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Can the Crane system be bettered?

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I'm sure many Hayden/Wicki aficionados would say "yes", but it is not my intention to re-open that debate! I'm prompted by the posting of this unusual duet. It's similar to the Wheatstone duet (but with five columns instead of four) and to the continental (or "chromatic") button accordion (and Tona's custom concertina, with three rows (rather than columns) arranged by the same principle). I'll refer to it as the Five Column Chromatic system, or 5CC for short (making the Wheatstone duet the 4CC system). Below is attached a button layout.


Some of us in the earlier posting were sceptical, including me. I remarked that five columns was an odd choice. After all, with 12 notes to the chromatic octave the 3CC, 4CC and 6CC (if it exists) would all repeat after (respectively) 4, 3 and 2 rows. The 5CC system doesn't repeat. But the more I thought about it, the more I realised the 5CC system has advantages over all the others. This is mainly because, like the Crane system, the vertical interval between buttons is a fourth. This interval features strongly in the diatonic scale. For example, in major, minor and mixolydian modes the first block of three notes is repeated exactly a fourth higher for the second block of three. This means the fingering pattern is repeated one row higher in the 5CC system. Similar repetitions occur as you go up the scale, and also occur in the dorian mode but at a different point.


Does this matter? Well, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. I've spent a little while fingering the table while looking at the button layout and also silently fingering my Crane while imagining it to be a 5CC instrument. I have to say that the 5CC system felt most natural and intuitive. So much so that I'm tempted to say that it is, indeed, better than the Crane system. Here are a few more observations:


  • The vertical interval in 5CC is consistently a natural fourth. On the Crane B-F is an augmented fourth, so playing either F-Bb or F#-B involves jumping columns.
  • The scales of C, F and Bb (for example) all start in column 5 so all have identical fingering. On the Crane the fingering is similar but not identical as it has to be modified to take into account the "black" notes.
  • There are inconsistencies in the placement of accidentals ("black notes") on the Crane. For example the low D# is adjacent to the D whereas the higher D# is adjacent to the E; which leads one to having to modify his fingering. The 5CC system does not seem to suffer this need for a slightly unnatural change of fingering.


As against the other "CC" systems I'd make these observations:


  • Triad chords are easily formed on 5CC (as they are on the Crane) because the three notes always fall in different columns. That's not true of 3CC or 4CC where two of the notes are always in the same column. This makes playing "oom-pah" accompaniment awkward. (I haven't checked for 6CC.)
  • Playing a scale on 6CC required the use of four fingers on one row, spread across all six columns, which again is awkward.


I'd be interested to know what others think about this. It seems to me that the 5CC system has much in common with the Crane but irons out the inconsistencies. For my part, if I were ten years or so younger I'd be very tempted to have one built (or to modify a Crane to the 5CC system) to give it a try. But I'm not, so I'll happily continue with the Crane system. 


Crane and 5CC comparison.pdf



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7 hours ago, gcoover said:

Looks like open fifths would be a bit problematical.


I don't really see why, unless you're misreading the layout. Fourths are the "problem" (like they are on a Crane anyway); the two notes being in the same column. For the same reason open fifths are the "problem" on an English. But not really a problem in either case.


Or is it something different I've missed?

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The layout is fairly intriguing. I'll give it a go on my "soft concertina" vnoizepad application once I can shell out a few cycles.


One of the things I like about it is that (as opposed to the traditional Crane layout in which it doesn't work for Bb and B) ALL power chords can be fingered by flattening a finger to play the two notes in consecutive columns together.


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I now have a 55 key Lachenal Crane in this configuration. Purchased about 6 months ago in standard layout (my first duet, and first concertina aside from some very limited trying out of an almost unplayable English), and after a few months began the transition, then sent it off to a shop for refinement, and received it back just a few days ago. It's unidirectional, with lowest C keys on both sides in the index finger positions. Am very positive about it. During the beginning of the reconfiguration I had been very curious about whether a 6 CC as mentioned by Little John would be a better way to go, and had done some tabletop practicing, but decided to go with what I already had, and in any case a Maccann might be more problematic to convert, though I've never seen one so of course don't know. 

Edited by mskow
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actually, in terms of button arrangement, a conversion wouldn't be too hard, "simply" relocate the leftmost lowest button to the top of the column. Of course this doesn't consider issues like sloped pans.


EDIT: Actually you'd need to relocate three buttons. Oh well.


Spoiler: I currently work on a custom MIDI crane. If I'd known about the 5CC layout before I started the design, I would have added an additional button space, so switching from one layout to the other would be a no brainer. Oh well...


Edited by RAc
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  • 9 months later...

Well, I now have been able to program a 5CC keyboard for my concertina simulator (isn't a lockdown in combination with the festive season good for something after all?...).


So far I am, well, flabbergasted. All of the points made by @Little John are right on spot. For the left hand, this layout is a dream come true; all of the Crane's complexity reduces to one consistent power chord shape, similar to the Hayden (as far as I understand it), and the major and minor full chords reduce to a very few equal shaped triangles. Even diminished chords (which are very inconsistent on the Crane) fall very easily into a single pattern. I haven't looked at seventh chords yet.


On the right hand side, 5CC becomes (as John suggested) a truly transposing instrument. This is particularly useful for my current favorite music genre (ragtime) as ragtime frequently has a Trio Part D which is generally Part B transposed a fourth up, so unlike the traditional Crane layout, where you have to think one note off when transposing, 5CC is simply next higher row for part D over B, period.


