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Hello, new to the site and the concertina. I am a retired guy pushing 70. I currently play guitar and mandolin, and have recently taken up a keen interest in traditional Irish music. I have attended one slow session and intend to attend whenever possible. Being retired, I have lots of time to practice. I have found the guitar is an accompaniment instrument an as such isn't a whole lot of fun in the session. The mandolin is hard to hear, plus I never played any Irish tunes so am cramming hard, but before I get too far along.... I really like the sound of the concertina and plan to rent a 30 button Anglo. My question is given average musical ability (I am no savant-that's for sure) about how long will it take until I feel comfortable in a session? I can get lessons about once a month. Also is my age an issue in learning?



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My question is given average musical ability (I am no savant-that's for sure) about how long will it take until I feel comfortable in a session? I can get lessons about once a month. Also is my age an issue in learning?


Welcome, Mike. It's a bit of a how-long-is-a-piece-of-string question, but keep in mind that the (Anglo) concertina was designed for playability; that is, to be accessible and useful to people without much formal musical background. And it sounds as if you have considerable musical background. With daily practice I can't think why you couldn't work up a tune or three in a matter of weeks, especially with a lesson now and then. After that there will always be new tunes you want to learn. Always!


As for age, I guess it's always an issue in learning. SometImes it's an impediment, sometimes an advantage. On the downside, it probably takes longer to get new material into muscle memory. On the upside, you draw on your experience, and you know how to learn. I wouldn't worry too much about it.


Bob Michel

Near Philly

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Mike, from my experience teaching flute, whistle and mandolin to adults/ some retired, here is my take. If you love something, and want to learn it is never too late. I feel like with the information you have presented, my suggestion is a good concertina teacher will be of great help. The other thing I suggest, is not a once per month lesson, do it every week. A month is a long time to struggle when starting out, and potentially a long time to develop a bad technique or habit.

So, the lots of time to practice part. Spend lots of time listening and practicing each day. Two or three half hour practices in the day will be better than sitting down for a focussed hour and a half. The other thing I want to mention is the session. A slow session is great. If you play 2 to 10 tunes really well, and start putting them in pairings, you will enjoy a slow session. My method of teaching tunes groupings for beginners has always been one new with one old tune. You are learning and memorizing the new and at the same time reinforcing a tune learned previously.

Guitar, Mandolin both being stringed instruments will give you no reference for the concertina and its mechanics. However, the ability to hear, and understand rhythm will.

Renting a concertina may not be wise. I suggest that if you are serious about learning to spend a fair price for your budget and consider purchasing a restored well functioning and tuned steel reeded concertina. For Irish music, A Lachenal with 22-30 keys will get you going. The tone will be authentic, and the better instrument you purchase now keeps you from being limited by the quality and response of what is in your hands as you take the first steps.

Edited by Lawrence Reeves
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One caveat - I was much younger than you when too much practice on my first traditional-type concertina led to an orthopedic injury and nearly a year (including my only visit to Ireland) when I could not play at all. So ramp up that practice time gradually and don't ignore your body if it complains. You may get muscle soreness, sure, but it shouldn't be downright painful. Have fun!



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...ramp up that practice time gradually and don't ignore your body if it complains. You may get muscle soreness, sure, but it shouldn't be downright painful.


And there are differences between muscle soreness and pain in tendons or joints, both in how they feel and in what they're warning you about. Each needs to be handled in its own way.

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Follow the advice given in the replies above.

I started at age 68 with no musical experience at all. I bought a C/G Rochelle 30 button anglo off e-bay for a very good price. Got disillusioned after a month and then bought a Honer G/D melodeon which I got on very well with and still do, Morris tunes.

Picked up the concertina again about a year ago and haven't looked back. The melodeon and concertina go very well together.

I practise every day, sometimes for odd moments, doodling the buttons to find out which buttons made what sounds, but always at least half an hour practising a few bars of one or two tunes; Very slowly until muscle memory took over and I could hit the right buttons and pull or push correctly every time for at least three run throughs, then tried speeding up. Always, always, slow enough to make sure all notes are correctly played then the speed comes naturally.

I have started to read simple musical scores as well but the best thing ever is Utube.

It has come to my mind recently to look for a replacement for the Rochelle. A move up market to an instrument with concertina reeds is my aim, although finance may be a problem as the wife wants the bedroom redone completely. I will get there.

