Jump to content

Bellow control. How to learn it.


Maarten
 Share

Recommended Posts

As a beginning player of the english concertina, I am currently busy with 'how to control the bellow'. When to pull and when to push, whether or not to pull far out, whether or not in fan form etc. I can't find any real educational material about this. Is it useful, for example, to indicate the pulling and pushing in the music, like a violinist inscribes his up and down strokes?  I feel it is an essential part of the concertina study.

Who can help me?

 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I'm an Anglo player so can't comment in detail on the subtleties of bellows direction for English.  In theory you get the same note in each direction, so the choice is yours between long legato (smooth) phrases with the bellows moving in one direction, or a more accented dance rhythm with the bellows pushing on the accented beat.

 

However, as for "fan form", I don't think that is important in its own right.  The bellows is a pump which moves the required quantity of air in the required amount of time.  As long as you change the volume (capacity, not sound) of the bellows by the right amount, you will pump the right amount of air.

 

Tricks like fanning the bellows across one knee may allow you to have more fine control, but the reeds won't "know" what shape the bellows are making.

 

I remember reading, probably in this forum, of someone asking a more experienced player why they lifted one end of the instrument from their knee at certain points in the tune.  They had seen this as some sort of technique to be copied or learned.  The answer was simply, "Expression."  Sometimes with music, things that make no theoretical difference to the sound help the musician (rather than the instrument) to produce the desired effect.

  • Like 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

A change of bellows direction can be used to give the note a bit more attack or separation from the previous note, so can be used as a driver of the rhythm or pulse of the tune you are playing. 

 

As an exercise try playing a piece you already know, but changing bellows direction at the start of every bar. Then try it again changing at every half-bar, then again playing it in one direction for as long as possible and only changing direction when the bellows, rather than the pulse of the music, make you. 

 

All of the above are valid ways of playing, the musicality and expression of the music comes from using those effects ina conscious way. When you start to play chords you’ll need to be much more mindful of your bellows to create the sound you want.

 

It will become more intuitive and automatic the more you do it, so you’re not facing a lifetime of consciously monitoring your bellows along with everything else - but it’s back to our old friend practice to getting there ... 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Hello  Maarten,

 

an interesting topic, I  do  not  know  if  it  is  covered  by any of the tutor ( method ) books.  You might  look  at  www.concertina.com  to  see if  there are  any  articles.

 

After many long  years of playing the  English  I  have  started to examine  and think about   the  bellows  habits  that  have  developed  without much  conscious   input on my part.

 

The first  obvious point  is  the  control  of  loudness  and  using this  to  emphasize rhythm and  phrasing.  

 

Whilst playing  with the  bellows  nearly  closed  it  is  possible  to  accentuate staccato   playing with  tiny  bellows  direction changes,  many  Irish  anglo  players  use this  closed  bellows  technique.   The  material of the  bellows  is  somewhat  flexible  but its  effect  on the speed of  air direction changes  is  minimized   when the   folds are not  open  far.  So, the opposite      situation  occurs  when the  bellows is  quite  far  open  and  a  more  legato , almost  spongy,  feel  can  be  introduced to  any  dynamic    use   of  pressure changes.

 

The most  important  thing is to  listen to  what  sounds are coming out of  your instrument.

Edited by Geoff Wooff
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Hi Maarten,

 

I would recommend you think of using the bellows to breathe the life into the tune. As in speaking and singing, there are natural pauses between phrases, so those would potentially be the times to change direction. Also, as others have mentioned, bellows changes can be for emphasis, dramatic and otherwise. And sometimes even out of necessity if you've mistakenly gone too far in either direction!

 

I don't know where that whole fan thing came from, but I find it far too static and limiting for the EC. Watch players like Alistair Anderson and Simon Thoumire as they and their fingers dance all over the place, even swinging the concertina about for doppler effects. 

 

Learn the notes first and play them into your subconscious until they are almost automatic, and then experiment with how you want to phrase it. There's no right or wrong way, just how you choose to interpret those dots and make them sing.

 

Gary

Edited by gcoover
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Maarten, much useful things have been said in previous replies.

 

I always opt for "meaningful bellows (direction) changes", and albeit some things are easier to do on push (and perhaps again, others on the pull) I reckon, it's mainly about changes and not particular directions. I have never considered the "fan thing" for my playing, as I really need this little bit of extra attack (and cutting the sound away), and possibly even more the representation of bringing the dots to life in moving one end freely.

 

Best wishes - 🐺

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Frank Butler's tutor has a single page on bellows control. The recommendation here for beginners is to try reversing the bellows with every bar. Then, build up to every 2 bars, and continue to build up from there. The key comment is that it is important to make a change at a place which does not interrupt the flow of the music.

Frank Butler tutor - bellows.pdf

Link to comment
Share on other sites

14 minutes ago, John Wild said:

The key comment is that it is important to make a change at a place which does not interrupt the flow of the music.

 

That's perfectly true and strictly required - however the next step might be to deliberately interrupt a certain indifference in order to inspirit the flow of the music.

