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Duet Concertinas?


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@ Stuart: I too came to the world of Duets after playing Anglo (for a year only but…) but IMHO the bisonoric property of an Anglo is it's very fundament. So even that Anglos are side-divided like duets and capable of playing accompaniment and melody at once, they are so different in their nature from any unisonoric instruments.


Interesting is your point of view on advantages of Wicki/Hayden as not being as crucial - this consorts well to mine and Matthew point exactly: for anyone I've spoken to date, who learned music on a diatonic instrument (for me, a piano is in it's core structure a diatonic, "chromatized" instrument, oriented around a key of C - a Janko piano keyboard is trully chromatic), the Wicki/Hayden layout is merely a handy shortcut. Your comment about "pianists not complaining about fingerings" was something I discussed lately with three pianists I know, with all of them admiting, that they don't realy think about other layouts mostly because they've invested so much time and effort already. It is true, that music theory can be learnt and prowess achieved to a virtuoso degree on any instrument, with any notation system and different examples and aproaches. But in only few of those systems, as Matthew have stated, "the instrument will become the instructor…" and this is fundamentally true for Haydens.


@Wolf: unfortunately, I was unable to try out any instrument prior to buying it - there are no dealers of concertinas in Poland and going abroad just to try a few boxes was and still is way above my budget… But I did considered a Jack or Rochelle when I was deciding what to buy after initial fiddling on a cheap Anglo. But I quickly realised that Englishes were out of the question for me not for musical reasons (I love the use of EC in classical music) but for their ergonomics - I have very long fingers and a wrist injury. But I agree, that the interwoven nature of EC is it's defining property as much as bisonoric nature of an Anglo.

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ha, as it happens, prompted by the "concertina in sweden" thread, i was listening to the swedish and scandinavian folk tunes on my copy of mark gilston's "troll road" today and it did come to mind that though he has devised and executed chordal/harmony effects to go with his melody lines very impressively using his EC, the concertina that really would be great for that is duet....there seems to be a bias among many of the duet folks on this site towards the classical end of the spectrum, but there is nothing wrong with using a duet to play folk music. left-side harmonizing and/or bass vamping to right-side melody playing (or the reverse, for spice), sound gorgeous on duet concertina--tango, musette, scandinavian, eastern-european...

I agree with Ceemonster, when I bought the maccann duets was thinking about playing folk music, that no need at all so big concertinas. One of the handicaps of the smaller ones is that they haven't the notes overlaped in the both sides, but even in the anglo concertina, i. e. playing in chord and melody style people play them mainly with left hand chords and right hand with the melody and usually not play many notes of the melody in the left side. I think that duets, anglos, and english can be played in many different styles and they aren't more or less wrong one than other, the ideal is to master and be proficient in all the styles, but if one is focused in traditional music or in a particular style, one can remain in this style. The important matter is to know the purpose or goal that one want to obtain with that particular instrument and the kind of music that one want to play (that can change along the time...).

It is a common discussion with piano accordions in galician traditional music, to play not very heavy accordions, with not a big keyboard and not a lot for basses, for playng music that usually is about an octave or an octave and a half, mainly if accordion players shall play standing and go walking along with the pipers doing the "alborada" (playing music the feast day early on the morning ) for two hours or more going all over the village.

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If Wheatstone had invented the concertina equipped with a fully-fledged (46+ button) Hayden layout, I doubt that the mass-produced English, Crane or Maccann systems would ever have happened (what would be the point?). The need to produce a cheap instrument with a decent compass would have ensured the introduction of the 20-button Anglo of course, and its many variants would have naturally followed giving rise to an Anglo situation similar to the one we have today.

Edited by mac
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Thanks, the thing is the Concertina Connections duet, the Elise http://www.concertinaconnection.com/elise.htm cost the same as the Rochelle so maybe that would be a fun alternative.

If you mean in addition to the anglo... could be. But I wouldn't advise giving up the anglo for a different kind of concertina without first getting at least a bit of hands-on time with the alternative. Among my favorite philosophical quotes is: "In theory, there's no difference between theory and practice... but not in practice."


