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Concertina Mute/muffler


lstein
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My family has begun to remind me regularly that the concertina is a loud instrument, and asking me to practice in another room. My wife complains that when I am playing it drowns out her electric guitar.

 

Has anyone ever tried to build a "concertina muffler"? I'm thinking in terms of something that would look like a pair of ear muffs; two shallow sewn cloth bags with elastic openings that would slip over the ends of the instrument with a sleeve-like opening for the player's hands to slip in. The player wouldn't be able to see his/her hands, but otherwise I don't see an effect on playability (aside from looking really really silly).

 

Thoughts?

 

Lincoln

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Hi Lincoln

 

You might find this paper by Robert Gaskins on the use of baffles helpful/thought provoking. http://www.concertina.com/gaskins/baffles/

Alternatively, here's a solution from Danny Chapman with some external baffles that can be removed as required. http://www.rowlhouse.co.uk/concertina/pictures/

 

Another option, if you have even a mild case of Concertina Acquisition Syndrome, you might consider a brass/silver nickel reeded instrument. The better ones are very playable and have a much softer ('more mellow'), less penetrating tone and volume than those with steel reeds.

 

Good luck!

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Drowns out her ELECTRIC guitar? Simple solution - get her a guitar amp that goes up to eleven!

 

Seriously though, I've also been told that the sound of the concertina can be quite piercing. Even playing in another room is not really enough, as the sound apparently cuts through. I don't want to fuss changing the feel of the instrument with baffles though, and the concertina muffs you describe seem like they would be awkward at best, and of limited effectiveness. To really muffle sound requires mass. I've toyed with the idea of a "soundproof" booth to sit in, but anything that would really work well enough appears to be both expensive and heavy.

 

Of course you could get one for your wife's guitar practice instead?

 

Best option so far has been to negotiate for practice time. If you've really been putting up with an electric guitar player in the house, then I say you are already "owed" many hours, so the negotiation should be easy! (Negotiation within the family never is though!) Even hearing the best player practice can get annoying since effective practice means some repetition, and particular attention to the parts that need the most work. Often, the real issue isn't that the instrument is so loud, but that the person hearing you practice doesn't know when it will stop so they dread having you start. So agreeing to a set amount of time, and sticking to it may help. (It is never enough time, of course, but better than an argument.) Perhaps practicing at the same time, as far away as the confines of the house will permit?

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The concertina is remarkable for its wide dynamic range. Try playing quietly?

Ah, hadn't thought of that. ;-)

 

Seriously, though, I think I need to get a better instrument. With the one I'm playing on (a "Wren" from Irishmusik.com) if I try to chord on the left and play melody on right, the higher reeds won't sound unless I'm playing at a fair volume.

 

Lincoln

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Drowns out her ELECTRIC guitar? Simple solution - get her a guitar amp that goes up to eleven!

 

Seriously though, I've also been told that the sound of the concertina can be quite piercing. Even playing in another room is not really enough, as the sound apparently cuts through. I don't want to fuss changing the feel of the instrument with baffles though, and the concertina muffs you describe seem like they would be awkward at best, and of limited effectiveness. To really muffle sound requires mass. I've toyed with the idea of a "soundproof" booth to sit in, but anything that would really work well enough appears to be both expensive and heavy.

 

Of course you could get one for your wife's guitar practice instead?

 

Best option so far has been to negotiate for practice time. If you've really been putting up with an electric guitar player in the house, then I say you are already "owed" many hours, so the negotiation should be easy! (Negotiation within the family never is though!) Even hearing the best player practice can get annoying since effective practice means some repetition, and particular attention to the parts that need the most work. Often, the real issue isn't that the instrument is so loud, but that the person hearing you practice doesn't know when it will stop so they dread having you start. So agreeing to a set amount of time, and sticking to it may help. (It is never enough time, of course, but better than an argument.) Perhaps practicing at the same time, as far away as the confines of the house will permit?