Also, for the most widely used keys in English folk, all of the root notes (G,C and D) are in the center column with the respective note leading right into it (the seventh interval) immediately next to it. This makes it much easier to think of the center column as the "home" regardless of your key.


The property 5CC has in common with the Crane - a scale zigzagging left and up - makes it fairly easy for Crane players to convert; on my simulator, I could pick out most of my standard tunes rather fast. I also tried to finger out some of the more chromatic tunes, and so far I have found nothing where I would consider the Crane system superior,


I wished I had known about this earlier. Now my Plan A would be to send my cousins Luigi and Angelo with their violin cases to Alex and convince him to abandon all instruments in the works in favor of a 5CC for me. Unfortunately I don't have cousins named Luigi and Angelo, so I have to revert to plan B which would be redesign my MIDI concertina for the 5CC layout so I can start practicing 5CC. In case there is any maker out there who'd like to try out designing and building a 5CC, please contact me immediately! 😉


I don't know why 5CC hasn't ever made it into the concertina mainstream, it would practically be something like a Hayden turned 90° around, with all the Hayden ease and orthogonality combined with the Crane idiosyncracies.


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Looking at the Crane and 5CC layouts in the first post of this thread:


this seems to clarify something that has puzzled me about the Crane layout.


I have a Crane and I tried to think about scales as moving from left to right as they do on a Hayden and on a piano.  So I think of C to D as one step across to the right, then E as the only note in the next row up, then up another row to give me F to G, and so on.


But looking at the 5CC layout is seems clear to me now that scales move up from right to left:  C to D to E, up a row, F to G to A, up a row, B to C to D and so on.


On a Crane, the lowest C is on its own is the last note of a row in an upward scale.  So, C, up a row, D to E to F, up a row, G to A to B, and so on. The chevron pattern makes this a bit misleading whereas the parallelogram pattern on the 5CC makes this clear.


How do Crane players think about the movement of notes in a scale?


Edited by Don Taylor
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For those of you who would like to dabble with this or other regular layouts, there’s a great app called Musix, that let you arrange any isomorphic layout on either square or hex grid. 

As to features of 5CC, any isomorphic layout gives you uniform triangles for triads, and in fact a single geometrical shape for all chord classes. But some of them strongly favour chordal play vs melody play, some get into „twisted fingers” problems, some have octaves stretched over so many columns/rows, that it is impractical or straigth impossible to implement on concertina… 


The layout that seems to be best suited for Crane conversions is called Harmonic, spans over 5 columns of the hex layout and is pretty much a Crane turned inside out - black buttons in the center, white keys on the outside. It’s main feature is that with large enough buttons and small enough distances between buttons, triads can be played with a single finger. Great for singing accompaniment Cranes are often used for.

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Thanks for the information, Łukasz, interesting stuff!


The harmonic table layout turned around 90% counterclockwise would IMHO be completly unusuable for melody playing because then you would have major thirds on top of each other in the same column. It would be the Crane fourth issue superimposed to major thirds which are among the most frequently used intervals. Also, you'd lose the ability to play power chords with  a flattened finger which is one of the Crane's greatest assets. As you wrote, with big enough buttons you could play even full chords, but it looks like then you'd have to go through extra pain to leave out the third of the chord (ie twist the finger sideways).


It would be interesting, I believe, to combine different layouts, for example such that the HTL could be on the left hand and 5CC on the right, or something like that.


Yet I've always believed that every minute argueing about layouts is a minute wasted on practicing your chosen system instead, so unless something jumps into my face (or I end up with plenty of overhead time I can not use practicing), I'll stick with the Crane system as it is and try to get better at it, may there be "better" systems around or not.

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10 hours ago, Don Taylor said:


How do Crane players think about the movement of notes in a scale?



I guess I don't think about it, I simply take it as it is...


I believe your confusion stems from the fact that the lowest C happens to be a "wraparound." If the layout would start to rows up, your lowest note (again a C) would be the rightmost one in the center; thus, the right to left zig zag pattern would start in the "intuitive" position. The simple math involved (diatonic scale in three columns) stipulates that octaves are always offset by one column, so the RH lowest C (if it is required that it is the lowest note) could be in any of the center columns.

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22 hours ago, Don Taylor said:

How do Crane players think about the movement of notes in a scale?

I came to the Crane as a mandolin-player of many years' standing, and immediately recognised that the ascending scale is in principle the same on both mandolin and Crane:

you finger the buttons/frets of one row/string sequentially until you run out of fingers, then start again at the beginning of the next row/string. In both cases, when you encounter an accidental, you finger an adjacent button/fret.

So for me, the ascending scale on the Crane runs from right to left on each row. The low C is equivalent to the last (or leftmost) note of a non-existent row. (Interestingly, the low C on a mandolin is the last note of the bass G-string, and the scale of C major continues on the next string, which is D.)


Speaking of the Crabb chevron layout, I have the feeling that it would enhance this feeling of the notes D, E, F and then G, A, B being in straight lines to a greater extent than the "Butterworth curve" of my Lachenal Triumph.




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1 hour ago, Anglo-Irishman said:

I came to the Crane as a mandolin-player of many years' standing, and immediately recognised that the ascending scale is in principle the same on both mandolin and Crane

The cello, the hammered dulcimer, and the Hayden duet concertina are all tuned in fifths. I started playing the cello in the 1960s, the hammered dulcimer in the early 1980s, and the Hayden in the late 1980s. The similarities of the patterns of both scales and triads among all three instruments was quickly apparent.

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