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20 button vs. 30


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I’ve been playing a 20 button Anglo Trinity College concertina for about three months, and I love it! My goal is to be able to sit in with friends at music jams, such as bluegrass, folk, jazz, whatever is available. It is my understanding that a 30 button concertina is fully chromatic such that I would be able to play in any key, correct? If my goal is to be as versatile as possible, should I go ahead and get a 30 button now, rather than investing more time learning my 20?

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Especially if you want to play the genres you mention, having more key flexibility is a must.  30 buttons are fully chromatic for most of their range, but getting fluent in a number of keys will require diligent practice.  However, if you organize your practice around that goal, it will become much more natural as you get to associate certain pitches with their buttons ‘ direction.  One good exercise is to play something in your normal key, then one whole note up on through some sequential keys.  You can do half steps too.  Remember, you still have to place the music in the instrument’s range.  That means if you find a tune goes too high, play it an octave lower etc.  likewise if it goes below the chromatic range, you may need to try it an octave higher.  A lot of tunes are in the keys they are commonly played in because they were composed on instruments of a specific limited range. Remember, you will have a number of buttons that play the same note, sometimes in different directions.  Try using alternates to find the best to use for each key.  Lastly, learn some pieces that are a challenge and need the chromatic scale.  I like JS Bach partitas for solo violin since the range is about right for a C/G 30 button.  You might need to  transpose the music to fit the notes you have available.  Even if you don’t master them, they will improve your ability to find notes when you need them.  Oh yes, even if you read music  Jams/sessions are aural things.  You need to be able to hear a note and then play it.  Whatever you do, make it fun!

Dana

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Dana, thank you for your detailed response, full of good information, & I understand what you are saying, and why. I’m drawn to concertina because it challenges me to an acceptable level, as opposed to fiddle, a previous instrument. I am enjoying the fact there are several ways to play the same note, which requires strategy in playing a song, very cool! Though I read music well, I know to play in a music jam I need to play by ear, & have begun jamming with others already. I like that I can play softly in the background - much like a guitar - until I am confident.

 

I looked at your website and am very tempted by starting with a beautiful instrument like that, but I think I will pay my dues with an inexpensive 30 button for a while. Then I’ll know more about what I want or would appreciate in a quality instrument. 

 

It has been really fun for me to now be able to play some beautiful old fiddle tunes that I couldn’t accomplish on the fiddle. I keep cranking up the metronome to increase my speed. Finally, I love the sweet & simple sound the concertina creates  :^ )

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Hi Sunny,

I very much focus on the 20button and have been coming up with tunes for it as well as seeing how to best arrange preexisting tunes for the instrument.  I have been playing solo (aided by the last year meaning I couldn’t go to sessions or band practices or gigs - I literally took up the instrument last year, but (like you) am already someone very used to both sheet music, playing by ear and jamming.

 

Now things are changing and I’ve got together with friends to jam - I have been able to improvise stuff that goes with their tunes if they play in keys that aren’t too distant, do rhythmic accompaniment, countermelodies etc.  I’m used to playing of course in C and G but also a lot in E and A minor and modal D (Dorian) and other modes that only use “white notes plus F sharp”

 

That said whilst this is possible, I’m still of course not as used to doing this as in my other instruments and to find that of course it restricts how I accompany _a lot_.  Which is interesting sometimes but at other times it’s this massive relief to get my piano accordion out and jazz away on those chromatics.

 

So of course it makes me think about something with more buttons. I borrowed one from a friend and it’s handy for familiarisation although I miss how beautifully responsive my 20 button is.  Means I at least know what I want out of a 30 if and when!

 

I will never get rid of my 20 - getting the max out of it is a real satisfaction to me and stands me in great stead when and if I get more buttons.  But the 20 gets my head thinking in interesting ways and being  inventive in accompaniment (when playing solo and otherwise!)

 

 

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Posted (edited)

I have always found that even one key away from the two basic keys on an Anglo (e.g. D or F on a C-G box) is a lot harder than the basic keys. I can work out out to play a tune but it is much less instinctive. So for me the benefit of more buttons is not multiple keys but occasional accidentals and the choice of directions for the same notes.

 

With the first instrument that was made for me, the maker pointed out that it is better to have more buttons and not use all of them than to have a certain number and wish you had more. On that basis he suggested giving me 40. The only real downside of that has been that I use some of the extras buttons a lot, so that as I have acquired more concertinas I have always wanted the same (or very similar) 40-key layout, and those are thinner on the ground and more expensive.

 

If playing in more than a very few keys is important, a Hayden Duet might be more appropriate.

Edited by Richard Mellish
Deleted a superfluous word
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Yes, one can play the Anglo 30 chromatically, but....what Richard says is true. It is difficult at best to play in more than a few keys on the 30 button. As Dana says, it CAN be done with diligent work, but then it is also possible to row across the Atlantic in a bathtub. Should you is the question.

 

For playing in a lot of keys with an Anglo, in lots of keys with loads of jazzy accidentals, consider learning from the Boers of South Africa, who were and are masters of this style on the Anglo. They nearly all play 40 button Wheatstone Anglo  instruments. How they do it is straightforward. Once you have such an instrument, you can play in almost any key either all on the pull or all on the push. Memorize any scale on both the pull and the push, and then you have the tools you need. You can change directions at will: you just need to remember where a particular note is in the other direction. 

