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Playing All Keys On The C/g

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Playing all keys on the C/G Anglo


I like to play all the keys on the C/G Anglo for the same reason I like the sound of the fiddle in the different keys. The relationships and readily accessible chord inversions are characteristic for each key. The result is that, like the fiddle, the concertina gains a different voice for each key.


When it comes to old timey tunes, for example, C tunes sound just right to me in the middle row. As it turns out, the C progression chords and bass runs are crafted just like those on the guitar. Tunes like Billy in the Low Ground or Honeysuckle Rag would be good examples. The G Tunes have a totally different feel than the C tunes. Just as the F tunes sound weird to me played in G on the fiddle, the A tunes played out of D shape on the G/D concertina are equally disquieting. The A tunes in the fiddle exploit the rich use of the A and E double stops. These notes abound in all octaves and both directions on the C/G box.


A large part of phrasing has to do with the opening and closing patterns of bellows in the same way as the open and closed string patterns on the fiddle. Phrasing is critical in old timey music – if the phrasing fights with that of the fiddle’s, the swing of the tune can be lost or obfuscated. String band musicians are very sensitive to this. Of course some musicians think that the concertina has no place in old timey music what so ever. Fortunately the really good players are not part of this latter group


G tunes can be played equally well on both instruments but many G tunes are best phrased across the row rather than on the row. Here the C/G box offers G chords in both direction including the crucial opening low tonic and third that are missing in the G/D box (unless you have extra button$$).


When it comes to reading music, playing in the actually key is infinitely sensible. There is no need for transposition. This is especially important if there are a lot of accidentals. This goes for classical music as well as other world-music genres.


I also think that the concertina’s best voice resides in the octaves that cross the instrument. People always tell me my instrument sounds like a clarinet. I like that sound. However unlike a clarinet the concertina has the ability to play two independent voices. Maybe I have been studying Bach two part inventions too long but to me a good counterpoint has as much drive as an oom pah pah left hand chord and right hand voice. The options for accomplishing this with G and D are almost unlimited. G, especially, has almost a full scales running in both direction and D is close behind.


Some people say that the top G row on a C/G concertina is too squeaky. Interestingly the top row of G on the right hand has the same voicing and “in and out” pattern as the harmonica, an instrument always welcome in old timey session. I have been exploring the harmonica two voice techniques across the rows on the right hand for a while now. It’s like have a whole box of mouth harps. You can even play cross key like harmonicas.


Finally the bass-lines are unique in each key. D is the most versatile and close to the guitar and G comes right in there. The key of A has been a bit of a struggle because of all the “in” stuff but once I got a “Handel” on it, it became free and interesting – lots of double stops and duplications.


No doubt the G/D box has a very sexy voice and perhaps if I didn’t play the bandoneon I might own one. I have a B flat/ E flat that I never use but it would be handy if I were to play with some horn players since I could read their parts. However knowing your way around the C/G is not that difficult (its only 30 buttons) and the relationships between the notes is a bottomless pit of mysteries that continues to surprise me.


It’s also nice to carry just one instrument for all occasions.



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I couldn't agree with you more, Bertram. I find that is fairly easy to set down with my C/G box and play a tune straight from the written music in the key written.


By the way, I picked up a copy of your old time studies, though I haven't had a chance to go through the exercises yet. I did read through it and found it to be interesting and thoughtful, and am sure it will help my playing.



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Hi, Bertram,


Thank you for introducing this nifty topic, which is an area of fascination for me. Just to be sure I'm getting your meaning---when you say you "like to play all keys" on C/G, you are saying IN all keys? (Or did you mean, USE all keys, meaning, all buttons?) Both issues are very interesting to me re anglo concertina. I have been using all buttons since starting up on Anglo, and love how it gives much more choice than melodeon for using your doubled notes to make phrasing choices about playing "long-bow" versus "saw-stroke," to use fiddle parlance.


In the sense of, playing IN all keys---I notice that your examples of keys are, D, G, A, C, and F (and, I assume, their relative minors). I play in all of these also on my 30-button C/G anglo. But when it comes to, "all" keys--do you play it in B, E, F#, and their relative minors? Do you play it in E-Flat, B-Flat, and A-Flat, and their relative minors?


