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Robin Tims

Why Mainly An Anglo In C/g, Not G/d ?

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Yesterday I posted something about this in the 'Learning Across the Rows' topic in 'Teaching and Learning' but maybe I failed to make my point properly which is:

 

Why are so many of us, including me, playing, reading and watching tutors, and attending workshops for, Anglos in C/G when so much of the most popular music, including Irish, is in G/D and associated minors ?

 

For English Folk, Olde English etc should I have had, even as a novice Anglo player, (but with years of experience on English system Concertina and D/G melodeon), a G/D ?

 

I kind of followed the C/G crowd, and it's going not too badly really, but to struggle with a C/G still makes no sense to me when a G/D would seem to have been a lot more intuitive.

 

What is this C/G tradition all about please ? Why, why, why ?

 

Rob

 

 

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Rob, here are several factors each of which may contribute in some way to the prevalence of C/G over G/D anglos... many will surely find quibbles with one or more of these, as many of these are somewhat subjective rather than objective criteria, but this is roughly how I see it.

 

The C/G often has a more balanced sound -- the lowest half-octave on a G/D is just low enough that it often isn't quite as responsive as the rest of the instrument. This varies by maker and by concertina, but it's a tendency. Those low notes just tend to be slower to respond and have less dynamic punch.

 

The C/G overall, being half an octave higher, projects more sound. Played outdoors (eg, for morris dancing), a C/G can generally be heard clearly much further away than could an equivalent G/D. Many morris concertina players play in C on a C/G when outdoors and solo. Only if you're 'stuck' playing together with a D/G melodeon player do you have to conform and play for a dance in G.

 

There were more C/G instruments made, historically, and thus more of them available when the folk revival hit and concertinas transitioned from being £5 charity shop items to valued instruments. Maybe that was because they could project more in pre-amplification days; maybe it was because they were a little easier to make well; maybe it was because people thought an instrument really ought to be based in the key with no sharps or flats; maybe Other Things.

 

Irish traditional musicians picked up the prevalent C/G anglos in days of yore because they were, well, prevalent; but they realized that D was actually a great key on them because for playing fast melodies, D uses the most dextrous fingers on both hands rather than having the right hand do most or all of the melody playing. While it's certainly possible to play Irish music well on other anglos like a G/D or D/A, if you want to play in the style that's been developed, and predominated, over the past century, you want a C/G. Irish music isn't (broadly speaking) about playing in the 'rich harmonic style' but in the 'fast melodic style', so a C/G turns out to actually be better for D tunes than a G/D would be, in this context.

 

So a G/D anglo is great in some circumstances, but those are primarily (in my experience): playing in English pub sessions or other predominantly G-and-D sessions where you want to be able to play lots of chords instinctively and sink into that slower richness; playing for morris alongside other musicians who want to, or have to, play in G or D, and you want to be able to really punch out tunes with chords; accompanying singing using a lower-register instrument because it suits your voice well; or because you just prefer the sound of it.

 

If you know that's what you want, perhaps a G/D is the best place to start, but unfortunately that requires a larger monetary outlay because the best-value new starter instrument (the Rochelle) is only available in C/G and, to some extent, a larger degree of motivation and ability to self-teach is needed because there are relatively fewer resources on the market at the 'I'm completely new to music and am not really the self-teaching through trial-and-error and musical intuition sort' level; and thus it's a less-commonly taken path by new players. It would be great if there were an equivalent-quality readily-available ~$500 G/D anglo ... but there isn't.

 

(Yes, you may read between the lines my personal view, that I think Stagis are far worse on a value-for-money level than Rochelles. But also, I think it's worth getting to know how to play along *and* across the rows early on, whatever your anglo is, because it opens the instrument up right at the beginning and doesn't let you get mentally locked into playing 'along the rows' such that you have to 'break away from your comfort zone' later on.)

Edited by wayman
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Why, why? My take on it is that it is a matter of historical accident/happenstance. Similar cases occur for other instruments.

 

Ken

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That is a really great reply 'wayman' and makes complete sense, very many thanks for taking the time to explain so fully. (I'm almost convinced !!!)

 

It looks like Ken Coles is of rather similar mind, thanks Ken.

 

At the moment I am using quite a nice Lachenal 32b C/G metal ender, restored by Andrew Norman, which apart from the odd squeaky bone button already mentioned elsewhere on here, sounds good, it's me that's the problem. Never mind, some progress is beginning to show, press on.

 

Rob

Edited by Robin Tims

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I started in G/D almost immediately. My tutor recommended it based on the style of music I had expressed interest in. I love the sound and richness of tone, It suits my interests of English and Scandinavian folk perfectly.

