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Bellows Notation - Generally Accepted Standards?


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Hello - I have a question on musical notation for the English Concertina (although it could equally apply to Anglo & Duet).


Is there a generally accepted standard of musical notation to indicate bellows direction?

(Text takes up too much space and is too busy)


The reason I ask is that I recently delivered a couple of sessions at the Swaledale Squeeze and was asked how (or whether) I could write out what I actually do on a particular tune. One thing that became apparent is that in one place I consistently use a pull note in a particular way to achieve softer note articulation on a descending run - but I change to pull a note earlier in the previous bar and it's this I want to indicate.


My natural choice was to use violin Up & Down bowing (Down indicating Push) like so:



All references, examples, contradictions & comments welcome.





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Gary Coover and his Anglo staff tab uses a line above the staff to indicate draw. No line means push. If the draw is continuous then the line is unbroken.

Another way to do it would be to use different stem directions for pull and push. Only works for single melodic lines with limited range, though.

If I understand Rob correctly, he actually needs three variants, not just two, because he's not prescribing direction for every single note, but only for a few where he considers it significant. So he needs

  • Push.
  • Pull.
  • No change... or "doesn't matter".

Since most notes would be the third option, it would make sense for no marks to be the default "mark" for that, with two distinct explicit marks for the other two.


As far as I'm aware, there are no contemporary tutors for the EC which bother to specify bellows direction, so there's not only no "standard" notation, but there's not even a single example to follow.


I don't have resources handy regarding Victorian practice (Regondi, et al), but I would guess that if they did mark specific bellows direction in certain places, they would have used the violin notation. (Down bow for press, up bow for draw?) So I think Rob's choice is fine, as long as he explains it... especially since it's already easily available in many music notation software programs.


I did consider suggesting the physics notation for field lines, with "+" for "in" (into the surface) and "." for "out" (out of the surface), but I think that it makes more sense in a musical context to use the existing bowing notation. (It's probably also easier to specify in many music software programs.)


So my vote/suggestion is that Rob continue with his current notation, but perhaps include definitions with each publication, whether book or single sheet.


I would note from my own experience that the third option above is particularly important for the English concertina, because the amount of air/time available for a single bellows direction can vary considerably from instrument to instrument, and so most changes of direction will be based upon the air supply and not necessarily for musical emphasis.



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  • 2 months later...

Here's a shot of how Regondi does it in an EC tutor:



And Crabb in an Accordion tutor: (the V is push)



And the American Accordion Association used arrows in 1938.



In my notes I presently use bowing notation.


What about three symbol notation, push, pull, and doesn't matter. Maybe: ⋃ for push - concave for reducing the bellows, ⋂ pull - convex for inflating the bellows, and ‖ for end of bellows instruction. Those seem easy to write, they are accepted digital characters (not to ABC, though), and seem somewhat intuitive to me at least.

Edited by Podzol
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Although the system the OP describes is encountered time and time again in different works, it is not a generally accepted notation system. What I didn't know is that they are bowing symbols. I don't like them as I don't find them very easy to remember! On top of that, I would find it more logical if the symbols were the same but reversed, such as ⎤and ⎡ for open and close respectively, as used in "Manual de composición para acordeón" by Isidro García Pintos.


I used to prefer < for opening as it reminds me of the direction the bellows hand moves in to open the bellows and > as its logical opposite. As I now play a bandoneon family instrument, with both hands moving with the bellows I started using <> for opening and >< for closing. However, these are a slight pain when writing by hand and I have simplified them to O for opening and X for closing. The O is not the O of Opening but the rounded shape of <>. Other symbols suggested in the previous post seem too fiddly to me, requiring special input on the keyboard and are not accepted by ABC.

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For the Anglo, Gary Coover's method is really good and easy to follow. I also like the method used in Merrill's "Harmonic Method" (linked here), which just puts a "v" over notes to be played on the push. No symbol means pull. (And only a little mental gymnastics needed when switching from one book to the other... :-) )


Since there are only two choices, only marking one direction prevents a lot of clutter on the staff. Not much help if you need a third symbol for "whichever direction you like", though...

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I definitely like the idea of the < and > symbols, but > is already a musical symbol. I'm making some arrangements of classical music for EC, and so this is of particular interest to me. I'm using EasyABC, which has a great ABC editor and has pretty sharp rendering algorithms. ABC has limits, so I am just using the up and down bow symbols from strings. Up being pull and Down being push. I'm not complaining about ABC, I love that it makes laying music out so widely accessible with common tools. :)


Playing the cello (in my mediocre fashion), the down-bow has a lot more power, which reminds me of the push on a concertina, so that's why I chose that particular symbol assignment.


I agree that indicating bellows can make much clutter in a layout, but much like fingerings in some piano scores, if it is indicated only where it is either complicated or of strong preference to the arranger, it may not clutter so much.

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On bisonoric systems, using only 1 symbol means marking or not marking every single note. Only repeated notes on the same keys and in the same bellows direction do not receive any marking (or deliberate non-marking). I feel that marking every note, whether using a line or a symbol, creates clutter.

If fingering is indicated, a circle around the finger number can indicate opening bellows. This is used in some Trikitixa (Basque diatonic accordion) schools. These symbols already exist for stringed instruments in music notation programs,

Using 2 symbols on bisonoric systems means marking bellows inversions. No notes after the inversion need be marked until the next inversion. This reduces clutter, although on an instrument or a playing style that uses a lot of push/pull playing technique, the staff will become rather busy.

On bisonoric systems, using 3 symbols again means paying attention to each and every note.

On a unisonoric instrument (bearing in mind that the OP was for EC), if it's somehow important to indicate "whichever direction you want", I'd agree with JimLucas's comment that,

Since most notes would be the third option, it would make sense for no marks to be the default "mark" for that, with two distinct explicit marks for the other two.



On the bandoneon, playing anything from 2 to 8 bars in the same direction of the bellows after an inversion is normal, so the staff remains uncluttered. On the Atzarin bandoneon, having every note repeated in the opposite direction of the bellows, means that whole phrases can be played either on the draw or on the push. I am currently assigning bellows direction based on the chord, as each kind of chord has either 1 shape both push and pull or 2 different shapes, where the most comfortable form, and consequently its bellows direction, is given priority.

However, there are some cases where it's really difficult to decide which is the more comfortable. It is tempting, in these cases, on this kind of instrument, to think that a symbol for "whichever direction you want" would be useful. In practice though, having this option is only good when preparing a piece for the first time. The learner must try a particular phrase both push and pull and make their own choice. After choosing though, I think it's better to mark the decision as either opening or closing. So one thing is indications for a learner and another is one's own indications as reminders as to how you play the piece.

Edited by Atzarin
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Nothing wrong with discussing notation options for various bisonoric instruments, I suppose, but keep in mind that the original post was asking specifically about the (unisonoric) English concertina, where the third option -- "player's choice" -- is not just significant, but usually the correct choice for the majority of notes in a piece.

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