Because, this is where 30-button C/G hits a wall of annoyance for me. Some B and E tunes, yes, because there's some nice note-doubling of B's and E's to help make that happen. And B-flat, not too bad, though it's aggravating not to have the B-flat above middle-C in the other direction.


When I say, "annoyance," I mean---I want those missing notes and I feel that you could just about have them in a better-designed 30 button, or, say, a 31 or 32-button. I have been moving the puzzle pieces around, trying to figure out how to make a 30-button more fluid in these other keys. If you got rid of the notes listed below, added maybe one button, and shifted the design a tad, I believe you could just about have that "white" and "black"-key box in a cunning little package.


Get rid of:

1---the left bottom-row a/g. Those notes don't need to be tripled. Doubled is plenty. I never use the left-bottom set, do use the left-top set constantly.

the space where the left bottom set now is, is crying out to be filled with a reverse of the middle-row e/f.

2---that super-low "f" on the left top row

3---that super-low "c" on the left middle row

4--one of the three right-hand "a" notes

5--one of the three right-hand "g" notes

6--all right-hand notes above "high c" but for, say, one "d."

7--optionally, perhaps even one of the two "high c's." not everyone uses both.


Then, adjust the layout design a tad, and you've got space for your missing doubles. Perhaps, one button might be added near the inner edge, for a good place to put the "push" double of the b-flat above middle C. But the rest of the missing stuff you can put in the slots opened up by the removals I've listed.

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Hi all


Bertram :

Thanks for this wise contribution. I agree that on the anglo, each key has its own flavor. For instance, Dm and Em are both great keys, but with very different feels : Dm is a "pulled key" that comes quite straightforwardly along the C row. Em is a "pushed key" and more a cross-row one, but with many interesting options. I often tried some tunes in both keys and was always surprised how different they sound. For me, this strong identity of each key is part of the charm of the instrument, and something which would be lost with a more "logical" layout.

(BTW, Bertram, "The project" with Emmanuel is in good progress ! )


Ceemonster :

I think that by "all keys" Bertram was mostly thinking of the most common keys for the styles he plays, and for this I perfectly agree with him. The keys with many sharps are difficult but can be managed (Bertram does great stuff in C#minor !), but the flat keys are surely a problem (at least, they are a puzzle to me).

About the second part of your post, I have also been obsessed with reforming the layout.... I agree that the highest notes can be advantageously replaced by more useful ones (except that I would personally keep all notes up to e') ; on the other hand, I disagree with your view that the 3 G's and 3 A's at each octave are a waste : on the opposite, they are essential to achieve a smooth fingering ! This is demonstrated quite convincingly in Bertram's new method which considers these notes as "the pivot" of his approach.

On the other hand the notes which I'm more ready to sacrifice are the Eb's at each octave. Of course, losing them means losing full chromaticity, which can be a problem for some, but as for what I play I miss them very little, and much prefer the notes I have put instead.


To demonstrate my ideas, I'm posting my "ideal" layout for a 30 button ; actually the one of my Edgley (except that it's in fact a G/D ; but I'm transposing it to C/G as this will be more familiar to most). I have other layout proposals for instruments with extra buttons (including "the project"), and can share them if there is some interest.


Greetings from Salerno, Southern Italy, where I'm having a 2 weeks business stay !






Edited by david fabre
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Thanks for your response

I mean keys not buttons although one needs all the buttons for sure. I can play in all keys but obviously the more sharps and flats the more study is required. The study that is required is generally air management as one runs out of bellows. For example in E flat most of the piece is opening and you have to arm the piece using closing C to catch up. Invariably there are phrase that let you catch up. Admittedly playing Mineola Rag in Eflat with a A flat trio took some time but even in this piece there were places - especially in the II, V , I movements where there was enough closing to deal with the air. Other times it comes down to taking a breathe just like flute and wind instruments.

I believe there is a youtube of me playing Mamallilacula waltz in C # minor - admittedly it is the realtive minor of the key of E which is quite accessible.

The more sharps and flats ofcourse means the baselines are not possible. Here one uses counterpoint for an accompanyment. Also when playing F # minor the triad is impossible because the C# is in the opposite direction but one can imply it by arpeggiating the chord. Sometimes one has to be happy playing the melody with simple harmony notes.

