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frogspawn

Starting again

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I've been taking a sabbatical from the concertina to play the mandolin. This has hugely improved my sense of rhythm and feel for chords. Now I want to try the concertina again.

 

The Crane requires a lot of finger movement and I find it hard to play tunes fast enough without fumbling, so this is partly why I'm looking at the Anglo (the system I originally started with) for English instrumental sessions.

 

I do, however, want to revive my use of the Crane for song accompaniment, but I need to find a completely new method. My old style involved playing the full melody with full chords. It tended to drown my singing and was too complicated, so I want to develop a sparser approach which is quieter and less likely to go wrong...

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IMO the obvious advice would be to spread the harmonies over the two sides (playing tenths at least), and the challenge (which I still don't feel up to myself, on the English as well): how to make the accompaniment sound beautiful nevertheless (instead of just playing a serious of senseless "chords": with a bass line and a top line, fully independant from the melody (or just "rhythmically reducing" it).

 

Best wishes - ?

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Trying options and making them sound good remains uncharted territory.  More popular instruments enjoy a wealth of video instruction detailing every note and finger movement, but AFAIK nobody is going to tell me note by note, button by button and finger by finger how to pull this off on a duet concertina. You have to make that up for yourself which is exciting if you make progress but frustrating if you don't.

 

I feel slightly more confident this time round, but specifically how to get the sort of sound I want is currently a mystery, although I have a number of ideas I want to experiment with.

 

To begin with, however, achieving any sort of adequate and competent backing will do.

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I either play or sing in public, but never both together.  However, when experimenting in the privacy of my own home, I find a simple technique that works nicely for a slow and thoughtful song.  It is simply play two notes a fifth, or an octave, or a tenth apart, then, still holding them down, fill in the in between notes on the later beats.

 

So I might

 

Play [G and b] then add [D and g] in between = g major

 

Play [A and E] then add the C in between to get A minor.

 

The two outside notes sort of act as a mellow drone, and the timing of the in fill (which can be pulsed on the beat if preferred) adds to the sound of hte chord and helps with the rhythm.

 

This is a crude basis for starting to build a simple accompaniment.  It is not the be all and end all, but it sounds better to me than an Oompah, or just block chords, or playing the same tune as I'm singing.

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Listen to Andrew McKay and Geoff Lakeman for Crane assisted singing ideas.  Also try bass on left, chords or arpeggios on the right, while singing an save melody playing for intros, instrumental breaks and endings.

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On 7/29/2019 at 5:24 PM, frogspawn said:

 

 

... My old style involved playing the full melody with full chords. It tended to drown my singing ...

 

Playing the melody on the right and some form of chord on the left is a perfectly reasonable way to start. It's hard enough to sing and play at the same time, let alone do something as complicated as playing a counter-melody (however simple) plus some left hand work. It sounds to me that your real problem is the volume. I've been there myself as a Crane player.

 

1. On some instruments the bass is simply too loud, so that even just playing (without singing) the bass overwhelms the melody. I've cured that to some extent on one instrument by fixing a leather baffle inside the fretwork of the left hand only, to obtain a better balance.

 

2. Irrespective of the overall volume, the reeds need to be set up so that they all speak at the same low pressure. It can be the case that the bass reeds speak more easily so that one has to play louder to get the melody reeds to speak. This is a vicious circle - as you play louder to hear the melody the bass gets louder too, so you play louder to try to hear the melody ... . Test this by holding down one button each side - say G3 on the left and B4 on the right with no pressure on the bellows then gently start to apply pressure. Try this with other note pairs. Which note sounds first? If it's always (or usually) the low one then you need to get the reeds re-set. A good instrument should be capable of playing both quietly and loudly.

 

LJ

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On 7/29/2019 at 5:24 PM, frogspawn said:

 

The Crane requires a lot of finger movement and I find it hard to play tunes fast enough without fumbling, so this is partly why I'm looking at the Anglo (the system I originally started with) for English instrumental sessions.

 

 

I'm not sure I buy this. I've never been a "fast" player on any of the multitude of instruments I've played throughout my life. When it comes to concertinas I started on the English (and still occasionally play one), changed to Crane duet and tried Anglo reasonably seriously for a couple of years too. I'm faster on the Crane than I've ever been on the others; but that's mainly because it's the one I've played the most. It's down to how much practice you put in.

