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Bad Habits

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There are two sorts of habits that you may develop if you teach yourself in isolation from other players:

 

 

1) Fundamental bad habits that may limit your playing.

 

2) Learning different variants of tunes, or tunes in different keys, which will make it difficult for you to join in with other local musicians. Folk music, in particular, is like a local dialect, where every group or session has its little ways of doing things.

 

 

In Ireland, there must be a wealth of teachers and of other players who are willing to share their knowledge with you.

 

There are three basic ways of playing the Anglo:

 

1) Just along the rows, treating the instrument as if it's two harmonicas strapped together. Sometimes this is done in parallel octaves for additional volume and punch. This is easy at first but will limit you, especially if you want to play Irish traditional music.

 

2) Across the rows in the main keys (C major, G major on a C/G box) and the closely related minors and modes, but with a chord/bass accompaniment. This is common in English folk music and some other styles.

 

3) Across the rows, using the accidentals so that you can play melody only (with occasional accompaniment) but further round the cycle of fifths: D or A on a C/G box, for example. This is a very different technique from (2) above, and is what tends to happen with Irish music.

 

It would be worth your while getting a few lessons (not necessarily formal lessons, but an hour or two with an experienced player) so they can show you the basics of the style you're likely to be playing in.

 

(2) and (3) above are so different that lots of us can do one well and can barely do the other. There is no reason you can't learn both styles, of course.

 

 

Some specific habits to develop:

 

1) Take your finger off the button and put it back on if you play two or more consecutive notes on the same button, regardless of whether they are in the same bellows direction or not. It gives a crisper sound with more attack.

 

2) Learn to use the air button in time with the music. It is a bad habit to cheat by adjusting the volume or holding down more buttons just to manage the bellows. Correct use of the air button is a vital skill, and one of the trickiest to learn.

 

3) Practise a lot. A few minutes at a time, every day.

 

4) Enjoy it. There will always be someone better than you and someone worse. It's not a competition or a difficult assignment, or a chore. Play because you love it

 

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Many thanks, Mikefule, you have mentioned some important issues that no one else had brought up so far.

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I've certainly developed and worked on various bad habits in playing over the years. Some I've improved on, others are still with me. It all comes down to practice time for me. When I am able to practice regularly (not necessarily for long periods of time) I find I can improve upon poor habits whereas practicing for a long period, but infrequently doesn't allow me to carry over newly learned good habits to the next practice.

 

BTW, just recently purchased a vintage Chemnitzer from a cousin. It's been fun to play (a little) and to me is even more challenging than the Anglo. I hope to be able to play Polish music with it ultimately, but the Anglo is still my main squeeze.

Edited by CaryK

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A good habit I've discovered is to schedule small house sessions with one or two other musicians---and not necessarily concertina players. Playing in small groups exposes the weak bits of tunes you thought you had a good grasp on; thus letting you know what you need to work on.

 

One of my bad habits is depending too much on the button accordion player in our larger Wednesday night session. When I play next to her, I can hide my mistakes and after a pint and a session, I can convince myself that I'm pretty good!

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Halifax said:

"One of my bad habits is depending too much on the button accordion player in our larger Wednesday night session. When I play next to her, I can hide my mistakes and after a pint and a session, I can convince myself that I'm pretty good!"

 

But wait....Isn't that what "pretty good" means? Sounds like collaborative ensemble work! But then, I am the poster child for "bad habits." I can't get off the rows, and I'll play for so long my arms hurt, and the list goes on. But at least none of it is "a chore." If I could just sing the next higher note without thinking I have to inhale like the harmonica requires........

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As Jody mentioned, proper relaxed ( not slouched or hunching over your concertina ) posture while playing is important for both you and the music. ( the music tends to sound like you look. Take a video of yourself playing on your phone and make changes from there.). But very important, especially if you have shoulder problems from fiddle playing ( try a higher shoulder rest that keeps your head more upright ) is building up your practice time slowly. The concertina emphasizes the use of muscles that don’t normally get that kind of use they do on the concertina. It is easy to get RSIs if you practice without giving your muscles a chance to grow into their new task. In a similar vein, try to relax your muscles at the finish of each note where the music allows. It is sort of a zen thing, but it makes it easier to play notes in opposite directions quickly, and reduces the fatigue factor tremendously. Even a small fraction of a second of relaxation when switching directions will make a big difference.

