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1,300 Hours Later


frogspawn
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I reckon I bought my first concertina in April of 2006, something like that, so we've been playing about the same time.

 

I think Al and Jim are on the nail. Al with his three blind mice comment particularly. You have to put yourself under pressure somehow or you don't improve. I started playing learning David Cornell's arrangements. Some of them are quite taxing and they are definitely NOT based on simple 3 chord trick stuff, so I headed straight off down this particular alley of playing from written music. Then I was lucky. Al Day asked me to submit something for consideration for Duet International. It was like being entered for an exam; I worked really hard to polish a few decent pieces against a time limit (which conveniently moved back a couple of times!). I would bounce the latest variant off Al every now and then and always got a considered comment back. My playing blossomed.

 

(It seems Alan was coaching all sorts of players all over the world to get them up to their best for DI. He must have spent many many hours on it.)

 

DI was done and I was left without a motive to push. So since then I have tended to pick increasingly complex and unlikely pieces to 'make work', and that was how I shoved myself forward for a while, but I was aware that I was not progressing like I did and I was just beginning to wonder 'where next?'.

 

However I have hugely broadened my playing recently. I am regularly 'guesting' with a bunch of nutters who play rock music on ukuleles. If you electrify a uke it can sound very 'rock'n roll' indeed and I supply the keyboards. I'm now playing a small instrument, by ear, in front of a fair audience, standing up and trying to work out what I am up to in a great cacophony. We do new tunes every month so there's a lot of pressure to get my act together fast because they usually wait a week or so before they deign to tell me what they'd like from me this time. If all they want is filling chords, fine, but they've had me supplying Doors, Pink Floyd and Stranglers keyboard parts amongst others to date. It's a long long way removed from sitting alone in the sitting room playing Handel on a big duet. I haven't started a new classical piece for months and the big boy isn't played anything like so much. But once more I am being pushed into areas where I think 'Will I be able to do this???'

 

It appears that playing one Wheatstone duet counts as practice for the other, because I can still play my classical music but do it less for practice and more for pleasure, because by the time I've cracked the latest pop music there's not much time left to polish anything else.

 

So I say get out of your rut but not by changing instruments. Broaden your horizons. Learn a David Cornell arrangement of a show tune. Have a look at some renaissance lute music. Play some rock and roll. It works for me.

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I agree that playing with others and playing in public will both make you get better quicker. As a director of amateur music groups for more years than I'd care to mention I've found that the real issue for getting them to improve is getting them to learn to truly focus on the task at hand. Often folks think they are doing that, but more often than not they really aren't. That's why I think playing with others and playing in public are useful; each makes you focus much more than playing alone where, I think, we all become much to forgiving of our own mistakes. Playing for a recording machine can do the same thing, though sometimes that is almost too upsetting to deal with! :blink:

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[This year I've averaged about 4.5 hours concertina practice per week and have clocked up a total of over 1,300 hours over 7 years since I first started recording time spent.]


I want to be sure I understand you---Are you saying, you've put in seven years and 1,300 hours specifically for Crane duet concertina (not split between different types of concertina)? And you're saying, that after seven years and 1,300 hours you can only play a handful of tunes or little pieces competently?


I guess a threshold question would be....How bad do you want to be able to play it? Another way of putting that would be, how much do you love the duet concertina music you've heard? Because, if you don't want to be able to play it really badly; and/or,, if you don't love at least some style of duet concertina music you've heard, so much that you "have" to....Perhaps your discouragement is a sign that it's not for you. Perhaps what you see as lack of progress relates to lack of spark, or "hunger" or passion....That need or passion doesn't enable one to learn to play. But it's the thing that enables people to slog through those thousands of hours on the road to proficiency...


But if you DO love it and ARE dying to play it, "for real," then strategic re-thinking is probly in order in terms of your learning approach. Have you systematically approached Crane duet from a basic, Theory 101 standpoint? As in, scales, arpeggios, chords, all practised hands-separately until very fluid and fluent, followed by hands-together? There are people who can get competent without doing that sort of thing, but your struggles may be an indication that you're not one of them.


