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Why C/G for Irish Traditional?


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3 hours ago, Devils' Dream said:

...G/D player, proud minority...

My mum sez I've got to stop playing G/D right away, and start playing C/G - she's

not having any lad of hers mixed up with any of these 'ere minorities...?

Edited by lachenal74693
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Thread drift: maybe start another thread if any interest.

I guess it's more a matter a pitch.

I know I have to play my DG Pokerwork for morris and love doing it.  And I have  pipe and drum and have learned from the family: to be played outside only.

But I like the concertina in GD, play my Erica at home in CF and see that most of the patches on my Streb are set at CF or lower.  

Gary Coover's and others playing CG in harmonic style tones it down.  But as much as I generally like ITM overall, on the concertina it can get, well...high pitched.

Seems like more people would have GD's but I see from the thread that CG is the way.




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1 hour ago, Devils' Dream said:

I guess it's more a matter a pitch.

Yes, indeed!

Not only the human voice, but also each instrument has a range of pitches (bottom note to top note), and the voice or instrument is at is best in the middle of that range.


On the other hand, each piece of music centres around the mid-range of the intended singer or instrument. A bass aria will have a different range from a soprano aria; a cello concerto a different range from a violin concerto. 


The traditional dance music of Ireland is essentially violin music, and is played in keys that put the tunes in the violin's mid-range. Other instruments with a similar range, like the flute and (modified) tenor banjo have cemented these keys in the tradition.

And the Anglo tuning that realy can play the jigs and reels in their traditional keys in its mid-range, is the C/G tuning. Irish dance tunes tend to lie under the strong fingers of both hands in this tuning.






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Know what you mean about the high range of the c/g.  When I play by myself, I play my A/E for it’s lovely sound.  Trouble with G/D/s for ITM is that it shoves most of the melody for most of the tunes to the right hand if you are playing with others.  Great for developing dexterity, but you still end up in the squeaky range.  You can play  everything an octave lower of course, but you’ll run out of range on the low end for a lot of tunes.  There are a few low pitch baritone  C/Gs out there, but in general, low is slow.  Not a problem playing with easygoing friends or by yourself.  Remember, flutes, fiddles, button accordions are all playing these tunes at the same pitch. ( whistles are usually an octave higher).  The advantage of all these instruments for folk music is the combination of capability and portability. I am just guessing, but I expect that the incredibly widespread use of folk instruments in this general range across many cultures is that they physically fit in people’s lives.    Regarding ITM though I do admit knowing hundreds of Irish tunes who’s b parts live almost entirely on the first two buttons of the right hand g row (f#-b) pretty much squeaky range☹️

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I’m in the G/D camp, though I love to play my C/G too! My preference for the G/D has driven me to produce a G/D Anglo instructional book which will be out soon!


For harmonic play, in my Anglo world, the G/D wins out against the C/G 10 to 1. When I go out to play, I often bring both just in case, and end up playing only the G/D because it sounds better and works better when I’m playing out with my fellow US and UK musicians. We’re playing mostly in the keys of G, D and A modal. Though I love and also do play many Irish tunes, I rarely attempt strict ITM, but rather - play contra and square dances, Old-Time, festivals, sessions and parties, rapper, sword, morris and lots of great old songs from all over.


This is what works for me... right hand melody and left hand harmony (whenever possible). That means that the melody plays along the rows for the most part. It seems to me that this style of mine (call it English style, K?) is what the Anglo was built for. Think John Kirkpatrick,  Brian Peters, Keith Kendrick, Dave Prebbles, etc. The two rows work together so nicely and there is plenty of room for left hand bass notes and chordal rhythms on the G/D.


I love to play with fiddlers and the G/D range matches them well. Just like the fiddle, my highest note on the G/D is a D. Fiddle tunes generally top out just before that at B, but “high D” fiddle tunes are thing too, so I've got that covered.


