chording and harmony possibilities that were endless if one wished to pursue them but that it was great for melody and for every variety of music from classical to traditional and folk. Given what you said in your post, it seems that the choice is between the English and Duet, and from most places in Maine (I live in Georgetown in the summer) the Button Box is about five hours away where you can try everything at various levels of price.

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First, a big thank you for the warm and informative replies! Second, I think that I now realize that I *must* make a pilgrimage down to the Button Box and get my hands on some of these instruments rather than try to make a decision through logic alone. It will probably be a few weeks before I can do that. So, in the meantime, I plan to watch videos like you've recommended. That should help me better sort out what sound I would like best and which models seem like they would suit my style of playing.

 

So again, a big thank you to jggunn, BlueJack, Geoff Wooff, Chris Timson, and Dirge, for your quick and helpful replies. I will be sure to keep you all updated as my concertina quest progresses! :)

 

P.S. And thanks again to the folks who messaged me privately as well.

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P.S. And thanks again to the folks who messaged me privately as well.

Excellent! What fascinating insights did they share in private?

 

You're the new boy so don't cause trouble by naming names but you could tell us the conclusions they offered without dropping anyone in it...

 

As I was saying, it's a bit quiet round here at the moment...

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Quote Dirge;

As I was saying, it's a bit quiet round here at the moment...

 

 

Oh, not again Dirge! How much trouble would you care for... just for amusement sake ? ;)

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What Chris said. There's some logic to choosing a type of concertina, but mostly it's subjective stuff: how your brain works, the sounds you like, etc.

 

One suggestion: listen to a lot of concertina players. Decide which styles you like, and find out what kinds of concertina those players use.

 

If you find you like real punchy dance music or Irish, you might do well with an Anglo. Listen to Jody Kruskal, Tom Kruskal, Brian Peters, et al for harmonic style, Noel Hill, John Williams for Irish melody playing.

 

If you like smoother music - Playford tunes, for example, or classical - English might be the best choice. Listen to Alistair Anderson, George Mitchell and so on.

 

Duets are cool but harder to find, and there's much less in the way of learning materials. Still, for many duets are a great choice. Look on YouTube for the playing of the late, great Nick Robertshaw. Or try to dig up something by our own Dave Barnart.

 

I echo the suggestion you go down to the Button Box and try different flavors of concertina, but with a caveat: it's hard to really make that determination when you're a complete beginner. Still, there's no substitute for getting your hands on the suckers.

 

One other comment: you talk about "sustain," like an electric guitar. The concertina doesn't have much. As a former hammered dulcimer player, that was one of the things that appealed to me after years of hearing the "wall of sound" that the super sustain of the dulcimer produces.

Edited by Jim Besser

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Excellent! What fascinating insights did they share in private?

 

Mostly the same advice posted here. Watch lots of videos. Try and get your hands on some actual instruments to see what appeals. Consider renting before buying.

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One suggestion: listen to a lot of concertina players. Decide which styles you like, and find out what kinds of concertina those players use.

 

One other comment: you talk about "sustain," like an electric guitar. The concertina doesn't have much. As a former hammered dulcimer player, that was one of the things that appealed to me after years of hearing the "wall of sound" that the super sustain of the dulcimer produces.

 

Actually, the funny thing is that I'm less interested in learming established concertina styles as I am in bending the instrument to my own dastardly purposes. I do recognize that there will be a tremendous amout of technique that I'll be able to learn by observing folks playing the concertina in established concertina styles. And I do look forward to learning some concertina classics. But, I think the first thing I would do is learn to play some of the chords that I use most when I accompany myself singing on guitar, uke, etc. And then play around with buttoning and bellowing until I discover a way to produce the sorts of rhythm patterns I like. A lot of what I play is American 1950's style rock and roll, doo wop, teen idol crooner type stuff. I am also a BIG fan of female sung ballads. So I can see myself trying to pick out some favorite melodies and then slowly add accompaniment notes to fill out chords in places. So, I guess I would start out in my comfort zone, transferring what I already like to do. But eventually, I would also like to learn about Irish and dance tunes etc. I don't see myself ever aspiring to be one of those virtuoso players who can play incredibly fast runs of notes. Mainly, I want a new, portable, fun way to make the music I like where ever I happen to be.

 

As for sustain, perhaps that's not the right word. What I mean is that I presume you can hold a note for a longish time on a concertina by continuing to pull open or close the bellows whereas on a ukulele, the strings tend to stop vibrating quickly because they are so short. So if I am playing a ballad melody where the music rises up to a dramatic high note, instead of the note ringing, "eeeeeeeeeeeeee", on a ukulele it just goes "plink!"

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"But, I think the first thing I would do is learn to play some of the chords that I use most when I accompany myself singing on guitar, uke, etc. And then play around with buttoning and bellowing until I discover a way to produce the sorts of rhythm patterns I like. "

 

In that case, i would suggest listening to some South African "Squash Box" concertina (not the European sounding Boer music, although that is pretty impressive for different reasons.). There are some discussions and links in the archives. It's a very different way of playing- kind of the concertina equivalent of really inventive rythm guitar!

Edited by Bill N

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You are quite correct (go cat) in noting what the uke and stringed instruments, apart from the violin, do not provide. The lack of sustain or playing legato was one of the things that drove me crazy and that was so available on the concertina, and it offers a lot in the way of expression by varied pressure on the bellows.

