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Concertina In Public Education


Noel Ways
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I have had a perhaps misguided notion that learning the concertina was best for one who already had some music background. The video below, which I found a few minutes ago, is going to force me to rethink this notion. I am curious if anyone else out there has any experience teaching concertina to children with little or no musical background in either a public or private setting.

 

Thanks in advance !!

-Noel

 

http://www.howletchlane.co.uk/concertina-1/

 

Addendum:

 

Also, just found an excellent article published in ICA. Alex Wade, the author, is the talented teacher in the video.

 

https://alexwadeconcertina.com/2016/02/13/back-to-school/#more-93

 

I love the picture of those 10 concertinas !!! I see a child's smile on each one of them.

Edited by Noel Ways
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Interesting you bring this up. Last year I was spending some time as a substitute elementary teacher in the local public school system. My final assignment was to spend about 30 full days with the same youngster who had been segregated from his classes because of violence issues. He did have a lot of needs. One of the books we were reading together was called "Bud, not Buddy" a really wonderful story about an African-American boy during the Great Depression in Michigan. In one scene in the book "Bud" is in a shanty town where someone is singing "Shenandoah" one evening. My student absolutely loved this book. Because he was barred from attending his normal in-school music class I brought in a 20b C-G Anglo each day and taught him how to read the simple melody line from Shenandoah sheet music. I played along with him. It took a couple of weeks, but he got pretty good and even starting adding his own made up chords to make it sound better. At the end of our 30 days, I got the principal to come in and listen to him play. This kid didn't get much praise at school, but his concertina playing won him some kudos that day. The only difficulty this student had with the concertina was its size. He had very small hands and even at their tightest the hand straps were not quite right and the button distances were a challenge. But he persevered and did pretty well in spite of the fact that I am not a music teacher and a mediocre musician, at best

 

I think the concertina would be make a great music teaching tool for general music classes as its a very easy instrument to begin with (but, of course, takes a long time to really master). Unfortunately, its expense (for even a semi-decent student model) may make it impractical in many school districts.

Edited by CaryK
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I have long pondered how to get young people, children and teenagers, to take up concertina. In Australia in proportion to the player base there are hardly any young concertina players and apart from Ireland I imagine it's much the same for the rest of the world.

 

Thanks for posting these links Noel, and thanks Alex if you read this for pioneering your little program which has the potential to significantly change the future for concertina usage and appreciation. THIS COULD BE A GAME CHANGER IF A FEW OF US WERE TO BECOME MOTIVATED. In Australia schools usually jump at the chance for community involvement, community members coming in to run programs. There must be a few retired teachers among us and in fact almost any of the reasonably accomplished among us could do what Alex is doing if the program was structured and with the necessary resources, recordings, sheet music (not to mention concertinas, see next paragraph).

 

Of course the main thing that needs to happen is for a cheap concer to become available and so it would have to be a midi concertina. There have been posts before about midi concers, most recently

Electronic (Midi) Concertina - Current Options?

Started by Bruce Thomson, 21 Mar 2016 icon_tag.pngMIDI electronic

 

Great work is being done by the likes of Bruce, Robert and Jim and others I'm sure. I encourage you all to pursue this midi project with urgency cause I want one for Christmas.

 

Cheap concertinas and motivated teachers could advance concertina usage significantly.

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Not necessarily trying to toot my own horn here, but again, a lot of these kids have iPads and iPhones.

 

You can't beat $0.99 for either an Anglo or English concertina app vs. any real instrument:

 

http://appcordions.com/concertinas

 

I know, it's not a replacement for the real thing by any means, and probably offend many purists, but the skills do transfer to the real instrument when/if students are able to obtain a real instrument.

 

My apps I think do a great job to spread awareness of the instrument and familiarity with its playing.

 

They have the advantage of costing nearly nothing, have zero wait time or issues with mass production availability (download from the iTunes App Store instantly), sound great (based on per-note samples from my high-end instruments), and can fit in your pocket (at least for the iPhone versions).

Edited by eskin
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eskin, what you've done is fantastic and I do hope it takes off. I see your app as a great practice resource for a student who borrows a concertina at school or at their music lessons. When they go home they could practice on an iPad. However I think to get enthused a student would have to have had a go on a real concertina first, albeit possibly a midi one if they happen sometime, soon hopefully.

 

If cheapies become available and lots of kids start playing (I'm a hopeless dreamer) then it would drive demand for your app. I can't see much happening otherwise. If I'm wrong well that would be great, kids pestering their parents for $400 concertinas after playing a 99c iPad one. Good luck with it.

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The Anglo is optimised for playing simple melodies by ear with a simple accompaniment. It was designed as the common man's instrument.

 

However, they are expensive and quite delicate, and young people usually want to hear something that plays the sort of music they already know: pop, rock, rap, etc.

 

At the cost of a pizza for a decent one, the harmonica is by far the best choice. Even a kid who isn't interested in simple melodies will probably want to chug, wail and bend on a harp.

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The Anglo is optimised for playing simple melodies by ear with a simple accompaniment. It was designed as the common man's instrument.

 

However, they are expensive and quite delicate, and young people usually want to hear something that plays the sort of music they already know: pop, rock, rap, etc.

 

But it is possible to play pop, rock and mmmmm, maybe rap on a concertina! If concertinas are to have an expanded player base into the future then the musical genres played will certainly go beyond what is generally played these days. Yes they are expensive, hence the need for a cheap midi concer.

 

At the cost of a pizza for a decent one, the harmonica is by far the best choice. Even a kid who isn't interested in simple melodies will probably want to chug, wail and bend on a harp.

 

Harmonicas are great little cheap, portable instruments, easy to play but you can't sing while playing one. And they're not concertinas. Here we are looking at the possibilities for teaching concertina in the classroom situation.

