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Learning to Oom Pah


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This may be a symptom of my general lack of musical experience, but I’m seeking advice on how to learn to oom-pah on my Anglo.

 

I’ve been learning for a few months now, and can play a decent number of melodies at decent speed, including a few that I can play in octaves from memory. However, I’m struggling with figuring out how to train myself to play oom-pah harmonies, such as the ones in gcoover’s (excellent) Easy Anglo 1-2-3.

 

With playing in octaves, I was able to learn each hand separately, and then practice putting them together until the muscle memory took. For oom-pah harmonies, I can’t really do that. I can certainly play the oom-pahs on their own, but without hearing the melody I’m unable to commit them to memory in the same way that I could when playing the melody on the left hand.

 

Does anyone have recommended techniques for getting over the hump on this? I’ve considered recording myself playing the right hand melody, and then attempting to play the oom-pahs while listening to it, but surely there must be other methods?

 

My experience with playing in octaves was that it got much easier once I mastered a single tune, so I’m hoping that a few pointers to get me going here will also help.

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I play duet, but I had the same problem - RH melody alone was easy, LH oom-pahs alone were easy, playing octaves was easy, but playing both hands together with non-symmetrical hands movements was impossible. My trick was to stop treating hands separately - instead learn to play very slowly with both hands together, so that your muscle memory encompasses hand-to-hand-to-bellows interactions and timings and then gradually increase speed only when you are not making mistakes at a current speed.

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My little thought on the worry over this problem is simply the fact that often people can worry too much over learning a technique, and apply it  in a rigid way ; and this can in itself create a barrier to progression. Once there is that barrier or wall put up in the mind of "having to do this, or that method".. it can make things worse. It is best sometimes to trust on skill built up over instinctive experience as well; by making mistakes and learning from them. You will soon find out how to progress in that way I am sure.  Don't worry over the 'oopmpah' method just try it out, and with advice of our people here, then I am sure you will master it eventually.

Main thing I have found is that learning a new technique is continuous and goes on for years, and if it is enjoyable, and you progress, then it spurs one on to achieve even greater things! Enjoy the  learning process do not see it as a burdensome worry, and you will succeed.

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I had/have the same problem even though I had 30+ years experience as a fingerstyle guitarist, thus, hand/ finger indepence to my was not news at all when I started on the duet.

 

The solution, as always, is drill - a child learning to walk fill fall down a bazillion times before staggering, eventually walking, then possibly dancing. It takes whichever time it takes, but the magical moment when it finally works is well worth it.

 

Vary your exercises. For example, practice left hand only at times, then throw odd melody notes in instead of desperately clinging to the tunes you really really want to play.

 

The only important thing to remember is this: Make sure to get it right. Your Oohm-Pa rhythm must be stable as a rock, that is not negotiable. If you settle on being satisfied when it sort of half way works, neither you nor your listeners will be happy campers. Thus, once you have managed a certain degree of left/right hand independence, do introduce your ears ro a metronome. It will be frustrating at first but will bring you miles forward. Your goal is to constantly move out of your comfort zone until you are in a new one which you can then break out of.

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One complication I've found when trying to learn a LH part independently is that I don't know which bellows directions will be needed for the RH part. (I play a 31 button G/D Anglo.) Another issue is that the RH melody part sometimes strays into the highest notes on the LH side which ties up not only the key but also the finger playing it. 

 

With a new piece, once I am really comfortable playing the melody part by itself I start tapping in time with the music on the lowest available note on the LH side that sounds good as the melody proceeds. That will be the one of the notes making up a suitable chord. If none of the low notes work for a particular passage I go back to my RH arrangement to see if a bellows reversal note is available. If that doesn't work either I just skip the offending tap.

 

Once I can play the melody comfortably with a harmonic sounding tap-tap-tap accompaniment I have a usable arrangement to play with others. But I then gradually start replacing the taps with something more interesting. For a waltz tempo that might mean keeping the initial tap but replacing the second and third with two-note chords. By doing this measure by measure I keep a viable version of the piece in my repertoire as I continue to enhance it. 

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I don't think I've ever tried just learning the oom-pah by itself, for me it's always both hands all in at once no matter how slow at the start since that's the eventual subconscious/muscle memory you're trying to establish.

 

Once you've got a passage reasonably sorted out, repeat it over and over for a full 5 minutes (use a timer, it's longer than you think). I recently did that for a tune's bridge section that is in D#/Eb and amazingly it developed the muscle memory pretty quickly - extra tricky since it required major accommodations since almost everything was on the pull.

 

I suppose you could learn the melody first if you want - that would allow you the freedom to experiment with left hand accompaniments. But if you add the accompaniment later you will often find you need to change parts of the melody to alternate buttons depending on direction, and those alternate buttons might be on either side of the instrument and that could impact your choice of accompaniment.

 

There are usually lots of good options, with a lot of the "wrong notes" left out since they are in the other direction. That's one of the joys of the Anglo - there are only a limited number of buttons available in the direction you want so you can experiment to your heart's content and hopefully discover some things you like, often by mistake!


Gary

Edited by gcoover
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There are a number of problems which beginners face when learning to play this way.  The biggest one for many is co-ordinating both hands (this can also afflict melodeon players, even though playing chords is easier on that instrument). Especially if you've been used to practicing each hand in isolation, bringing them together can be too much for the brain to handle at first.  This is why it is usually recommended to try to play with both hands from the start.

 

The problem you seem to be having is remembering which chords to play.  It is one thing memorising a melody, but memorising a chord sequence in isolation can be more difficult.  Again, this is where playing both sides together can help, especially if you have some understanding of how chords work (this could be knowledge of music theory, or intuitively recognising how chords work together with the melody).  If you are learning the chords at the same time as the melody they become part of it, and you will find it easier to remember which chords go with the melody. 

 

Furthermore, as Gary has pointed out, the choice of chord may dictate the bellows direction and you may have to alter the way you play the right hand.  If you have already learned to play the melody a particular way without chords you may have to unlearn it when you come to fit chords to it - another reason for learning both together.  Even for experienced players, arranging a tune may involve trying out different combinations of left hand chord shapes and right hand melody fingering sequences until they arrive at the best way of playing it.

 

It isn't easy, as you're having to develop co-ordination between both hands while thinking about both chords and melody, and at the same time managing the air button.  It's a bit like learning to drive, when changing gear, working the clutch and at the same time remembering to steer can be a bit overwhelming to begin with, but it soon becomes automatic.

 

 

 

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My biggest problem is knowing which chords/notes on the left go well with what I’m doing on the right. Gary’s book Christmas Concertina has really been helping me along (thanks Gary!!). The arrangements are great & being pretty familiar with the songs makes it easier to focus on the rhythm 

Edited by gypsea
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Don't forget after you have done all the technical hand excersize and academic practice, to then relax, and play about with the instrument in a less rigid way; have fun, make some noise and see what works ( and what doesn't) .. it' good to let go between all the studying too, and you can find a lot out about sound by just simply having a go!

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