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How is the Noel Hill concertina school for intermediate players?

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Hello everyone!

I'm thinking of signing up for the Noel Hill concertina school in county Clare in March 2020. I did some searches on the forums here to find more info about it, and found an old thread that i originally started in 2008.. incredible how time flies. I'm now what I think should be intermediate - at least that's where I most fit in according to the level description in the info letter about the concertina school 2019. I know a couple of tunes and can join in on many more tunes, I play in sessions (although not in every tune) but I don't play particularly well at speed and I'm just beginning to look at ornaments. My priority for the moment is to learn my tunes better, to increase my repertoire and learn to play in more keys (I mainly play in G and I'm beginning to be more comfortable with D), but I would like to get further when it comes to technique, since I'm almost completely self taught (I do what seems to work) and I don't know what I should do next to improve my technique. I haven't been near other Irish style anglo players until this year when I moved back to Ireland, I've taken a few lessons here during spring/early summer, but haven't heard back from the teacher yet about the autumn.


When I read about the Noel Hill school, I see that there are those who found it amazing and highly recommend it, but I also read from some that he teaches his own fingering system that he insists that everyone in the class has to use. This worries me a bit. The fingering that I use works quite well, although I definitely don't mind doing modifications if that means it will help me play better, more smoothly, get better phrasing, or whatever. I've already expanded my fingering after I've taken a few lessons from a local player, and of course I want to do what it takes to increase my playing skills. But I worry about going there, investing that time and money, and then spending all week learning a new fingering, and not having the time to learn so much more than that. Am I exaggerating or overthinking now?


The C row is my "home row" (starting with index finger left hand on the G push and index right hand on the C push) but I use all rows, including accidentals, as needed. I use most higher notes on the G row right hand (unless I need the F instead of F#), but I'm beginning to explore the higher notes on the left hand too. As for lower notes, I'm not very familiar with them yet because I just recently got myself a concertina that actually allows me to play them without too much trouble (my old concertina was too slow to respond on larger reeds)! I'm comfortable with cross rowing but I still have lots to explore when it comes to alternative buttons.


Should I stop worrying and just go ahead because it will be a fabulous experience that will help me get to the next level?

Has anyone else been there as an intermediate self taught player? What were your experiences?

Please brainstorm...

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1 hour ago, Susanne said:

Should I stop worrying and just go ahead because it will be a fabulous experience that will help me get to the next level?

Easy answer: Yes.


More detailed answer: I have been to two of Noel's camps--one when I first started about 8 years ago, and another 3 years later. I got a great deal from both. Noel does indeed ask everyone to use his fingerings, and I found it very useful to learn his system. Probably it will require you to modify how you do things now, but it definitely will help you play better, more smoothly, and with better phrasing.


Don't worry too much about

1 hour ago, Susanne said:

spending all week learning a new fingering, and not having the time to learn so much more than that.

First, the new system will likely take much longer than a week to get really in hand. Second, if you don't come away with anything else, you still will have received a benefit for your music that will keep paying dividends as long as you keep playing.

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Am I exaggerating or overthinking now?


Perhaps, whatever else one thinks of Hill, he is an extremely capable, experienced  and insightful teacher. He has an almost immediate insight in a player's strengths and weaknesses and can suggest personalised  ways  to improve on that. He does have his own way of thinking and strongly pushes for that. You will have to bear in mind though he has things worked out in great detail in order to use the instrument as efficient as possible in a given musical context.


I remember a woman, who is possible in the higher regions  of my top three of favourite concertinaplayers,  that going to him 'opened up the rows' for her and made her a very much better and more flexible player, even if she doesn't follow his system. Take that as a cue to listen, take in what he has to offer and  gain insight.  And even if you don't follow his way of playing, this may open up ways with the instrument that you haven't thought of yet.


If you prefer a shorter, and probably less costly, way of experiencing his teaching, you may want t osign up for classes at perhaps the Willie Clancy week or the Concertina Cruinniú and if you like his teaching go on for a more intensive event.

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Hi Susanne


May I say I feel you are over thinking this decision. 


Noel is one of the great concertina players and has also been truly devoted to teaching people of all ages all these years. His love, respect and knowledge for the deep roots of Irish traditional music, styles and past players is vast. To study with him is a great opportunity for a concertina player of any level.


I have been in Noel's workshops (and lots of other teacher's) and  of course he offers instruction in the manner and approach that he knows. But his system or approach is really based on pragmatic methods to make  music on the concertina and he will explain any choice and/or technique that he recommends.


Each student can take it all in and then decide what to take or leave. His classes do not have an authoritarian dogmatic atmosphere as far as following his suggestions, but why else would someone choose to study with someone if not to get that particular perspective and submit to it so to give it a chance to offer the personal/musical growth we are seeking.


His classes are actually not only full of the love of the music, and technique, from as close to the source as one can get, but also they are  a great time of good will, humor and laughter!


Studying with Noel is very good for beginners because it can give one a smart practical point of departure without re-inventing the wheel or mistepping into bad habits.

If someone has habits and approaches that have become or will become obstacles he can show you why and offer well thought out strategies that he believes in.


Of course we are all welcome to take it or leave it. I have seen that those willing to take a long term approach to their music making may find many benefits to examining which habits are helpful and which can be replaced to the benefit of your music making. Some of that process will take time, more time than the week or so you actually spend in front of a particular teacher.


So I recommend that you attend Noel's workshop, and any other players' workshops whose music you enjoy and appreciate.






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If I'm not mistaken Noel Hill's system is vary similar to what they are teaching on the Online Academy of Irish Music.  (Please chime in here if I am incorrect hive mind)  If you are interested in getting that system under your belt you could subscribe for a month or two of their lessons.  I have found them very useful over they years I have looked at them.  If you had more options of fingerings you were comfortable with you might get more out of a camp or school situation.  

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Thanks all for your input! It's been very valuable to read your comments. I also received some pm's with very useful and encouraging information.


So I'm down on earth again with rational thinking. The more I think about this, the more I feel that I don't mind adopting Noel's system. It should be a good one if he uses it?! It will likely be worth it even if it means I may have to step back a bit in the beginning.

Also, I adapt my way of playing all the time as I learn more, and as I learn from other people here and there, so I suppose this won't be so much different. Now I've gone from worrying to instead be inspired and excited about learning from Noel - after all he's one of the world's top concertina players, and this is a wonderful opportunity.


I'll definitely check out the OAIM! I've thought of signing up before but never did.

Edited by Susanne
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