Personally I would not change the tonalities of the lower or upper buttons because my world generally centers around the keys described in the article. For example in the 28th of January on my CD Bellow and the Bow it requires the lower row as well as the upper row low As to play the fiddle shuiffle in the second part. Even the very high A on the right is useful if you want to take a harmonica break in the key of A or D. For example in the Santa Ana's Retreat on the Henry Reed reunion Album where I play the tune in three octave.


I tried to attach the mp3 of 28th of January but the message said it was too big Where's my tech guy when I need him or her.





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[on the other hand, I disagree with your view that the 3 G's and 3 A's at each octave are a waste : on the opposite, they are essential to achieve a smooth fingering !]


well, certainly i love having three. but do i need them or find them essential to achieve fluidity? no. one on the push, and one on the pull, is plenty for achieving fluidity (both fingering and phrasing). extras are just gravy. and i like gravy, but i don't need it.


take bisonoric bandoneons, which are not big with a bazillion buttons because they have notes more than twice. they are big with a bazillion buttons because they have two banks of reeds and five octaves or whatever. most notes are only doubled, and that's it---and that is enough for extremely complex, fluid, polyvoiced classical playing. the middle octave that has bilateral overlapping does give you some notes more than twice, but other than that, they're only doubled, and i believe one or two occur only once on the 142-button.

Edited by ceemonster
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Hi Bertram,

You like the C/G and I like the G/D Anglo for fiddle tunes. Just as you do, I have lots of reasons why I favor my preferred key, the G/D... (I do play C/G for a few certain tunes), but really, the key of the Anglo is less important than what you do with it. Everyone for what he likes. If it feels good in the hand and sounds good to the ear, then that’s what counts.

It was great to get to play with you and your buddy Kirk at Clifftop this year. I played with dozens of fine musicians there and had an amazing week down in West Virginia. So many sessions, so many tunes!

After playing briefly with the great banjo player John Herrmann, he had some suggestions for me as a concertina player. The first was to play something else. Banjo, fiddle, guitar... but not concertina. Bertram, you and I have a long row to hoe as we make the concertina welcome in old-time music. You know what I mean? Most folks are fine with it after I start to play, but there is always that awkward moment with strangers, “You play what...? Well, I don’t know............?”

The second point John Herrmann made to me is that in old-time music (perhaps in all music?) rhythm is the most important thing. Everyone plays the melody a bit differently, each instrument plays naturally in its own way, there is melody, harmony, chords, backing, G/D, C/G and whatever else, but about the groove there has to be total agreement. The pitches are the frosting on the cake, it’s the rhythm of the music that pulls it all together and makes us have a great time at an old-time session or any session really. For the Anglo, the rhythm lives in the bellows.

I like nothing better than to sit next to a good strong fiddler and try to match his bowing and phrasing in a tune. The in-out motion of the Anglo concertina bellows can join the fiddlers bow in a way that compliments and amplifies the rhythm of old-time fiddling like nothing else. At a really great session I feel like it’s a mind melding experience and many folks appreciate how I’m kicking things into high gear with the squeezing of my box. It can really drive a tune.

When it comes to agreeing about the rhythm and the groove and really locking in, there are three key factors, as I see it. The tempo (well, duh), the dottedness and swing factor, and thirdly the off-beat accents that are key to American fiddle traditions. The concertina does not naturally play these accents the way all string instruments do. But, if you deliberately make it play them, then the bellows will dance to the music and everyone will smile.

Well, that’s what I think anyway.

I’ll be talking about this very point and showing folks how to do this at my UK workshop in Towersey, Oxford on the 16th of November, 2013.


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Thanks Jody for the note regarding the issue of style in old timey music (OTM). I enjoyed meeting you as well at Clifftop.


I don’t agree with Joe Hermann, Gaining acceptance in the world of OTM is not about rhythm although it goes without saying you have to have it. OTM is all about the subtlies. There are four important guidelines:


1. Play the correct version: People are careful about the versions they play and if you want to be appreciated, you have to play the same versions. It means learning the tune from the primary source: Tommy Jarrell, Henry Reed, Clyde Davenport, Ed Haley Gid Tanner, French Carpenter, Oscar Wright, on and on. I have been fortunate to have spent time with some of these luminaries in the ‘60s and ‘70s but those that learned later have carefully studied the recordings and are dedicated to playing them correctly as well.