[The Elise] sounds like what I'm looking for. Been playing around with everything from Bellman (18th-century Swedish songwriter) and simpler Swedish stuff to simple American folk tunes like "Tom Dooley", none of it very well but I see the potential. I've been playing every day which isn't something I've done with an instrument for a long time.

A 30-button anglo can be quite versatile. I wish you could (hope you will) hear my friend Rickard (in Stockholm) before making any rash decisions. I'm used to him playing some Bellman and traditional Swedish tunes (låtar), as well as for Morris dancing and on the various tunes and songs at the monthly "English" session in Stockholm. But a couple of weeks ago I got a real treat, when a local couple held a dinner-and-music party at their home. In addition to stuff I'd heard him do before, Rickard was improvising accompaniments to 60's pop, gospel, soft rock, and ("of course!") songs by Bellman, Evert Taube, and Dan Anderson.


And note that while Jeff Lefferts does some brilliant stuff on his Hayden, equally brilliant (IMO) stuff is also possible on the anglo. E.g., Jeff's rendition of Whistling Rufus, or Brian Peters' Dallas Rag. Song accompaniment in a wide variety of styles is also quite common on the anglo. (I haven't time to try to make a list right now, but I'll bet you've already seen some videos.) If you're already comfortable with the anglo, then I don't think there's a strong argument for giving it up at this stage, while an upgrade to a 30-button should definitely open additional musical horizons. And the Rochelle is a reasonable upward step.


On the other hand, if you really do want to go for a duet at this point, I wouldn't recommend the Elise. With your apparently broad musical tastes, I think the complete lack of both D# and G# would be too limiting. E.g., many traditional Swedish tunes include a G#, and it just won't do to ask all the fiddlers and recorder (blockflöjt) players to change keys just for you. If you're going to upgrade from a 20-button anglo, I don't think there's much point in going only half way, musically speaking. I agree with some others that a small Maccann (or perhaps a Crane, but they're harder to come by) provides a more promising upward path, as well as having all the accidentals. My personal experience is that the Hayden system is no better (and probably no worse) than any of the other concertina keyboards for actually making music.

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my humble opinion is, A---pass up the elise and save up for more complete duet, either a good vintage one or one of the hybrid haydens; and B---go for either crane or hayden. i understand that maccann is a chromatically and harmonically sophisticated system with its own advantages, blah, blah, blah. but i think a system with a consistent code you can memorize by way of a few straightforward rules that don't have a bunch of exceptions, and a system where the layouts for different octaves don't diverge (or, not to speak of) as is the case with the maccann, is really the way to go. life is too short. i don't agree with the "maccann virtuosos abound but there is no record of hayden or crane virtuosos..." theory. all three systems, if you have enough buttons, will do all kinds of wonderful things. all have their particular awkwardnesses and disadvantages; and all take lots of adapting and practice once you get past the initial learning curve. but two are much faster and easier to get on with in terms of that big initial curve.

Edited by ceemonster
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If you go for a Hayden, there is a little point in not buing Elise - both Concertina Connection and Button Box will accept it as a trade-in (for full price) when buing Peackock or Beaumont. This way you'll be fairly good at playing this system when you outgrow an Elise and not starting from scratch on an expensive instrument.


The lack of D# and G# is of course a strongly limiting factor if you play with others, but if you play solo then most tunes can be played in other keys and this is exactly where Haden layout shows it's advantage. Even on as small instrument as Elise you just learn the tune over "ghost buttons" and then move your hand up or down. And even on a such small instrument you can do some things which would be very hard or impossible on an Anglo, e.g. playing both melody and fully fledged rhytmic, "accordion style" accompaniment for any tune.


Of course, if you aim at playing real concertina with proper concertina reeds, then choose Crane, as the options for that on a Haden are very expensive.


@Jim: while both Jeff's and Brian's renditions are absolutely brilliant and indeed show that it is possible for an anglo to sound in such "complete" manner, it is IMHO best to judge the possibilities of a given system by "an average" of many performances of different people. This way one can clearly hear what the differences between Englishes, Anglos and various duets are and what styles suits them best. E.g. while you can play ITM on an English it will usually sound different than on an Anglo and you can choose which way is more appealing to you. Various systems also require completely different set of skill, different left-right hand coordination, different style of finger, wrist and arm movement and may suit different people differently. And some systems will "fit your brain" better than others, so "actual music done by others" is not the only concern.


