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JackJ

Why C/G for Irish Traditional?

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Posted (edited)

I suspect this has probably been discussed at length, but a quick search didn't get me what I was looking for.

 

I play Irish Traditional on whistle and flute, and am now researching a concertina purchase.  C/G tuning seems to be standard anglo concertina tuning for ITM, and I'm wondering why, since such a huge percentage of the tunes in the repertoire are in D, G, and the modes related to those two major keys.   Currently I think I have just one tune where I want to play an F natural, but scads where I need a C#.  I realize that with a 30b C/G the notes are all there for the standard keys and modes, but still wondering why a D/G isn't preferred.

 

Is there some inherent advantage to C/G tuning that I'm not seeing?  Or is it that those instruments were produced in such great quantity for some other market that they were available much more cheaply than anything else, and there's now too much inertia for a switch to anything else?  

 

As a beginner, a C/G clearly makes some sense since all the instructional material I've seen assumes that tuning.   But I hope to learn mostly by ear, and thus wondering if getting a G/D, or maybe even a D/A, would hold some advantages, or end up holding me back?  Fingering patterns would obviously different, and I might need to work them out on my own, rather than using a published method.  How daunting would that be?

 

Thanks for any insights.

Edited by JackJ

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Hello, Jack.

 

As a 7 or so year “rookie” in ITM with Anglo concertina, I have asked myself-and this great forum- this sort of question in the past.  In my case, I have taken the contrarian road, and play almost exclusively G/D.  More in a minute.

 

From my reading and talking to players (quite a lot in both cases) I believe it distills down to 2 major points.  One, as you correctly surmise, is the relative surfeit of C/G instruments when the concertina was becoming increasingly popular for Irish trad music.  So, many more to choose among, and much more tutorial information.  And yes, much inertia.  The second point, which no doubt adds to the inertia, is that serious (and, really, almost all, it seems) Irish music session players and aspirants find the C/G has significant playability advantages once mastered.  Across the rows as the default; more continuous runs/arpeggios, more “on the pull” playing; “that” sound; etc.  This forum and others should be full of reasons.

 

I, on the other hand, started with harmonicas and Anglos were the logical extension from there.  They represent two-plus harmonicas in my hands, and I play them almost exclusively on the rows.  So, guess what?  The G/D let me get tunes far more easily than the other, albeit at some cost in chromaticity, etc.  Kind folk here have gently but consistently suggested I turn back before it’s too late, but, it’s too late.  I am getting somewhere along the rows.  As a matter of fact, I sat at a session with an English concertina player.  They are known for full-tilt fast play, using both hands for all work.  She looked over at me during a break and said, “I am so impressed by how you manage to get all those notes so well with all the pushing and pulling.”  She didn’t care if I was playing C/G or G/D, but merely appreciated that I could “get all those notes.”  That was one of the biggest compliments I have gotten about the concertina.

 

So, the “smart money” says C/G.  A small minority of us took the other path, for better and worse.  Either way, great for the brain and soul!

 

Regards,

 

David

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If 20-button G/D anglos of good quality were easy to obtain I could see choosing that over a 30-b C/G for Irish tunes. But they aren't (they are almost unheard of). If you are getting a 30-button (or at least a 26) anyway, then there is the preponderance of prior use and virtually all instruction pushing you toward C/G. If you play whistle and flute in the tradition already (and if you are in Indiana, I'm guessing you are in the Bloomington crowd? Outside of Indianapolis it is pretty lonesome elsewhere there) it could make a lot of sense to follow the convention. Vintage G/Ds are rare; many of those that do exist were retuned from Ab/Eb. And many great new builders have appeared making fine C/G instruments in small numbers for the Irish musicians; many of them don't even make G/D as (I'm told) the chambers should be resized/redesigned for best response.

 

I've never learned any instrument at a basic level without learning where the notes of the scale are, so I can play them without thinking. Muscle memory attached to the brain (one hopes!). Speaking only for myself, it has made no difference to my muscles in the learning process whether those notes are along one row or across them - I didn't find this an obstacle at all. [If you can type on a QWERTY keyboard, anglo will seem downright easy!] Whether playing by ear or from music, it took very little time for finding the notes to become unconscious.

 

Mind you, I am now fooling around with G/D anglo for other kinds of music, but it is a different way of playing. I'm not tempted to learn new fingerings for all the tunes I can already play on C/G. Maybe you just have to try both systems yourself and see what works for you.

 

Have fun with the madness, only Irish pipes are more expensive to get into, in my experience.