2. Balance your volume with the other musicians: Southern OTM is different than New England contra dance music. In OTM, one cannot come on with a giant sounding instrument pressing every button available, (perhaps taking some out) and mowing over the subtly in the version. Its not about “concertinizing” the music, its about playing the music with the concertina.


3. Think about the arrangement: Spend time listening and carefully thinking about how to arrange the tunes. For example Bull at the Wagon is not a balls out reel. If you listen to the late Earl Collins play it (who I visited in the ‘70s and technically is an Oklahoma fiddler), there are three distinct parts. His version has a sense of calm and is filled with imagery The first sounds like the wagon rolling along, the second is the expansive playful section and the third is the long moaning of the bull. Magic!!!


I believe we both recorded this tune. It’s been 30 years for me but when I listen to it, my performance still communicates that vision (That Old Gut Feeling). Unfortunately I don’t have a video of Earl playing his Bull at the Wagon but you can see him playing “Say Old Man Can You Play the Fiddle”. Imagine playing along with him and not running over his phrasing. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mXqJbAtkqpM


4. Be selective in your notes: Subtly also extends to the judicious use of the double stops. The wall of sound is not cool. The double stops can be on or off the beat but either way they create a subliminal rhythmic pattern that makes the tune rock. Unique turns of the phrase and the use of the octave as a pedal achieve the same. For this it doesn’t matter whether it’s a C/G or a G/D. The C/G in my hands makes this happen in a way that playing chords on the left and melody on the right does not.

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Bertram, and others, use the expression 'old timey music'. Is there a definition of exactly what they mean by 'old timey music' ?


Although I myself am an "outsider" to the genre, here's my understanding and interpretation of the term, as I learned it through friends 30-40 years ago:

  • In the main, the term "Old Timey" is used in reference to musical styles that developed in the Southern Appalachian region of the United States. (The Appalachians are a mountain range running north-south through eastern North America.)
  • I'm not sure, but I suspect the term was coined to distinguish the old-fashioned (or "old time") styles from the much fancier, new-fangled, performance-oriented stuff -- something called "bluegrass" -- that grew out of them. (Was that "evolution", or "revolution"? :unsure:)
  • More broadly, the term has also come to include styles from other areas, e.g., Missouri and Texas, which tend to share certain characteristics of rhythm, melody, harmony, and instrumentation.
  • Both instrumentation and harmony tend to be sparse, and rather different from what's common in Mozart or the Methodist Hymnal.
  • As I think Bertram has indicated, there are definite individual or local styles, and those who are deeply "into" the genre can tell them apart just by listening. Some might even claim to be able to identify which side of a particular mountain a particular version of a tune was from. I was told by my New York City friends that they were widely accepted as members of the tradition, but that they were considered to have their own local style, from the "small town" of Brooklyn, New York. (I think it's interesting, though definitely a digression, to note that some of those same musicians subsequently "rediscovered" their own ethnic heritage and have become leading authorities -- and musicians -- in the realm of klezmer.)

I'm sure others here -- and not just Bertram and Jody -- will be able to add details, and maybe more modern perspectives. In fact, to some extent they already have. They could probably also recommend some useful recordings to listen to. I think it's great stuff to listen to, even if you don't want to become an expert. :)

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Many thanks Jim for taking the trouble to reply to my question. The complexity of music in all its many styles and interpretations knows no bounds. 'Old timey' was a new expression to me and not one that I had heard used here in the UK. Now I know ! Rod

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Hi Bertram,

This is all very interesting stuff and I find myself agreeing with most of what you say. Let’s take a listen and a look at Bull at the Wagon since you use it as an example. A quick google search pulls up a wealth of information.

Jay Ungar transcribed Bull at the Wagon in the 1970’s. See the dots here:


One of the early recordings and perhaps the source recording is by the Lewis Brothers, Victor V - 40172, 1929. Here it is:


Hear Earl Collins play it here:


Here is my recording from Poor Little Liza Jane:


These are all clearly the same tune but there are subtle differences between them. For instance, my recording includes the sharp D in measure 4 of the C section from the Lewis Brothers 1929 recording. This subtlety is not in evidence in Earls playing, the Ungar transcription or how folks play it at Clifftop and other sessions where it is a standard tune when we are playing in A.