As mentioned, I play for my local Morris team at Wickham in Hampshire and take both instruments with me, the melodeon for dancing outside and the concertina for the session in the pub afterwards.

Never too old, never too broke, never too dim.



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I've got lots of faith in you Mike. You already play other instruments so you have a feel for music, you just need to learn the mechanics and nuances of the concertina. Of course that latter bit is the crux of the question and it's difficult to predict the time needed to achieve a good grasp of that. I've been at this about 14 years and I'm still working at the nuances.


I think there's no doubt that age is a factor in the speed one learns, but interest and determination are also important elements. A well planned approach to practice is an essential part of learning, and that also includes ensuring that you don't overdo it. As Ken mentioned, it's possible to cause pain and injury if you push things too hard. I have my own experience with this matter so I can well appreciate his cautionary comments.


By the way, possible physical problems is a particular concern if your concertina is one that requires a lot of effort to play. I've seen some that sound clearly with gentle bellows pressure and others that require a determined effort to get a clear sound from the reeds. The latter can be much more physically demanding and really put you off playing too.


No crystal ball here and individuals vary, but here are two lines of thought on how quickly you can get to where you are comfortable playing with a session group.


If you have a lot of aptitude and you progress quickly with the concertina then I'd guess that after a few weeks to get the basics of playing cemented into your brain, you'd be able to learn at least one new tune per week. When I say learn, I mean getting a tune to where you can play it accurately from memory at a slow pace. Getting a tune to session spend depends on the session, the difficulty/complexity of the tune and the aptitude of the player. After you have a few months of playing experience, I'd guess that if it's a welcoming session group that doesn't blaze at high speed, you may be able to work most common tunes up from "just memorized" to slow session speed in a couple of weeks, maybe less.


On the other hand, it's quite possible that you won't progress nearly so quickly. You may find that learning one new tune a week is overly ambitious and even after several months of playing it may take several weeks to work a new tune up to slow session speed. Everyone is unique and progresses at their own rate, even though as we get older we become less tolerate of the suggestion that we be patient, learning takes time and proficiency will come eventually.


Just starting out, I'd say you might hope for a fast progression but expect a slow one. Realistic expectations are important in avoiding early discouragement. After you've spent a month with the instrument and had a lesson or two, you'll be in a much better position to figure out how quickly you are likely to progress. In my opinion the most important thing to evaluate at that point isn't going to be your likely rate of progression though but rather whether you are enjoying the instrument. If you aren't, then devote some effort towards figuring out what changes you can make that might improve your satisfaction.


When I started out with Anglo, I practiced daily and at the six month point I had about 15 tunes memorized and wouldn't have dreamed of trying to play any of them with a fast session group. As I recall I was happy just to be able to play them on my own at moderate speed without stumbling now and then. Although I could read music, it'd been 30 years since I'd previously played a musical instrument, Irish music was all new to me, I didn't seem to be wired for "learning by-ear" and memorization didn't happen quickly.


You would likely progress more rapidly if you could received more frequent lessons, but you'll at least be able to get some guidance and coaching to aim you towards good practices and away from bad technique. I suspect your instructor will also make some recommendations for modern tools that may aid you in the learning process.

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Thanks very much for all the info. I have a rental Rochelle on the way. I have my first lesson on Feb 15. In the meantime I will try some on line tutorials on YouTube. The journey begins....... Anyone want to buy a guitar, mandolin or dobro? Ha ha



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Welcome to the Forum and the concertina!


You seem to be about my age ("pushing 70"), so perhaps I can offer a bit of qualified encouragement.


Like you, I already play several instruments, including mandolin and guitar, and have taken up new ones at retirement age. My take is: with age comes experience. When you take up a further instrument at a mature age, you are not really a beginner. You already know all about time signatures, key signatures, tune structure, rhythm, groove and swinging it - all things that someone (at any age) learning his or her first instrument must learn. All you have to do is find your way about the instrument itself - you already know your way about making music, which is at least half the battle.


Specifically in your case, as a mandolinist you'll have a feel for melodic intervals, and as a guitarist you'll have a feel for what chord comes next. Both of these fields of experience will help you with the concertina.


Maybe we old folks don't learn as quickly as youngsters - but we have a lot less to learn!






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