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Unisonoric concertinas: Bellow Reversal policies?

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Hi there,

based on a private discussion stemming from this here thread, I'd like to publicly continue a private conversation that imho should be of very high interest to all EC and Duet (ie unisonoric instrument) players. It also connects to an issue I brought up a few years ago (Bellow control) which however unfortunately took a wrong turn, possibly because the discussion was too abstract back then. Now we have a hands-on issue to look at! ūüôā

Wolf kindly remarked on the bellow reversals in my public video. In a subsequent private conversation, he further suggested to align the reversals with the bars, ie change with every other bar border - from 2 to 3, 4 to 5 etc. Of course, that works in this particular tune, other schemes will need to be worked out for every tune depending on the particular dance rhtythm and groove of the piece (and possibly instrument constraints; I suspect that on my 6 fold small concertinas the reversals would need to occur more often than on my 8 fold 55 button).

I then inspected the video again and found that frequently, I do in fact align on exactly those places (without doing it deliberately) but sometimes go astray only to land on the "right" spots later again. So it's similar to beginner's rhythmic errors, only on a different level. Seems like yet another thing to keep practicing - so far I never cared about systematic reversal policies much, being overwhelmed by every other challenge that the concertina posts already (even though I have known for a long time that bellows control is crucial for tone, as I pointed out in the thread I mentioned earlier).

My questions thus to the other EC and Duet players in the audience would be: Is bellows control (which includes but of course doesn't end with reversal strategies) something you work on conciously, deliberately and systematically, or don't you think about it at all and suddenly find yourself falling into a fitting reversal rhythm (or don't even bother)? Do you keep consistent schemes or find yourself varying the reversals? Do you actively practice those things like you practice melodic and harmonic playing? Are you aware of any systematic studies or tutors that discuss reversal policies? Do teachers talk about these things? Do you use reversal techniques as style elements, for example to change the groove of apiece dynamically?

Of course this is an issue that affects bisonoric players only marginally.

Thanks for your input and again a big thanks to Wolf for taking the time to watch the video closely and getting me on a good track!

 

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Posted (edited)

I have noticed that many EC players just push in one direction until they run out of air and then change. The result of this is that the music has no pulse at all---just a constant arrhythmic flow of notes that doesn't make a whole lot of sense. I've been trying to think more like a drummer, changing when I want accents, not just at the beginning of the measure, but where the rhythmic flow demands. It's not always on one (and three), or giving an extra accenting push in those spots 

Edited by mdarnton
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Posted (edited)
6 hours ago, RAc said:

My questions thus to the other EC and Duet players in the audience would be: Is bellows control (which includes but of course doesn't end with reversal strategies) something you work on consciously, deliberately and systematically, or don't you think about it at all and suddenly find yourself falling into a fitting reversal rhythm (or don't even bother)? Do you keep consistent schemes or find yourself varying the reversals? Do you actively practice those things like you practice melodic and harmonic playing? 

I played cello as a child, and I tend to think of the bellows on my EC as if it was a bow. So I try (usually unconsciously) to change bellows direction at the end of each phrase (often 2 bars) to ensure I don't run out of air. Within a phrase, I may reverse to put a stress on a particular note, or as a way of playing a repeated note without moving my finger of the button. In general it's not something I consciously think about, and if I play a tune twice, I may well end up using the opposite direction, but will probably reverse at most of the same places. I don't practice reversals. I rarely use the whole bellows travel.

Edited by Paul_Hardy
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11 hours ago, Paul_Hardy said:

I played cello as a chÔĽŅild, and I tend to think of the bellows on my EC as if it was a bow

Well, I played the fiddle as a child, and I tend to think of the bellows on my Crane/Triumh as a bow, too.

There are two aspects. One is that the bow or bellows is not infinitely long. You'll have to change direction some time in the near future, and you'd better look for a good opportunity to change voluntarily before you're forced to do so at the wrong moment.