When you undertook a tune or piece, did you spend your first years, not months, on pieces where the right-hand was one simple, clean melody line, and the left a very simple bass vamp or very simple harmony line? And did you practice the two separately until absolutely fluid and fluent, before trying them together?


And when you started doing hands-together, did you systematiclly take it one measure at a time and not go on to the next until the measure before was accurate and came easily?


And did you continue practicing a couple keys a day of scales/arpeggios/chords? Including minor and chromatic scales?


Cuz, ya know, I have a hard time believing a musically knowledgeable person (which you seem to be) couldn't get a bunch of simple but gorgeous tunes in the hopper on duet concertina in seven years by following an approach like what I outlined above....hrrrmmmmmm????? :ph34r:


Very simple folk music sounds absolutely beautiful on free-reed instruments. The most elementary little gypsy waltz with a really simple melody line and two-note chordal accompaniment on the left side can have people swooning in the aisles. Often more so, I must say, than the multi-voiced, counterpoint-heavy classical stuff people often think duet is for.....


Have you spent a few years building up a repertoire of that kind of stuff, which after all, is how you train yourself to play hands-together? I don't believe it's beyond you....I just don't believe it.... :rolleyes:
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You haven't explained where the difficulty lies. Is that you struggle to remember fingering patterns, or do you have difficulty remembering the tunes themselves?

 

It might be worth trying to find someone to give you a few lessons.

 

I can remember tunes, I just forget which buttons to press or hit the wrong ones!

 

My immediate thought is "how do you practice?" If you just plough through tunes making the same, or similar mistakes every time, then you will continue to make the same mistakes every time. You need to practice efficiently - use the time to work out where the problem areas in the tune are and just practice those bits until you've got them hard-wired. One problem many people have is that when they come to a difficult bit, they tend to unconsciously speed up (I'm told it's human nature!) If you learn to practice with a metronome, set it at a comfortable tempo and play along with it, you will see were the problems are. You then isolate these, practicing them with a slower tempo, gradually increasing the speed until you can do the whole tune at the same tempo.

 

Hope this helps,

 

Adrian

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I'm touched by the interest people have shown in this thread and the time they have taken to offer advice, but I'm now completely overwhelmed by the number of questions!

 

It would be great to get some feedback on my performance, so I will post a recording somewhere in the next week or so and then start a different thread. If you think my concertina accompaniment is "adequate" for a floor singer in a 'typical' English folkclub or singaround I'll be happy. My definition of "adequate" is to be able to get through a song without obvious mistakes or breaks and to sound no worse than if I had sung acapella which is my default option.

 

My only problem then will be to get the other 29 songs in my current Crane repertoire up to the same standard. Interspersed with a few tunes to give my voice a rest, that's mainly what I spend the 4.5 hours per week on.

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[if you think my concertina accompaniment is "adequate" for a floor singer in a 'typical' English folkclub or singaround I'll be happy]

 

song accompaniment is a separate skill set from the playing chops one learns to play an instrument. this is often not grasped. it took me a long time to see that, but in a different context---in itm---starting tunes (with all the beat-setting and swing/setting that comprises), leading sets (with all the steady-beat-keeping and consistent-swing-keeping comprised in that), segue-ing from one tune in a set to the next fluidly---all that stuff involves separate skill sets from the technique skills to play your instrument. a person can be a lovely player but not have yet learned the separate skill sets required for stuff like, song accompaniment, for example. so i guess that's another question---which "competencies" are you talking about? you mentioned not being able to remember the notes for the tune----that's part of your playing-technique skill set. (though, i guess, if your playing technique skill set isn't quite there yet, song accompaniment would be a tough skill set to take on)...

 

the crane concertina layout is pretty straightforward--there's a Rosetta Stone to it. if after seven years you're forgetting where notes are, that might be a clue that you haven't done enough of that good old rote drilling. one can do i10-30 minutes a day of that by playing the concertina while looking at a music stand with a diagram of the layout propped up there, so it gets into the visual memory. but one can also do it without the concertina, sitting in a cafe with the layout, getting it into the visual memory. one can xerox a couple dozen copies and color in one major or minor key per page and look at that in the cafe or on the music stand....etc. if bisonoric bandoneon players can suck it up and memorize note locations for 142 notes on an instrument with no Rosetta Stone or pattern to five octaves of push notes plus five octaves of pull notes arranged in no order, you can do it on a 55-button unisonoric organized in mirrored sides of five rows with black notes on the outside rows, white notes on the inside rows, vertically arranged to go up by fifths and down by fourths (or whatever the Crane code is....).