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It looks like my wife, Peg, and I will be making the trek down to The Button Box in two weeks. I'm excited to check out all of the concertinas they have in stock. I won't be able to buy one just yet. But I'm hoping to rent an Elise Duet and begin my concertina journey. :)

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Actually, the funny thing is that I'm less interested in learming established concertina styles as I am in bending the instrument to my own dastardly purposes. I do recognize that there will be a tremendous amout of technique that I'll be able to learn by observing folks playing the concertina in established concertina styles. And I do look forward to learning some concertina classics. But, I think the first thing I would do is learn to play some of the chords that I use most when I accompany myself singing on guitar, uke, etc. And then play around with buttoning and bellowing until I discover a way to produce the sorts of rhythm patterns I like.

 

Hi Dave,

 

having followed the "concertina video" thread (cool clip indeed) thus far I stumbled over this one just this morning. So let me add some thoughts, which have changed a bit whilst reading your posts:

 

Initially I'd have suggested the English system to you - just because I believe it to be the most versatile - no melody vs. accompaniment and thus playing chords in close touch with the melody line - and IMO not restricted in any way (though the beginner, just like myself some time ago, will almost inevitably think so), apart from the guys already mentioned I'd name Rainer Süßmilch, Randy Stein, Simon Thoumire), not determined to a certain style a.s.f.

 

But since you're mainly after chords and rythmn (and possibly want to play with melody lines atop on that later on) a Duet would probably fit your needs better (Dirge does great things with his Maccann). So I wish you all the best with your Elise to begin with (I always admired the Hayden system)!

 

I share your notion of the concertina presenting a sustained piano in the box... :)

(and a fiddle en minature as well...)

 

Regards - Wolf

 

 

P.S.: OTOH, for pure accompaniment of singing an EC would be great as well. You'd be able to play complexly built (up to eight part) chords then (on a tenor/-treble, bariton-/treble namely) - so it depends...
Edited by blue eyed sailor

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I like the notion of taking off in your own direction if you're so inclined. Some well known musical artists started out with the intent to create their own take on playing their chosen instrument and they came up with very well received results.

 

As to the comments regarding portablility and comparison to other instrument's capabilities, I'm reminded of Bertram Levy's characterization of the concertina as being a "lap top orchestra."

 

My add to this thread is that in addition to considering the various playing systems, I suggest you pay attention to the sound of the various makes and models of concertina and pursue one that offers the tonal qualities that best fit the type of music you want to play. A matter of reeds and construction as well as playing technique, the range of sounds is broad and you'll likely find some better suited for your musical interests than others.

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I do have some prior background in music. Mostly, I play guitar and ukulele. I also play piano and tenor sax to a lesser degree. ... An instrument that is portable like the ukulele, but not as quiet. An instrument where melody notes can be be played with a lot of sustain like with an electric guitar, but without the need to drag an amplifier around. An instrument that excels at playing both melody and accompanyment simultaneously like a piano, but which can be easily picked up and brought outside to play in the back yard. An instrument that can be very expressive like the saxophone.

 

Dave,

All this, to me as to other posters, suggests a duet concertina. More specifically, a system that has not yet been mentioned: the Crane Duet!

 

My background is similar to yours: general knowledge of music, piano lessons as a child, a lot of choir work since my voice broke, and above all, mandolin, guitar, ukulele and especially 5-string banjo. I have no sax experience, but I've played the Anglo for decades.

 

It was the limitations of the Anglo that finally made me look for a Duet. Harmonies do become more and more sparse and difficult on the Anglo as you get farther away from its two home keys, and I wanted a chromatic instrument on which I could transpose a neat but lavish arrangement without compromising on the harmonisation.

 

I studied all the duet layouts, and settled for the Crane because, to me, the system had the most kinship with the piano and the fretted instruments.

First, the Crane has the piano's "white keys" on 3 central columns of buttons, with the "black keys" on the 2 outer columns, so when you know which sharps or flats a tune has, you know where to look for them. This is piano thinking.

Second, the diatonic scales run along a button row until you run out of fingers, then skip to the start of the next row, like on the strings of a mandolin or violin.

Third, there are only a few basic chord shapes and their variants, which you can shift up and down the keyboard to get many different chords, like on the 5-string banjo.

 

The beauty of the Crane (like any duet) is that you can treat the right-hand side as a melody instrument and the left-hand side as a chording instrument. As a piano-player, you'll find the familiar "low notes left hand, high notes right hand" paradigm. To me, it's like playing mandolin (right) and banjo (left) at the same time. When I sing, I often accompany myself with the left hand only, much as I do on the finger-style guitar.

 

All this theorising proved valid when I got my Crane and started learning! Of the long-established duet systems, the Crane is usually considered easier for the beginner to learn, and the Maccann as offering more speed once you know your way about its keyboard. I'm a self-accompanied singer, not an instrumental virtuoso, so the Crane is fine for me! It lends itself very well to instrumental versions of song tunes.

 

As I say, this was my path, so take it or leave it. Your keyboard and fretted strings background is similar to mine, so perhaps my experience may be of interest to you.

 

You can get the expressiveness of the sax on any concertina system, of course. It's only when you want more than single-line melody that the different systems offer different advantages.

 

Hope this helps,

Cheers,

John

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