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Do I Need Chords

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I am happy with the concept of chord progression, especially in jazz, but my difficulty was in turning theory into practice.


My initial thoughts were left hand keyboard for chords and right hand for melody but my anglo playing used the simple scale from button three on left to the appropriate one on the right. I was becoming frustrated with the as the chords on the left clashed with the melody also on the left and I thought of buying a piano accordion with keys I understand.But having read the posts in the past few days I am now practicing the tunes an octave higher and the more I play the easier it becomes.


The next stage is to get the chords to become second nature. so that I can make the playing more interesting and use them to accompany my singing. There are also lots of tunes - no singing needed - which will sound more interesting with a fuller sound.


I am now beginning to appreciate the "magic" of the anglo and if I make progress then a 30 button may be on the cards




That's really great. If you want to play melody and chords together, then moving the melody "up" onto the right hand, and possibly crossing the rows, is the way to go.


There are plenty of options including:


An Oom pah style with a base note (1, 5 or sometimes 3 of the chord) on the on beat, followed by 2 or more higher notes of the chord played together on the off beat.


A "chunk chunk" style where the left hand plays pairs of notes on the beat - this works nicely to accentuate short passages of music but can be a bit wearisome over a long passage.


Playing the 1st and 5th of the chord on the on beat first then filling in the 3rd on the off beat.


Playing runs of bass notes. I love this - but then I share a house with a bassist.


The simplest of all is to play the octave below (or 2 octaves below) the melody on the on beats. Don't try to play the entire tune in octaves, but use the octaves to emphasise the rhythm. The next step from this is to add the next button up or down from the octave.


Alternatively, for singing, some people just play handfuls of chords, sometimes broken into arpeggios, sometimes not.


It's a fantastic instrument - Keith kKndrick calls it "the thinking man's piano" - and if you use the available notes wisely, and also recognise when to leave a gap, you can make beautiful and interesting music.

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On an Anglo you are probably only looking for two or three note chords on the left hand. You speak of playing by ear and if the chords you wish for are in your head, along with the melody line, the practice of trial and error should not be lightly dismissed. With your experience of arpeggios you are well on the way to improvising the chords you are after. The voyage of discovering correct and appropriate chords is all part of the fun and, when all goes well, very rewarding. The economic use of available air is vital to the success of playing an Anglo. Chords can often be used to compensate for a right hand melody note thereby assisting in that respect. That is more or less the route that I have always taken. I have never been interested in the theory of it all. !

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Thanks, John. This is a great help. I worked out some chords last night but this chart extends my range.

I read somewhere that folk music doesn't use 7th chords -greatly favoured by jazz musicians - but now that you have told me where to find them I will see if they fit.

You're welcome, Conrad! I'm sure you'll find the chart useful. I use these left-hand chords a lot when accompanying fiddlers, but they're also useful for arranging song accompaniments. Remember that you don't have to press ALL of the marked buttons all of the time - less is sometimes more.


As to 7th chords in folk music: In my experience, it's mostly American Old-Time people who regard them as taboo. Many of what we in the British Isles call folk songs (because everybody knows them) started out as music-hall songs or popular ballads, and these tend to rely heavily on 7th chords. Actual traditional British/Irish music - before the 1960s Folk Scare, which came from America and brought us the guitar - was played on flutes or fiddles, or sung unaccompanied, so harmonies were not a topic. The only way for the Common Man to use harmonies was in the classically influenced church, brass-band or choral-society music, so when we got chording instruments, we knew what to do with the 7th chords.

In country areas of the American Appalachians, on the other hand, the guitar and banjo were used pretty early on to accompany rural music and singing, and a simpler form of harmonisation developed without the influence of urban, academic music. At least, that's my theory! Just use dominant 7ths when they sound right. You'll find plenty of opportunities to do so. ;)




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Of course you will need dominant 7th chords or harmony whith a secondary dominant, i.e. modulating from f.i. tonic Cmaj to Gmaj through Dmaj7, with prominent use of F# and C notes ("diabolic" tritone interval) - and I'm doing that frequently (but far from every time when possible), but have been told by ITM purists that this was a "no go" in Irish trad; however preceding the folk revival there was all that country dance playing, with mainly fiddle and piano, and I seem to recall a lot of dominant 7th from some great compilations on CD I have at home, but still not rediscovered from the move to where I live now...


Best wishes - Wolf

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... but have been told by ITM purists that this was a "no go" in Irish trad; however preceding the folk revival there was all that country dance playing, with mainly fiddle and piano, and I seem to recall a lot of dominant 7th ...


Philosophically and semantically very interesting, the terms "ITM purists" and "no go"!


The use of the acronym "ITM" hints at a brand name (like IBM, BASF), rather than a natural phenomenon that is the subject of ethnomusicological study,, or something to enjoy. The logical consequence is a well-defined "corporate identity" that prescribes certain features, and also includes certain no-gos. (I was a technical writer at IBM for years, so I know what I'm talking about. There are some things that a corporate Information Developer just does not write!) And, of course, when you have hard and fast corporate rules, you have to have purists to enforce them (let's not use the term "Police"!)

The reason for this rigorous definition of the "product ITM" is, I believe, to permit non-Irish musicians to certify, by application of defined criteria, that their music is authentically "Irish". The idea of using an acronym, as I see it, comes from the North American usage of OTM for old-time music, or BG for Bluegrass. Basically, it is a sign of homogenisation.


By contrast, when you or I just pick up our concertinas and sing songs or play tunes that we grew up with, and which have a certain identification value for our native region, we are just being us - be we English, Irish, Scots, American, German, French or whatever. And by doing things that our compatriots have not yet attempted, we are developing our native tradition. We are "fanning the flame, not preserving the ashes".