Ken

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Posted (edited)

In fairness, with William Mullally and other 'along the row' Irish players in mind (playing in C and F on the C/G), wouldn't  a D/A make a lot more sense than a G/D?

Edited by Peter Laban

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Posted (edited)

David and Ken--thank you both for your insightful responses.  This is very helpful.  While I grasp what it means to play "along" vs. "across" the rows, I don't have a sense of what the mechanics are like for the fingers, and thus not a clue of how a D/G layout compares to a C/G in terms of facilitating typical runs and arpeggios.    But I'm glad (and, upon reflection, not surprised) that the latter tuning has significant merits for ITM.

 

On the other hand, the number of F natural reeds on a C/G anglo still strikes me as wasteful!

 

I may go the 20b C/G route to get started, since I can't justify the cost of a good quality 30b instrument until I'm sure I'll want to stick with it, and I don't think a Rochelle (or similar) is for me.   Until then, I may continue to mutter under my breath about F vs. C#.

 

And if at some point I come across a great deal on a D/G, I'm glad to know I won't be entirely off on my own.  I've played enough harmonica that I can see how I might translate that to an along the rows method.

Edited by JackJ

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I would like to touch on two issues: one mentioned in previous responses and one not. First, as mentioned, the C/G offers the user the ability to cross rows on account of note duplication between the keys of C and G. This is a big deal. I have attempted to play tunes along the rows as might be done on a G/D, and I recognize that this was a style used in Ireland some time ago - and there may still be some adherents to this method. But the compactness of playing available when playing across the rows which allows one to make the best use of their first two fingers of each hand - the strongest ones with the most inherent dexterity - is the key to speed and timing which is integral to really good playing.

 

The other thing is that C/G was not as prevalent as previous posters might have you believe. The first concertinas to make it into Ireland came from Germany and were more likely D/G. Later, many of the vintage C/G concertinas players rely on today started out in their lives other keys with Bb/F being a common tuning, and these concertinas were frequently retuned to C/G once the benefits of that latter tuning became known and accepted. The Salvation Army were known to order groups of Anglo concertinas and many of these concertinas were ordered in Bb/F but today many of those same instruments have been retuned to C/G. In this Chicken vs the Egg argument, it is hard to prove what came first but I suspect that C/G became the tuning of choice through trail and error where the speed and fingering advantages showed up. And when 30 button anglos started to become available, then the deal was sealed.

 

One man's opinion.

 

Ross Schlabach

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If I understand correctly, some writers have alluded to some special playability of CG vs GD. Wouldn't the playability be the same. For example, what one does with the fingers to produce a tune or scale in C on a CG would be the exact same thing one would done to produce the same tune or scale in D on a DG?

 

If I am correct about this, wouldn't it make sense to have one of each tuning (and possibly others), playing whichever suited the tune being played? Much the same as a guitarist has the option to use a capo? Or a CBA accordionist moves the same finger patterns for various scales around the available rows to play in different keys?

 

I am not knowledgeable enough to have an opinion about this. These are genuine questions of a newcomer.

 

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2 hours ago, Jim2010 said:

If I understand correctly, some writers have alluded to some special playability of CG vs GD. Wouldn't the playability be the same. For example, what one does with the fingers to produce a tune or scale in C on a CG would be the exact same thing one would done to produce the same tune or scale in D on a DG?

 

If I am correct about this, wouldn't it make sense to have one of each tuning (and possibly others), playing whichever suited the tune being played? Much the same as a guitarist has the option to use a capo? Or a CBA accordionist moves the same finger patterns for various scales around the available rows to play in different keys?

 

I am not knowledgeable enough to have an opinion about this. These are genuine questions of a newcomer.

 

 

The fingering counterpart of the C scale on C/G would be a G scale on a G/D or a D scale on a D/A (the lower pitched key is by convention given first, both for melodeon and concertina).

 

Sure, a brace of anglo concertinas in different keys would be great - I know of one player who has both a C/G and a D/A by a top maker and uses them at the (not Irish) session where I encounter him, rather than changing fingering on one particular model. For most of us, the reality that each concertina capable of playing at top speed/with ornaments etc. costs you another $2500 to $5000 USD or more tends to limit this tendency. It's not as easy as purchasing several Generation penny whistles or capo-ing a guitar. Ain't that a shame! I've never seen Cormac Begley perform but folks say he uses several different keys of instruments - is that true?

 

Whichever road you go down, I believe you'll find the system you choose has strengths and weaknesses, and part of the adventure and musicality is working within those limitations to express what you want to share. If one system were superior in all respects and applications the others would have gone extinct a century ago like the soprano sarrusophone did. I feel that way also about the common question (asked here by new members on the forum about once or twice a week) whether to get anglo/English/this or that Duet system (Chris Timson, who maintains the concertina faq page, also expresses this view).