I think that one of the reasons of many such debates on this forum might be a "mileage" of different players which strongly biases the point of view of a person. Different things will be considered as easy, basic or important by people with 20 years of playing under their belt and by those with couple of months or years only. And different things will be important for profesional musicians and for amateurs simply wanting to play a concertina and not even thinking of ever waiting 6 years for a made-to-order, car worth instrument or training for 5-10 years to simply take their instrument for a campfire singing session.

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I wasn't familiar with Bellman, but looking at it now he was kind of like a somewhat more Baroque Scandinavian parallel to Scotland's Robert Burns?

Interesting comparison. Though they were contemporaries, I haven't found any reference suggesting that they met. And their personalities were apparently quite different. Might have been interesting if they had met. There is certainly some overlap in their subject matter.


Looking at some snippets of his sheet-music online, I think this definitely looks the kind of thing a Duet would do well, within the limitations of key and range:



Well, the Elise certainly doesn't have the range for that arrangement, but I wouldn't be inclined to try to copy it note for note on any concertina, anyway. I even wonder who arranged it. A quick Google search didn't find a description of what instrument(s) Bellman himself played, but the commonly reproduced picture of him has him playing what I believe is some kind of lute. The book I have of his "Fredmans Epistlar" has them all arranged for voice and guitar. Interestingly enough, it has no. 71 in the key of E, not A. Both keys, though, require accidentals that are missing from the Elise. In fact, no. 71 in my book has a second part that switches to Em (would be Am to match your snippet), and I'm pretty sure that that modulation plus the D# in your copy (A# in mine) makes it impossible to find any key in which the Elise won't be missing at least one note.


That's a major reason why I'm not recommending the Elise for owlgal. It might be great for someone just beginning to try to understand/appreciate simple diatonic melodies in addition to the concertina, but for someone who already has enough musical sophistication to appreciate Bellman (and the difference between his songs and Tom Dooley), I think it could easily lead to frustration and a "need" to upgrade. And while getting a trade-in on the Elise seemingly avoids losing money on its purchase, one can only take advantage of it if one has the funds to go to the next level. And if that's the case, why not start at that level? If that doesn't work out, there's still unlikely to be a significant loss on the resale.

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What an interesting debate. Much food for thought. What I do need is more minor notes...

By that you mean notes currently missing that would give you the ability to play tunes and/or chords in more minor keys? Then...


...and I'd get that on a 30-button Anglo, right?


Oh, there might be some particular combinations for harmony or chords that you can't get, because some are in one bellows direction and some in the other, but for nearly 3 octaves all the notes of the chromatic scale are there in one direction or the other. Both above and below that chromatic range there are some additional notes, albeit with gaps in the scale. But you're already used to that (the gaps) from the 20-button, and on the 30-button there are a few more notes in those gaps.


From your 20-button you also know that some notes are found in both directions and a couple (G and A) in more than one place. On a 30-button those G's and A's can also be found in both directions.


An important (IMO) difference between the Rochelle and the Elise is the motivation for subsequent upgrade. With the Rochelle, the usual upgrade will still have the same range and the same notes, but better sound and action, smaller size and lighter weight. However, on the Elise, in addition to those improvements you're likely to want to upgrade in order to get more notes (the missing accidentals, and also more range), and that could be a source of greater frustration if you have to delay due to limited funds.

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[What an interesting debate. Much food for thought. What I do need is more minor notes and I'd get that on a 30-button Anglo, right? ]


well....you'd get that on any fully chromatic concertina. by chromatic, i mean, all 12 tones of the scale. EC and all duet systems are fully chromatic unless they are cheaper ones such as the elise with abbreviated offerings.


anglo is almost fully chromatic, but it is missing a couple of the below-middle-C accidentals. however, 30-button anglo does not have all notes doubled in both directions, enabling fluid, smoother playing in all keys. in some of the "flat" or "black-note" keys, many of the main notes occur only in one direction, leaving you with a "one-row" or "push-pull" sound. if you wish to be able to play fluidly in e-flat, a-flat, etc, that is one argument in favor of ec or duet (though some people find the placement of "black-key" notes on the outside verticle rows of EC, crane, [and maccann largely], to be awkward).


even on 38-button anglos, which offer more doubling, i notice that you don't see the irish maestros playing in the "flat" keys. they acquire flat-tuned Anglos for that.

