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Arranging Music for the EC


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I was not quite sure what to call this topic but I'd like to have some conversation about developing arrangements on the English concertina.


For now some initial thoughts.  I'll try to post an audio clip later today that will illustrate some of what I'm aiming for.


1. There may be nothing more beautiful than an unadorned melody expressively played.  I've recently bought a vintage EC from Greg Jowaisas and I just love the sound of an old tune on this EC.


2.  An arrangement in music may be similar to flower arranging in that you've got some flowers that are prominent for size and color but you also use other complementary elements (I'm not an expert but I've observed the use of other flower materials that add greens and grey hues for contrast).  It seems to me intros and interludes and bridges help frame the melody - and work best if they are integrated with the melody, in other words, they are linked in some way to a melodic motif, something that's organic to the melody itself.


3. Should the melody itself be altered or can it morph into something else?  Perhaps.  If one may allow the melody to develop naturally and to be transformed through time, then fine.  But there is a long tradition of "recapitulation" or a return to the primary theme in Western classical music.  Why? I don't know exactly but there is a certain sort of delight for the listener who realizes, Oh nice, I recognize that part from earlier.  


4. Some simple forms from classically-informed music:

    a. Sonata form: theme - development - recapitulation - coda

    b. Ternary: ABA

    c.  Palindrome or Arch:  ABCDCDBA

    d. Rondo: ABACADA


5.  I understand this may step outside the bounds of traditional folk music which has its own conventions, but I'm just thinking about how one might consider arranging these wonderful melodies.  I'm not exactly advocating for classical arrangements but rather arrangements that honor the folk tradition while being enriched by more development of tune and structure.





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  • 2 months later...

Hi, McDouglas,

It's some time since you posted, so I hope you're still listening, although no-one has answered yet!


I don't play the EC myself, but I do arrange a lot for Anglo or Crane Duet concertina and classic 5-string banjo. And in my experience, although there are aspects of arrangement that are instrument-specific, there are other important aspects that aren't. 


Why devise your own arrangements? In my case, it's because I'm a singer, and have hundreds of tunes stored in my memory (the grey cells, not the hard disc!), but I don't read music well enough to access other people's arrangements. Like you, I start with "unadorned" melodies.


My first step in arranging the tune is to be able to play the melody fluently.

The second step is to find the chord structure: what chord goes with what melody notes. A lot of this is schematic - there's often only one chord that fits - but there are cases in which several chords would be possible and sound pleasant, and it's part of the creative process to choose the best one (whereby the choice may be differnt in later iterations of the melody).


Music consists of the three elements Melody, Harmony and Rhythm, but each genre has its own particular mix. For instance, Irish music is largely melodic, whereas African music is largely rhythmic.

When we're arranging popular songs, the Melody is, of course given. I've mentioned the Harmonic element in Step 2.To complete the arrangement, we need to think about Rhythm. First off, there's the time signature (e.g. 4/4, 3/4, 6/8 time). This is often "built into" the melody, but there are notable exceptions, like the Irish song "Raglan Road," which is often sung in 3/4 time and just as often in 4/4 time. Then there's the consideration whether the beats in the bar are more or less equally stressed, or whether there's a strong beat and weaker beats - the differnce between song accompaniment and dance accompaniment, for instance.

For me, the rhythmic treatment influences the treatment of the harmony notes. Should the accompaniment consist of block chords, or are broken chords (arpeggios) more appropriate, or do you want a counter-melody? Feel free to treat each iteration of the tune differently - this is known as variation! As a singer, I have got to know and admire Franz Schubert, and when I have to work up an accompaniment for a song, I often ask myself how Schubert would have done it on the piano.

Other variations are harmonic: lush or sparse chords, for instance, or replacement of major with minor chords.

I don't vary my melodies much - for me, they are the soul of the music - but a grace-note here or there doesn't alienate the tune too much.


This is all very theoretical. On the practical side, I mostly arrange for 5-string banjo in classic style - strong melody and interesting chords. On a banjo (or guitar) you can hold down a chord with your left hand, and still be able to choose which notes of that chord to actually sound wiith your right hand. My left hand follows my harmonic structure, and my right hand decides what to make of it, rhythmically speaking, or in the sense of "lush" or "sparse."

The Crane Duet concertina is slightly different: my left hand positions its fingers over the buttons for the appropriate chord, but I can still decide whether to mash them all down for a fat chord, or one after the other for an arpeggio, or even just one finger. Meanwhile, the right hand is playing the melody and filling out the lusher chords.

I realise that both of these related techniques might present a challenge on the EC, where the roles of the two hands are not differentiated. I don't know, because I've never played an EC. Perhaps an EC player should not so much think of harmony notes as "partial chords," but rather as "counter-melody notes." 


Nevertheless, confident melodic playing matched with an ear for harmonic structure and a feel for rhythm are IMHO the key elements of arrangement.




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I play the EC, my wife plays fiddle. We quite happily use fiddle parts to play tunes together.


Depends how old the tunes are, but we like Playford and one thing there is divisions where you add more and more notes to the tune. Sometimes starting at half notes and working up to sixteenth or  even thirty second notes. The division can be played over a simple ground or can be a part with the basic melody played over it. That's one technique which gets away from chords or a simple SATB type arrangement. Another (classical) technique is to add something like an Alberti bass as one of your lines.

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I'd like to have some conversation about developing arrangements on the English concertina.


For now some initial thoughts.  I'll try to post an audio clip later today that will illustrate some of what I'm aiming for.


I don't see any audio clip (yet), but I would certainly like to listen to one.


Your question/topic isn't just broad; it's like a forest.  Many different concepts can be considered "roots" to different approaches, each of which can be developed along many different proliferating "branches".  What's more, their branches can grow amongst each other.


I hope to eventually respond with a variety of specifics, but at the moment I'm currently trying to process a backlog of "urgent" matters that were postponed for organizing our annual Scandinavian Squeeze-In (SSI) (web site to be updated, soon) and a series of computer crashes (?).  So for now, just a few quick comments:

  • There are quite a few examples -- both sound and writing -- of individual styles on concertina.net.  I don't have time right now to dig out even the ones I remember, but I hope some of those who posted them will post their links here.
  • There is a "Tune of the Month" subforum under the Tunes/Songs forum.  Now closed to activity, one can still listen to examples of many tunes with varieties of arrangements in different styles by different individuals.
  • At this year's SSI we had two "workshops" -- what academics might call "seminars" -- where several individuals discussed and compared their various approaches to arrangement.  The one workshop focused on arrangement for solo instrumental performance and the other on song accompaniment.  We also had contributions of multi-part arrangements for multiple instruments.  I'll see if I can abstract some of that here in the future, but it won't be "right away".
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