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When I started concertina lessons for years ago (Oct 19, 2009), I didn't know if I'd be any good at it. But I figured that even if it turned out that I was a bad concertina player, it would be better than not being able to play at all. Maybe I set a low bar, but from the very beginning, anything that I could do delighted me. I'm happy with whatever I've achieved, not as a stopping point, but as point on what I hope is upward progress.

 

I was and am fortunate that I can afford to take lessons and have available to me, a short bicycle ride away, a friend who is a wonderful musician and teacher, Marty Taylor (not on cnet). I would never have made any progress on my own.

 

I'm also fortunate (re Jim Besser's comment), that I have friends, better musicians than I am, who are willing to play with me. It's not only a learning experience, but a joy in itself.

 

Perhaps I have a lower level of satisfaction than Frogspawn or, more likely, no alternative that I could switch to. I'm not sure i could learn a different instrument than the English concertina!

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Interesting discussion. I have about 100 tunes I play at playing -- some sound good to me and others, well...a bit more practice. In any event, when I can sit on my boat and play from memory that makes me feel good. Only my little dog is listening and as long as he doesn't howl all is well. So, being the only Anglo player in the area and having no audience I can entertain the gulls and my dog very happily, and occasionally my wife (violinists can be so picky).

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I'll try to respond to some of the questions I've been asked. Apologies for not replying to everyone individually, but I think if I give an overview I'll answer most of the questions...

 

I play quite a few tunes and songs, but not with the level of accuracy or consistency that I want. This is why I don't consider myself to be competent. I am self-taught from books and experimentation. There is very little supporting material for the Crane. I have never practised scales, used a metronome or been to a music teacher. Mea culpa.

 

I sing at folk clubs and sessions but I've never found anyone to collaborate with musically on a regular basis. I have teamed up with other concertina players at festivals and I've also been to a few workshops on accompaniment or English concertina playing. My time has also been restricted by work, commuting and family commitments so my practising is in isolation and fitted in whenever I get the chance. Although I recently retired, I seem to have less time now than ever!

 

I began with playing the melodies of English country dance tunes on the right-hand only. I taught myself to read music and then played them from the scores until I could play them without the scores. They were mostly in G and D with a few minors or modal tunes. I learnt to play about 30 from memory, 10 with an aural reminder and 40 from scores. These were mostly from the 'Lewes Favourites'. I found it difficult to play the Crane fast enough or loud enough to join instrumental sessions, but that is another story already discussed. I'm a bit rusty on tunes now.

 

I bought the Crane originally for song accompaniment but I didn't know what to do with the left hand and found it difficult to find the right keys for my voice. I began to learn left-hand block chords from Brian Hayden's 'Duet Concertina Workshop Tutor'

http://www.concertina.com/hayden-duet/Hayden-All-Systems-Duet-Workshop-Tutor.pdf

and taught myself the principles of harmony so I could apply the three-chord trick. I took a particular interest in how to accompany modes and minors from Robert Noble's 'Folk Tunes to Accompany Book 3'.

 

I play the full melody on the right, with block chords thrown in on the left. At first I added the chords rather sparingly like ITM players doing double-stops. I gradually added more chords once I got a feel for the rhythm. I play this way (1) because I need the crutch of the full melody to stay in tune, and (2) because I have never found a satisfying left-hand accompaniment pattern. I would also argue that this approach is fairly natural to the Crane.

 

I know people say you shouldn't normally double the voice, but one huge advantage of this approach is that you only have to know the tune and spend 20-30 minutes working out the chords. There is no complex arrangement, and it's not that difficult to change the key. Most of my songs are in C, so there is little stretching for the outer columns, but I also play in G, D, Am, Em, G Mixolydian, D Dorian and D 'No 6th' mode.