 

Ken

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Even cheap concertinas are too expensive to have one for each set of keys.  Beside the general habit  in ITM of playing a set of tunes that often are not all the same key, or the numerous tunes that have more than one key between the parts, or even go up the scale with a C# and down right after with a C natural.  With a 30 button c/g, if you want to play in g, then in d, all you have to change is using the c# button instead of the c.  I’ve been teaching Irish concertina for many years, and find my students find the fingering challenge relatively minimal.  30 button c/gs give you pretty much the same range as a fiddle, and the ability to play in the many different keys and modes in Irish ( and other kinds ) of music.  A flute player friend of mine got a c/g concertina specifically to let him play the scads of tunes that go below the low D on a flute.  Low G/D’s push you to play most of the melody on the right hand, and are often slower in response At least for the lower notes.  I have never seen a D/G,( only a fourth apart, where the normal interval between the main rows is a fifth) though Bob Tedrow had a reversed G/C which had the C row as the inner row and the G as a middle row.  He was good on it, but it threw me for a loop!  I think he said he’d copied that layout from a German concertina, but doesn’t make them like that normally.  D/As are pretty common and are nice bright instruments but then you might bemoan the abundance of G#s.  
   Some ITM players do have Bb/F concertinas so they can play in “C” sessions where all the tunes are a whole tone low. but they use their C/G fingering.  30 button anglos are pretty much chromatic, but the range counts.  For ITM anyway, It wants to cover the range of as many tunes as possible.  I am obviously in the 30 button C/G camp, but not without good reason.  You won’t go wrong with it and may discover the thousands of tunes not in g or d.  I put G# thumb holes on all my D whistles so I can easily play in A.    In general, the “easy keys to play on a C/G are G,D, C, A, F , Bb.  E is a bit harder but more common in Scottish music.  C is actually a little harder than G since it tends to force you to play more just on the middle row, where G partakes of both rows and gives you more flexability.  D is easy as well.  All of them just take time to learn the scales.  The fingering varies between them, but doesn’t present any real obstacles.  
   The World of Irish music is so much bigger than G and D.  Your flute and whistles have their natural limitations,  but that needn’t carry over to the music in general.

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Posted (edited)

 

Quote

I've never seen Cormac Begley perform but folks say he uses several different keys of instruments - is that true?

 

 

Quite a lot of (Irish) concertinaplayers play instruments of various keys C/G, Bf/F,  Df/Af etc. It's quite common to use transposing instruments. Begley extended that by using Baritone , bass etc instruments that are not commonly used.

 

[crossposted with the above]

 

I think it's a good idea also to distinguish between different playing/fingering  systems, various on and off row systems and the plain playing in various keys on one instrument, as Dana says, there's a lot more going on than just playing in D and G (other than using different keyed (transposing) instruments)

 

Edited by Peter Laban

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I think part of the problem is in thinking that it must be logical to assume that since most folk tunes are in D and G, therefore a G/D concertina would make the most sense.

 

That was me, many years ago as a beginner, before realizing which instruments are most common (G/Ds are still pretty scarce), and how playing styles are often influenced by the instruments they are played on.

 

Early on I had the good fortune to meet up with John Watcham, and although he had several concertinas in different keys, I was amazed that not one of them was a G/D! 

 

As others have commented, for ITM the C/G Anglo offers more note options. And, being able to play in G and D "across the break" on a C/G leads to much better cross-row fingering and speed since you're often using fingers on both hands to play the melody and the ornaments.

 

Gary

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Posted (edited)

I cannot think of one respected Irish player playing a G/D.  Full stop. Noel Hill usually says he tried it and found them wholly unsatisfactory for the purpose.

 

The first concertina player to be recorded, William Mullaly, played a D/A system. The current dominant way of playing in Irish music only developed when Paddy Murphy tried to emulate Mullaly's music on a C/G instrument. This in turn was taken up and further developed by Noel Hill, who taught it to almost everybody else. Other systems of playing in the D/G range on C/F instruments existed and remain to be used.

 

Before that time it is well documented that a lot of concertina players played in C (matching the Clarke C whistles) although recordings from the earlier part and middle of the last century also show many playing in D (by whatever means). Some players retained this way of playing on C/G instruments when they moved from the old German concertinas and played in C and F on these C/G. Do I need mention John Naughton and Kitty Hayes in this context?

