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Do You Play Melodeon?


maki
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I wondering about melodeons, quite a bit lately.

Something about waltzs played on those appeals to me.

And that you can get a decent box for relatively cheap.

So..

How many of you play, what key or keys, and what genre?

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I play melodeon. D/G 2 row. I play a few types of music - mostly English and Irish, a bit of French stuff. Some american tunes, what ever people play in sessions or at folk festivals really. Have played for my morris team on and off. I was more of a back up musician.

 

I find the limitations of a 2 row melodeon quite frustrating at times. Even a 2.5 row is a bit limiting. No low F natural on mine. That is sometimes frustrating. Though I find the great thing about melodeons that you can really give them a good workout, really play them forcefully and loudly. Very good full sound for playing outside without amplification. The bass give a nice rich deepness to it. I find them easier to play standing up than concertinas. Though the musical range of concertinas is generally better. I have never found an "ultimate" compromise between a concertina and a melodeon. Both great instruments.

Edited by Jake of Hertford
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I use one occasionally for dance band work - stuff I don't especially enjoy playing on English concertina or flute). Mine is a two and a half row eight bass in G/D. Fairly standard lay-out, though I recall having one or two changes made. The pros seem to favour two and a half row twelve bass instruments. The key feature for me is a stop which takes the thirds out of the chords, so I can play chords on tunes in A minor and, at a pinch, A major, G minor... (A major tends to require a lot of air button work unless you've got very long arms and bellows!)

On a tighter budget, a straightforward two row box can be great for lots of good music. Another factor is how wet or dry the tuning is. I don't like the boxes where the amount of tremolo nearly shakes them apart.

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I used to play melodeons with 1 ©, 2 (C-F), 2,5 (Bb-Eb) and 3 (G-C-F) rows, my favourite being a small "Horch" branded C-F with 12 bass buttons (where I swapped Emaj and Amin...

 

Loved the bisonoric thing a lot but found out that the Anglo wasn't for me (didn't get along with the "Club" melodeon too well either). Since I have my Excelsior EC The melodeons, PA and even piano don't get much playing any more...

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Great replies, thank you.

It's an endlessly fascinating subject to me.

So why is it that the English like d/g, the French like g/c and

a/d, while the Germans prefer c/f?

Are those standard key signatures for each contries folk music?

I've kinda got my head around the ITM oriented

opinions on the semi-tone sysyems.

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I have two C#/D boxes, one tuned pretty dry, the other wetter than some people like. I prefer the sound of the latter; probably the concertina covers my drier moods adequately.

 

I appreciate the versatility of a "semitone" melodeon/accordion--with a little practice you really can play a tune in any key--and of course it suits the Irish repertoire very well. But if I were interested mostly in playing waltzes and the like, I'd seriously consider something with the rows a fourth apart--probably a G/C, though any key combination would do for playing alone--to play in a more chordal style and to take fuller advantage of the basses.

 

But it's the humble, limited one-row--again, I have two, one in D, one in C--that I enjoy playing best of all, though I've been at it seriously for the shortest time. It's hard to explain how magical these are, or how satisfying it can be to strip away all a tune's chromatic frippery while maintaining an absolute fidelity to its rhythm and drive. On concertina or two-row button box I mostly play dance music; on a one-row I dance.

 

Bob Michel

Near Philly

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But it's the humble, limited one-row--again, I have two, one in D, one in C--that I enjoy playing best of all, though I've been at it seriously for the shortest time. It's hard to explain how magical these are, or how satisfying it can be to strip away all a tune's chromatic frippery while maintaining an absolute fidelity to its rhythm and drive.

1-rows are a huge amount of fun to play.

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CF is the box for Cmaj, which is very much the "people's key" here. I would have preferred a low (!) GC (or AD) if somebody would have been offering one to me... (well, I had been given the Bb-Eb "Club" melodeon - by a friend who had found it on the attic - which I really liked for it's more profound sound).

Edited by blue eyed sailor
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I find them easier to play standing up than concertinas.

I would love to hear more about how this is so.

 

I have never tried a melodeon because I did not think that my neck, shoulders and back could take it. But I do like the sound.