The other aspect is emphasis: Playing several notes one after the other in one bow or bellows stroke does not emphasise one note over the others.  If a note should be emphasised, I would change bow or bellows direction to play it. This means that I'd usually start a phrase with a bellows reversal. When several notes in sequence are all equally emphasised (e.g. "God save our gra-cious Queen" or "My coun-try 'tis of thee") I'd mostly take a new bellows direction for each note.

I don't think I really plan my bellows reversals - I think they just happen in the course of working up a new piece. But when the piece has been worked up to the point at which I can perform it, the bellows reversals - like the harmonies - are ingrained in the arrangement.Missing a bellows change feels like fluffing a chord.

Cheers,

John

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In fact I often apply lots of changes, as this adds expression to to tune. My personal background stems from a Lachenal Exelsior, my first EC, lovely mellow sound but very restricted air-supply. I couldn’t go with steady back and forth bellows movement, and I tend to keep this technique. However it is quite relaxing to be sure of more air supply being available.

A Schottische seems in fact not very demanding or even promising re elaborate bellows reversals. My point here is rather to keep it regular, and then possibly add some extra reversals - but OTOH avoid skipping the regular changes and only have occasional extra ones, as this is making for a very uneven musical impression.

And of course any extra reversal should sound deliberate and not forced by running out of air... ūüėä

As an example for a different notion we could discuss an English jig (such as The Fiery Clockface). It makes good sense to change after every second ‚Äěfive‚Äú in order to emphasise the ‚Äějumping‚Äú rhythmic pattern.

Maybe enough for now.

Best wishes - Wolf

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John: as to phrases, in the jig¬†mentioned above (as well as others, f.i. The Irish Washerwoman) the phrases use to start on the ‚Äě6‚Äú, where the emphasis is on the ‚Äě1‚Äú - I would always¬†include the ‚Äě6‚Äú in the bellows or bow - wouldn‚Äôt you too?

Best wishes - ūüźļ

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Poor bellows control with a lack of phrasing to suit the tune is a major fault of many EC players and is the main reason why EC is not respected as a tunes instrument, as opposed to the anglo. There is no reason why the bellows cannot be worked more like an anglo to give the tunes lift. I now pay much more attention to bellows phrasing but it has taken me a long time to break the suck til full, push til empty habit. I have found that fanning at bellows reversals is especially important to get crisp notes; linear reversals, especially at full stretch or empty, rob you of all control of articulation.

Dick.

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Posted (edited)

Hi Dick, I seem to understand that your ‚Äěfanning‚Äú suggestion isn‚Äėt referring to the notion of permantly¬†closing the lower side of the bellows with velcro or similar but a free movement of the bellows which might give the impression of a serpent - in which case I would wholeheartedly agree...

Best wishes¬†- ūüźļ

Edited by Wolf Molkentin

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Posted (edited)

It seems to me that  if  the phrasing  and rhythmic  content  of a melody  is not in you head  then no amount  of  bellows direction changes  will improve the   outcome.   

Because  the EC does not give the player any movement  help  with regards to rhythm,  as one  finds on many  instruments, like the guitar or  violin   and other   squeeze boxes where  there is one hand   that can be doing  something  directly with the timing,  all the  input with regard to  this aspect  of playing has to come  from within  the player.   If I think about anything whilst playing it  is not  " oh  I need to change  bellows direction  to  pronounce a phrase"  but only how  I feel the   emphasis   should  be  and how it sounds  when I'm  listening  to what sounds I am making.

On  a Duet  it can be  similar to the EC    or  one hand can be designated  to produce  rhythm  and the  other does the melody...  but  bellows  use  is all about  BREATHING  and changes can occur  without they being direction changes... being more about  varying the amount of air flow  / pressure.

It's a  lot about feel and understanding of a genre.

   The  quickest  ( cleanest)  bellows  direction changes  can be made when the bellows is  near to being fully closed, as  the least amount of  material stretch  occurs  and the reversal of air is most  immediate. At the other end of the bellows  extension  a softer, more legato  effect , can be utilised, dampening any abruptness  of  bellowsing. This  would suggest  that  a long enough bellows ( and an  airtight instrument )  would allow access  to the  various effects  possible at different  extensions.