 

Not an answer, but an observation nonetheless!

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I started with a G/D (and a repertoire of primarily morris and Manx trad tunes), and self-taught. I attended a few workshops for which a C/G was handy and borrowed my friend Roger's.

 

After I'd been playing for about a year and a half, Roger passed away and passed his C/G on to me, and I switched almost entirely to playing his C/G ... both playing tunes at correct pitch (and thus with new different fingerings) and playing tunes with the same old fingerings (and thus a fourth higher), and generally messing around a lot more with cross-row stuff and improvisation. Here in America, musicians like John Dexter and Peter Klosky and our own Jim Besser play for morris in C on C/Gs (as of course did Kimber and other ancients; and of course Roger Cartwright on the very instrument I now had), so the idea wasn't as strange as it might be in England.

 

A few years after that Robin H sold me a G/D Jeffries, and I switched to playing that almost entirely ... but now I play almost everything in various ways that don't follow the rows, even in G major on the G/D. A week of workshops with Andy Turner really changed my playing in that respect, though I think that was something I learned more from watching him than from his actual workshop teaching. And now, my favorite key to play on the G/D is ... Bb or Gm. Go figure!

But just as Will Moore notes, the G/D is particularly well-suited to English and Scandi repertoire. If this is your goal, and you can afford to start there, by all means start there! (Though I will note that my absolute favourite instrument for duets with nyckelharpa is my C/G baritone anglo.)

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Concertinas are a lot like other instruments that come in different ranges. They are not intended to be limited to the key names if the rows any more than a BC accordion is intended to be played in B and C. Violins are used not because they are intended to be played in G, D or A and E, but because their compass is well placed for melody, being well aligned with our best hearing range. Other instruments used primarily for melody are in a similar pitch range. The 30 button C/G concertina has essentially the same range as the violin, so is also well placed for melodic use as was mentioned earlier. It is also easy to play in all the common Irish Traditional keys, which use nearly the full range of the instrument.

With a G/D, the melodic side of the instrument is usually shifted to the right hand, with the left providing accompaniment. This works well with a lot of other musical styles, and the lower compass leaves room for the voice to take front and center.

I have been surprised at the possibilities that open up for chord accompaniment when you get away from the home keys which lend themselves too easily to the ordinary most basic stuff. Some chords are difficult or impossible to manage in the home keys because the required notes don't exist in the same direction. Some other keys don't have the same limitations even though they may not fall so obviously under your fingers.

Concertinas have always been relatively expensive relative to average wages. They were always made in the keys that there was a market for. Over the years they have been used for a wide variety of music. Sometimes the mix of keys available may have more to do with where you are or where hour supplier is. The first Anglos I saw were all G/Ds. I just happened to know a bunch of Morris people. Then I went to England and again ran into G\Ds. I didn't even know. C/G's existed until I switched from playing Irish music on my fiddle to concertina. With the resurgence of Irish music, there has also been a resurgence of C/G production and old ones have mostly all come out of the woodwork. Perhaps if there were an equal resurgence of Morris and English folk music over the world, more G/Ds would find their way out from under the old shoe boxes and into the market. Mind you there are other keys. I finally got the chance to make myself an A/E which is just glorious. It is fast enough for any ITM but Airs are unbeatable in it's range.

Dana

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Like a lot of people I took up the Anglo to play Irish music. I knew practically nothing about the instrument, and a glib salesman talked me into a G/D Stagi (coincidentally, all he had in stock) using the Argument from Intuition ("Think about it: aren't most of the tunes in G or D?"). I tried; really I did. But very soon I was playing (solo, obviously) my D tunes in A and my G tunes in D, just to try and wrap my head around the cross-row style. After six months I made the switch to C/G and never looked back.

 

You can play that repertoire on a G/D instrument, and I've heard that there are people who do it to a very high standard--just as there are people who manage Irish tunes beautifully on a D/G melodeon (as we don't call it on this side of the pond). Had the instrument been designed from scratch for Irish tunes--in the keys, and the multi-instrumental social settings, that have prevailed in recent decades--its inventor (using the Argument from Intuition) might well have set it up in G and D.

 

On the other hand, had we all approached the business of language in that same rational and prescient way, I might be writing this in something like Esperanto. It's a matter, first, of availability--you use the tool you can get your hands on--and, later, of idiom--over time, the tool's limitations and possibilities come to shape the craft it's used for. Irish music (at any rate) has been played overwhelmingly with the fingerings and phrasings possible and/or necessary on a C/G instrument, and if you want to be part of that ongoing conversation, C/G is the obvious choice.