If someone from another culture takes the same approach, however, he or she is "introducing extraneous elements".


Now, it may well be that when Irish music-lovers hear some of the things that I do with Irish songs, they just shake their heads and turn away. Or when some foreigner does something neat, they may be enthusiastic about it and adopt it. This has happened often in the past. In Ireland, the 19th century brought us a whole flood of songs with waltz tunes, and in the late 20th century, German popular musicians (especially around Cologne, especially at Carneval time) adopted Irish influences, with great success. (But note that the Viennese did not force the Irish to adopt waltz tunes, nor did the Irish force the Rhinelanders to play tin whistle in their Carneval songs! Each integrated those "extraneous elements" into their own tradition.)


My bottom line: if you want an ITM or OTM membership card, watch out for those no-gos; if you want to perform those songs that mean home to you - do your thing. It's your birthright!


End of sermon. ;)



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Just for myself, I'm from a working class background, taught myself to play simple tunes mainly by ear on harmonica, didn't even know which were Irish or Scottish and which were English. I later did the same with melodeon. I do have Anglo lessons, but with a self taught musician I've known for 25-30 years. I would object to being the first member of my family in generations not to be entitled to call what he does "traditional" or "folk" just because of someone else's definition. When I read about ITM and ODGs I think WTF. It's music.


But on the other hand, too much blending of styles can just lead to homogenous music and then something special can be lost. As a society we are sometimes too keen to "fuse" before we can do either of the unfused styles particularly well.

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Lots of really interesting and helpful points. I've pretty much worked out chord formation but can't quite work out the rhythm. Dana - in terms of 'short vamping style'' - how would that be applied to say this song https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KTl0NcTnk4U

That is a fun tune and I think lends itself to a Morrisy style if you find some of that to listen to. For the few minutes I played with it, especially since they do it in C, I find that playing the melody ( more or less) on the right hand an octave up, and finding a middle harmony note to the melody note that sits on the beat , and then adding the low press C or the draw G on the off beat, ie. (" skiddley " melody note/s plus harmony note from left hand, "Linkin" would be where I would add the off beat low note. You can hold the harmony note through the melody notes through to the next chord change if you like, and just add the short low note to mark the off beat. It is a nice effect for songs like this. You can work out which harmony note best seems to go with the melody. You may use the press low G in the middle row if the bellows direction requires it. You don't have to keep it totally regular. You can leave the chords out for a measure or two and bring them back to feel like you are coming home again. Opposite to the Om Pah style, this one you play the middle harmony note and melody on the on beat and put the low note on the off beat.


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I've read it as "Other Dumb Genres" :D


In case you genuinely didn't know, ODG is "Old Dead Guys" - droll but slightly patronising (or patronising but slightly droll) abbreviation commonly used in certain folk music forums to refer to people who were lucky enough to be traditional before it had an approved definition.

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When I read about ITM and ODGs I think WTF. It's music.



Among Morris dancers, "ODG" or "the ODGs" is easily recognized as the Old Dead Guys, who replaced the Old Guys (OGs) that previous generations of Morris dancers looked to for authority.


Edited to add: Just noticed that Mikefule answered the same between the time I saw the question and the time I posted my answer.

Edited by David Barnert
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Among Morris dancers, "ODG" or "the ODGs" is easily recognized as the Old Dead Guys, who replaced the Old Guys (OGs) that previous generations of Morris dancers looked to for authority.

Related to, but not quite the same as the sought-after resource of many folklorists, the OPV... the Oldest Person in the Village. B)

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Do Fingers Need Ears?

I find the suggestions very helpful and I am practising chords for tunes and chords for accompanying my singing but I'm not there yet.

So last night I consciously decided to play a tune - melody only - knowing that every other instrument would join in and we would have a sound which would fill the room.

Unfortunately it had an unexpected result.


I played "Portsmouth", one of the first tunes I learned when I first bought the concertina a few yearsago on a whim. I can play it without thinking and it's such a jolly, simple AABA tune which everyone knows.


The problem was, that with everybody joining in, I couldn't hear myself and my fingers went walk-about. I just couldn't control them. I lost my place so many times that it was embarrassing to accept the applause which is given often from politeness, but with some performers last night, from a real appreciation of their talent.


Hence my question; do fingers need to hear what they are playing?

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I feel your pain. A concertina can be much quieter than some other instruments, and the noise goes out sideways away from the musician. You can't hear what you're playing but others can hear your mistakes!


To a certain extent, you can feel from the vibrations through your fingers whether you are in tune.


Some tricks for playing in groups (and I am no expert):


Keep it simple, because if everyone decorates everything, it all becomes a mush.


Be aware that there are several ways of "chording" the same tune, but only one will work at a time. If surrounded by melodeons, don't play anything fancy because they can't and you will sound like the one who is wrong.


Play staccato, because the sound of a pack of folk musicians in full cry is already blur of enthusiastic approximations.


To be honest, a typical full steam ahead fiddle race combined with the Hohner wall of sound can be great fun but musically unedifying. More fun to do than to listen to.

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I, too, share the concern. A friend swears by keeping his hat on, which somehow helps "scoop" more sound back to yourself. For my two cents, discrete earplugs help me hear myself, and don't deaden the rest of the group much, if at all. In fact, my old Bastari can hardly be heard in most sessions, nor can the harmonicas I tote along, so I even need some help being tipped off about the key. Once the tune has begun, it's rare that I can hear my (admittedly, rather shy) playing enough to be confident I am in the right key. Of course, this is hardest in fast-paced, keep-it-rolling ITM sessions, but at least when it's my turn to pick the tune, I am sure. My guess is it will gradually improve as my skills do. Good luck!





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