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OK, so I just became the proud parent (servant?) of a Hohner 20-button C/G concertina. I want to play pirate songs and Irish session tunes. Ordered Gary Coover's books on Amazon. Any other advice for the beginning player? I play stringed instruments mostly, with a bit of drum and other miscellaneous, but mostly I'm a singer. So I do have some musical experience, but the concertina mystifies me. Watched some YouTube videos where they basically said, "Yeah, these buttons seem to be arranged randomly, but I have no idea why." Any guidance appreciated.

 

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Hi Michael,

 

welcome to concertinas and the forums!

 

There are few (smaller, as opposed to the bandoneon etc.) concertinas if any where the buttons are arranged randomly - and the 20b Anglo (German) shouldn’t even give such an impression.

 

Feel encouraged just to try it, and you will find that the allocation of these buttons in two rows makes perfect sense; IMO it’s the instrument par excellence to get you started by intuition.

 

And with Gary‘s books you will have the best guidance available at hands! Enjoy your journey!

 

Best wishes - 🐺

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When Garys book arrives (hope you ordered Easy Anglo 1-2-3) all will be revealed!

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Well, I now have a nearly new (and new to me) Anglo style C/G Hohner 20-button concertina. I have started off with Gary Coover's book Easy Anglo 1-2-3) and so far have learned to play a C scale. Well, almost. Any advice and encouragement appreciated.

I watched several YouTube videos on playing the Anglo concertina. Several admitted that the button/note laying can be a bit mystifying, but none were able to offer a rational explanation. Is there some hidden pattern that will make learning easier, or is it just a matter of rote muscle memory? History buffs?

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Hi Michael,

 

My best advice is to skip the C scale - no tune requires the full scale in order!

 

The idea of "major scale notes on the push" and "all the other notes of the scale on the pull" is important but don't waste a lot of time thinking about it or worrying about it. There are 3 notes in the major scale (push), and 4 that aren't (pull), hence the weird jog here and there as you go up and down the row. 

 

I'm a firmly believer in getting to easy tunes quick as you can, and the push-pull will eventually not be a major stumbling block. But yes, it takes a little getting used to at first!

 

Gary

 

 

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I get where you're coming from, Michael, but the layout does make pretty good sense, from it's own point of view. Here's my thinking:

 

Every musical instrument (or tuning for a string instrument) makes a compromise between what's possible and what's easy. The more things that are possible, the fewer things, generally, that will be easy. Standard tuning for a guitar (EADGBE), for example, makes it easy to play full chords in first position in the keys of C, G, D, A, and E. It's kind of brilliant that way. It's possible to play any melody in any key in standard tuning, of course, but it's not what the instrument is laid out to do most easily. A "pure" melody instrument, like a violin or mandolin, tuned in fifths (e.g. GDAE), makes playing melodies (in the keys you have strings for) easy, at the cost of making chords and other keys harder. It's easy to create a driving 2/4 or 4/4 rhythm playing clawhammer banjo, but that style almost forces the player to use different tunings for every key. Not every tune is possible, but that's been sacrificed for the sake of the rhythm.

 

When I look at the Anglo concertina, I see first and foremost that it's laid out to make harmony easy. Press any two buttons on the same row on either side and push and they will harmonize with each other. Pull and that's almost true. To accomplish that somewhat startling feat, quite a few compromises were made, I think, including leaving out lots of notes at the high and low ends to favor useful harmonizing notes and strongly biasing the instrument to the two home keys (C and G).

 

Now, that doesn't mean you can't play pure, unharmonized melody lines in any key you want (look to the entire nation of Ireland), but it's not what the concertina makes easy. The reason these little squeezeboxes were popular around the world was because anyone could play one "without a master". As a beginner, I suppose it depends what you want to do, but it might be simpler to work to the strengths of the instrument.

 

"Anglo 1-2-3" is a phenomenal book, and if you're interested in the history of the Anglo concertina, Dan Worrall's entire 2-volume "The Anglo-German Concertina: A Social History" is available for free on Google Books: https://books.google.com/books/about/The_Anglo_German_Concertina.html?id=1-thWE5XRmsC It's utterly fascinating.

 

Have fun!

 

Mike

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11 minutes ago, MJGray said:

When I look at the Anglo concertina, I see first and foremost that it's laid out to make harmony easy. Press any two buttons on the same row on either side and push and they will harmonize with each other. Pull and that's almost true. To accomplish that somewhat startling feat, quite a few compromises were made, I think, including leaving out lots of notes at the high and low ends to favor useful harmonizing notes and strongly biasing the instrument to the two home keys (C and G).

 

a pretty good summary of why and how the Anglo is such an attractive instrument, and it can be made singing rather easily too!