My point is this... there are many versions of the tune. None are correct. They are all great! If however, I’m playing with a fiddler who is playing it a certain way, I try to play concertina the way they do the tune... or I could play the guitar part on the concertina or then again I could join the banjo or be the banjo uke. Each instrument plays differently and because the concertina does not really belong, all the possibilities are fair game. There is lots of flexibility at a big session. The smaller the group playing, the more exposed the concertina is, and the harder I have to work to match up the details with the fiddle and everyone else. Rarely, I might say, "Let's try that C section the way the Lewis Brothers play it."

In the case of my recording of the tune, it was a trio with Paul Friedman on fiddle and Bill Peek on banjo. Both of these guys have been playing OTM for 30+ years and they just played Bull at the Wagon the way they knew it. We did not make a great study of this version or that, except that I insisted on that cool D# that the Lewis brothers play. In this case, the fiddler and banjo I had to be listening to were my buddies Paul and Bill, not Earl Collins.

So how about your version recorded 30 years ago? I would be very interested in hearing it.

It should be noted that these OT tunes are still passed down the old way at sessions large and small by listening and playing. Session versions tend to get watered down because of the telephone effect... even though everyone got the tune from the same source if you go back far enough in the transmission chain. The fact that anyone with a computer now has instant access to resources and technology, mp3s of the oldest recorded versions, transcriptions and the means to communicate all this stuff globally does not change the very cool thing that OTM is... a very social and ever changing body of tunes that are fun to play now, with the folks at hand... and you can leave the computers at home.

Take for instance, Mike in the Wilderness.


I first learned it at a session, then relearned it again the way the source fiddler John Salyer recorded it back in 1941. Now when I play Mike in the Wilderness at a session, I have to dumb it down because almost no one plays it with all the details Mr. Salyer used. Am I complaining? No! I’ll play this great tune with anyone regardless, and I'll play it in a way that fits in with the musicians who are playing now. OT is for playing.

Recording a CD might well have a higher bar though. I am sure glad to have all those internet resources available so I can be an informed and educated OT musician when I want to be.

Edited by Jody Kruskal
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'Old timey' was a new expression to me and not one that I had heard used here in the UK.

Yeah. I think many (most?) Americans would be similarly puzzled by "West Gallery".


Jim: You know that is just fuging nonsense.


But seriously, a concertina band playing West Gallery might be quite something. Do you know of any?



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Mr. Levy, thank you very most kindly for such a deelishious note about the nuances of southern OT style. I play some clawhammer and have in the last few years nabbed a glorious gaggle of vintage LPs to marvel over...i am a big fan of both hammons family/wade ward-ish style as well as round peaky style, and really enjoyed taking in the points you've made here....

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Thanks Anglo-enthusiast for finding that video - I haven't a clue what is out there. I am presently in Buenos Aires studying at the conservatory for three months and don't have my recording of Bull at the Wagon from "That Old Gut Feeling"(1984) with me. The recording continues to sell briskly worldwide so I am sure someone has that mp3 as well. Playing with Kirk Sutphin is a dream. Kirk is the reincarnate of Tommy Jarrell and he loves to play with my concertina and banjo. Our first recording "The Bellow and the Bow" 2012 has had great reviews from County Records and Old Time Herald. which, for me validates, my approach to the instrument in this genre. I see other innovations as well. Some of these will be present in a new Round Peak album that Kirk and I just recorded with Eddie Bond in Mount Airy, North Carolina. I think it is one of the best projects I have ever done - extremely imaginative and very entertaining. It should be out in January of next year.


And to Ceemonster thanks for the kind note. I visited Burl Hammonds with Malcom and Blanton Owen in 1972. I remember that we recorded all afternoon and when suppertime came, Maggie invited us to stay for the meal. After ten minutes of "Oh no we can't", while we were so hungry we could have eaten the fiddles, we agreed. She took out a piece of liver an inch and a half square from the refrigerator. I thought "Oh my, we are eating their last piece of meat" She then put it in a frying pan with oil, milk and flour and made a big bowl of liver gravy. She baked a mountain of hot bisquits and fresh vegetables from the garden. That meal remains one of the greatest I ever experienced. The next day we headed down to Washington DC to show Alan Jabbour the recordings. He later released the scholarly Hammonds Family Collection for which we are all grateful.


I brought my concertina with me to Buenos Aires and I will try to find the time to transcribe an arrangement of Bull at the Wagon and will submit it to the forum. Perhaps I might even find someone to record the version for me. Vamos a ver.

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