 

It's worth pointing out, though, that the conventions of cross-row Irish playing on the C/G Anglo are a comparatively recent development (within my lifetime, say). Earlier players played more intuitively, up and down the C and G rows, and let the keys fall where they may. Lots of contemporary players honor that older approach as well, at least some of the time. Traditions are rarely as old as they seem.

 

Bob Michel

Near Philly

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I favor the G/D. The G/D range goes up as high as most any tune requires of a fiddle. All the way to a high D. This leaves the lower notes to fill in their parts for accompaniment in a much fuller way than the C/G is capable of. The C/G goes a fourth higher than the fiddle plays and so those high notes are mostly wasted and never played by most musicians. There is such limited real estate on the Anglo, why play an instrument where 20% of the buttons are not played because they are too high and shrill to be useful?

 

As I have often stated, for tunes and songs (but not Irish pure drop Anglo style, which I don't play) I find the G/D superior for 95% of what I do play... contra dances, sessions, most fiddle based music, dance tunes, and songs. At sessions and gigs I often bring my C/G too, but rarely play it. The G/D is my instrument of choice most of the time. Still, I do find the C/G useful for C tunes, Dm and G modal tunes and some songs where it fits my voice better than the G/D, but these are the exceptions in my circles and rep.

 

Yes, for solo morris gigs the C/G would certainly cut better al fresco. I exclusively played a C/G for the outdoor rapper sword dancing performances I played solo with Rust Belt Sword at the Marlboro Morris Ale festival this spring and was glad to have that power at my disposal. Yet later, at the week-long Clifftop festival in West Virginia where it was all ensemble playing, I carried that C/G around with me but only played it twice the whole week. When I did, it was mostly too loud to blend easily with the string players I was trying to join.

 

Long ago, when I first started learning the anglo, I had a C/G Bastari and didn't even know that I could find Anglos in a variety of keys. I learned to play the tunes I knew by ear with complete ignorance about what keys everyone else played those tunes in. A few years later, I started to play with other musicians and realized that I had learned to play all those tunes that I knew in the the wrong keys. I had learned the tunes in the keys that worked the best for me on my C/G in a harmonic style. Those keys were all off by a fourth... and thankfully, when I got a G/D everything fell into place.

 

As for Irish, sure, I play lots of Irish tunes, but not like those amazing modern Clare players. My style is relatively unadorned in the melody... played mostly on the right hand. This saves brain power for the fancy bits of rhythmic self accompaniment and harmony that I love.

Edited by Jody Kruskal
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My surmise has always been that the anglo was originally produced in C as that was the 'people's key' The majority of single row melodeons given to farmers (and thence to farmworkers) in East Anglia by the Maltsters were in C and C is still the favoured key for tune sessions in suffolk.

When the Salvation Army took up the anglo concertina then of course they needed instruments in Bb to go along with the brass band and that is a simple move from C with no additional engineering. I'm sure that Dan Worral will know the answer!

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Veering off-topic on a brief tangent...

 

Bob wrote "... a D/G melodeon (as we don't call it on this side of the pond)" and I thought ... really? That's the most common thing I've heard it called on both sides of the pond! The only alternatives I'm aware of are saying "G/D" instead of "D/G" (but in my experience most people do say "D/G" and only a very few say "G/D") and saying "button accordion" interchangably with "melodeon", but it's generally not for anyone's lack of knowing or liking the term "melodeon", just for variety.

 

So I'm curious -- are there pockets of the USA where "D/G melodeon" really isn't used at all, and if so, what is used there?

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My repertoire to a large extent coincides with Jody's, so I agree (from a personal standpoint) wholeheartedly with what he wrote, especially "As I have often stated, for tunes and songs (but not Irish pure drop Anglo style, which I don't play) I find the G/D superior for 95% of what I do play... contra dances, sessions, most fiddle based music, dance tunes, and songs. At sessions and gigs I often bring my C/G too, but rarely play it. The G/D is my instrument of choice most of the time. Still, I do find the C/G useful for C tunes, Dm and G modal tunes and some songs where it fits my voice better than the G/D, but these are the exceptions in my circles and rep."

 

Most of what I play is English pub session tunes, (English) ceili dance tunes, bal folk and scandi dance tunes, morris tunes, and trad Manx tunes, with a handful of contra dance tunes from other traditions, and the G/D suits the bill perfectly for me as I'm largely playing in the harmonic style. But I'm playing in G, D, A, E, C, F, and Bb, and various minors, quite happily on the (38-button, I should add) G/D. (So far, just Calliope House in E, but wow is that a sweet tune on the G/D!) I'm getting a 38-button C/G shortly, but the main thing I'm looking forward to is playing tunes in three flats, which has got to be among about the weirdest reasons I suspect anyone has sought out a 38-key C/G.