 

(disclaimer: I love my English concertinas and their unique "system" and will stick to them - but credit where credit is due, and there's a reason why I'm expanding my approach to the Anglo world, i.e. "in the harmonic style")

 

best wishes - 🐺

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Posted (edited)

The patterns of notes on the push and pull of the C and G rows are closely related to the patterns of notes on a C and G harmonica, and for the same reason of harmonizing while playing in the home keys.   That doesn't necessarily mean you should just play any given tune up and down one row separately depending which key you are in, since there are advantages to crossing rows to get better fingering and phrasing.  But it may help you understand the logic of the patterns.

With the 20 button, you won't have the 30 button's outer row of accidentals and reversals which does seem more random.   That also means there are a few notes which simply aren't available at all, and if you are looking to play Irish session tunes the first one you will miss will be the C# needed for tunes in D major.   But no worries, there are a great many tunes in C and G major, and the related minors, and modes, and if you have the option to choose the key to play in then you can transpose to a key for which you do have all the notes.  That may not be so true for jazzy tunes with lots of accidentals and blues chords, but you can still play partial chords, if someone else is playing the missing notes at least part of the time.  Most often a light touch on the harmony is better anyway.

Finding your way around the combination of melody and available harmony notes is part of the charm of the Anglo.  I love my 20 button. 

Edited by Tradewinds Ted

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5 minutes ago, Tradewinds Ted said:

That doesn't necessarily mean you should just play any given tune up and down one row separately depending which key you are in, since there are advantages to crossing rows to get better fingering and phrasing.

 

And even if you stick to the C row, there's a point in the higher register where you'll have to switch to the G row (which provides the missing range) - with different harmonic options available, which are amazingly often fitting well again... But no worries, you'll easily figure that out as required.

 

Best wishes - 🐺

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9 hours ago, Tradewinds Ted said:

With the 20 button, you won't have the 30 button's outer row of accidentals and reversals which does seem more random.   That also means there are a few notes which simply aren't available at all, and if you are looking to play Irish session tunes the first one you will miss will be the C# needed for tunes in D major.  

 

Ted, I agree with what you're saying completely, but for the sake of the original poster, I'd posit that the outer row only seems more random. It makes pretty good sense from the point of view of being a set of useful "extras" added on to the core 20-button instrument to try to make more sophisticated musical effects (like "playing in the key of D" 🙂 ) possible. I haven't played with a 40-button Anglo, but I suspect it's the same kind of deal: more bells and whistles for the "advanced" player who wants to get beyond what's "easy".

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For the original poster, asking about the 20 button C/G Anglo that he actually has, rather than the 30 or 40 button that he doesn't...

 

I have owned 7 Anglos over the last few years, and currently own 4.  I started on a 30 button.

 

I can honestly say that the biggest step forward I made was when I got my 20 button, which was the 4th concertina I owned, and some 10 years after the 1st.

 

I don't play it as often as my favourite 30, but I find four things about it:

 

1)  The limitations of the 20 button layout create a real sense of satisfaction when playing simple tunes and finding harmonies and alternative fingerings, although those tunes might be trivial to play on a 30 button.

 

2)  The limitations of the 20 button layout was the biggest encouragement for me to start playing in the higher of the 2 keys (G on a C/G) because of the additional cross row options and harmonies.

 

3)  The lack of a 3rd row adds a delightful sparseness to the sound.  It gives it that proper Anglo sound.  On a 30+ button, there is a temptation to do full and rich chords whenever you can, and "over use" (I am being highly subjective) of the extra buttons can take you too far away from the core of what makes the instrument an Anglo.

 

4)  When chords are not available, the octave always works, and playing in parallel octaves is a skill in its own right, and a link with the sound made by the untutored traditional musicians of the past.  (This is a sort of point 3A as it is closely linked to 3 above.)

 

Point is, don't think of it as "only a 20 button".  Think of it as what it is: the heart and soul of all Anglos, but with no frills.

 

 

The layout of an Anglo seems random at first.  On a 20 button, nearly all the notes appear at least twice, sometimes in the same bellows direction.  The push/pull thing confuses people unless they are used to the diatonic system.

 

In fact, it is completely logical, in the sense that the more you play, the more you realise that the notes appear exactly where they are needed — at least for popular simple tunes.

 

Take the C row push.  Ignoring the bottom 2 buttons on the left hand, you just have a repeating pattern of the notes of the C major chord: C E G C E G C E.  That means that any 2 or more push notes will automatically be part of the C major chord.  Some combinations will sound better than others, but they will all harmonise.

 

Of course, you don't necessarily want to play chords, but you will find that a lot of tunes rely heavily on sequences of notes from the same chord.  You will also find that the notes C E and G tend to be on the beat when you're playing in C, so they sit nicely "on the push".