On other keyboard instruments  phrasing and rhythm  comes from  the way the keys are struck... On a Piano  the keys can be pressed gently  or  hammered  on, and every shade in between . This allows  access to the  Piano's large dynamic range   but on  the Harpsichord  or  the  Organ  one cannot  use variation in loudness  for  emphasis in this way   therefore,  the  timing accuracy  of  the fingering  is vital.  I  think   precision  of  fingering, attack, accuracy of note length, varying note length, exact  starting and stopping  etc.,  is the first  thing that needs to be addressed  before  bellows action is  added  to the mix.

 

Edited by Geoff Wooff
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Geoff, I can easily agree - and still I would insist that a bellows reversal is a powerful and - what may be more - highly accessible tool for making a difference,

Having said that I can only emphasise the notion of ‚Äěworking‚Äú with the bellows in any way, move around one end, support what might be in your head, and get it to happen there through this expressiveness.

Best wishes - ūüźļ

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Posted (edited)
8 hours ago, Wolf Molkentin said:

Geoff, I can easily agree - and still I would insist that a bellows reversal is a powerful and - what may be more - highly accessible tool for making a difference,

Having said that I can only emphasise the notion of ‚Äěworking‚Äú with the bellows in any way, move around one end, support what might be in your head, and get it to happen there through this expressiveness.

Best wishes - ūüźļ

Oh ,of course  Wolf.  I am not saying one should not use  bellows  reversals for emphasis , but that it should share  the  role  of playing expressive music  on the concertina  with the  quality of one's fingering.

 

I spend a  lot of  my musical  time  these days  playing my unisonics  with  my  bisonoric neighbours ,here in France,  who's  bellows reversals  on the  Diatonic  accordeons are  so  neatly  fitted into  their  playing as to be  unobtrusive.  Crossing rows  on the melody side,  as much to  stave off  direction changes  at inappropriate  places  as to  having the air  in the correct direction  for the left hand chords.  

 

Edited by Geoff Wooff

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I completely agree with you Geoff. I think on the anglo, it‚Äôs an easy trap to fall into to use the frequent bellows reversals to give the tune ‚Äúlift‚ÄĚ. This is of course a strong point of an anglo, but if you rely on it too much, it can limit your expression to what you can achieve via the reversals - in other words, your ‚Äúlift‚ÄĚ starts to sound all the same. I‚Äôve always found on all squeeze boxes that finger control is just as capable of adding "lift" as bellows reversals, you just have to work at it a lot more. For practice, I sometimes try to use a repeated ‚Äúbouncy in/out‚ÄĚ sequence, mimicking in the repeat, the sound of the first sequence while going in only one bellows direction. It‚Äôs quite a revealing technical exercise and I think it can teach you a lot about finger control. In the end, my feeling is that it‚Äôs best to be ever alert to your phrasing and try not to get stuck in a rut by always doing things the same way.

Adrian 

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Hi Adrian,

surely no one who has once been listening to your music would or even could be inclined to discount your findings.

Having said that I wish to point to the origns of this discussion - a fellow concertinist (@RAc) who had his own playing videotaped and posted here.

My initial take on that take was, in terms of supportive critique, that bellows reversals did occur at rather odd points whereas at then-following endings of phrases or even sections there was no such expression (it could be added now: neither reversal nor mimicking of any kind)

So undoubtedly having discussed advanced techniques for variety etc. and be pointed to the musicality that only can provide meaning (as in the more recent posts) is of great interest and certainly helpful.

However IMO this does not make hints to basic techniques which can provide a, can we say tangible, base for adding expression to a tune unnecessary. Refing may come later then (possibly even to the point where the basic tool appears as dispensable).

Guess this is two (however related) discussions in one, don‚Äėt you think?

Best wishes - and my greetings to Rufus + Susanna - ūüźļ

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Posted (edited)
2 hours ago, Wolf Molkentin said:

 

 

My initial take on that take was, in terms of supportive critique, that bellows reversals did occur at rather odd points whereas at then-following endings of phrases or even sections there was no such expression (it could be added now: neither reversal nor mimicking of any kind)

So undoubtedly having discussed advanced techniques for variety etc. and be pointed to the musicality that only can provide meaning (as in the more recent posts) is of great interest and certainly helpful.