 

But I suspect I'll also use the C/G in time for the trad Manx stuff. There aren't a lot of Manx anglo players -- fewer than a dozen, perhaps -- and only one to my knowledge (besides me) plays G/D, the rest play C/G and play a much more Irish-influenced style. I fear I might sound 'too English' in some way when I play these tunes. (Curious about this very question, I decided to do an MA in Ethnomusicology to study it over the next year....) I might start dabbling in Irish traditional music. And I might do some teaching, in which case having an ace C/G becomes a very useful tool. For outdoor morris or sword playing solo, I might well go with the C/G too, but that's not a situation I'm often in.

 

Of available resources (teachers, books, and recordings), availability of a suitable and affordable instrument, desired repertoire, and personal factors (your vocal range and singing keys, what sounds best to your ear), the first two often favor heavily the C/G, the third favors the C/G if you want to play Irish music in the same way as most Irish players traditionally do but favors the G/D in cases like Jody's and mine and anglophiles in general perhaps, and the fourth being personal doesn't necessarily favor anything. There's no one answer that's right for everyone :-)

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It could be said that C is the "home key" for western music, in the sense that it is the only scale without any sharps and flats. A piano keyboard is based on C, and although it is fully chromatic the other notes are found by deviating to the black keys.

 

The anglo wasn't invented to play Irish music, and as Bob points out at one time most players played up and down the rows. It wasn't even invented to play other British folk music - it's origins lie in Germany with Uhlig's system, and in different countries at different times it has been used to play many different things.

 

It wasn't always the case in the British Isles that folk music was mainly in G and D (although this may be truer of Ireland where the fiddle was so dominant). Old country musicians' tunebooks contain tunes in a wide range of keys. It was probably the growing dominance of diatonic instruments like the concertina and melodeon in the 19th and 20th centuries which forced the tunes into a narrower range of keys. Was C the main key in East Anglia before 1-row melodeons became so popular there? However now G and D are the dominant keys, and for English music played in the harmonic style many players now choose G/D instruments which make chording and bass runs easier.

 

The modern Irish style has evolved to adapt the instrument to a form of music to which it isn't naturally suited for. This has become the accepted Irish concertina style, and manages to exploit the limitations of the instrument to good effect to suit the music. There is nothing to stop you playing Irish on a G/D instrument and there are obvious reasons why it makes a degree of sense, but it will sound different and some purists might object, just as they do to it being played on an English system. If you want to play like the modern stars of Irish concertina music then you need to persevere with C/G and learn the necessary technique.

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So I'm curious -- are there pockets of the USA where "D/G melodeon" really isn't used at all, and if so, what is used there?

I think most Americans who use the term "melodeon" at all, and who aren't directly involved in Morris or other traditional English music, tend to restrict its application to the single-row instrument, as the Irish do (though we often call even that a "Cajun accordion"). "Button accordion," in my experience, is the preferred Yank term for a box with two (or more) rows. For example, have a look at the inventory lists at The Button Box or Liberty Bellows. They'll occasionally call a one-row instrument a melodeon, depending on its provenance--but never a two-row.

 

Of course, I may just be reflecting the bias of the Irish music subculture! I'd be interested to learn of any regional (say) difference in usage.

 

Bob Michel

Near Philly

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So I'm curious -- are there pockets of the USA where "D/G melodeon" really isn't used at all, and if so, what is used there?

I think most Americans who use the term "melodeon" at all, and who aren't directly involved in Morris or other traditional English music, tend to restrict its application to the single-row instrument, as the Irish do (though we often call even that a "Cajun accordion").

My experience with the term "melodeon" in the US is strictly from the British-derived traditions -- various song and dance traditions, including Morris -- and the American contra dance traditions. It usually referred to a 2-row box tuned in fifths, though occasionally might be applied to the much less common 1-row or 3-row.

 

I have learned from posts here that apparently some Irish use the term "melodeon" to refer specifically to a 1-row box, though I never heard that term from the Irish players and sessions I knew in and around New York City. The instruments were known as "button accordions" or "button boxes", even if not tuned in fifths. If more specificity was desired, simply "1-row" (quite rare) or "2-row" (if tuned in fifths; almost exclusively D/G). Half-step tuned boxes were known by their respective keys... "B/C", "D/C#", etc.