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...for me, a piano is in it's core structure a diatonic, "chromatized" instrument, oriented around a key of C....

Actually, it's two instruments in one...

  • At the "front" of the keyboard, it's a diatonic instrument in the key of C, with the keys of uniform width and with their centers uniformly spaced.
  • At the "back", it's a fully chromatic instrument, with the keys of uniform width, with their centers uniformly spaced, and with uniform intervals between the keys In two dimensions (even in one) that chromatic layout is completely "uniform", and one could conceivably build such a keyboard without the the diatonic "front room" or the differing heights and "colors".

It's only the addition of those "unnecessary" two additional dimensions (height and color) that introduces a non-"uniform" element. (Interestingly enough, most "uniform" CBA keyboards also incorporate the color distinction. How soon before somebody requests that on their Hayden? ;) Hasn't someone already talked about distinguishing middle C with a tactile difference?)


...a Janko piano keyboard is trully chromatic...


So is an English concertina, and so are all the concertina duet systems. They all have all the chromatic notes available at all times (i.e., in both bellows directions). The difference in the Janko, Wicki, and related keyboard systems which you and a few others are promoting so vigorously is that they satisfy certain geometrical constraints, which in my personal experience confer no significant musical advantage.


...you'll rarely hear a pianist or brass player complain about each key having its own fingerings ;)


Your comment about "pianists not complaining about fingerings" was something I discussed lately with three pianists I know, with all of them admiting, that they don't realy think about other layouts mostly because they've invested so much time and effort already.

I suspect (can't be sure without asking them) that further questioning would reveal that it simply hadn't occurred to them to consider other layouts, not that they had wondered whether there might be "better" layouts but had decided not to pursue the matter because of their already significant investment.


Why not give them a Janko "piano" to play around with and then after a while ask them which, if either, they think is inherently superior for playing performance-grade music?


It is true, that music theory can be learnt and prowess achieved to a virtuoso degree on any instrument, with any notation system and different examples and aproaches. But in only few of those systems, as Matthew have stated, "the instrument will become the instructor…" and this is fundamentally true for Haydens.

I disagree with your premise.


Without a teacher, any instrument will become an instructor, though just what is learned can vary considerably from individual to individual. (Some may even learn, "I can never learn to play this," even though with a good teacher they could.) And with a teacher, most students will learn whatever their teacher emphasizes, regardless of the instrument. In this discussion, you (and Matthew) seem to be claiming that the Janko/Hayden/Wicki system will automatically teach the beginner certain theoretical concepts which you have decided are important. I doubt it. Besides, I personally find that thinking about those particular concepts can be a hindrance to feeling them, and also a hindrance to discovering -- through exploration -- the possibility and utility of other musical qualities and concepts.

Edited by JimLucas
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Jim, we just won't agree on the matter so why not just stop arguing? From all your recent posts you seem to despise Hayden and other isomorphic layouts to a point, where any argument is simply "of no musical importance". You had your musical path and have your musical habits and way of understanding things and I think you can't grasp the geometric beauty of the isomorphic keyboard that is so appealing to me and Matthew. And to be clear: this is not to ofence you in any way. We just think different, like a difference between a painter, a sculptor or a photographer. They all create representations of reality or their imagination but use different approach and you can rarely be a great sculptor and a great painter at the same time.


What I think me and Matthew here are advocating for (I can only know for sure what I have in mind), is that if you learn "from a Hayden" you'll have a completely different view on music theory than when learning music from a piano or an EC.

I know that I had very hard time learning music theory on a piano keyboard and traditional staff - hard to a point where I gave up for a couple of years. Then I decided to try an Anglo (for sentimental reasons), and all I could do after a few months of playing was some single line shanties. And then I came by Hayden layout, built a MIDI and tried this layout in practice on 64 button keyboard and it was like a revelation. Suddenly tonal music theory was logical, chordal accompaniment an instant matter and with each passing month I knew and been able to play more and more. So you can say that all this hype over Hayden layout is just a fuss, but this layout is the single reason I can play on an instrument and enjoy my playing and steady progress. And because I just started this path a couple of years ago I still remember how hard music seemed to me before and how easy it looks now.