 

There are 7 letter names available: A B C D E F G.  If only 3 of them (C E G) are "allowed" on the push, then that means you need to fit the other 4 (A B D F) on the pull.  This introduces one of the quirks of the Anglo layout: the fact that the scale goes << push, pull, push, pull, push, pull, pull again, push >>

 

The knock on effect of this is that the fingering of the first octave of the scale (left hand) is different from the fingering of the second octave (right hand).

Left hand goes (starting on button 3) <<push, pull, push the next, pull, push the next, pull"

Right hand goes (starting on button 1) <<push, pull the next, push, pull the next, push, pull the next...>>

 

It takes some getting used to, but it soon comes with practice.

 

I said above, "ignoring the bottom 2 buttons on the left hand."    The standard pattern is a repeated CEG.  However, those 2 buttons give you C and G.  There is no E.  This is simply because there is only room for 2, and the E is the least useful of the 3.

 

because the G is so useful, they also put one on the bottom button, pull.  This means that the bottom 3 buttons, pull, will give you a G major chord, and the bottom 4 buttons will give you a G7 chord.

 

All the same rules apply to the G row, the push notes being the 3 notes of the G major chord: G B D repeat.  Also, some builders substitute different notes on the pull  the very lowest button, taking advantage of the fact that the pull D is readily available on button 3 of the C row.

 

 

As all the notes appear twice on the instrument, once on each row, except for the F/F# which appear once each, there are over 100 ways of playing a C major scale.  You don't need to learn all of them, but you will find that some specific runs of notes "across the rows" will be really helpful.

 

Here's one to start with.  On the right hand, play C D E F  (push, pull the next, push, pull the next) then transfer your fingers to the G row and repeat the fingering to get G A B C.

 

 

You say you want to play "pirate songs" and Irish session tunes.  Pedantry alert: the concertina was invented long after the so called golden age of piracy had ended.  However, simple chantey type songs will fit the Anglo well.  Tunes such as Blow the Man Down, Sam's Gone Away (aboard a man of war), and so on will be easy to pick out by ear, or you can find the dots/ABC file with a quick Google search.

 

I don't play much Irish, but Dingle Regatta and the Irish Washer Woman both fit a 20 b and will challenge you to cross the rows.  In fact Dingle Regatta, in particular, is a good tune for helping you to understand the quirky logic behind the layout, and why the manufacturers put the two rows a 5th apart.

 

As a complete beginner, though, you may be better off playing some simple tunes by ear such as Donkey Riding, British Grenadier, Camptown Racetrack, When the Saints, and some slow waltzes such as Michael Turner's.  Look for alternative cross row fingering patterns, and try different options.  Listen to other players.  If you're on Spotify, you can find some of the "old dead guys" such as William Kimber and Scan Tester, and plenty of the living players who have a more modern style too.  There's also plenty on You Tube, and an almost infinite supply of free music and sound files if you search  on abcnotation.com .

 

 

 

 

 

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Thanks Mike, a very informative and useful post. I think I'm starting to understand enough to realize what you're saying.

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On 5/31/2019 at 3:01 AM, michaelpthompson said:

...Watched some YouTube videos where they basically said, "Yeah, these buttons seem to be arranged randomly, but I have no idea why."...

If that is really said on the YT video to which you refer, I'm a little mystified by that comment.

 

I'm 4.5 years into playing these appalling instruments ( 😉 ) and, to me, the whole point of the layout

is the cleverly designed distribution of the notes across the buttons, which has been highlighted by other

posters. I once said jokingly, to a 'gongoozler' that you have to be tone-deaf or clinically dead not to be

able to get some sort of tune out of an Anglo. I now actually think there's an element of truth in this. For

me, this 'truth' is due very largely to the cunning button layout, and, as has been said, exploiting the supposed

'shortcomings' of the 20-button instrument can be a bit of a challenge - but that's  good - keeps you on your toes.

 

Three cheers for Sir Charles and Herr Uhlig!

 

Good luck, and have fun!

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Just in case you want to read up about it, the press-draw pattern of each row of the 20-b anglo is referred to as "Richter tuning" after its inventor, the Bohemian musician Josef Richter. It's the same as used on the harmonica - in fact, each row of your 20-B anglo is arranged the same way as a 10-hole blues harp. The same tuning is used on diatonic button accordions and on the various German Konzertinas, including the Bandoneon. The 30+-button anglo, the Chemnitzer, the Carlsfelder and the Bandoneon all have Richter-tuned rows somewhere in the centre of their layout, though they all have different buttons grouped around that. 

In fact, there are a couple of tunes that I play with identical fingering on my Anglo and my Bandoneon - but in different keys. The fingering that gives me "Linden Lea" in C major on the C/G anglo gives me the same arrangement in A major on the Bandoneon. So the 20-b anglo is a good place to start!

BTW, th3e term "Anglo" comes from "Anglo-German" - a concertina built with English-style reeds and similar in shape and sound to the English concertina, but with the German button arrangement, which used the Richter tuning from the start.

Cheers,

John.

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