There are also more and more lessons on line with instructor feedback. Some are better than others, but check them out.

Dana

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Dana, I really like your idea of learning to relax the muscles, if only for an instant. So many players tense up and try to force the tune out of the box - as if playing harder somehow makes it better. Instead of huffing and puffing, the key is to use the bellows to breathe life into the tune instead of strangling it!

 

Once I've finally got a tune memorized and played through a million times, it's amazing how much better it sounds to simply relax and play with a much lighter touch. More expressive, more musical, and more fun.

 

Gary

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...learning to relax the muscles...

 

A thought/query from the lower end of the 'ability spectrum'.

 

Apart from the fact that it's clearly a bad habit to be too 'tense' when playing, I wonder if it might also have an

adverse effect on health as well as on playing skill/ability.

 

I say this because recently I have been suffering from a very painful right shoulder. This is a hangover from the

days when I spent 4-5 hours a day at a computer keyboard, and it's getting to the point where I may have to

consider cutting down on my playing time because while playing I feel that I am 'tense' - and it hurts! When I

consciously try to 'relax' while playing, the problem is less significant, but I'm finding difficult to do this. It requires

a conscious effort to relax, which takes my mind away from the music.

 

How do I train myself to automatically relax while playing? Yoga? Meditation? Tai-Chi? Large shot of single malt?

 

Is it reasonable to expect the ability to relax be beneficial in terms of improving the pain in the right shoulder?

 

Roger

 

PS: I missed DJ's post first time around, but let the question stand...

Edited by lachenal74693

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If anyone knows of other group or in-person opportunities for learning the anglo concertina in the Western New York and Southern Ontario region (we live 5 minutes from the Peace Bridge that crosses over to Fort Erie, Ontario, Canada, for those not familiar with our geography), I'd love to hear about it.

 

Hello Dee, I am also in Buffalo and I'm also interested in finding people to play traditional music with. I am currently learning the diatonic button accordion (aka melodeon), but it's quite similar to an anglo concertina (and I would love to learn the anglo someday as well). My focus is mostly on English folk music. I plan on attending the Nietzsche's session at some point but I'm not sure if it is more focused on Irish tunes and my melodeon wouldn't fit in there.

 

There is a "button box club" in the suburbs of Rochester that meets monthly to play button accordion and concertina. I've attended one session, but it was the day I acquired my melodeon so I didn't play.

 

If you find a local group to play with, let me know!

 

Jesse

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Two bad habits that I need to constantly avoid:

 

Practicing too fast.

 

If one practices a piece slowly and correctly, this saves

steps. Once mastered slowly the tempo can be increased.

 

Not using a metronome.

 

There is a tendency for me to go slowly during more difficult

sections and pick speed for the easier parts. I have found

if left unchecked the speed differences may become habits.

I think for the listener this can be unnerving.

 

I can think of others, but these are my big two.

 

A metronome is a good investment if you do not already have one.

 

Noel

Edited by Noel Ways

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A metronome is a good investment if you do not already have one.

 

Noel

 

Or an electronic drum machine - a lot more fun!

 

Gary

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If you already have a smartphone or tablet, there are lots of free/cheap metronome (and drum machine) apps out there.

 

Just remember to put it in airplane mode before you start practicing to avoid being disturbed! ;)

Edited by alex_holden

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There is a tendency for me to go slowly during more difficult

sections and pick speed for the easier parts. I have found

if left unchecked the speed differences may become habits.

I think for the listener this can be unnerving.

 

 

Some years ago a member posted a link from this site to a paper analysing how classical pianists learnt a new piece of music, and picking out the best strategies. (Someone cleverer than me might be able to track it down.) One strategy that I picked up on is exactly this one the Noel describes - slowing down for the passages you know you find difficult and speeding up again afterwards. I find this works well: rather than stumbling over a difficult phrase every time I play it, and in consequence getting no better, I find playing it slowly allows me to learn to play it properly. In time it seems to speed up naturally to match the rest of the tune. I'm not sure it needs a metronome - just a matter of being self-aware. (I think someone earlier in this thread said one bad habit was not listening to yourself.)

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Find a quiet room to practice in.

At a recent session a woman sang "Don't play to me your concertina !! The truth is I have never loved it.!!

Al :)

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...learning to relax the muscles...

 

A thought/query from the lower end of the 'ability spectrum'.