 

In the past I've made the mistake of trying to keep two or three systems going at the same time. I now realise it would have been better to stick to one and just work at it. All systems have their advantages and disadvantages. Pick the one that seems to have the most advantages for what you want to do and work to overcome the disadvantages.

 

LJ

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Thanks to all for the suggestions.

 

Kurt, I found that hitting bass notes and high chords on the left (as I believe you originally advocated and demonstrated some years ago) was too much of a jump for me, but bass notes on the left and chords on the right should be easier to find. It also means my right hand will be actively engaged and ready to switch to melody for the fills.

 

I try to learn from both Andrew McKay and Geoff Lakeman, both of whom I've met and spoken to in the past. I have their recordings and access to videos of Geoff on Youtube but still find it hard to work out what they are actually doing! Geoff very kindly gave me some time after a gig. He mentioned partial chords, and, I think, walking bass lines.

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11 hours ago, Little John said:

In the past I've made the mistake of trying to keep two or three systems going at the same time. I now realise it would have been better to stick to one and just work at it. All systems have their advantages and disadvantages. Pick the one that seems to have the most advantages for what you want to do and work to overcome the disadvantages.

 

Widely agreed - however it can be nice to play other systems on a somewhat lower level, just for enjoyment and inspiration... so why not give one a try for a different purpose as well? It’s all very personal...

 

Best wishes - ?

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Hi, @frogspawn,

You mention playing the mandolin. I, too, am a mandolin player - the mandolin was my first instrument as a child, because my father played one (a beautiful Neapolitan Stridente). My second serious instrument was the 5-string banjo, which I started at about age 10. My first concertina was an Anglo, and I stayed with this system for decades.

When I fairly recently, in the Internet Age, got the urge to play a Duet concertina, I looked around for the available systems, and settled on the Crane - like you.

For me, the left hand of the Crane can be played very much like a banjo - chords in different inversions, played wholly or in part, as block chords or arpeggios, and with varied rhythmic treatment. The Crane right hand is like a mandolin - the scale goes up a row until you run out of fingers, then continues on the next row, and accidentals are played by pressing the button adjacent to the natural note, as in fretting a mandolin. 

So when I'm singing to the Crane, I pretend my left hand is a banjoist and my right hand a mandolinist, and take it from there. The "banjoist" (LH) takes care of the accompaniment throughout, and the "mandolinist" (RH) plays the intros, outros and melodic bridges, and either "sits out" the vocal verses, or plays or augments high chords, or plays rudimentary harmony lines.

In my self-taught approach to the Crane, I emphasise learning chord shapes on the left (like on the banjo) and scales on the right (like on the mandolin). Works for me!

 

Cheers,

John.

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The first thing I'm trying is an accompaniment on the left. I'm hitting the root note of the chord on the first and third beats and then the 3rd and 5th notes of the chord together on the second and fourth beats. It's like an oom-pah but doesn't use bass notes.

 

The song I'm working on is in C, so for the C chord I'm alternating C4 with E4+G4. Following the way mandolin chords are described but starting at the bottom end of the keyboard, I notate this chord shape as X443X or 443 if not using the outside columns. To keep things simple I use the same shape for F (554) and G (332).

 

For melodic breaks I'm droning power chords on the left, i.e. X43, X54 and X32 for C5, F5 and G5 respectively, while playing the melody on the right in the upper octave.

 

This is all very straightforward and seems to produce an acceptable sound.

 

Rik

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I don't play crane, but from piano a nice and fairly simple variation on the "oom-pah" portion of your accompaniment is to include some simple chord inversions if the same chord is required for a full bar or more.  Not meaning to make it too complicated, just something to consider.

 

So you might play the root of the chord on the first beat, and then 3rd and 5th together on the second beat, just as you have been doing.   Then if the required chord hasn't changed yet play the 5th of the chord (perhaps in a lower octave than just played?) on the third beat, followed by the root and 5th on the fourth beat.    Or mix it up and sometimes play the 3rd, followed by the root and 5th.    The variation can be more interesting to listen to, and since the 5th of one chord will usually be the same as the root of one of the other two most common chords, it adds just a tiny pleasant bit of unconscious tension for the briefest moment while waiting for the upbeat to hear if the chord has actually changed or not.

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On 8/11/2019 at 1:31 PM, frogspawn said:

Thanks to all for the suggestions.

