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Bellows strategy on Hayden?


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I recently received my Troubadour from Concertina Connection. The waiting was torture, but it is a lovely, gorgeous-sounding instrument -- everything I hoped for. As I begin learning, I'm finding it hard to decide when to change bellows direction. I often hesitate, and that's distracting. I was used to my anglo, where it is clear when to push and pull. Is it simply up to me? Should I not even think about it? Do people have "a system"? Are there different approaches? Is it the same as bellows work on the English? I imagine more has been written about when to push and pull on the English, so maybe I could look up suggestions for that. Or for any duet system, I guess. Advice appreciated!

Troubadour06092022.jpg

Edited by Corbin Collins
typo
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  • Corbin Collins changed the title to Bellows strategy on Hayden?

It’s all about phrasing. If you play a bowed instrument (I also play the cello), you will find that the concerns involving bellows direction changes are similar to those involving bowing. Similarly with wind instruments or voice. Where you’d expect to hear an oboist or a singer take a breath is a good time to change bellows direction.

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There are many voicing options on a duet ( mine's a Jeffries ).  I'm finding bellows changes have something rather decisive about them and use them sparingly.  I bring them in after I can play a tune reasonably well, mostly ad libbed for emphasis and not in a pattern.  I have a couple of bi-sonoric buttons and the bellows change to get the note I need is hard to deal with sometimes.

 

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Posted (edited)
1 hour ago, David Barnert said:

It’s all about phrasing. If you play a bowed instrument (I also play the cello), you will find that the concerns involving bellows direction changes are similar to those involving bowing. Similarly with wind instruments or voice. Where you’d expect to hear an oboist or a singer take a breath is a good time to change bellows direction.

This is helpful. A new concept. I've never played a bowed instrument but I get what you're saying. It probably leads to articulation and expressing emotion better too? I'll look into this concept. So no set-and-forget pattern, like "change every two bars" or something. The Troubadour only has six folds, so I do have to think about running out of air or expansion reach. Changing bellows after phrases sounds like a really good idea. I'm sure it takes lots of practice.

Edited by Corbin Collins
typo
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There is one tune I play with a very long note in it, so it is important that I start that note with the bellows all the way closed or all the way open. As I approach that moment, making sure I can play the note on one bellows takes precedence over all other concerns (see above).

 

There are often many choices to make, and if I play a tune more than once, there is no expectation that I will use the same bellows pattern each time.

 

On the other hand, George Marshall, an English Concertina player from Western Massachusetts (member of the contradance bands, Swallowtail and Wild Asparagus) taught me at Ashokan one year to use the bellows as a fiddle bow doing a “shuffle” bowing: oom chugga, oom chugga, oom chugga, oom chugga, changing direction on each syllable (the “oom” being a quarter note and the “chugga” being two 8ths). That was 25 years ago, and I still haven’t got the hang of it.

 

Iris Bishop, a Maccan Duet player in England is working on a book about playing duet concertinas (all types). She has asked me to contribute some tunes, which I did. I don’t know when it will be published, what it will have to say about bellows strategy, or even what it will be called.

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This is what Wim Wakker says in his Elise tutor:

 

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I should add that Wim uses bowing symbols in his tutorials and that all of the beginner pieces show a change of bellows direction every two bars.  Later on he changes to notating phrase movement.

Edited by Don Taylor
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I don’t think I have ever played using „periodical movement”. „Phrase movement” is natural and becomes transparent really quick. As David wrote, focussing on bellows position (and sometimes also a direction) is important mostly before long legato phrases, where there simply is no good moment to reverse bellows direction mid-phrase. One other case, where bellows direction is important, is that despite fingering patterns on push and pull are identical, muscle work on the pull is different than on the push and some note sequences can be easier to finger in one direction. This is especially true with hand straps and awkward pinky finger sequences. „Periodical movement” can result in unnecessary increase in difficulty of such phrases. There is also little point in trying to establish rigid spots for bellows reversals in a tune, as the air supply will last you for longer when you practice the tune quietly and then you’ll find yourself „gasping” when you play the same tune on full volume. Unless of course, you’ll always phrase bellows movement as if played at full volume, but then you close yourself to a single interpretation. Personally, my bellows movement pattern depends strongly on my momentary mood and „flow”, so I tend to make up for discrepancies as I go - if I stress a note/phrase a bit more than usual, then I will reverse bellows one more time somewhere else - there are usually more good spots to reverse the bellows than necessary, and there is always an air button to speed up the bellows extension/contraction before reversal, to make more room for the next phrase. 

 

That said, I’m currently so spoiled with abundance of air in my „big box” that I hardly think about bellows position anymore and only change bellows for accent/expression purposes.

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What David Barnert said. If you sing a song, or read a poem out loud, you will naturally take a breath at the end of each line. That's a phrase. That's where the bellows change will naturally go too.*

 

Most stereotypical concertina tunes, especially for beginners, will be in two or four-bar phrases, so "periodical movement" and "phrase movement" are the same thing. The main thing you will need to check is whether the phrases begin and end on the bar line, or if there is a pick-up note (anacrusis) so the bellows change comes between beats 3 and 4.

 

A difficulty you may have as a beginner is that fumbling for notes and correcting errors takes up time, so you run out of air and have to change direction in the middle of the phrase. That's just part of learning, don't worry about it.

 

I believe the duet and English are naturally played in a more legato style than the anglo, and bellows control is a big part of that. That's what "you should never hear the change in direction" is about. But of course different music demands to be played in different ways, and as an anglo player you are doubtless familiar with the effects you can get. And as you get into more interesting music, the phrasing and bellows work will be less rules-based and more a matter of style.

 

* It is not a coincidence that the length of the line in a typical poem is very similar to how much you can speak before taking a breath, or that the length of phrase you can play on a violin before changing bow direction is very similar to the length of phrase a person can speak or sing before taking a breath, or that the length of phrase you can play on a concertina before changing bellows direction is very similar to both. Each ultimately derives from your lung capacity.

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2 hours ago, Moll Peatly said:

What David Barnert said.

 

Thank you.

 

2 hours ago, Moll Peatly said:

* It is not a coincidence that the length of the line in a typical poem is very similar to how much you can speak before taking a breath, or that the length of phrase you can play on a violin before changing bow direction is very similar to the length of phrase a person can speak or sing before taking a breath, or that the length of phrase you can play on a concertina before changing bellows direction is very similar to both. Each ultimately derives from your lung capacity.

 

In the late 1980s, the early days of computer-synthesizer MIDI interfaces, I spent a lot of time teaching my Mac Plus to play fiddle tunes on my pair of Casio CZ-101s. If I notated the music as written, I noticed it sounded very uncomfortable, in a subtle way. Ultimately I realized that the problem was “This thing’s not taking a breath!”

 

I added breath-like pauses—32nd note (demisemiquaver) rests with correspondingly shortened previous notes—in appropriate places and it sounded much better.

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That's a great lesson. When I am faced with an unfamiliar tune as dots on a page, and start off just playing it mechanically like your computer, it sounds terrible, until I can figure out where the phrases sit, after which it suddenly begins to sound like a tune (even with all the wrong notes and shonky rhythms I introduce).

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Rob Harbron often plays the English Concertina in Anglo style, sometimes changing bellows direction on every note. I find the results very nice, it sounds lively to me and adds to the rythm.

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A rythm or "pulse" can also be created without a reversal, just a little extra nudge one way or the other.  I like it on the back beat or "pah" as a way to avoid a full chord, just another note or maybe two with the melody note. 

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