 

In the longer term I would like to reduce the melody element and increase the harmony element, but I feel compelled to conquer my existing repertoire in my existing style before trying something else.

 

I have met and chatted briefly to Andrew McKay and Tim Laycock but I've only ever come across one other Crane player and didn't get a chance to talk to him. I found the English concertina workshops interesting but not directly applicable. Whilst there are English techniques that can be transferred, they seem to me to reflect optimum practice on the English rather than optimum practice on the Crane. I could elaborate more but it's probably a discussion for another thread.

 

I haven't actually been inspired by listening to Crane recordings, but rather by listening to A L Lloyd and Alf Edwards who, of course, played an English. I don't however regret the choice of a duet. Last summer I saw two English players, one playing the melody of a tune and the other playing the chords. I immediately thought I could have done that at the same time!

 

I do love the sound of squeeze-boxes but my motivation for playing a concertina is probably not as strong as others here. I am principally an acapella singer. The instruments are just to provide some variation in my performance. I'm not really keen on guitars (not trad enough) and although I could use the mandolin for English folk it's currently earmarked for an Old Time repertoire (a work in progress).

 

Until recently my total song repertoire was about 200 but maintenance was too much of an overhead and I never got the chance to sing them all anyway, so I cut back to about 100. 30 of these are with the Crane, though I've probably had a go at twice that number at one time or another. Maybe 100 is still OTT. I suspect a lot of professional singers maintain a current repertoire nearer 20.

 

(Edited to remove unintended smiley!)

Edited by frogspawn
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You definately should try to switch to Hayden (try an Elise if you can) - it is uncompared for such singing accompaniment, mostly because you don't have to think about chords - every single type looks exactly the same, so ompah rhytms are as easy as on accordion and generally chord accompaniment is as easy as on a guitar. I'm guessing that most of your 1,300 hours was spent on memorizing the layout and shapes of different chords and that most mistakes you make is hitting the chromatic keys which are not part of a key you play in (on the left side)?

 

I understand, that it is hard to switch after so many ears, but you should keep in mind two things:

 

1) some concertina skills are universal regardles of the exact type of box you play (e.g. bellows control is different only on an Anglo; forearm muscles training for staccato (you lift your fingers to make staccato not press the buttons for this effect) will not fade out etc..)

 

2) after initial confusion on the new layout, Hayden is very (and I mean like "OMG that is so easy") intuitive and straightforward when it comes to chord playing.

 

Try it, even if won't stick to it you'll have a comparison which may give you a new look on what you should practice more.

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You definately should try to switch to Hayden (try an Elise if you can) - it is uncompared for such singing accompaniment, mostly because you don't have to think about chords - every single type looks exactly the same, so ompah rhytms are as easy as on accordion and generally chord accompaniment is as easy as on a guitar. I'm guessing that most of your 1,300 hours was spent on memorizing the layout and shapes of different chords and that most mistakes you make is hitting the chromatic keys which are not part of a key you play in (on the left side)?

 

I understand, that it is hard to switch after so many ears, but you should keep in mind two things:

 

1) some concertina skills are universal regardles of the exact type of box you play (e.g. bellows control is different only on an Anglo; forearm muscles training for staccato (you lift your fingers to make staccato not press the buttons for this effect) will not fade out etc..)

 

2) after initial confusion on the new layout, Hayden is very (and I mean like "OMG that is so easy") intuitive and straightforward when it comes to chord playing.

 

Try it, even if won't stick to it you'll have a comparison which may give you a new look on what you should practice more.

Chords aren't really a problem. Most of my songs are in C and the C, F and G chords have the same shape.

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Richard, No need to describe your Youtube performance as 'rough and ready'. The Concertina is a rough and ready little instrument and I thought your contribution was entirely appropriate. I enjoyed it.

 

That's very generous. What I meant was that I haven't tried to give an optimum impression. I can do better and I can do worse!

 

I made this recording this morning and it was my fourth take. I didn't really go wrong with the concertina, just with the words. I put that down to nerves. Being conscious of the recorder (a Zoom H2) is worse than a live audience.

 

Now I've got the hang of creating Youtube videos from audio files I might make and post some other recordings.

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