 

Meanwhile, the "Cajun accordion" was generally known to be a very different instrument even from the "1-row", by virtue of its version of "wet" tuning and its limited left hand options.

 

In another context, reed organs that work on suction from the bellows are sometimes referred to as "melodeons", as distinct from "harmoniums", in which the bellows provides positive pressure.

 

As for other ethnic musical cultures -- e.g., Tex-Mex, Italian, etc., -- I don't now enough about them to know whether the word "melodeon" even means anything to them.

 

Of course, I may just be reflecting the bias of the Irish music subculture! I'd be interested to learn of any regional (say) difference in usage.

My experience suggests that the use of the term "melodeon" even in "the Irish music subculture" was (is?) more local than universal.

 

For what it's worth, some Swedes also use the term "melodeon" to refer strictly to1-row instruments, though I don't know how widespread that usage is. The standard "durspel" is a 2-row.

 

"Button accordion," in my experience, is the preferred Yank term for a box with two (or more) rows. For example, have a look at the inventory lists at The Button Box or Liberty Bellows. They'll occasionally call a one-row instrument a melodeon, depending on its provenance--but never a two-row..

Interesting. I've never gone looking for button accordions on the BB web site. However, in personal conversation with Rich Morse and others there -- who both sold and played them, -- the 2-row, 5th-tuned boxes were regularly referred to as "melodeons". But those folks were also personally involved in both the Morris and contra dance scenes. "Button accordion" was a broader and more formal term, but also one that could be expected to be understood by someone not already familiar with the instrument.

Edited by JimLucas

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Meanwhile, the "Cajun accordion" was generally known to be a very different instrument even from the "1-row", by virtue of its version of "wet" tuning and its limited left hand options.

 

At the risk of being party to a blatant thread hijack, I'll risk just one more comment on this tangential topic. The whole business of names has been discussed repeatedly and exhaustively at melodeon.net (e.g., at http://forum.melodeon.net/index.php/topic,1959.msg19508.html#msg19508).

 

In Britain I believe that "melodeon" vs. "accordion" is, among musicians at any rate, a useful way of distinguishing between diatonic instruments with buttons and chromatic ones with (usually) piano-style keys. Not so in the U.S.A., where we tend to default to "accordion" for practically any free-reed instrument (at the airport I even call my concertina that). As for "melodeon," in my own experience (for what it's worth) people who play Irish music very rarely refer to the one-row instrument as anything else--but that usage, however local or widespread, clearly reflects Irish influence.

 

Interestingly, my own melodeon (as we all blithely call it) was sold to me explicitly as a "Cajun accordion," despite its equal temperament and relatively dry tuning (the basses are equally limited, whether the box is tuned Cajun or Irish/québecois). I think that's just a matter of finding some kind of cultural reference point in a country where button boxes of any kind are fairly exotic. As a player I know the difference, and no doubt the folks at Weltmeister do as well, but they're content to employ a term that will suggest a mental image to at least some Americans, even if it means fudging a few cents of tuning here and there.

 

Okay; enough pedantry from me. I'm off to play across-the-rows.

 

Bob Michel

Near Philly

Edited by Bob Michel

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Ok guys that has been a fantastic response to my question and I now have a good picture of how it is, or was. More is still welcome of course.

 

I will persevere with my nice Lachenal 32b C/G but I suspect it might get changed, or become a companion to, a G/D of some sort (not Stagi or Bastari etc) eventually. Apart from occasional Irish tunes I am really more into English Folk / Celidh / Playford / Morris / Old English / French dance. (but we have too many instruments of various sorts already !)

 

My thanks to everyone, and in particular to Wayman, Jody Kruskal, Will More, hjcjones and Bob Michel.

 

Was good to hear from you too Dana Johnson as I really love your interesting website and covet your Kensington Concertinas, wish we were not situated in different countries.

 

I was amused by the thread mini-hijack re 'Melodeons', and Jim Lucas I remember you happily from long ago in April 2004 when you very kindly composed for me a little tune to play on the Morse English Albion baritone I had then, "Deep Albion".

 

'best to all

 

Rob

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Late to the party but here is my (two) pennyworth.

 

The range of the C/G places most folk music neatly in the middle of the instrument, avoiding the "rule changes" at the bottom and top of the rows.

 

When played in simple mode (along the rows) for singing accompaniment the key of C is closer to a useful key than G or D as on a G/D. This may be the reason for the Bf/Fs, as Bf is also a good singing key. I have always imagined this is the reason the Sallies used Bf instruments, starting with concertinas and then moving to brass.

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