 

 

With two shoulder straps the thing is basically attached to your chest and your arms are free to do the work while free from having to bear the majority of the instruments weight. Yesterday I played melodeon constantly for two hours outside while standing. I love playing concertina (anglo) but find that playing standing up is difficult whatever position I try and I cant keep it up for long. I put it down to how you have to support the instrument with your hands, I always find the instrument wants to rock forwards away from me and inwards. playing sitting is fine though. And as I say the musical range of an anglo is better than that of the average 2 or even 2.5 row melodeon so I always saw it as a trade off, each with its own advantages and disadvantages which might not matter to some but might to others.

 

Some play melodeon with only one shoulder strap, I never really understood that.

Edited by Jake of Hertford
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I find them easier to play standing up than concertinas.

I would love to hear more about how this is so.

 

I have never tried a melodeon because I did not think that my neck, shoulders and back could take it. But I do like the sound.

 

 

With two shoulder straps the thing is basically attached to your chest and your arms are free to do the work while free from having to bear the majority of the instruments weight. Yesterday I played melodeon constantly for two hours outside while standing. I love playing concertina (anglo) but find that playing standing up is difficult whatever position I try and I cant keep it up for long. I put it down to how you have to support the instrument with your hands, I always find the instrument wants to rock forwards away from me and inwards. playing sitting is fine though. And as I say the musical range of an anglo is better than that of the average 2 or even 2.5 row melodeon so I always saw it as a trade off, each with its own advantages and disadvantages which might not matter to some but might to others.

 

Some play melodeon with only one shoulder strap, I never really understood that.

 

If it would be a larger box you might experience a sour left arm as I did, mainly when playing PA, but at times with the 3-row and "club" melodeons too. However, as I play the concertina mainly in a sitting position, I can't really check one situation against the other, albeit playing EC whilst standing up for some tunes never felt similar to that accordion/melodion experience...

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I also play D/G melodeon, Hohner pokerwork model, same kind of Morris and folk tunes mostly as for EC and Anglo. It has the extended lower range as opposed to having extra accidentals, always comes as a bit of shock to hit stray squeaky notes instead when trying to play on other melodeons.

On the advice of Chris Parkinson many years ago I got it fitted with double shoulder straps, so once all trussed up holding it becomes pretty much a non-issue, and it's super easy to play and even walk around.

Inspired by the Tony Hall "Fieldvole Music" cover I tried fitting a swivel drink holder to the front several years ago, but it turned out to be one of those ideas that works much better in concept than in actual practice!

Gary

Edited by gcoover
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1: Forget thumb straps and single shoulder straps. Put a pair of accordion straps on it - that solves the aches and pains. The alleged traditionalists may blacklist you, but let them have the deformities!

2: Learn how to use the bass buttons - it's a long process and involves playing across the rows to get the thing travelling in the right direction for the chord you want.

3: learn to play across the rows - you get nice smooth, quick runs that way, especially if you're playing French tunes. With lumpy English tunes the blow-suck just adds punch.

4: Experiment with "wrong" combinations of bass and chord. There's a whole new world in there.

5: With a 2 1/2 row 12 bass, you can have the accidentals and chords set up any way you like - Google John Spiers tunings to see what I mean.

It amounts to a lot of practice which, if you enjoy playing, will be very rewarding. There are (despite the pontifications above) no rules. It's all about making music. You may have gathered that I love the instrument, and I'm by no means an expert, but that's where I'm at so far.

Buy the best you can afford - a good 2nd hand Saltarelle has become my main instrument, but don't run away with the idea that an expensive box will necessarily make you a better musician. There are a lot of people out there with very expensive boxes who have made that mistake...it takes a lot of thoughtful practice. And yes, the humble one row can be an amazing instrument in the right hands.

All I have to do now is come to terms with my anglo, which is why I joined this site. And if anyone wants a Dino Bafetti Black Pearl three voice, PM me - I've got one for sale.

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Inspired by the Tony Hall "Fieldvole Music" cover I tried fitting a swivel drink holder to the front several years ago, but it turned out to be one of those ideas that works much better in concept than in actual practice!

 

I've always asked myself if anyone woudl try to implement that idea... B)

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One thing not mentioned -volume. When I play melodeon in a group, especially outside, I can hear what I am playing and so can the audience. Play the concertina amongst other instruments and you can't hear it. Which is why you see many concertina players holding their boxes up to the sides of their heads. I am talking un-amplified of course. Which is why Accordians in their many varieties are used by Morris and Dance bands. Concertinas were developed for genteel ladies playing in the parlour and then taken over by solo singers, for which they are brilliant.