 

Kurt, I found that hitting bass notes and high chords on the left (as I believe you originally advocated and demonstrated some years ago) was too much of a jump for me, but bass notes on the left and chords on the right should be easier to find. It also means my right hand will be actively engaged and ready to switch to melody for the fills.

 

I try to learn from both Andrew McKay and Geoff Lakeman, both of whom I've met and spoken to in the past. I have their recordings and access to videos of Geoff on Youtube but still find it hard to work out what they are actually doing! Geoff very kindly gave me some time after a gig. He mentioned partial chords, and, I think, walking bass lines.

 

I can't work out what McKay and Lakeman are doing either.  It is a shame because I find their playing so much more interesting and organic than what I do.

 

Left hand stride (alternating bass notes and chords on the left side) certainly is daunting.  Mostly I just do in with more simple tunes with easy and common chords.  It sure is fun when it works out!

 

I'm singing much more than I used to (thanks to a ukulele detour).  Bass notes on the left and chords on the right and singing the melody is great fun.  Then move to chords on the left, (or bass notes and runs) with melody on the right for interludes.

 

Here are two other techniques I've been using in more recent years.

 

Octave doubling a single line:  Play the line with both hands an octave apart.  (I got this idea from Dan Worrell.) This can be just the melody or you can do improvisation.  This is fun tool for playing with others.  Your octave playing can turn your 'tina into a virtual saxophone for breaks or taking leads.  Or, do fills even while the singer solos.  Remember, saxophones never play the whole or even most of the time.  A little goes a long way.

 

Two sided melody: This is for those who can play chords on both ends and can play single lines on both ends as well.  Also great for smaller Duets where there is little overlap between ends. Pick a tune or song in an octave where the melody line goes above and below the overlap.  When it goes below, play the line on the left and the chords on the right.  When it goes above, do the opposite.  Like old time music, it is better than it sounds!

 

Kurt

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On 8/10/2019 at 8:52 PM, Kurt Braun said:

Listen to Andrew McKay and Geoff Lakeman for Crane assisted singing ideas.  Also try bass on left, chords or arpeggios on the right, while singing an save melody playing for intros, instrumental breaks and endings.

Cheers Kurt , hope you well. Yes....already properly explained better than I can already, but on the left hand it is better to play what I call " implied chords." That is to say, two of the three notes.... it fits  with the "less is more" approach, especially with song accompaniment where you don't want to drown out what you are singing.I agree with everything Kurt says - When I learn a new song I usually sort out the chord progression on both sides simultaneously.. and sing along until I can do it effortlessly. Then - almost unconsciously - I  add the  "fills" and any decorative " fiddly" bits on. the right hand...or extend the left hand to a " walking"  bass if  appropriate ( and do-able !). If you want some ideas...just Google Youtube Geoff Lakeman... there are plenty of videos of myself  on there. I think you might even be able to slow them down ( you can certainly  do this on Facebook)

 

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11 hours ago, Lakeman said:

on the left hand it is better to play what I call " implied chords."

 

I love that expression, “implied chords.” I’ve been doing it for years (on the Hayden, not the Crane, but the concept is the same) but never thought to call it that. An example would be any note that exists in the melody you can leave out of the chord in the left hand.

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Just caught up with this thread and am most grateful for the more recent contributions from Kurt and Geoff.

 

My return to concertina playing was delayed for personal reasons but I'm reasonably confident I can make a better job of it this time.

 

Rik

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On 5/17/2020 at 8:02 PM, David Barnert said:

 

I love that expression, “implied chords.” I’ve been doing it for years (on the Hayden, not the Crane, but the concept is the same) but never thought to call it that. An example would be any note that exists in the melody you can leave out of the chord in the left hand.

 

I, likewise, have been doing this for years. In particular I avoid doubling the third - it just makes it sound too heavy. So if I'm harmonising the note C on the right hand with a C major chord I'd be happy to play the full CEG triad on the left, but if the right hand note was E then I'd play just CG on the left. However, that's not an "implied" chord since all the notes of the triad are there.

 

I extend this concept to first inversions too so (sticking with C major) if the note on the right was G4 I might play E3C4 on the left. On occasion I will use a second inversion, so if the note on the right was C5 I might use G3E4 on the left. All are "complete" chords though, as all three notes of the triad are present.

 

LJ

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