It's ironic. My wife had been complaining that my little soprano recorder, which I use for early music, was too shrill for her ears. Now that I'm playing on an instrument that is pitched lower, it's too loud. I need a "Get Smart" style cone of silence, or maybe one of those MIDI concertinas from Concertina Connection.

 

Actually right now I need my own set of earplugs -- the wife and kids are all wailing away on an electric guitar, two ukuleles, and a cajon among them, and they don't seem to agree on what they're playing. I'm going to join in with my own interpretation.

 

-L

 

-L

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It's unclear whether you mean they want you to play in a different room to the one in which you normally play, or in a different room to the one in which they're trying to occupy.

 

Actually - your family might be offering the most sensible solution - why don't you just practise in another room?! Or place - e.g. garden shed, or even the car. I used to use the apartment's storage basement when I was living in Germany - no neighbours on any side, and empty offices on the ground floor out of work hours.

 

The external baffles I made (see Myrtle's cook post) primarily change the tone than reduce the volume (reducing higher frequencies), but might be worth trying. Unfortunately, I think that making them thick enough to have a substantial effect will involve so much weight that it would affect the playability a lot.

 

Another option is to play silently when other people are around. So long as you're above a certain level, you can get your fingers working and learning techniques and tunes without moving the bellows enough to make any sound at all. I used to do this when living in student accommodation, for example. You can also continue this practise technique when in the same room as other people, and even when they're talking to you, especially is the conversation is of the type where only an occasional nod is required :)

 

Obviously such practice should be backed up with some proper bellows work too!

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A familiar problem. Many of us have struggled to deal with the problem of unsympathetic spouses or house-mates where concertina practice is involved.

 

I've tried playing in the furthest room possible away from my wife, playing in the garage, even playing inside a car in the garage. The latter was best received by my wife, but least satisfying as a player. Not nearly enough room to play comfortably. I've also worked at playing softly to such an extent that it became second nature and I had to consciously work at playing louder when in a session situation. It also inhibited a bit the development of my use of dynamic range, as I played everything at the softest possible level.

 

You mention needing a certain minimum volume to get all the reeds to pick up and play when you have multiple buttons depressed. I know of, but am not familiar with, the details of the concertina you mention. Regardless, when one is trying to play more softly, it is important that the reed "set" (resting height) of the instrument reeds be optimal throughout. This ensures that each reed starts at its lowest functional bellows pressure/airflow without damping out or otherwise sounding unhealthy at maximum pressure/air flow. With optimal reed "set" throughout you may find that you can get all the reeds of a chord to pick up at a lower volume. Evaluating and setting the height of the reeds is likely beyond you right now though so you'd likely want to seek the assistance of someone more experienced.

 

If this is a new instrument that you are playing, it's not uncommon for some of the higher pitched reeds to require more bellows pressure to start than the lower ones. You will likely find that eases some over time as the instrument sees more use. By the time it has a few hundred hours of use you might notice considerable improvement.

 

The best solution I came up with for dealing with spousal complaints though was to get my wife involved in playing Irish music. Now instead of hearing how my playing interrupted her nap or over-shadowed her enjoyment of reading, I hear comments on how good the music sounded and questions as to which tunes were played. She often quits her other activity and comes to join in. The key here is to pick the right instrument for your spouse. Mine had no interest in concertina and found whistle and flute too shrill, but she was quite taken with the harp. So much so that we now have four harps in the house and I've discovered that good harps are no cheaper than good concertinas. Really good harps, by the way, are much more expensive.

Edited by Bruce McCaskey
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Seriously, though, I think I need to get a better instrument. With the one I'm playing on (a "Wren" from Irishmusik.com) if I try to chord on the left and play melody on right, the higher reeds won't sound unless I'm playing at a fair volume.

In another week or so I should be meeting for the second time with a new friend who has a Wren. I'll try it and see if I can learn anything that might be helpful.

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A familiar problem. Many of us have struggled to deal with the problem of unsympathetic spouses or house-mates where concertina practice is involved.

