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Concertina Recommendations For Beginners


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Hmm i guess the usual advice would be what kind of music do you want to play, any teachers local to you may influence your choice of system. How much money you have available for an instrument and probably lots more questions ;-)

 

for example, I've always played Irish/English traditional type music. So when i decided I'd like to play concertina I pretty much knew what kind of music I wanted to play and what system (anglo) I would use to do it. I bought a cheapish chinese made concertina that served me well during my first year but you soon want to upgrade ;-)

 

I have tried the English system too. Tbh, i think if id started with that i may have stuck with it. Theres a certain logic to it. However I didnt, I started with a 30 button anglo and several years later i play every day and love it ;-)

 

Good luck on your journey

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To extend JimmyM's comment to consider what music you want to play, for me it is American folk music and some pop. I liked the idea of physically separating melody notes from bass accompaniment, so a duet is what i chose. With that choice, a Hayden duet was the obvious way to go because i didn't want to strain my 66+ year old brain trying to make sense of the older duet systems.

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There is no concertina system that is inappropriate for beginners. We all started as beginners once and many (if not most) of us only play one system.

 

My usual advice is to find out what kind of concertina was being played when you were first inspired to play one, and get one of those. Otherwise you may always feel that you can't quite make it do what you had in mind.

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I'm pretty much a beginner too because I gave up after buying my instrument and then waited a few years before giving it another bash. This time I'm sticking with it.

 

Another idea might be to go to a music shop which has different instruments or, if you're lucky enough to know people with concertinas, to visit them, and then try them out and see what you make of them. Not easy I guess but worth venturing.

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Another idea might be to go to a music shop which has different instruments or, if you're lucky enough to know people with concertinas, to visit them, and then try them out and see what you make of them. Not easy I guess but worth venturing.

 

And so, if we would want to suggest individuals or dealers that you might contact, we should know where in Canada you live.

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Here's what I wrote in the Concertina FAQ a good few years ago and it's still right, I think.

 

In theory, before buying a concertina you would consider what you want it for and decide which type you need. For instance here are a few guidelines you may hear on the uses to which you might put the various types of concertina (as you will see, I take this with a pinch of salt myself):

  • If you want to play in groups or ensembles of concertinas, go for an English concertina.
  • For English folk dance the push-pull pattern of the anglo scale gives a "lift" to the music.
  • For song accompaniment or for solo instrumentals duets are ideal.
  • For fast flowing melody lines the key layout of an English gives it an edge.
  • On the other hand if you play Irish music you shouldn't even think about buying anything other than a C/G anglo.
  • If you intend to play from music or to compose music for the instrument, choose an English or a duet.

Unfortunately life is never that simple. The English is widely used for song accompaniment. Alistair Anderson has shown how successful the English can be for dance music and band work. I, like quite a few other people use the anglo for song accompaniment. There are some superb players of Irish music on the English concertina (even occasionally in Ireland). A lot of people lay down the law about what sort of concertina you should play for what sort of music; I, however, believe that you should find the sort of concertina that you feel comfortable playing. You will work out how to play the music you want on it. Conversely if you don't feel happy with the instrument you will never put the time into learning it properly.

 

This all stems from the fact that the different systems of concertina are very different to play. I will make the following tentative observation: people who want to learn to play by ear often find the anglo easy to get started and very rewarding quite quickly (it still takes a lot of hard graft to get good! There's no royal road to that). Conversely people who read music and play instruments like the piano often find the anglo thoroughly irrational and are much happier with English or duet. At the end of the day all you can do is try the various systems as far as possible and see which suits you best. If you can, talk to other players about why they chose their instruments and listen to what they play.

 

Chris

 

 

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Chris - this is a textbook, precise summary of the different systems and their suitability.Well done. I have just done a talk/presentation at Orkney Folk Festival on playing by ear etc and the audience brought up all the points you have mentioned.I am, of course, an advocate of the duet, especially for accompanying song and playing different genres of music in multiple

keys.The one thing I emphasise, time and time again, is that the concertina is not a SIMPLE instrument.It is not just a matter of pressing the correct buttons.Like any other musical instrumemnt the dynamics and delivery of melody, rythmn, tempo,mood, volume ( soft or loud) takes dedicated, long and hard practice.There are no short cuts."Let the music keep your spirits high"

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The one thing I emphasise, time and time again, is that the concertina is not a SIMPLE instrument.It is not just a matter of pressing the correct buttons.Like any other musical instrumemnt the dynamics and delivery of melody, rythmn, tempo,mood, volume ( soft or loud) takes dedicated, long and hard practice."

