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hjcjones

Using the pinkie when playing anglo

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There was a recent discussion on the use of the little (pinkie) finger when playing duet.  https://www.concertina.net/forums/index.php?/topic/22384-using-the-pinkie-finger-on-the-ends-of-a-duet/

 

On anglo, I use the pinkies of both hands to play notes at the extremities of the keyboard.  I came to the concertina from playing guitar where my little finger was already "in play" (on the left hand anyway), so it seemed quite natural to use all the fingers,.  However I see that a number of excellent players seem to make little or no use of this finger.  I have long noted that John Kirkpatrick mainly uses this finger to brace the instrument.  Despite playing wonderfully complex music, as far as I can tell Adrian Brown doesn't seem to use this finger on either hand.  Cohen Braithwaite-Kilcoyne is another who seems to use these fingers only  as a brace, and then only occasionally.  Jody Kruskal doesn't seem to use them at all.  I admit I haven't made a detailed study, these are just impressions from watching a few videos. 

 

So what do other anglo players in the harmonic style do?  In particular, how do the teachers among you advise using this finger?

 

I can see the benefits from bracing the instrument more firmly, which is a problem I always have when playing standing.  However I suspect I am too set in my ways to change now, and besides I don't think my hands are big enough - it feels quite uncomfortable to use these fingers as a brace, especially on the 40-button, even before I try to finger notes.  However I'd be interested to know what other players do, and what may be regarded as good practice (if indeed there is such a thing).

 

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It could depend on the style of music, for example harmonic vs ornamented, or whether the player is playing single row, whether in C or G, or cross-row.

 

Different makes of concertina might have different notes at the bottom of the right-hand side too. There can even be differences between 30 key instruments and 38+ key instruments.

 

I have a draw G#5, where usually there might be an F#6, and it is a Godsend for playing tunes in A major.

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It's really harmonic-style playing I'm interested in, where you have to use several fingers simultaneously so the question is, which ones?  Other styles of playing may not need you to use so many fingers.  In particular, "Irish style" tends not to use the highest or lowest notes, and there are very firm ideas on which finger should be used for which note.

 

I'm not sure note layout makes a difference.  It is how those buttons are played, rather than the notes, which is the issue.  I can see that layout might affect how often you need to reach for them.  Certainly a larger keyboard makes it more of a stretch if you're going to brace the instrument, although John K manages this with a 40-button (very similar to mine, as it happens). However he has hands like shovels :)

 

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Interesting. I'm no expert (quite the opposite!), but I definitely use both pinkies when I play anglo. I play mostly in a harmonic / octave style and am very very bad at Irish style, for what it's worth.

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First, let me say that I'm not an expert by any stretch of the imagination. Also, I think you're asking an interesting question, and I hope my answer doesn't come across as sounding antagonistic (I certainly don't mean it that way).

 

I think if you watch more videos of the players you mentioned, you'll find that many if not all of them do regularly use the pinkie fingers to press buttons.

As another data point, Bertram Levy's "American Fiddle Styles for the Anglo Concertina" includes directions for which fingers to use for every note. From a quick glance, the pinkies see less use than the other fingers, but they do get used, and they appear to see heavier use in the final section of the book, which deals specifically with harmony.

 

Gary Coover's books generally don't prescribe which fingers to use, simply saying it's often obvious and "figure out what works best for you".

 

In any case, it's been my observation that use of the pinkies for playing notes is widely accepted, and in my uneducated opinion you shouldn't hesitate to use them for that purpose if you find that to be the most ergonomic approach. I suspect some of what you're seeing is choice of notes more than choice of fingers. It might be interesting to check if the players you mentioned are using their ring or middle fingers to reach outside buttons, or if they just aren't using those buttons in the performances you're watching.


Personally, I find myself making use of my pinkies quite a bit, especially on the left hand. But I'll also use a pinkie to brace the instrument when it's not pressing a button. Bracing with the pinkie isn't an intentional thing for me, and I didn't even realize I was doing it until I watched video of myself.