However IMO this does not make hints to basic techniques which can provide a, can we say tangible, base for adding expression to a tune unnecessary. Refing may come later then (possibly even to the point where the basic tool appears as dispensable).

I  read  into these comments, Wolf,  that you are in favour of   suggesting (or  creating)  guidelines ( or rules)  for  using bellows  direction changes  to help  others  improve the sense of their music making.  For most  musical instruments it is possible  to find a teacher  to help  with things like this   but with  these , somewhat out of fashion   squeezeboxes,  where most of us  are self taught,  an element of intuitive  experience  is  of  the greatest  help.  Where we have come from,  musically,  can be  very  important but trying to pass on those  autodidactic  elements  in a formal way  might prove worthless  to the recipient I feel.  But then I'm no  teacher.

Edited by Geoff Wooff

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Geoff, it‚Äės just that listening to some English or Duet recordings or videos is creating sort of an urge (here:)¬†to reverse with the bellows - in me, as an audience. Like: Why is he or she (not) doing this (or that).

It‚Äės as simple as that. I wouldn‚Äôt claim to teach or whatever myself here (albeit having been a teacher of related and non-related matters at some point). Just wanted to share a notion being quite obvious to me (re where a certain fellow concertinist ‚Äěstands‚Äú at that moment).

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Just something about airiness;  as a dance fiddler I agree with most of what's been said about bowing similarities but my breathy Jeff Duet allows more gusto and variation when played in the middle of the bellows range than my Wheatstone of the same pattern which I find too tight to really rip into a tune.  Maybe I'll try working the air button a bit to free things up.

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Looking at results, only, I think we need more examples like this:

 

 

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Posted (edited)

well, let me first of all express my thorough thanks and appreciation to everybody who answered. It appears that the topic I raised resonates and thus does fill sort of a void so I'm glad I asked, and distilling the essence of all the answers will hopefully improve my (and possibly other people's as well) playing.

As Wolf pointed out, the discussion has sort of branched into two distinct threads - one that tried to (hands-on answers to my question) formulate rules and guidelines for the problem I was facing, and one that questions the need for those rules in favor of musical expressiveness.

I see the validity in both approaches, but the second approach (as Wolf also pointed out) is directed at a different target group and does not take into account that any musical instrument is (among other things) a tool, and tool usage can and should be analyzed, studied so it can be taught and internalized systematically. If I understand the musical learning process correctly, I see it (roughly) as a two-step process: First, learn how to use the tool by the rules so that in the second step, you can take the liberty to break them. Without a fundament (even if it appears constraning), few buildings stand strong.

So I was looking for a (to my best knowledge) undocumented section of the tool handbook to tackle a very hands on issue, namely the problem that I was running out of air which in turn adversely affected the listening experience. Again I am very grateful to Wolf for establishing the link by pinpointing the issue.

Geoff's and Adrian's points are undoubtedly valid and valuable but come from the point of view of those who have long passed the point where the rules can be broken which is certainly useful for many in a like situation (who hopefully can thus also benefit from this discussion).

Regardless, I believe it is widely undisputed in the folk dance scene that the primary guides to the fingerboard should be the ear and the feet. Thus, stipulating (hypothetical) rules that roughly read "we indicate the bellows reversals in the sheet music and you translate them to the keyboard" would be as mechanical and undesireable as its - by many, including myself - not well regarded cousin, the classical "we give you black dots on white paper and you translate them to your instrument" approach. But establishing rules such as shining through here (along the lines of "figure out the phrasing and the heart of the tune and align the changes to them") I don't think mechanical and soulless at all, and they certainly beat not worrying about the issue at all and thus grinding errors into the playing that end up hard to iron out.

Again, thanks to everybody and also to the forum admins for providing a place in which discussion like this can be held!

 

Edited by RAc

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