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Daria

Playing Too Loudly

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I was playing in a session last night with some friends-we had a fiddle, hammered dulcimer, guitar, bass, and me on my anglo concertina. A reliable source, (my husband:)) said that my concertina was often too loud, overpowering the other instruments. I would like some tips as to how to play more softly. I really could not detect that I was playing too loudly.

 

Should I play fewer notes?No chords? Don't use as much bellows? But then I lose the rhythm of the Anglo.

 

I'd appreciate any advice.

Edited by Daria

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Hi Daria,

 

regarding sessions fellow concertinists rather use to complain about not being heard than being too loud. However, related to the other instruments you've mentioned it doesn't seem unlikely that your reliable source has it right. As long as you're not seated in a corner with walls to the left and to the right you'd not be supposed to detect that issue yourself.

 

As to a remedy, I wouldn't skip the style of your playing in general (albeit some restraint here and there might be advisable). Not to use as much bellows could in fact be adequate and should not necessarily result in losing the rhythm then. It will be a matter of experience to achieve similar control and punchiness with lesser pressure, and thus you'll get there shortly considering your progress to date...

 

Best wishes - Wolf

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I was playing in a session last night with some friends-we had a fiddle, hammered dulcimer, guitar, bass, and me on my anglo concertina. A reliable source, (my husband:)) said that my concertina was often too loud, overpowering the other instruments. I would like some tips as to how to play more softly. I really could not detect that I was playing too loudly.

 

Should I play fewer notes?No chords? Don't use as much bellows? But then I lose the rhythm of the Anglo.

 

I'd appreciate any advice.

 

Well, you can limit your volume by less robust bellows action. Bellows control is a (slowly) acquired skill; controlling volume is definitely something that merits practice.

 

As Wolf said, I wouldn't change your style.

 

I know from experience that the Morse G/D is an exceptionally loud instrument with a thick, full sound that can overpower other instruments, And hybrids in general don't have the dynamic range of fine traditional instruments. It's much easier for me to play quietly on my Jeffries than on my Morse.

 

Your husband may be right that you're too loud - but I'd be more guided by input from the other musicians. Maybe they agree with him, or maybe they think your volume is just fine.

 

In general, I find that other players don't usually object to a loud concertina if it's keeping good time and plays the tune reasonably well; I do hear complaints when a loud concertina is off tempo, or hitting lots of bad notes. Learning to play quietly at sessions has been important to me because I always want to ease into a tune I don't know well - playing very quietly, ears close to the instrument, until I figure out what I'm doing!

Edited by Jim Besser

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Concertinas can be problematic in sessions simply because the sound is aimed away from your ears unlike a flute or fiddle where it is essentially at ear level. Unless you have been playing for many years ( with other people ) there is always a tendency to try to hear what you are playing since that is how we know we haven't switched rows by accident or got our bellows directions wrong. Your neighbors will hear you just fine. Wolf's suggestion about sitting in the corner gives you a stage monitor of sorts which helps. Assuming your concertina has some dynamic range, if you are comfortable with the tunes, try not worrying about hearing yourself and take the opportunity to listen to the other musicians. I find just this change of focus makes a big difference. My wife and I play with friends every week and since we play nearly identical concertinas, she finds it hard to hear who is playing what. I back way off and listen. It makes a big difference to her and I get to listen to nice music. In some ways concertinas and cell phones are similar in that people talk much more loudly on a cell phone than usual. Just the nature of the beast.

Dana

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There is probably an optimum volume at which all individual musical instruments sound at their best. In ensemble playing some sort of pre-agreed overall balance between the volumes to be exerted by the different musicians is surely vital. Any sort of free-for-all sounds like a recipe for disaster.

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Good reply from Dana - wish I'd said that.

 

Pictures of me at sessions are often pretty goofy looking. Often, I'm hunched over my concertina, ear as close as possible, so I can hear. I do this because I know that if it's a loud session, when I play loud enough so I can hear myself, I may be playing too loud for the hapless people on either side of me.

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When we were in a recording studio ,recording the first "Rosbif" album I listened to myself against the band for the first time and realised that I was playing much too loudly against the other instruments.The cost of the recording studio did much for my reduction in volume.

Al

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Seems an apt opportunity to mention "Is the concertina a noisy instrument?", an amusing poem included by Dan Worrall in his Anglo-German Concertina: A Social History which has been set to music, and performed to great reception at Youth Traditional Song Weekend a few days ago, in Beckett, Massachusetts (yes, the very same venue as the NE Squeeze-In) :)

 

The poem was written circa 1889 as witty commentary on a court case in England in which someone was accused of annoying others with his concertina playing -- the case hinged on the precise legal definition of "noisy instrument" and whether the concertina was one!

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Many folks in starting out treat the concertina as an "on/off" instrument. You press a button and you get sound; let go of the button and the sound stops. Playing in rhythm and "phrasing" groups of notes is probably the next step in musical awareness. Control of volume and dynamics might come next.

 

Making good music on the anglo has proved a real challenge for me. It honestly took years before I felt comfortable enough with knowing the tunes, where the notes were under the fingers without thinking too much and the ins and outs of the bellows before I turned attention to the dynamics of the instrument and shaping the sound.

