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Tips To Go From Sluggish To Bouncing?


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Hello everyone,


this time I simply don't know where to start my research on this forum....


Long story short: I simply can't get my head around the Butler tutor and things like that so I've been practising/learning/deciphering music sheets for violin (easy ones!).


I love it as the melodies are beautiful (celtic and gypsies) and I have a CD so I can actually try to get the rhythm (not good enough at reading it..).


My question: are there any exercises or tips to help me understand or pick up the way notes seem to bounce ? You know, everything I do sounds sluggish as hell, I can play faster but it's just fast slug.


Can someone point me in the right direction?


I don't expect any magic trick at all but I'm just lost...there might be a technical term for that and that would already help me in my research!


Thanks a lot for any answer you may have :)

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My guess that you might be missing phrasing and articulation:


- legato vs. detached vs. staccato notes, which in turn becomes (an aspect) of phrasing across multiple notes.

- controlling the volume of the instrument, both between different notes, and as a note sustains, so that you can put accents on different beats or provide articulation on the notes.

- the slight variations in rhythms (e.g. long-short-short for a waltz) for different types of tunes


Peter Laban posted a link to this article on playing the pipes in another thread years ago, some of which applies

directly to concertina, some of which only partly so, but I found it to be a good discussion that got me thinking about these aspects



I usually consider it good practice to initially work on this while playing scales: play a scale fully legato,

play a scale in legato pairs c-d e-f g-a ...etc. Play soft, play loud, play alternating nodes loud-soft etc.

You can do the same kind of treatment to tune snippets, but then you have to think about two things at once.

Edited by DaveM
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You could try Rob Harbron's technique of having the middle of the bellows on one knee, with ends on either side, and bouncing that knee in time to the music.


Butler would definitely not approve - but he is not around to criticize. If you are worried about wearing out your bellows than perhaps a soft hand towel between the bellows and the knee might help.


See: http://www.concertina.net/forums/index.php?showtopic=19710&p=184513


The other thing that I try to do is think of the bellows as a fiddler thinks of his bow, use it to change the dynamics of the sound. A little, sharp extra push or pull on the downbeat will emphasize that note and give you some bounce. If you vary the pressure then you can make the volume swell or fall just like when a fiddler speeds up or slows down on his bowing.


There is a really good series of Youtube videos about learning to play fiddle by a guy called fiddlehed:



Edited by Don Taylor
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Dear DaveM and Don Taylor,


Thank you very much for your posts !


It's honestly all I needed, being able to put some words on my problem, good indications of where to look... Thanks a lot!!


Don Taylor, indeed I'm surprised that having the bellows rest on the knee is even considered but I'll look into it.


The link to the Fiddlehed is great !!


DaveM, thanks for reminding me about playing scales in different ways...


Good night everyone !




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Take your finger off the button and put it back on if you need to make two consecutive notes with the same button. Don't simply rely on the movement of the bellows.


Know the tune well. Be able to play it confidently from memory: practise.


Remember that most tunes are related in some way to song or dance. They typically break down into phrases of 4 bars.


Within each phrase, there is often an "out" and a "back". That is that the first 2 bars (approx) develop tension, and the other 2 bars tend to resolve it. Flow and ebb, surge and retreat.


For part of your practice, be silly. Exaggerate one aspect of the music. Play it as loud as possible, as quietly as possible, as fast as possible, as staccato as possible, or wth a reggae rhythm - not all at once, of course.


When you are performing, what you may think of as a little bit of exaggeration ("am I doing too much?") will be what gives life to the performance. Music lacks bounce and pizzaz when you play it apologetically, nervously, or woodenly.


Most of all, practise. The amateur practises until he can get it right. The professional practises until he can't get it wrong.

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Thanks Mikefule,


I'm trying to get more "expression" or whatever and variation in what I do but I have to say it doesn't show at all! I need to set up some exercises to understand what's going on I suppose.


I need to get this staccato thing also.


It's funny, I find concertina easy to "start" - in the sense that I was pretty happy being able to play all the notes and all but after that... !!

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The way one's finger comes off a button is as important as how it goes on. Keeping your fingers supple and spring-like can add zest to your playing... hitting a button as if you were playing a zylophone or tapping a Bell.. not so much 'pressing ' a button as 'hitting' it with a fast downward Tap and bouncing back off it.


Practice playing tunes 'Détaché , separating the notes with a little gap between each and work on the long and short notes that give the Internal Rhythm. I find it easier to add Legato to my keyboard playing after I have sufficient clear separation of notes...


Some of the ability to do 'stuff' can depend on how amenable your instrument is. Perhaps you'd tell us about your instrument, which keyboard, what model ?


Good luck. :)

Edited by Geoff Wooff
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Hi Geoff Wooff,


I have a Jackie but I am certain I haven't exhausted its capabilities as I am really a beginner. Unless I am totally deaf I find legatos pretty easy (I'm not saying I do it well or beautifully but lets say that everything I play becomes legato...)


I suppose that it doesn't help that I learn with music sheets for the violin (Celtic Music for Violin by Jessica Walsh) and when I listen to the CD it's full of those gorgeous variations and ornaments totally out of my reach for now (and maybe for ever).


I find that "Drunken Sailor" actually helps me practicing the "staccato" (I think?)

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One lady in my area is learning on a Jackie and I will ask for a try of it the next time she comes for a 'lesson', but as far as I recall it will take a little more effort to produce a good stacato... but that just might be me coming from a super responsive old Wheatstone. No harm to over emphasize things as Mikefule says.


One thing I have noticed in many beginners on the EC is a tendancy to Elephant Walking on the keyboard.. by which I mean an elephant only lifts one foot at a time... an exagerated way of saying some people try to anchor their position on the keyboard by keeping their finger on a button until the next one is being played... the resultant over Legato effect can become a habit if it is allowed to continue past the baby stage :unsure: .