As to pianists: the most important feature of a piano is it's dynamic range and tone, which can be only achieved by a hammer mechanism which requires a linear keyboard. It is also a large instrument, so pianists must rely on a common layout to be able to play in different locations without traveling with their own instrument. Thus for keyboard layouts like Janko and alike it is very hard to get enough popularity to play important role. Piano layout has a huge inertia you cannot simply stop by inventing new, superior layout. If you decide that you want to play an acoustic piano you have no alternatives to look for. It is somewhat same with piano and button accordions - all of the different button layouts are better suited for such instrument, but if you play a piano accordion you can also play a piano, which may be important for your career. But when speaking about keaboard instruments in a broader sense than just a acoustic piano, this is changing, as "actual making music" you often refer to is more and more dependant on electronic generation and MIDI controllers and there is a steady growth of popularity of both physical and touch-based Hayden input devices, especially among jam session players.


And if it were like you say, that it is a fancy of no musical advantage, there would be no place to even think about layouts other than a piano. Or a single duet layout on a concertina.

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Not to dampen the discussion but I ended up ordering a Rochelle, I was in luck that the Concertina Connection got in a used, 2nd gen. One of the main reasons (apart from the price $385 with postage) is that there are more teaching materials available for a 30-button Anglo than for a Hayden Duet. But who knows what the future holds..

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Jim, we just won't agree on the matter so why not just stop arguing?


If you're going to ask Jim to stop arguing then it's only fair to ask you to stop evangelizing. I think we all know your views on the Hayden system by now, no need to keep trying to sell us on them or ramming them down our throats.

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Wouldn't all parties agree on the ease of playing in the home keys of a diatonic front-end, which is mirrored by difficutlies (for the player who isn't familiar with that) increasing with every added accicental? The Hayden/Wicki, Janko a.s.f. systems might be not that accessible in Cmaj ord Amin, but clear the way for any transposition once someone is familiar to making use of them.


OTOH there is the matter of representation or accessibility of musical structures such as harmony. While the piano keyboard offers an immediate understanding of parallel modes, at first glance just using "white" keys, the Hayden keyboard and the likes might keep firm relations at hand, which would ease an intuitive approach on the "geometrical" structures of scales and chords then (more a guess due to the lack of any personal experience with them).


This is mainly to point out that we would have to differentiate between playability and, well, intelligibility. My guess would be that in both respects the conventional and the "isomorphic" systems will each hold their benefits.


As to my own development, the piano keyboard was great to immerse myself in the world of polyphonic music, but - most likely aggravated through a total lack of teaching on this field - didn't offer an adequate "theoretical" understanding. Thus I had to teach myself quite intensely in later years. But in the end I feel totally at home on the piano and EC keyboards, both representing traditional staff notation in the most direct way.

Edited by blue eyed sailor
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  • 3 weeks later...



I am a brand new (one week) renter of an Elise Hayden Duet from the good people at the Buttonbox, and I could not be more pleased. I am a veteran (though not particularly sophisticated) harmonica player, with 14 months experience with Anglo concertinas, which I have thus far persisted in treating as pairs of harmonicas, with pleasant results, as far as I can tell. Of course, I can't begin to keep up in a fast Irish session, but I am not bothered by that enough to spend any time learning crossfingering or, for that matter, any use of the third row. BUT......


I rented the Elise last week, to see what the Hayden system was like, and it really appeals to me as a simple and logical way to play at least 4 different keys for the kinds of music I play, which is, like Mr. Vanitas here, mostly Americana ,folk, some hymns, gospel, and the like. I have spent perhaps 8 hours with it, and am so encouraged as to want to learn from other Elise players how far they may have "pushed" the instrument, and in what directions? For instance, has anyone kept up in a session, in D and G, particularly? Any quick fiddle tunes? How about ragtime? It seems to me that it should be pretty facile in these types.


I am concerned (as Dirge has so compellingly argued) that the upgrade path is expensive and episodic, but for now am really curious about just how this interesting little machine has been utilized.


Thanks, and regards,



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