 

edited to add: Therefore it should not be the only goal to expand one's capacities playing on one bellows but also to subdivide and structure the playing into smaller units... (which is the point where even a technically inferior instrument might help to develop certain skills - because it forces the player to inevitably change the direction more often).

 

Best wishes - 🐺

 

Edited by Wolf Molkentin
  • Like 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Whilst  much  emphasis  is  put  on    arrangements  for  changing  bellows direction  and even  to  using  the  effect  of  changing  as a  way  to  add  structure  to  the timing, I  find  it  is  also  useful to  change  the   pushing and  pulling  force,  without  changing  bellows direction,   as a  way to  add  dynamics  to  a melody.  This  can produce  a  more subtle pulse to  the  music  but  perhaps  it is  not  so  useful  on an instruments  with  a leaky  four fold bellows.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Geoff, I perfectly agree. Quite a lot can be done in this - as you are saying: subtle - way, including shaping the attack and (even more important as for me) "release" parameter of a note. I find it very useful to at times increase the applied force just when (if not slightly before) releasing a key. In fact, it will not be "release" in the common notion, the tone will die not with a whimper but a bang (or rather a louder cry), so to speak. Of course, again not in a spectecular way (despite my dramatic description), but quite effectice too.

 

Best wishes - 🐺

Link to comment
Share on other sites

7 minutes ago, Wolf Molkentin said:

Geoff, I perfectly agree. Quite a lot can be done in this - as you are saying: subtle - way, including shaping the attack and (even more important as for me) "release" parameter of a note. I find it very useful to at times increase the applied force just when (if not slightly before) releasing a key. In fact, it will not be "release" in the common notion, the tone will die not with a whimper but a bang (or rather a louder cry), so to speak. Of course, again not in a spectecular way (despite my dramatic description), but quite effectice too.

 

Best wishes - 🐺

Indeed  Wolf !  Lots  of  nice touches  if  we  think of  the  bellows as  our  violin bow.

Stay safe !!

Edited by Geoff Wooff
  • Like 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Hello Maarten,

interesting question. And a question that should be asked more often as yes, the concertina can easily be learned and therefore doesn’t need a lot of tuition like other instruments.

But I’ve got the feeling that the most important part of the instrument doesn’t get enough attention. 
Depending on the music it’s worth to try out different ways of bellows directions:

If you’re playing a long phrase at the beginning it’s sometimes useful to open the bellows and start pushing to eventually have more air for the than uninterrupted phrase.

Putting on emphases has been mentioned before and yes, you’ve got more control with more closed bellows. 
And more than that articulation is another important part:

Having a bit of pressure before pushing a button down gives a nice emphasis whereas when you push the button and than start moving the bellows you get a nice and soft beginning. Same thing for ending a note. Leave the button pushed down and the sound disappears softly, a quick release creates the opposite.

Triplets can be played by using different fingers sometimes it is useful to keep the button pushed down and to do a quick change in bellows direction. 
Maybe it’s worth to take one or two lessons given by an accordion teacher, they might be useful …

best wishes 

 

Edited by Christian Husmann
Correction
Link to comment
Share on other sites

 

Hi Maarten,

 

have you checked with this older thread?

 

@Christian Husmann : It's interesting that you should suggest lessons from an accordeon teacher. I tried to go down that road as well and inquired with several professional accordeonists; they all refused to take me as a student, arguing that concertina and accordeon were way too different instruments (maybe it was just a polite way to let me know I'm a hopeless case... ☹️) anyways, yes, bellow control still appears to be a "holy grail" of concertina playing.

 

Best of luck!

Edited by RAc
Misspelled the user name, that's a no no...
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Hello Forum, 

 

Yes, I am a beginning (english) concertina student struggling with the lovely instrument.

But I must confess, I am also a professional musician. Clarinet player, teacher, conductor and composer. I taught clarinet methodology lessons at the Fontys conservatoire in Tilburg (the Netherlands) for many years. So I am very interested in 'how to teach/learn to play an instrument'. Nevertheless I am a beginning (english) concertina student.

That is why I would like to thank you all for your tips, links, good advice and so on.

In the meantime I have contacted my compatriot 😉Pauline de Snoo from the https://www.concertina.nl/nl/tutorseng.php 

I understand that many of you know her tutorial books. I am curious how she approaches this matter.
Goodbye everybody, please keep me informed.

 

 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Maarten

 

What instrument are you using?  If it is a modern(*) low-cost concertina (Jack/Stagi**/Chinese import) with plasticized cloth bellows then that will not help you at all.

 

If you have one of these and you are finding it difficult to get any expression out of the bellows when playing then it might be time to step up.

 

Don.

 

* I don't include the Morse or Concertina Connection mid-range concertinas in this list, but even then I would try to buy the best bellows that are available.

 

** See:

 

 

 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

7 hours ago, Maarten said:

But I must confess, I am also a professional musician. Clarinet player, teacher, conductor and composer. I taught clarinet methodology lessons at the Fontys conservatoire in Tilburg (the Netherlands) for many years.

 

Is this the same Maarten who I advised last month to learn some music theory?

  • Haha 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

 Share

×
×
  • Create New...