 

Apart from the fact that it's clearly a bad habit to be too 'tense' when playing, I wonder if it might also have an

adverse effect on health as well as on playing skill/ability.

 

I say this because recently I have been suffering from a very painful right shoulder. This is a hangover from the

days when I spent 4-5 hours a day at a computer keyboard, and it's getting to the point where I may have to

consider cutting down on my playing time because while playing I feel that I am 'tense' - and it hurts! When I

consciously try to 'relax' while playing, the problem is less significant, but I'm finding difficult to do this. It requires

a conscious effort to relax, which takes my mind away from the music.

 

How do I train myself to automatically relax while playing? Yoga? Meditation? Tai-Chi? Large shot of single malt?

 

Is it reasonable to expect the ability to relax be beneficial in terms of improving the pain in the right shoulder?

 

Roger

 

PS: I missed DJ's post first time around, but let the question stand...

 

Hi Roger,

 

(Should this be in the Ergonomics section?)

 

I (literally) feel your pain. Too much computer work has given me a very painful right shoulder blade. This has made playing the fiddle very difficult – I found I had to stop playing at all for weeks on end, and at best I can only play for about 10 minutes at a time. This is partly why I recently bought a concertina – I thought it would be easier on the body – and it is!

 

Disclaimer – I am not in any way qualified to comment on your shoulder pain. However my experience is that this kind of pain – repetitive strain injury – probably tendonitis or something like that – is the kind of thing that just takes an absolute age to heal, and there’s no way round it. You have to rest the offending body part when you start to feel the pain. If you try to soldier on, you just keep re-injuring the thing and it won’t heal. It’s immensely frustrating and miserable. If you google ‘shoulder pain’ or ‘repetitive strain injury’ or ‘tendonitis’ you will find advice on the healing process.

 

But if you can play for a short time before the pain starts, even for just a few minutes, do so, put the instrument down when it gets painful and have another short session later in the day etc.

 

With regard to relaxing while playing, for starters watch Micheál O’Raghallaigh – he’s on YouTube. He’s one of my favourite players. He’s so relaxed he looks asleep, except for his fingers.

 

It’s easier to stay relaxed if you play very, VERY slowly. I think this is good practise anyway – not just when you’re learning tunes, but even when you’re practising a tune you know well. And playing slowly – kind of lazily, as if it didn’t matter, as if it was fun! – is likely to make you feel more relaxed, and will give you time to monitor your body and notice when and where it’s tensing up. Keep thinking ‘lazy shoulder!’ i.e. your shoulder shouldn’t be doing any work. It should be having a nap while things are going on much further down your arm.

 

When you feel yourself starting to tense up, put the instrument down and do some loosening up exercises – stand and swing your arms forward and back (as if marching), or make circles with your arms like a windmill, or do waist twists and let your arms loosely swing around as your body turns. It’s hard to describe these kind of exercises in words – but hopefully you get the idea.

 

Hope this helps.

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(Should this be in the Ergonomics section?) (Good point! R.)

 

 

I (literally) feel your pain....

 

Hope this helps.

 

 

It does indeed - a couple of useful ideas there! Thank you very much. Roger.

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...learning to relax the muscles...

 

A thought/query from the lower end of the 'ability spectrum'.

 

Apart from the fact that it's clearly a bad habit to be too 'tense' when playing, I wonder if it might also have an

adverse effect on health as well as on playing skill/ability.

 

I say this because recently I have been suffering from a very painful right shoulder. This is a hangover from the

days when I spent 4-5 hours a day at a computer keyboard, and it's getting to the point where I may have to

consider cutting down on my playing time because while playing I feel that I am 'tense' - and it hurts! When I

consciously try to 'relax' while playing, the problem is less significant, but I'm finding difficult to do this. It requires

a conscious effort to relax, which takes my mind away from the music.

 

How do I train myself to automatically relax while playing? Yoga? Meditation? Tai-Chi? Large shot of single malt?

 

Is it reasonable to expect the ability to relax be beneficial in terms of improving the pain in the right shoulder?

 

Roger

 

PS: I missed DJ's post first time around, but let the question stand...

 

Dear lachenal74693,

 

Long ago, I did some work with a practitioner of Alexander Technique. Very helpful to me and many musicians with issues you describe. A quick search came up with this person near you.

 

http://www.alexanderteaching.co.uk/

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