Have you found any learning material or recordings From Alistair Anderson ? He has a style that leans towards Staccato, although Détaché does better describe it. The influence of note separation that is a feature of the Northumbrian Small Pipes players.


From my early years of trying to play like Mr.Anderson I now find that I have to concentrate to produce a good Legato, sort of Do It On Purpose when needed.



PS: One Vital Point: the EC is one of those rare keyboard instruments which does not have a hand that can be dedicated to rhythm making, or chord making... so TIME keeping HAS to be done in the player's head or foot... So an understanding of the phrasing and internal rhythm of a tune is vital.. Singing a melody ( even dancing to it whilst you sing) before attempting to play it , tap your foot or wiggle your ears in time... all can be helpful. :)

Edited by Geoff Wooff
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Hi Geoff,


Elephant Walking, that's it, absolutely!


Looking into Alistair Anderson right now - and really have to work at it, I suppose it's not secret.


I think I'll try not to do any elephantine thing, that would already be progress.


Before this thread I was wondering what was wrong - the touch, the rhythm, the way I move the bellows (actually I don't do anything, I am aware of that, I don't use the bellows at all but for the "natural" movement from pushing and pulling...)? Now I realize it's everything :)



[EDIT] I was thinking of recording something so at least people here would have an idea of my problem - and oh my... I was under no illusion about my skills but it turns out it is even more sluggish than I thought. So I MUST EXAGGERATE and try to get out of there !!

Edited by TimTim
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Alistair Anderson used the analogy of hot rivets. Imagine your finger is landing on something red hot so that it immediately jumps off again.

Edited to correct typing errors.

Edited by John Wild
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[EDIT] I was thinking of recording something so at least people here would have an idea of my problem - and oh my... I was under no illusion about my skills but it turns out it is even more sluggish than I thought. So I MUST EXAGGERATE and try to get out of there !!


Do record yourself, it's a very helpful technique to listen to yourself "from the outside." Do it frequently so you can monitor your progress and identify recurring weaknesses to focus working on.


Do post the recordings. That'll give the community a chance to provide more on-the-spot input. No reason to be embarassed. Noone will laugh at you, everybody's been at that point.


About sluggishness: Don't fool yourself into thinking that your aim is to play fast. A good player will make any tune sound good at any speed. Articulation, tone and a steady and firm rhythm is what you are after. Thus, when you practice, play along to a metronome which is always set to a wee little bit below the speed you could play the tune at comfortably. That'll give you a chance to really focus on the articulation.

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A further thought, of a more philosophical nature: if you are trying to be expressive, it won't be expressive - it will be an imitation of expressive. You could end up playing like a bad actor over acting.


The single most important thing about being expressive is knowing the tune intimately, and loving it. That means playing it a lot for the sheer joy of playing it. If you were humming or "pom pom pomming" the tune to yourself in the shower, the expression would come naturally.

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This thread shows that most of us consider "expressiveness" (not speed!) to be the opposite of "sluggishness."

The elements used in expression have been mentioned: legato/staccato/détaché, crescendo or diminuendo on one note, breaking the tune into phrases, with each phrase having a rise and fall within it, etc.


What stands in the way of doing this?

There's an old English adage that says, "A little learning is a dangerous thing."

Applied to music, this means that a learned, experienced conductor can look at a score, and say, "We need a crescendo here, and a rallentando there; this phrase is a transposition of the phrase before, so we should play it softer; and this last chord should just die away to nothing."

On the other hand, the musician whose learning is limited to knowing what the notes on the stave are called, and where to find them on his instrument, can't see what a conductor sees, and tends to just play one note after the other. That is what you describe as "sluggish."


There are two ways out of this trap: either you study music theory and practice at a high level until you can read a score in your head - or you treat the reading of the sheet music onto your instrument merely as a way of getting a tune into your head, and then play it out of your head.


As MileFule wrote, " If you were humming or "pom pom pomming" the tune to yourself in the shower, the expression would come naturally." When you've reached this point with a tune, you can start playing it on your concertina.


Another impediment to expression is a stiff posture. The beginner can be so taken up with pressing the right buttons and moving the bellows in and out, that he thinks that the fingers and arms are all that is involved. But watch any professional instrumentalist - any instrument, any genre - and you'll see that the expression he or she is putting into the playing is mirrored in their body language. Or rather, their playing mirrors the body language that expresses their intentions. Simple example: most musicians lean forward to build up tension, and lean back to ease tension - and this automatically results in playing louder and softer.

So sit on the edge of your seat with both feet firmly on the floor. It really does help!




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Excellent points all 'round.


I've often seen a certain amount of sluggishness come from beginners trying to force the tune out of the instrument and thinking that pushing or pulling ever harder somehow will make it work better through brute force. That might work if you're a blacksmith, but not so much for enjoyable or danceable tunes!


Muscle memory and dexterity can take weeks to develop, so there's a long learning phase you have to pass through to get to the point of being able to play musically once you've got the mechanics reasonably mastered.


Another suggestion would be to let boredom work in your favor. Play the tune over and over and over until you're completely and utterly bored with it. And then keep going. It always surprises me what usually comes next - all sorts of experimental bits here and there in a desperate attempt to relieve the boredom that usually ends up making the tune into something that you (and others) might actually enjoy listening too.


Soldier on, you'll get there eventually!



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Have you found any learning material or recordings From Alistair Anderson ? He has a style that leans towards Staccato, although Détaché does better describe it. The influence of note separation that is a feature of the Northumbrian Small Pipes players.


See: http://www.free-reed.co.uk/frrr15


You can download a pdf of the book for free and the accompanying CD is only 6UK pounds.

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