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Posted (edited)

Since the experienced Anglo players here have made it clear that playing both with and without the little finger is acceptable, my question to the OP is "why wouldn't you try it out?" 

 

I asked the same question of myself when I started playing Hayden and decided to try, since if successful I could boost my button-jamming manpower by 33 1/3%. Sure, my little fingers seemed weak and even more uncoordinated than it's three larger brothers (though a lifetime playing guitar and bass helped) but soon the little guy fell into line.  

 

Now, Hayden offers a regular assignment to a fourth finger since fa-sol-la-ti are usually in a line beside each other and I don't know how it would be best used in the Anglo world, but why not give it an adequate trial? Using my little fingers has become my default pattern unless some other fingering makes more ergonomic sense, and other musicians go without and play just fine. See what works! 

 

Daniel 

Edited by W3DW

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Posted (edited)

I use the pinkies a lot, mostly on the left-hand side for bass notes and bass runs, like you often hear with John Watcham, Andy Turner, Adrian Brown, John K, and Bertram Levy's playing. Not so much on the right since that's up in the squeaky end, but "Birds A--Building" and "Smash the Windows" (harmonic style) actually make it up to the high 5a. I've also recently worked up a really nice version of "Coilsfield House" in G that also needs that right-hand little finger.

 

It takes a fair amount of training to get those little guys to cooperate, but it's definitely worth it to expand your reach and your sound. I've never used a pinkie to hold either end - they're needed to play notes instead.

 

In the meanwhile, a sneak peak of a draft version of a tune from an upcoming book of John Watcham's tunes, "Saturday Night" (as heard on the Son of Morris On album), that uses the left-hand pinkie, including a bass run in measure 12 where you have to jump around all over the place - totally forget what the ITM folks say about "chopping"!

 

Gary

Saturday-Night-C-ANGLO-WATCHAM.pdf

Edited by gcoover
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In reply to schult, my video check wasn't very thorough and I've only looked at a few.  I don't always find it very easy to tell whether a pinkie is being used to play a note or is simply "floating" while another finger is used, and the camera angles aren't always helpful.  However I definitely notice this with John Kirkpatrick, who is someone I've watched closely for many years.  I'm not saying he never uses it to play notes but often it is used to support the instrument.  See here for example:

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lD42nuQHRpk

 

But he has big hands - I have a very similar instrument (40-button Crabb ) and I can barely reach his contact point, and then I can hardly move the other fingers. 

 

I certainly agree with gcvoover that all the fingers are needed to play notes, at least where my own playing is concerned.  I guess what I am interested in is the trade-off between added stability (especially when playing standing) and using fewer fingers.  It would be interesting to hear from players who habitually do this.  Coronavirus permitting, I'm still hoping to go to JK's workshop in October so maybe I'll ask him then.

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Hi Howard,

 

I use my pinkie on both hands, especially for the lower buttons of the left hand (1 and 6) while on the right, I use it more for the "extra" buttons on the end of the middle and inner rows of the Jeffries 38, which having 7 buttons across the middle row, I don't think I'd have a chance to reach otherwise. These provide me with the reverse e and f, which in combination with the reverse c and d on the end of the inner row, allows you to play more legato.

I think playing while standing is a different issue though and I used to do it a lot more than I do now. I tried to block the instrument between the strap and the palm of my hand, so that the angle of the hexagon sat in the cusp of the palm. Does that make sense? Once it was there, I found it was possible to balance it in combination with the angle of my forearms. Again, I'm not sure how this is going to sound, but it felt a natural way of doing it and gave me the flexibility in my fingers that I needed. I used to rehearse playing standing and if I didn't do it for a while, I sort of lost the habit and found I needed to go back and start again with simpler tunes. Ultimately though I started having strange pains in my arms and hands and I decided to stop for fear I might damage something. I still like to stand when singing, since the arrangements are normally a bit easier and I can sort of dangle the Anglo in a much lower position for my arms.

