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sleepymonk

Push vs Pull - why?

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As a violinist learning to play the anglo concertina, I am constantly questioning bellows direction.

 

We are trained on the violin to use a downward (pulling) bow motion on the first note of a bar (very generally speaking, as there are lots of exceptions). An upward (pushing) bow motion is used on the upbeat of a bar, again very generally speaking.

 

With the concertina, the opposite appears to be the case (generally speaking), where the push is the first note of a bar, etc.

 

How is it that the instrument was designed this way? Is it inherited from other reed systems?

 

Has anyone tried an alternate, like reversing the reeds on each note? (violins can be reversed for left-handed players).

 

Curious.

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Posted (edited)

I'll offer my conjecture on why starting on the push is more common:

 

As I understand it, downward bowing on the violin is the stronger direction ergonomically, so can provide a slight accent on the first note of a bar.  With a bellows instrument, the push is the stronger direction ergonomically.  Physics also assists, as the push provides a positive pressure inside the bellows to start the air movement, limited, while the pull can only create a relative vacuum compared to the atmospheric pressure outside the bellows, so that limits the pressure differential produced.  (Practically, we never approach that limit, or the bellows would collapse!)  So starting on the push for the downbeat would seem the preferred direction.

 

The typical pattern for Anglo concertina, diatonic melodeons and most button accordions starts the root scale(s) on the push, probably for the reasons above.  A similar preference is shown in the Richter scale harmonica where blowing on the harmonica would be the physical equivalent of the push on the concertina.  (In practice that idea is complicated by the choice to play blues harmonica on the draw.  Oh well.)  I do see from the link Howard just provided that there is an early French Accordion as a counter-example, with the "draw-press" pattern to start a scale, but that is far less common.

 

That last paragraph assumes you are talking about an Anglo concertina, or at least something diatonic.   Of course the real choice of bellows direction will be determined by what notes fall on the downbeats of the tune, and limited by where those notes are available on the instrument, but since with folk tunes the downbeats are more likely to be notes within the primary chords, while upbeats are more likely to be passing notes, the pattern to start on the push often does hold.

 

If you are also asking about the English and various Duet systems, these have full freedom to start in either direction, as does the violin for that matter.  I don't play these systems, but vague memory of previous casual observation suggests that starting on the push is common practice for these also.  So back to the earlier suggestion of physics and ergonomics for why that might be so.

Edited by Tradewinds Ted

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Perhaps it might also come from the piano/keyboard tradition of pushing a button/key and getting a note?

 

Gary

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3 hours ago, Tradewinds Ted said:

With a bellows instrument, the push is the stronger direction ergonomically.  Physics also assists, as the push provides a positive pressure inside the bellows to start the air movement, limited, while the pull can only create a relative vacuum compared to the atmospheric pressure outside the bellows, so that limits the pressure differential produced.  (Practically, we never approach that limit, or the bellows would collapse!)  So starting on the push for the downbeat would seem the preferred direction.

Hi Ted, I don't think we can look to Physics to help solve this riddle in the way you say.  From a physics point of view, the push and pull are entirely symmetric.  The reed cannot tell whether the pressure difference it experiences is either a push or pull.  Neither can the bellows.  A bellows can collapse from too much vacuum, but it can also blow outwards because of too much compression.  

I do agree that we can probably exert more force on the bellows with a push, mainly because of the way our muscles and skeleton are constructed.  I'm sure an anatomist can provide solid reasoning, but simply, the push is accomplished by some arm muscles and chest muscles, whereas the pull is accomplished by different arm muscles and back muscles.  Perhaps the main difference lies in stronger chest muscles than back muscles.  

Best regards,

Tom

www.bluesbox.biz

 

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14 minutes ago, ttonon said:

Hi Ted, I don't think we can look to Physics to help solve this riddle in the way you say.  From a physics point of view, the push and pull are entirely symmetric.  The reed cannot tell whether the pressure difference it experiences is either a push or pull.  Neither can the bellows.  

 

 A concertina reed whether Anglo, English or duet is a push reed or a pull reed, never both.  Whoever invents a bi-directional single reed assembly will revolutionize the instrument.

 

 

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Fascinating responses! Thanks. Keep 'em coming. This forum is great. I appreciate all the links too.