This is all very true, and I am enjoying the (well, my) long learning curve. But I found there there is a reverse to this truth. I was pleased by how quickly (at least, in retrospect) I could play SOMETHING on my concertina.

 

It's way more than just button pushing for sure, but at some simple level, once one masters where the buttons are, there's a lot of enjoyment to be gained, simple tunes to be played. And then you keep on learning and playing, and becoming aware of how to manage your bellows better and to use alternate fingering, but, in my case at least, I didn't have to get far down the road to say "Wow! This is the instrument for me!"

Edited by Mike Franch
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I don't think that anyone has mentioned brands yet, regardless of the concertina type.

 

The lowest cost maker that you should consider is the Concertina Connection. No Chinese knock-offs on eBay, but maybe a used Stagi if the price is right. Hohner is basically a Chinese rebrand outfit these days, they used to rebrand Stagis.

 

If you can afford a vintage box then go for it. In North America, Greg Jowaisas is your man - you can trust him to sell you a good, playable box and to stand by it if you have problems.

 

Since you are in Canada: there is a Stagi 48b EC on Kijiji Canada right now for Cdn$1,000. IMHO this is way over priced, it might be worth 500 but even that is asking a lot for a box that might be wrecked and was not that great to start with.

 

Edited to add: the Kijiji concertina that I am referring to is in Nanaimo and is branded as a Hohner, but it is a Stagi. I notice that there is now a Wheatstone EC in Calgary on Kijiji for $1,000. This is a tutor model and looks to be unrestored - probably needs $500 of work to make it good again. You would do better with Greg.

Edited by Don Taylor
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I couldn't agree more with the sage comments your question elicited, and chime in with a query: Have you played the harmonica? If so, then the Anglo is virtually instant in the limitted way, playing along the rows in the keys "built in," usually C/G but for folks like me, also G/D. Most (all?) serious Anglo players extol the wisdom of playing across the rows for different keys, and the relative chromaticity that provides. I am unable (or perhaps just unwilling, but it feels like unable) to make the leap to cross-rows, since my brain is absolutely stuck with the in-out-in scales identical to the harmonica. In fact, the Anglo remains, to me, a double handful of harmonicas, and I get more and more out of it, despite my confessed limitations. Easy (and faster and faster) tunes, by ear, with simple chords on the left hand. A blast, and an everyday joy.

 

OTOH, the Hayden duet, mentioned in responses here, allows me a much more flexible set of keys, with the same fingering for each. I bought the $400 Concertina Connection Elise, and it is just as much fun as the Anglo, but completely different. If I hadn't started on the Anglo, I'd be more dedicated to the Hayden, but as a real beginner to it, it is just wonderfully different. Neither box has me at full Irish session speed, although I am close to the requisite "muscle memory" with a couple of tunes on the Elise, and can see the potential with the Anglo since I have rented (and will probably purchase) a fast and responsive Morse Ceili anglo in G and D.

 

So, give some a try, and have a wonderful time.

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  • 2 weeks later...

I picked up a cheap 20 button anglo a few years ago without knowing anything about concertinas. I have learned a great deal, the main thing was that I should have bought 30 keys. However, I play in a folk club where we just go round the room and most people perform solo.

I play whistle and play the melody then sing, sometimes playing the melody somewhere in the middle or at the end.

I tried to play concertina and sing at the same time but just gave up playing and went back to the whistle.

I would like to be ale to accompany myself. I am trying a simple slow one "She Moved Through The Fair", but it doesn't sound very inspiring.

Any suggestions?

 

Conrad

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I tried to play concertina and sing at the same time but just gave up playing and went back to the whistle.

 

Have you tried starting really, really basic on accompanying singing? For just starting out, I'd recommend literally just doing a drone, like if you're singing in D just finger the lowest D and A and just let those hum while you sing over it. Then once you feel comfortable there, try some simple three-chord songs, just two buttons per chord, and see if you can change chords at the right time. It takes a little knack, but Anglo concertina is an outstanding instrument for accompanying your singing.