 

BTW, for a beginner simple two row Melodeon is best as tend to be smaller and lighter. Pick the keys to suit what music you play, but for English Dance has to be D/G (with two straps)

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i play b/c button accordion, though rarely pick it up now. the bisonorics are very cool. however, i ultimately came to find them annoying and expressively unsatisfying compared to the scope of what you can do with unisonorics. but...one is no better than the other. it's about you and what floats your boat, what inner expressive yearnings you have that will be suited by which vehicle.

 

it is true that the bisonorics bark out louder, though a good unisonoric will be loud "enough."

 

to sum up my experience of the relative merits of these systems, i'll stick to the itm framework--the way i see it is this: both systems will play any type of irish tune fine and dandy, but one really shines for one type, while the other really shines for another type.

 

let's say in itm you could roughly and imprecisely, for the sake of discussion only, discern two tune categories (only for the sake of discussion, pedantics!)--less complex, more arpeggiated, less scalar, more simple tunes that are more obviously "dance tunes" (even though they can make great listening music). polkas, slides, slip jigs, jigs, and the simpler dance reels.

 

and let's say you could also conceptually bunch together a different grouping of stuff that is more complex melodically, sometimes more chromatic, and more scalar. the complex reels, including but not limited to the classic composed repertoire of the paddy fahy, ed reavy, paddy o'brien, sean ryan type of stuff.

 

ok. for my money and to my ear, you can play the simpler, less scalar dance stuff dandy on a unisonoric if you have educated your ear in the irish style, but it is the bisonoric that will really shine for that stuff. when the key of the tune matches the "on the row" keys of the particular bisonoric you are playing, that back-and-forth sound really swings the dancers along, and lends a lot of lift and movement to the enterprise. this is why the hard-core set dancers adore melodeon dance accordionists, particularly when the music is in the "D" universe and it's c#/d players playing on their "D" row. i was told in county clare that people would drive in from miles around if andrew macnamara of tulla was going to be playing a dance, and would similarly pour in if jackie daly was playing. i was also regaled with a story of a big dance party, not sure if it was for a wedding or what, where the hosts specifically hired three of clare's resident c#/d hell-raisers, (jackie daly, andrew macnamara, and conor keane) to play all night for a big dance. this is probly one reason the band Teada, who has a gorgeous b/c box player (Paul Finn), is now sometimes appearing with two accordionists, mr. finn and the delightful c#/d Kerry player and singer Seamus Begley.

 

conversely, for my money and to my ear, while you can certainly play the complex, more chromatic, more "notey" reels fine and dandy on a bisonoric, they really sound gorgeous on a unisonoric. over time, i started to get a "ham-fisted" feeling when listening to this music played on bisonoric melodeons, as well as when trying to express tunes the way i heard them in my head, on bisonoric melodeons. in one of the installments of Tony Macmahon's memoirs that have appeared in print over the last few years there is a line something like, "Not for the first time, I said to myself, 'F*%! the two-row accordion!'"

 

so in my own case, it kinda came down to, would i rather have a little less "oomph" when playing a polka on a unisonoric, or would i rather put up with that locked-in, trapped, "ham-fisted" feeling when trying to play a sean ryan tune on a bisonoric? and because what brought me into itm in the first place was that flowing, fluid, "long bow" east clare/east galway sound and ambience, and that haunting composed repertoire....i found myself better able to make peace with the limitations of unisonorics than i was able to make peace with the limitations of bisonorics.

Edited by ceemonster
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and i guess this same voyage has taken place for me with concertinas, as well. lately i have been fiddling with the idea of undertaking bisonoric bandoneon, but the tango style is to play the bandoneon as a de facto unisonoric, playing largely on the pull and then air-buttoning back up to start pulling out again. even when you play bandoneon bidirectionally (which i believe is the most proficient way to approach it), the phrasing lines in each direction are long, like the sound people in irish accordion-land incorrectly call a "b/c sound." it's just, playing "across the rows." you don't yank bandoneons back and forth every other note....

Edited by ceemonster
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