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English Bellows Control


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When I started playing the English I had a really cheap chinese made "thing" and the best I can say for it is it got me started :-) After a month or so I realized that when playing a tune it was much easier to play one section all on a "Pull" than on a "Push". I asked on the net in a few places and was advised to "practice until I could do either with ease" Very good advice and I think I'm pretty much there (with the note that if you push much harder than pull I find they produce notes about the same in my hands)


In the several replies I had no one seemed to discuss any other way of playing exept "pulling" until all the way out and then "pushing" until all the way in. I just noticed in a very confusing thread (here just read it you'll see what I mean :huh: ) the following comment


Neither play in the smooth in/out flow that most E.C. players use.


The only vague reference to anything different was a comment my melodion playing brother said


button accordionist are always trying to play smooth like english concertina players, who are always trying to sound like button accordion players


Since he's been playing over 10 years and he's also my older brother I just nodded politely and tried to look as though I understood what he was saying and thought it was very deep! After a wonderful workshop by Ken Sweeny and the recent NESI I now know exactly what he means and wonder why I haven't seen many references to it.


The bellows control Ken was demonstrating feels more like anglo bellows control. For example, when playing a jig, the bellows go "out, out, in, out, out, in ..." This is very hard to do to begin with - like patting your head and rubbing your stomach but well worth it. The sound is much more crisp and lively. It is much harder work on your arms though (and the bellows if you have the bad habit of resting them on your knee instead of the concertina end) and I now see why Ken uses the little AND ring finger of his left hand on the finger rest.


With this in mind, the following quote from the same post as above makes sense


R.H. plays with rapid changes in direction to suit the tune


I'm still working on doing this for jigs and haven't tackled reels yet ("out, out, in, in ..." or "out, out, in, out ..." depending) But it does produce a wonderful sound.


Does anyone else have advice on this style of playing while I'm still new at it?


[edited to correct Ken Sweeny's name - I had originally put Ken Stewart]

Edited by lildogturpy
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George Marshall, the EC player with Swallowtail and Wild Asparagus teaches "bellows shuffles" that correspond to the various bowing shuffles that fiddle players utilize. The basic one is a quarter/ 2 eights rhythm (crochet, quaver, quaver), alternating in and out. Very useful for reels.

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Dave - is that out in/ in/ (abc notation here) or in out/ out/  or even out in/ out/ ? :blink:

Alternating, just like a fiddler would do with down-bow and up-bow (pull and push, respectively). See below.


Edited to clean up graphic.


Edited by David Barnert
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I been to a couple of workshops (for any sort of concertina) recently where we were encouraged to use the bellows to give a bit of lift and emphasis to tunes esp. dances.


It also helps to think ahead so (on English) you don't run out of bellows and have to change direction right in the middle of the most difficult bit! (OK - I know that's a bit obvious :-)



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Jumping in here because I'm a little concerned that inexperienced folks might get the mistaken idea that "bellows control" is synonymous with reversing the bellows.


That is one form of bellows control, one technique, and a very useful one. But it's only one of many, and the crudest of the lot, aside from simply pulling or pushing. There are various more subtle techniques -- in both the mechanical and musical senses -- of varying the belows pressure. One of the more subtle -- and more difficult -- ones is given as the first example in .Danny Chapman's web page about "wavelets".

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Just in case - here's a photo of Ken Sweeny at the recent NESI - note his left hand little and ring finger both on the finger rest

And here's the link to the description of his dual-personality way of holding the instrument. But to make it easier, I'll just quote it here:

His right thumb in the thumb strap presses down hard onto his knee. This frees up all four fingers for the buttons on that side. On the left side he squeezes between his left thumb and both little and ring fingers in the support. This leaves only two fingers for the buttons on that side.
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