 

You can also learn to play the chromatic scale mostly on the pull or mostly on the push, and similarly use that information to play in any key. It eschews the charming in-out rhythm of the two row instrument, of course, which is no small matter. Some of these Boer players sound a bit like lounge music piano accordionists as a result. But the really good ones still get some snap and sound great.

 

Or then the easiest way forward is to play the English concertina, where you have the full chromatic scale in a well-ordered setup in front of you, and it has the same fingering push and pull. If you want to play a lot of pickup jazz in lots of odd keys, it would seem to me to be the best choice. 

 

However you choose, enjoy the journey.

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1 hour ago, Dan Worrall said:

As Dana says, it CAN be done with diligent work, but then it is also possible to row across the Atlantic in a bathtub. Should you is the question.

 

 

 

Dan, that's the best descriptive sentence I've heard in ages.

 

A major point to consider in this discussion: if you plan to play in the harmonic style - with melody plus chords/basses/harmonies - a 20 button will really limit you to a few keys.  

 

In SOME keys, you can do just fine in this style; Kathryn's wonderful playing makes that very clear. In other keys - not so much.  30 buttons will expand your range, but still,  playing in the harmonic style in some keys will be somewhere between awkward and impossible. The further you get from the two "home" keys, the harder it will be to find good accompaniment.

 

A 40 button is a good idea, but they're a somewhat rare bird, and might not be easy to acquire.

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On 5/19/2021 at 10:47 PM, Sunny22 said:

... I would be able to play in any key, correct? If my goal is to be as versatile as possible, should I ...

 

I once asked John Kirkpatrick (an absolute master of both the Anglo and the B/C/C# diatonic accordion) how he chose which instrument to use to accompany songs. His answer? "It depends on what key I want to use - some keys are easier on one and some easier on the other." The anglo is essentially a diatonic instrument so even the best players will play in only a limited number of keys.

 

If playing melody in multiple keys is your main aim, then Dan's advice to consider the English concertina is good.

 

If you want to play in multiple keys and in the harmonic style (as Jim mentions) them maybe you should consider a duet - probably the Crane system if you expect to do chromatic work.

 

But if you're wedded to the anglo system and want as much flexibly as you can get then skip 30 and go straight for 38 buttons or more.

 

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5 hours ago, Little John said:

 

I once asked John Kirkpatrick (an absolute master of both the Anglo and the B/C/C# diatonic accordion) how he chose which instrument to use to accompany songs. His answer? "It depends on what key I want to use - some keys are easier 

 

 

That's a good point.

 

If you listen to John's Anglo playing, it becomes apparent that he rarely plays outside the home keys.  Most of his recorded Anglo tunes are in C (he's mostly playing a. CG), even though he published some in other keys in his tuenbook. He also plays a GD baritone - in G.  Just an occasional foray into F.

 

That's a major reason for his uniquely full harmonic sound.

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Posted (edited)

The other pragmatic option is to have more than one Anglo. If you stick to 20 button then you'd probably need four to cover your interests: D/A, C/G, Bb/F and Ab/Eb. If you go to 30 buttons then a C/G and an Ab/Eb would probably cover it for the sharp keys and the flat keys respectively.

 

A few days ago Francis Cunningham posted a tune on Instagram. It was clear from the keyboard accompanying him that it was in F minor. Four flats - I was impressed! When I asked he said he was playing an Ab/Eb and wished he could play that well in that key on a C/G. I was still impressed, just not quite as much as before!

Edited by Little John
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50 minutes ago, Little John said:

The other pragmatic option is to have more than one Anglo. If you stick to 20 button then you'd probably need four to cover your interests: D/A, C/G, Bb/F and

 

Yep. I always have 2 in the bag. Often I wish I had one more.

 

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Oh my, my head is spinning from all this information, & enthusiasm. And thank you Kathryn for the link to your beautiful melodies which show me what is possible with 20 buttons.

 

I’m coming to understand that i will have choices to make, & limitations to accept from this fun little instrument. I’m having so much fun playing my Anglo box, I will get one with more buttons & just see where that takes me for a while. I appreciate everyone’s input & suggestions, & look forward to hearing everyone’s music.

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I know what you mean! It’s extremely useful and it really makes you think about what you like to do with an instrument.  I suppose another issue is whether you play other instruments (in my case I could say “fine, I will keep concertina for my own tunes solo and for those tunes in bands that it suits and use my other instruments for jamming in a session”

 

But then I think how portable one concertina could be for ad hoc jamming and sessions (I don’t think lugging several around would be any better than what I do now!) and how cool it would be to have one that I could do anything on regardless of genre and not feel restricted..hmm!  So much food for thought isn’t it!


Thankyou so much for bringing up the topic for discussion!  Do please keep us updated! 

 

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3 hours ago, Kathryn Wheeler said:

But then I think how portable one concertina could be ... and how cool it would be to have one that I could do anything on regardless ...

 

It's starting to sound very much like a Crane to me!

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On 5/22/2021 at 2:34 AM, Little John said:

If you want to play in multiple keys and in the harmonic style (as Jim mentions) them maybe you should consider a duet - probably the Crane system if you expect to do chromatic work.

 

Apologies if this is too much thread drift, but I'm curious why you recommend the Crane over other duet systems for chromatic playing in the harmonic style.

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