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A Couple Of Newbie Questions


rlgph
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I've had my Elise a few weeks now, and have been working with the tutor that came with it, as well as playing some tunes by ear, the latter using the right hand almost exclusively. I've noticed that sound is coming out when the buttons are pressed only about half-way in, and pressing them all the way doesn't seem to make any difference. (I expected the sound to get louder the further the buttons were pushed.)

 

So, my questions are

 

1) Why do the buttons go so far if the additional distance doesn't affect the sound significantly?

 

2) Technique-wise, should i aim for pressing the buttons only as far as needed to get good sound, rather than all the way?

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Not knowing the feel of your instrument I would nevertheless advise you to have the buttons pressed down all the way; since there's no volume control by the use of a single button you will need a distinct finger movement (just hitting that button) for accurately playing faster phrases and ornamentations.

 

OTOH opening a pad only half the way may in fact affect the sound as a reed might cease to sound at all with little bellows pressure (playing more quietly), and with lots of bellows pressure it might sound a bit flat.

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1 Once a button is pressed far enough to lift the pad off the hole and allow air to freely reach the reed, then the volume is controlled by pressure from the bellows. I'm still fairly new to concertinas myself, but my understanding is that the additional button travel therefore isn't strictly necessary, but does allow some room for adjustment to ensure that each and every button moves far enough to allow the pad to lift far enough fully clear the hole. That point won't necessarily be the same for each button, due to differing lever arms in the action for each, yet it feels better if all the buttons are the same height and travel the same distance,

 

2 As I said above, I'm still fairly new myself, but presumably, pressing only as far as necessary might theoretically allow for faster fingering, if you can do it reliably. That "only as far as needed" point will vary between instruments though, as well as from button to button on the same instrument, and is probably to much to concentrate on anyway, so trying to hit it just right could slow you down instead. But it is a worthy observation, and could at least help you avoid the beginner habit of pressing the buttons excessively HARD at the bottom, which would tire your fingers, as well as slow you down.

Edited by Tradewinds Ted
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The distance of button travel on the Elise is somewhat a result of the mass-manufacture nature of it, I think---making it a little farther ensures that it's always far enough! I play a Concertina Connection Peacock (one step up from the Elise), and have an occasional student who plays the Elise, so I've tried it. It is a little more "loose" feeling in general than the Peacock---not quite as perfectly tuned up.

 

I haven't tried the Wakker duet that's the "top of the line" but I did read on Wim's website that "key travel" is one of the items he's willing to customize to a players' preference if you choose to buy at that level: http://www.wakker-concertinas.com/customizing.htm

 

It does seem likely that an instrument with less key travel could play faster. But on the flipside there's also the danger of accidentally playing extra notes if you happen brush against them on your way by!

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Button travel is being discussed in this thread:

http://www.concertina.net/forums/index.php?showtopic=16545&do=findComment&comment=157086

 

Excess pad lift seems not to be useful. I have a Beaumont, and while I have not measured anything, it feels like it has less button travel than the Elise and that seem to improve the action greatly.

 

1) Don't know.

2) I don't see any reason that it is absolutely necessary to fully depress the button, but do you really need one more thing to think about? I just try not to mash them so hard that they clack when they bottom out.

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About topic #2, I have a couple of observations that might well be as appropriately discussed on the "Ergonomics" forum as on this general discussion.

 

As one who has done a fair bit of music teaching in his lifetime, I've concluded that one very important principle that applies to all instruments as one begins to learn to play concerns the question of "how much effort"? Just for instance, if one's goal is to be able to play for long periods of time (for a long square or contra dance, maybe), then it's important to develop endurance and to minimise the physical effort expended so as to conserve energy -- the buttons don't need to "bottom out" in order for the instrument to produce good sound, I think. So, in this regard, I heartily second Ted's comment to "avoid the beginner habit of pressing the buttons excessively HARD at the bottom."

 

An even more important principle, though, IMHO, is developing a consciousness of tension versus relaxation in the fingers. Relaxation is the musician's friend (as a general rule) and tension a hindrance or an interference in making music that flows without causing injury to the parts of the body that move fingers, wrists, hands, arms, etc.

 

So, when it comes to learning how best to use button travel and the force required to press a button down, I favor spending a lot of time just getting the feel of your instrument and focusing on the minimum effort required to make notes sound for the required length of time and at the desired volume (use bellows control to get more or less volume). I've found that it's usually wise to begin with learning the minimum effort required, then to proceed from comfortable command of that light, relaxed, minimum effort basis on up to other aspects of playing, e.g., "more volume" and careful use of damper openings (which, crudely speaking, depends on the extent to which one presses down a button). I think it's easier to proceed from less effort towards greater effort than to go in the reverse direction when the goal is to develop good musical technique.

 

We could also take this in the direction of discussing what distinguishes a melody note from an ornament, let's say. Forgive me if I tread on contested ground when I say that it's good to be able to consciously decide to use a very light flick or touch on a button to get an ornament. For that (i.e., ornament), you don't want to press the button all the way to the bottom, so to speak.

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Thanks for all your thoughtful comments. It's quite helpful to me to hear from experienced players to get a sense of what i should be aiming for. IMO, that is a deficiency of the Elise tutor. However, even in the short time i've been working with it, i've gotten more comfortable playing. The long travel distance and the wobble of the buttons are still pretty disconcerting, though.

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The button pushes a lever. The lever lifts a pad. The lifting of the pad exposes a hole allowing air through which goes through the reed and makes the sound.

 

Once there's enough air going through to make the reed sound, the volume is mainly influenced by the pressure on the bellows.

 

However there is more to it than that.

 

If the pad is not lifted enough, it can interfere with the correct sounding of the reed and affect the tone.

 

Also, the volume is to some extent affected by the "attack". If you apply a bit of pressure to the bellows before you tap the button, this releases the air suddenly and makes the reed sound one way. If you hold the button down and then apply pressure to the bellows it makes the reed sound a different way. There's no sense in me describing the differences because you can try it.

 

When I play "harmonic style" I sometimes tap the chords on the left hand lightly rather than pushing them down as far as normal. The effect is a little like "tuned percussion".

 

The best way to find out all this stuff is to try it. Don't just play one way. See what happens if you do it differently.

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