 

Today we can see many concertina players play the C/G or transposing instruments, playing in D,G, A, C and F (and again their equivalent on transposing instruments). Without any problem or hesitation. And to great effect, players like Mary MacNamara, Claire Keville and the late Dympna O'Sullivan cleverly play(ed) sets of tunes  constructed for musical effect that jump between these keys, with tunes normally associated with the keys D and G range placed in for example C or F but surrounded by tunes in their more common keys.

 

There's a lot of possibility and variety out there, if you keep an ear out for it.

 

That's a fair summary isn't it?

Edited by Peter Laban

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Posted (edited)

I'm not sure if this has been mentioned  so far  but  the  G  row  on a G/D  is  an octave lower than  the G row  on a C/G... If my memory  serves ....

Edited by Geoff Wooff

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Thank you everyone for all these informed replies to my question.  I've gained a lot of insight from it.  Especially interesting to hear about the history of the instrument.  I've just purchased Vol. 1  of Dan Worrall's The Anglo-German Concertina: A Social History, and look forward to learning more there.  

 

 

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On 10/3/2019 at 4:32 AM, Peter Laban said:

I cannot think of one respected Irish player playing a G/D.  Full stop. Noel Hill usually says he tried it and found them wholly unsatisfactory for the purpose.

 

The first concertina player to be recorded, William Mullaly, played a D/A system. The current dominant way of playing in Irish music only developed when Paddy Murphy tried to emulate Mullaly's music on a C/G instrument. This in turn was taken up and further developed by Noel Hill, who taught it to almost everybody else. Other systems of playing in the D/G range on C/F instruments existed and remain to be used.

 

Before that time it is well documented that a lot of concertina players played in C (matching the Clarke C whistles) although recordings from the earlier part and middle of the last century also show many playing in D (by whatever means). Some players retained this way of playing on C/G instruments when they moved from the old German concertinas and played in C and F on these C/G. Do I need mention John Naughton and Kitty Hayes in this context?

 

Today we can see many concertina players play the C/G or transposing instruments, playing in D,G, A, C and F (and again their equivalent on transposing instruments). Without any problem or hesitation. And to great effect, players like Mary MacNamara, Claire Keville and the late Dympna O'Sullivan cleverly play(ed) sets of tunes  constructed for musical effect that jump between these keys, with tunes normally associated with the keys D and G range placed in for example C or F but surrounded by tunes in their more common keys.

 

There's a lot of possibility and variety out there, if you keep an ear out for it.

 

That's a fair summary isn't it?

 

As so often happens, I am again humbled by the wealth of information explaining so clearly why C/G rules for ITM.  I must agree with all said, but take some gentle exception to the notion that it’s a straightforward process to learn how to play in that way.  It really is daunting to some, including me, perhaps due to years of straight up and down 1st position harmonica.  When I had to choose between some years of learning new scales and those same years getting some tunes I could play right away, I chose the quicker and easier (to me) route.  I get positive feedback from my session cohorts, and while I may never be the “leader of the pack” I do have tunes in G, D, and sometimes A coming along nicely.  But I can’t even sing along with my play, since every time I pull for the next higher note, I find myself inhaling, a la harmonica!    FWIW, the same kind of neurological (or, yes, even ambition) differences  comes into play when I try the box.  I have two sweet semitone boxes, a D/C# and a B/C, and I am stuck in their home keys, too.  What I may need to do is save for a better (than my Elise) Hayden duet, to allow play in all (or almost all) keys.  

 

Anyway, I always like the discussions here, and learn a ton.

 

Regards to all,

 

David

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On 10/2/2019 at 7:37 PM, Dana Johnson said:

 I have never seen a D/G,( only a fourth apart, where the normal interval between the main rows is a fifth) though Bob Tedrow had a reversed G/C which had the C row as the inner row and the G as a middle row.  He was good on it, but it threw me for a loop!  I think he said he’d copied that layout from a German concertina, but doesn’t make them like that normally.  D/As are pretty common and are nice bright instruments but then you might bemoan the abundance of G#s.  

 

I have a pair of D/G instruments (one by Bob, one by the Dippers), G in the middle, D as the inner row but down a 4th rather than up a fifth.. 

 

The biggest challenge (other than the lack of instructional materials) for an Irish sound is that you can very easily play very long runs in one direction across the rows, which gives less of a bounce than Irish concertina tends to have.

 

Oh, and you have to commission the instruments separately, and you can't really play other peoples' instruments. The enforced quasi-immunity to Gear Acquisition Syndrome may be construed as a benefit in some circles.

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But if you don't play ITM too much, C/G sure is squeeky!  (G/D player, proud minority)  :)

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