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In the International Concertina Association (ICA) article mentioned above, Alex writes:

 

"In 2012 I applied to the ICA committee for a

grant to purchase instruments to establish a

primary school teaching project to raise the

profile of the concertina amongst children in County Durham.

With the funding from the ICA, and a few individual donations,

I was able to purchase 11 instruments to begin the project."

 

I was wondering if the ICA has a program or budgets money

to sponsor this type of project. And ... if there are other

organizations that might be willing to take on projects like

this.

 

By the way, Alex does have a web site if you would like

to contact her for more information about her project.

 

https://alexwadeconcertina.com

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I was wondering if the ICA has a program or budgets money to sponsor this type of project [Alex Wade's primary school teaching].

And ... if there are other organizations that might be willing to take on projects like this.

It(hopefully) doesn't help immediately, but in 2008 when I redid my will, I left an amount (I think 5% of my value at time of death) to the ICA to be used as a fund for the encouragement of concertina playing among young people.

 

Perhaps if more of the members of Concertina.net and the concertina fraternity did likewise, we could start a ball rolling.

 

I realise that by announcing this, I have made myself a target for assassination by members of concertina.net to release the money sooner :(

 

Edited by Paul_Hardy
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It(hopefully) doesn't help immediately, but in 2008 when I redid my will, I left an amount (I think 5% of my value at time of death) to the ICA to be used as a fund for the encouragement of concertina playing among young people.

 

Perhaps if more of the members of Concertina.net and the concertina fraternity did likewise, we could start a ball rolling.

 

I realise that by announcing this, I have made myself a target for assassination by members of concertina.net to release the money sooner :(

 

I'm in contact with my local underworld group to organize a hit. Hopefully they have UK connections. 5% eh, bravo, I hope you're a billionaire Paul. I'll consider a similar bequest.

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Hi all,

 

Noel invited me to join this discussion, and share with you some of my experiences of teaching the concertina in schools.

I have been running 10 week English concertina projects in a primary school in County Durham for the past four years, with instruments funded by the ICA. I have worked each time with pupils aged 8-9, which I have found affords a good balance of hand size, co-ordination, concentration and enthusiasm, and in groups of about 10 students, which is workable.

My experience has been that children are intrigued by the concertina, and enjoy playing with it. The fact that they can make sounds instantly is a real plus, and they seem to like the way the bellows move - even just 'playing' the air button!

Given the limited time-frame of my project, I tend to stick with just 4 notes (B, A, G, and C) and tend to get through about 5 pieces which we can perform at the end of project.

I use stickers to colour code the buttons, to save time helping them find the correct buttons, and this seems to work well. I also colour the notation we read, and this saves any need to write letters underneath, and so hopefully(!) helps them to learn to read more quickly. If I am organised enough, I try to add the stickers only when we are going to introduce a new note, which adds an element of anticipation when they get the concertinas out each week.

It is great to see your enthusiasm to get concertinas taught in schools, and the ICA committee are also extremely keen to encourage more young people to play.

I think there are three real issues to address in trying to create more effective and long lasting teaching projects:

Firstly, the issue of playable, durable, low-cost instruments, which is the biggest problem I have come up against. The instruments I use are 30 key Scarlatti, which I think cost around £120 per instrument, and are very poor quality. The buttons stick in frequently, the screws which hold in the thumb straps loose their thread and the ends of the instrument are very soft and easily damaged. Jackies and vintage student models would be a better alternative, but to use these in any quantity would require a big initial outlay.

The idea of a midi concertina is very promising, and I would be really interested to see developments in this area. If an instrument could be created for less than £100, made of plastic (or other durable material) and with buttons that press smoothly, I think it could be a real game changer.

The concertina app would be a brilliant practise resource, particularly for a project like mine where students don't take the instruments home, but I do not think it could be a substitute for a physical instrument in a classroom setting. Part of the children's fascination with the concertina seems to be that it is a magic box, and that they can move the bellows and push buttons, and they would not have this same experience using an ipad.

Another issue is available resources. I believe quite strongly that if young people are going to be encouraged to learn the concertina, we need to make the experience comparable to learning any other instrument. If you learn the flute or the violin there are a good number of colourful tutor books with backing tracks, fun titles and tunes which appeal to children. At the moment the pieces I use come from a flute tutor book, using the backing CD, and large notation boards that I have made myself. I would be really keen to write a concertina tutor aimed at children, but to get published it would need to be likely to sell a good number of copies. Students learning other instruments can also aspire to taking Grade exams, which is another thing we could aim to establish, although with a similar issue that the demand needs to be there for exam boards to invest time or money in creating these.

The final issue is finding people to teach the concertina in schools. I am in the fortunate position of having a job teaching instruments in schools (I am a peripatetic woodwind teacher) and so can squeeze a bit of concertina teaching into my timetable, but there are not many music teachers who play the concertina! I'm sure there would be concertina players, particularly people who have retired, who might be willing to go into schools and teach the concertina, particularly if instruments and resources were available.

I know I am not alone in my enthusiasm to get children playing the concertina in schools, and I think if we were able to establish long term teaching projects where pupils could have their own instruments and take them home, there would be lots of young people keen to have a go. It really boils down to the cost of instruments, so we need to get inventing!

 

Alex

Edited by AlexWade
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  • 2 weeks later...

Thanks Alex for your detailed account of what you've been doing. Having been involved for many years myself in educating children with music I agree completely that motivating them is not a problem and I think what you are doing is fantastic. Thanks too for your thoughts on how concertina education in schools could proceed and yes, it boils down to the cost of the instruments.

 

Cheers,

Steve.

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