Doubling the fiddlers melody works well in the upper range, and with the G/D, I can also play down low like a guitar with chords and rhythm, Um Chuck and syncopated bits that make the rhythm as important as the melody. For me, G/D is clearly superior in that regard.


So why is C/G more prevalent? My belief is that the C/G won the key war a century ago, based solely on economic terms and the strong Irish market for Anglo concertinas, That coupled with a vigorous promotion of Irish traditional music in general cinched it. Only C/G Anglos were available inexpensively back when Irish Anglo music was developing and so, clever Irish musicians figured out a very cool way to make it work that included melody speed and “across the hands” melody playing. This Irish style of Anglo play leaves room for the embellishments that are so critical to Irish playing.


As for me, I rarely play those fancy Irish embellishments. Also, I rarely require blazing speed and prefer to play at moderate tempos. Instead of the twiddly bits that Irish players love, I add interest by playing with a rhythmic and harmonic accompaniment that is mostly in the left hand. Melody right... accompaniment left is my style, and that style works best on G/D in the keys that the folks I know are playing in. I’ve tried my tunes on the C/G and as I said before... only 1 in 10 work well in my style of harmonic play.


I cherish my C/G and use it regularly, but as for the majority of fiddle tunes I know... G/D is way better.

Edited by Jody Kruskal
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The Irish took an instrument which was not obviously suited to their music when that is played in its most common keys, and found a way to make it work.  This style is far from intuitive and needs to be studied carefully, but has developed in a way which suits the music and allows suitable decoration, so much so that there is now considerable resistance to letting it be played on other types of concertina because that is not the 'proper' style.  However if anglos had been most commonly manufactured in other keys rather than C/G (for example, if Salvation Army concertinas had been the ones most widely available) then no doubt the Irish would have come up with a different but equally effective way of playing in the fiddle keys, and this would now be regarded as the only proper style.  It's simply an accident of history due to C/G instruments being most widely available, rather than musical reasons.


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When I was learning I had the same question.When I was learning in a vacuum, before I knew another concertina player and the internet was in its infancy I ended getting a G/D 30 stagi because I thought that was a logical decision.  I didn't end up using it.   As soon as  I got myself a 30 key C/G I understood the ease of playing most Irish tunes on an instrument with that configuration.   You do end up using all the rows. But that is actually quite easy.  


Probably the more pertinent question is Wheatstone or Jeffries systems.   They are subtly different and if you switch you will not lose your mind for more than a couple of weeks.  Correct me if I'm wrong hive mind, but I do think that most of the readily available inexpensive concertinas are Wheatstone models, while many of the newer hybrids lean towards the Jeffries.  


I am very happy with my Wheatstone configured Dipper, which I requested since I had been playing a Wheatstone configured Conner for years.  While many others swear by the Jeffries system.

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I've only looked at the differences and haven't played both systems but what are the advantages of the Wheatstone layout for Irish music? It seems like Wheatstone has a higher range than most Irish tunes and is missing the alternate C#. I'm considering buying a concertina (currently only have a 20b) and have thought about the Jeffries vs Wheatstone question so I'd be very interested to hear more about the benefits of the Wheatstone system.

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I had a Wheatstone system Stagi concertina that I learned on and as I up graded to a Conner before hybrids were a thing it was also a Wheatstone system. So I leaned towards them.    I think most of the intermediate hybrids out there are Jeffries system.  So that seems to have ruled the day.  Having that push and pull c# is seen as important to most people, but I don't notice it.  You will get more answers to that question if you start a separate topic.  

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  • 4 weeks later...
On 10/3/2019 at 9:32 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?

There is no doubt but that Noel Hill and Tony Linnane's 1979 album is a gorgeous and classic album.


What might not be so well-known though is that Noel plays between 80% to 90% of the material on the album on an A?/E? concertina.


An A?/E? concertina is the E flat equivalent of a G/D concertina.


The only 2 tunes played by Noel on that album in C/G fingering are the Hornpipe "Johnny Cope", (on a B?/F concertina) and the Reel "A Pigeon on the Gate", (on a C/G concertina).

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