I've tried playing in the furthest room possible away from my wife, playing in the garage, even playing inside a car in the garage. The latter was best received by my wife, but least satisfying as a player. Not nearly enough room to play comfortably. I've also worked at playing softly to such an extent that it became second nature and I had to consciously work at playing louder when in a session situation...

 

...It is important that the reed "set" (resting height) of the instrument reeds be optimal throughout. This ensures that each reed starts at its lowest functional bellows pressure/airflow without damping out or otherwise sounding unhealthy at maximum pressure/air flow. With optimal reed "set" throughout you may find that you can get all the reeds of a chord to pick up at a lower volume. Evaluating and setting the height of the reeds is likely beyond you right now though so you'd likely want to seek the assistance of someone more experienced..

I'm fortunate to have a very sympathetic spouse. She even says she enjoys the concertina playing (and I believe her). For the long practice sessions, I do move into another room of the house, but I prefer spending the evenings in the living room with the rest of the family, and it would be great if I could practice the 'tina while my wife plays her guitar and my daughter strums the uke. The only thing for it is to learn some pieces in common, and for me to get greater control of the dynamic range.

 

I have noticed an improvement in the slow-to-sound reeds over the six weeks I've had the instrument. Will they continue to improve? I don't think I'm ready to open the instrument up and start tinkering with reed height.

 

Thanks to everyone for your suggestions and offers of help!

 

Lincoln

Edited by lstein
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Can't make any promises but it wouldn't surprise me if the reeds continued to improve for a time with use, especially if the instrument was new when you started. Even if it was used, if the concertina sat unplayed for several months it might well improve with more use. Usually it takes the reeds some time to settle on a new instrument and if one has sat unused for several months the leather valves may stiffen a bit and that can cause some issues too. The length of time it sat, temperature, humidity, storage orientation (end or side) and specifics of the valve material are all factors with the latter.

 

To be clear, the condition you've described sounds like it's about the reeds rather than the valves.

 

Playing will usually help improve the situation in both cases but it isn't always a cure-all. The first fifty hours or so of playing a new concertina usually goes a long ways towards getting the reeds settled and attentive, although that varies. I've seen some new ones that played well and evenly from the start, and others that were still a little quirky at the fifty hour point.

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Yes, any quality instrument will play softer and more consistently at low volume if it is well set up by a competent technician with that goal in mind. Yes, the best concertinas are superior in that regard.

 

It takes more effort to play softly and delicately than full out. While both are good, it's always useful to practice what is difficult.

 

Music is defined by the spaces between notes. By making those spaces longer, you will often make music that is more pleasing as well as being quieter on the concertina. This is especially true for the non-melody accompaniment notes.

 

I sometimes practice in my car.

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I support two suggestions from above plus a couple more:

1) get a brass-reeded tina - I have a Wheatstone brass-reeded one from the 1850s which I pick up to play round the house, in preference to the better quality steel-reeded ones I have and use at sessions.

 

2) The ultimate solution is to get a midi concertina - I have one that is a conversion of a naff Lachenal. I can put headphones on and listen to myself, while all others hear is a quiet clicking of buttons.

A further advantage is that you can have it playing like a cello or a saxophone!

 

3) Try another room - I rather like playing in the bathroom, as the acoustics are the best in the house!

 

4) Drape a duvet over the tina on you knees, and play it underneath.

 

Regards,

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Just got me a used Edgley concertina. It is much easier to play quietly!

 

Now I've got the problem of the thing being so sensitive that every slight hesitation during bellows movement is blazingly obvious. Time to work on bellows control.

 

Lincoln

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Bob Copper had similar problems when he was learning the concertina. His solution: trousers! (Pants, for American readers ). He would put each of his arms down a trouser leg (starting from the foot end) having wrapped the concertina in the bum end of the trousers. He said it worked quite well. Never tried it myself but I can't see it doing any harm at least and it will take just seconds to try it out.

 

Chris

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