 

Regarding the different muscles involved:

As for the violin downbow being the preference, the wooden bow itself is stronger at the frog vs the tip, so one can definitely exert more pressure there. Also one has the weight of the arm and gravity to help with muscle strength at the frog, whereas at the tip of the bow, pressure normally needs to be applied using one's muscles for a downward force, and it's usually not equivalent to the downbow. This is a very simplified explanation, as there are more aspects that the violinist can control (or be at the mercy of, I suppose!). For non-bowed-string players, the frog is the mechanical part of the bow that holds one end of the horsehair as well as the hair tensioning mechanism.

 

My ribcage and back are definitely sore after a week of intensive (for me) practice. I rest the concertina on my left leg, so I guess my right side gets more of a workout. Plus I just got two of Gary's books in the post today and I wanted to work through some tunes. The fingering system is great and I am sight-reading with great ease as a result.

 

I would love to try a "wrong" direction concertina just to satisfy my curiosity. Can't afford a custom build to find out :< Looking forward to the revolution!

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Hmmm...on the push, the air is being pushed outwards and the note might sound louder.  Other than that, whether using the push or draw to start the tune will depend on the key and the initial note or scale degree of that note.  G tunes will usually start on G (tonic) or D (dominant).  The G is usually played on the push (left hand) but the D can be either hand and will depend on the octave.  For the key of D, the low D will most times occur on the draw, as will the higher D on the right hand.

 

Regarding the violin, I play classical and trad and while the downbow is important in classical to emphasize the strong beats of the measure, this is not necessarily the case in trad music (which is what is usually being played with Anglo concertinas.)  In Irish trad (and Scottish as well), jigs use a slurred bowing across the strong beats, even while the 1 and 4 sub-beats might be accented.  This gives a very pleasing “swing”.  Getting this same rhythm on the Anglo is very key to the “trad” feel.  This swing is very evident in Mary MacNamara’s playing, and in the East Clare style in general.  

 

My best advice is to listen, and especially to the Clare players, East and West.  Try some of the lessons on the Online Academy of Irish Music and try to find a teacher, live or Skype.

 

Cheers

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5 hours ago, sleepymonk said:

(violins can be reversed for left-handed players).

 

 

Change the sound post, change the bass bar, re-cut the bridge, new nut , new tailpiece, new strings to compensate for different string tension due to peg head...... 'bout does it eh?  Nope.  good violins are built with the growth rings of the spruce top oriented narrow to the high side, wide to the low side

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Hey Sleepy...just one more word from a 45 year-playing violinist who “kind of” wasted two years with all the books you are using...Irish trad is way different in many ways from English and especially Morris.  Not better or worse, but different. And the styles don’t really lend to crossing over.  The books that I tried gave no help with lilt, or swing or cuts or rolls and triplets.  The last two, the cuts and rolls and triplets are what give the irish tunes the “snap”.  (You know...like in “That Thing You Do”...its got to be snappy.). Without that snap, its never going to sound quite right.  And to be fair, Morris has snap as well, but the chords and tunes are really different.  

 

Also, I play on the left knee with the right arm working the bellows, and totally agree...watch out for right arm soreness, especially at the elbow.

 

P.S. After struggling with no teacher for two years, I know how frustrating it can be to try to get stuff out of books.  Books will never be able to tell you if you are playing with the right motion or give you other options.  If you ever want to Skype I would be glad to share some of what I’ve learned in the past few years, including lessons with some really great players at Willy Clancy this year

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Hey Wunks...nice post.  Look at any large orchestra...do we think that all the violinists, viola(ists?) and cellists are right handed? And yet, they are all playing the same way.  And where are all those left-handed pianos? :-). If someone wants a left-handed concertina, just flip it around.  And since both hands do exactly the same kind of action (unlike the violin or guitar), exactly what benefit would a left-handed concertina give?  

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18 minutes ago, wunks said:

Change the sound post, change the bass bar, re-cut the bridge, new nut , new tailpiece, new strings to compensate for different string tension due to peg head...... 'bout does it eh?  Nope.  good violins are built with the growth rings of the spruce top oriented narrow to the high side, wide to the low side

 

It's really not the best setup for a violin, I agree.

 

15 minutes ago, Ed Ebel said:

Hey Wunks...nice post.  Look at any large orchestra...do we think that all the violinists, viola(ists?) and cellists are right handed? And yet, they are all playing the same way.  And where are all those left-handed pianos? :-). If someone wants a left-handed concertina, just flip it around.  And since both hands do exactly the same kind of action (unlike the violin or guitar), exactly what benefit would a left-handed concertina give?  