 

So far as 20 vs 30, don't underestimate the 20b if you don't need to play in a huge variety of keys, especially if you're mostly accompanying folk singing. Also if you want to upgrade your 20b to a vintage box, a vintage 20b (or 22b, 24b, etc) is way, way, way less costly than a 30b since the Irish players snatch all those up. So consider when you upgrade getting a vintage box with 20-some notes if you're using it for relatively uncomplex folk requirements.

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  • 3 weeks later...

I looked at all the options before settling on a 48 key English. I aim to play different types of music and would find an Anglo too restrictive - even more than my chromatic harmonicas. Both the Anglo and chromatic harmonica are quite limited when it comes to Chords, but at least the harmonica is not limited to a couple of keys

Mike O'R

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I looked at all the options before settling on a 48 key English. I aim to play different types of music and would find an Anglo too restrictive - even more than my chromatic harmonicas. Both the Anglo and chromatic harmonica are quite limited when it comes to Chords, but at least the harmonica is not limited to a couple of keys

Mike O'R

Either English or Anglo is an excellent choice for song accompaniment, but it's worth pointing out that a 30-button Anglo is by no means limited to a couple of keys. This is particularly true if you follow Matthew's good advice of keeping the arrangements simple--but even more ambitious harmonies are quite possible outside the home keys of C and G, once you learn the fingerings. I routinely accompany myself on Anglo in at least half of the twelve keys, and can manage the others if necessary. (I play 40-button instruments, but most of what I play could be adapted to 30.) The more I learn about the Anglo, the less restrictive I find it.

 

Bob Michel

Near Philly

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It really does depend on what you want to play. ( or dream of being able to play ).

 

I would say, find out what concertina music you really like, see what those people are playing, and get something similar.

 

If it's Irish type jigs and reels etc, you don't need to think for long. It's an anglo every time.

It can be played on an English, but you can't really replicate that punchy style that the in/out movement of the bellows gives.

That's the impression that I get anyway.

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I want to be able to play Minor, Augmented, Diminished, in addition to Major Chords in all keys, which (I would guess) are not available on any Anglo instrument, so I chose English

All, or nearly all those chords are indeed available on Anglos with 30 or more buttons. I use them all the time.

 

Now for the qualifications. Your options for voicing a particular chord can indeed be limited--the more so as you move away from your instrument's home keys. The inversion you end up using might not be the first one you'd choose on a more fully chromatic instrument: voice leading is a challenge. And it is sometimes necessary to play a partial chord, for want of a particular note in the direction you're going. (All of these difficulties are less pronounced on a 38- or 40-button instrument, by the way. I'm a big fan of these for song accompaniment.)

 

To my way of thinking, these parameters are a big part of what make an Anglo sound like an Anglo. Working up an accompaniment can force the imagination to provide suggestions of, and substitutions for, those harmonies (fewer than you might think) that really aren't available. As you move beyond straightforward 1-4-5 songs in C and G, there are lots of problems to solve, and the solutions will be different in each key.

 

These are limitations, if you will, and I can understand that they might be off-putting. In many ways the English system is probably a better fit for the requirements you specify (though frankly trying to play chords on an English gives me a headache!). But limitations can also be opportunities. I get lots of enjoyment out of mapping songs onto the Anglo's quirky layout--and I draw inspiration from Count Basie's great guitarist Freddie Green, who's said to have pared down his spare vamping style until by the end of his career he was mostly playing two-note "chords." The Anglo is always teaching me what I really need and what I can dispense with; it encourages subtlety and resourcefulness. And when I do want simple harmonies and full-fisted chords, I have those too.

 

Anyway; sorry to go on about this, but I do think there are some misconceptions about that are worth correcting. If you want to hear examples of what I'm talking about, here's an anthology of 50 early Tin Pan Alley songs I completed not long ago. The keys range from D (or maybe A; I can't remember) to Eb. I make no great claims for the arrangements (or performances), but they might give you an idea of what you can do, especially in the more remote keys.

 

http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLGBWgBMt3xfeh1ox7Hp-3d32PGAeIPaxH

 

Bob Michel

Near Philly

Edited by Bob Michel
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