I hope this helps,

 

Cheers

 

Adrian

 

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Thanks Adrian.  I couldn't quite see from you videos just what you were doing.  Your approach seems to be similar to mine, especially on the 40-button where some of the buttons are a bit of a stretch.  I've more or less copped out of trying to play standing up, and when performing with the band I use a high stool so I am at the same level as the others but can support the instruments (melodeon or concertina ) on my thigh.  When singing, I also tend to "dangle" and maybe tuck it into the top of my thigh for bit of extra support, but I am usually playing simpler arrangements of mainly chords and arpeggios.

 

May I add that I very much enjoy your videos, and I've recently got hold of a 'Garden of Dainty Delights' which has some great tunes.

 

Howard

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4 hours ago, hjcjones said:

In reply to schult, my video check wasn't very thorough and I've only looked at a few.  I don't always find it very easy to tell whether a pinkie is being used to play a note or is simply "floating" while another finger is used, and the camera angles aren't always helpful.


Oh yeah, it can definitely be hard to tell whether the pinkie is just along for the ride sometimes. It doesn't help that the motion is so quick, either. It's great that Adrian could chime in to give a more definitive answer about his own playing.

 

 

4 hours ago, hjcjones said:

However I definitely notice this with John Kirkpatrick, who is someone I've watched closely for many years.  I'm not saying he never uses it to play notes but often it is used to support the instrument.  See here for example:

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lD42nuQHRpk

 

I haven't examined a lot of John Kirkpatrick's playing, so I guess I have to plead ignorance here. He definitely spends a lot of that video using his right pinkie to brace the instrument. I also see him repositioning the first three fingers to reach buttons (a little after 5:50) and at other times using the pinkie (clearest example starting from 7:20), which is kind of interesting. I wish I could also see what his left hand is doing.

 

Overall, my impression of that video is that he uses the pinkie as a brace whenever he can, but it does come free quite a few times, and I can't always tell the exact reason. If you do get the chance to ask him about it in person, I hope you'll come back to this thread to share what you learn.

 

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On 5/28/2020 at 2:21 PM, hjcjones said:

Thanks Adrian.  I couldn't quite see from you videos just what you were doing.  Your approach seems to be similar to mine, especially on the 40-button where some of the buttons are a bit of a stretch.  I've more or less copped out of trying to play standing up, and when performing with the band I use a high stool so I am at the same level as the others but can support the instruments (melodeon or concertina ) on my thigh.  When singing, I also tend to "dangle" and maybe tuck it into the top of my thigh for bit of extra support, but I am usually playing simpler arrangements of mainly chords and arpeggios.

 

May I add that I very much enjoy your videos, and I've recently got hold of a 'Garden of Dainty Delights' which has some great tunes.

 

Howard

 

Thanks Howard, glad you enjoyed the book.

For a very long time, I didn't really think about "which button, which finger" and if needed, I certainly didn't worry about occasionally using the same finger for consecutive buttons (I think what the ITM players refer to as "chopping". But in playing more complex pieces and arrangements, I started getting my fingers tied up in knots in certain passages if I hadn't planned things out beforehand, and I was forced to come up with some sort of a system. I basically have two main "positions", with my four fingers either covering the upper or the lower parts of the main rows + the extras (for example RH buttons 1-4, 1a-4a and 6-9, or 2-5, 2a-5a and 7-10) Changing between the two positions can either come naturally if there is an easy succession of notes, or if things start to get complicated, it's the alternative push g and pull a buttons on each end that act a sort of "anchor" points to swap between the positions.

I'm not sure if this makes sense written out like this, but I find it helps a lot to keep my fingers on track in some situations. If anybody is interested, I'll see if I can find a suitable passage to illustrate this and will notate it with my finger designations.

Cheers,

 

Adrian

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I certainly use all four fingers on both sides, plus my right thumb obviously for the air button, plus my left thumb for the "drone" button in some chords. I can't think why one wouldn't use all available fingers, at least sometimes. I've always thought that for playing concertinas it would be good to be one of those people with an extra finger on each hand.

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