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How to Add Depth/Richness When Using Music Not Written For Concertina


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Started playing the concertina a few weeks ago and I’ve quickly become obsessed with it. I’ve learned a couple songs specifically for the concertina that use chords, harmonies and/or bass and really love how rich and full the songs sound. I also often just look up random piano or tin whistle sheet music for session songs I like. I’m wondering if there are any tips or “tricks” to add depth to music that’s not originally written for the concertina. For example, I’ve been using the linked music to play Britches Full of Stitches. Is there an “easy” way for me to enhance this for the concertina by adding harmonies, chords or beats using the low notes on the left hand side? 

https://abcnotation.com/tunePage?a=users.wpi.edu/~sullivan/IrishWebPages/Foinn Seisiun Book 1/FoinnBook-1/0100

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3 hours ago, Smcd said:

I suspect the answer to my question is “learn music theory”  but welcome any and all advice! 


@Mikefule has some great posts for getting started with harmony and music theory. Check his post history. For that matter, there's lots of good stuff in the archives of this forum - it's worth a dig while you wait for more answers. Here are a few to get you started:





For tunes like "Britches Full of Stitches", a simple thing you can try is adding occasional "double stops" as a fiddler would. It's not a full rich harmony like you're looking for, but it's something, and it is idiomatic for certain styles of music.


I'd say more, but I'd just end up repeating what's in the posts I linked above, only less clearly.

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Beginner "Harmonising" on an anglo can be very instinctive, be it single notes or chords. It is largely what the anglo was originally designed for. Presuming you are playing mostly in C and/or G then learn where the basic three chords are for each key -only four chords for the two keys (though there are some alternative fingerings). To start with though I would just try stuff out and, if doesn't work, then try something else next time! You don't want to dull your initial enthusiam by loading yourself up trying to learn theory.


Plenty of time for theory later.


Others here will have a different view.


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I'm mostly in agreement with Clive here and would take another step back from imposing your will on the instrument.  Forget what key(s) it's in.  Pick a random note.  Find another that sounds interesting with it.  Add a third note.  Now there is a mood or flavor.  Proceed accordin'.


It's also helpful to learn to play melody with your left hand.

Edited by wunks
more info,
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YouTube threw this at me this morning:



This is a good simple way to get started with harmony, along the lines of what Clive suggested. I don't disagree with what he and wunks have said. I do find my meager grasp of music theory to be very helpful in building arrangements, but the real test is always how things actually sound. You don't have to know any of the rules (more what you'd call "guidelines") in order to make something that sounds nice. A lot of music theory is just an after-the-fact description/explanation of things that people found by experimenting anyway. Think of the theory as a chance to learn from those past experiments while still conducting your own.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Just to  add  a few more thoughts on this matter myself; I started with a 20 key Anglo concertina myself years ago, before moving onto 30 key variety, and I used a lot of music book originally intended for Recorder [descant or treble] as they provided a good direct melody line to play from.  I found this less confusing than too much mathematical theory at that stage.  Also eventually I kept the part books with all the accompanying instruments in [when included] and found you could easily try out  chords printed in the full book itself to see how they work.  Not all work on instrument; buy some do, and it helped me find which buttons to press for some harmony.

But, at the end of the day, also find out by playing the instrument, not worrying too much about theoretical idea all the time, really let go, and enjoy making sounds [sometimes discord too!] and in that way you will begin to find intuitively what does and what does not sound good by ear! thirds are easy to do on Anglo system generally you just press or pull two neighbouring button together to get some of them.

A lot of theory books are based on piano or other technique which [to my mind] is not always best suited for learning squeeze box methods.

Myself I use melody line a lot and improvise chords as I go along; and by keeping the part book of music I own, I can always look at them to see how a chord sounds in  written key too [if need to].

There are some very simply written books on tablature for learning concertina which look to the eye very basic; but they work very well, with the special numbering marks above each note to guide you. There's different kinds so I wont confuse you with the one I began with, except to say it was a book called 'first steps'.

You may find it easier to try and learn music by listening to someone play and try and follow the actual music on page at same time.

Try and get into the habit of using all your available fingers on hands, not just one or two, from the beginning, rather than picking tentatively. 


If people think 20 key Anglo is limited in capabilities they would be mistaken; myself I transcribed getting on 300 pieces for my own 20 key Anglo, over many years, and only then did I run out of potential tunes to play!

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