 

I think just as you can practice playing with speed and rhythm you can practice playing softly and with control of your volume. I'll sit down and practice a tune all the way though a couple of times and then try and play it progressively softer in volume each of the next times. If there is a passage that gives me particular trouble as far as rhythm or volume I isolate those measures or phrases and "loop" them so I can play that part over and over. After awhile you can use subtle changes in volume to help phrase and express the music.

 

It is a journey. In talking with Jody Kruskal the other day he was asking me questions about whether I played some notes with full bellows pressure before pressing the button or increasing or decreasing bellows pressure after pressing the button!! Some nuances here, to be explored once you can play the instrument comfortably.

 

Best,

 

Greg

Edited by Greg Jowaisas

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For those of us who play solo entirely by ear it is essential to thoroughly explore the possibilities of the instrument with constant doodling and practice until, ideally, we reach that stage where not only do we know exactly where to find the notes, chords and harmonies that are in our head, but the whole process becomes to all intents and purposes instinctive. This approach bears no relationship whatsoever to struggling to read dots on paper and then to committing them to memory, and in the process it probably allows for far greater freedom to express all the subtleties and nuances of tone and volume and dynamics which are so essential if music is to take wings.

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Great question Daria and great answers from all.

 

I esp. agree with Greg J's comments and suggestions.

 

It's counter intuitive I know, but playing softly with reduced bellows pressure is much, much harder than playing loudly. Your husband might or might not be right, but a quiet word from him afterwards is a lot nicer than the dirty looks I used to get at sessions for this very issue.

 

Often at a session I'm playing as softly as possible. That is one of my top concerns and I do it to be better able to join the ensemble. The smaller the group, the softer I play.

 

Aside from bellows pressure, the other way to play softer is to play fewer notes. Although you might spend hours learning to play your full G/D Anglo arrangement with full chords and melody going on at once... at a session you definitely, definitely should not play it that way all the time.

 

Try just playing harmony, chords, rhythm, melody, but play them one at a time. Just harmony this time through the tune, or just chords, or just rhythm, or just melody alone.

 

All of these ideas can and should be practiced at home before the session. Playing softly and playing with a minimal arrangement has taken me years of attention to achieve... and I'm still working on it.

 

I should add, that I'm speaking about English and American sessions. Irish sessions have a related but different set of expectations and etiquette about what is a right or wrong way to play out on the Anglo.

Edited by Jody Kruskal

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DO you play lots of bass chords? I am wondering because as noted above, it really is rare for a concertina to "overpower the other instruments" in an irish session. but the post-modern, or "post-noel-hill" style that features lots of bass chord use can be heard as overpowering by some listeners. some love it, but some annoyed by the sound of blasting concertina chords. the only two occasions in years of playing where I have ever had a fellow session musician complain about my concertina being too loud were occasions when I was practicing my "post-modern" style (I don't even particularly like this style, just think it is important to know how to do it). one person was a flute player. the other was an very old-school traditionalist who is hostile to this sound. this person finds concertina chords dissonant, period. I don't mind the input at all, happy to play strictly melody in any event, which is how I usually play (and I frequently am told by people like pipers, to "play louder, we can't hear you"--my experience has overwhelmingly been one of, being overpowered, rather than the other way round). but if you think your spouse is a reliable narrator (I really would check with the other musicians, myself), you might lay off the chords and stick to the melody. the truth is, when I tune on youtube and watch some of the current concertina stars laying on the chords in a group setting, I find it revolting-sounding myself. I actually thought rampant concertina chords RUINED the otherwise exquisite cd a couple years back by Michael o'r, caimhain o'r, and catherine mcevoy.

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Here's another thought Daria. Next time, record the session. Put your recorder across the room, up on a shelf away from any one musician. You want to hear the whole room on this recording. Listen back to the recording the next day. You will be able to hear for yourself how you blend with the other instruments. An added benefit is that you can then go learn your friends tunes for next time.

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Thanks everyone for the great suggestions. I am going to digest them and work on them. It has been just one year since I have been playing the concertina, and I have only played at a few jams, so I am sure experience will help as well as your ideas.

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...the post-modern, or "post-noel-hill" style that features lots of bass chord use can be heard as overpowering by some listeners.

Not just concertinas. There are few things I find as annoying as a battalion of guitars playing chords so loud that I can't identify the melody line, even when several instruments are playing melody. So if your concertina isn't the only instrument playing chords, please be gentle. :)

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Playing softly and playing with a minimal arrangement has taken me years of attention to achieve... and I'm still working on it.

Ah, yes. I remember you once describing your personal style on the anglo as "as many buttons as possible at all times". But that was more than 20 years ago, and you weren't talking about session playing.

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...the post-modern, or "post-noel-hill" style that features lots of bass chord use can be heard as overpowering by some listeners.

Not just concertinas. There are few things I find as annoying as a battalion of guitars playing chords so loud that I can't identify the melody line, even when several instruments are playing melody. So if your concertina isn't the only instrument playing chords, please be gentle. :)

 

Two good points Jim, the latter being unquestionable. If there are f.i. guitar or mando or harp players attending who most likely won't restrict themselves to playing just the melody the concertina player has the only choices of either following them (or get them following him or her) or playing just the melody him- or herself.

 

As for myself this has turned out to be quite a challenge as chords use to fall sort of naturally under my fingers, but I found it rewarding in terms of learning how fellow musicians might be approaching a well-known tune in terms of harmonics in their different ways - which I once experienced from a harp player who used to apply chords on the third position (is that the word?) even more than I do, to really sweet results...

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