 

Perhaps fiddler Ashley MacIsaac can have the last word on left-handed violins (and a lefty concertina)  "Well, if you change the strings on your fiddle, you'll never be able to play anyone else's fiddle. So if he's gonna learn that way, learn that way".

 

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23 minutes ago, Ed Ebel said:

Hey Sleepy...just one more word from a 45 year-playing violinist who “kind of” wasted two years with all the books you are using...Irish trad is way different in many ways from English and especially Morris.  Not better or worse, but different. And the styles don’t really lend to crossing over.  The books that I tried gave no help with lilt, or swing or cuts or rolls and triplets.  The last two, the cuts and rolls and triplets are what give the irish tunes the “snap”.  (You know...like in “That Thing You Do”...its got to be snappy.). Without that snap, its never going to sound quite right.  And to be fair, Morris has snap as well, but the chords and tunes are really different.  

 

Also, I play on the left knee with the right arm working the bellows, and totally agree...watch out for right arm soreness, especially at the elbow.

 

P.S. After struggling with no teacher for two years, I know how frustrating it can be to try to get stuff out of books.  Books will never be able to tell you if you are playing with the right motion or give you other options.  If you ever want to Skype I would be glad to share some of what I’ve learned in the past few years, including lessons with some really great players at Willy Clancy this year

 

That's why I'm glad this forum is here, for answers to some questions that books won't give. I've watched some sample tutorials online, and I'm a big believer in one-on-one teaching, but at the moment, the books will have to suffice in giving me the basics. I am a quick learner depending on the instrument (I can't play a flute or a tin whistle).

 

At the moment, the Irish trad style escapes me, so I'll have a look at some point. Thank you for the Skype offer (I haven't had much success with Skype due to internet connectivity issues).

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3 minutes ago, Ed Ebel said:

Hey Wunks...nice post.  Look at any large orchestra...do we think that all the violinists, viola(ists?) and cellists are right handed? And yet, they are all playing the same way.  And where are all those left-handed pianos? :-). If someone wants a left-handed concertina, just flip it around.  And since both hands do exactly the same kind of action (unlike the violin or guitar), exactly what benefit would a left-handed concertina give?  

Orchestral music has a visual requirement and a spatial one as per seating arrangements.  I've flipped my duet (originally by accident taking it out of the case) and it's like a new instrument. the fingerings are much the same but some keys are easier and some tunes are also.

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20 minutes ago, sleepymonk said:

 

It's really not the best setup for a violin, I agree.

 

 

Perhaps fiddler Ashley MacIsaac can have the last word on left-handed violins (and a lefty concertina)  "Well, if you change the strings on your fiddle, you'll never be able to play anyone else's fiddle. So if he's gonna learn that way, learn that way".

 

Left handed players of right/built instruments abound..... Cyril Stinnet (fiddle), Elizabeth Cotton (guitar).

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7 hours ago, sleepymonk said:

How is it that the instrument was designed this way? Is it inherited from other reed systems?

 

Yes, from the harmonica. It is common for any wind instrument (in the cultural context of western music) that you blow into them instead of sucking through them. So the first free reed instruments where all-blow instruments, and even later the blow reeds constitute the basic, the tonic chord.

 

(There is for example the traditional one row accordion in the region of Saratov, which has the inverted push-pull pattern.)

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Posted (edited)
9 minutes ago, Sebastian said:

 

Yes, from the harmonica. It is common for any wind instrument (in the cultural context of western music) that you blow into them instead of sucking through them. So the first free reed instruments where all-blow instruments, and even later the blow reeds constitute the basic, the tonic chord.

 

(There is for example the traditional one row accordion in the region of Saratov, which has the inverted push-pull pattern.)

I would add the Bass au pied, still being made today.  

Edited by wunks

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1 hour ago, sleepymonk said:

Fascinating responses! Thanks. Keep 'em coming. This forum is great. I appreciate all the links too.

 

Regarding the different muscles involved:

As for the violin downbow being the preference, the wooden bow itself is stronger at the frog vs the tip, so one can definitely exert more pressure there. 

Yes, and the down bow expends its energy abruptly, then peters out , whereas the up bow reserves it's power and options.

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