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Which Irish button accordion tuning?


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I'm an ITM concertina player who is considering giving the button accordion a try.  But unlike Concertina where C/G is clearly the default tuning for ITM, Irish button boxes come in two common flavors: B/C and C#/D.   There's plenty that's been written about the stylistic difference and relative merits of each of these tunings, but after researching it, I'm no closer to deciding which one I want to try.  "Both" is not the option I want to pursue!

 

So I'm asking my fellow concertina enthusiasts their thoughts on the subject, hoping someone here has gone down this path before me.

 

Here's what I know so far.  The most succinct description of the practical difference between B/C and C#/D boxes I've heard is that the former requires more use of the buttons and the second more use of the bellows.  Or, as it's put on McNeela's Buyer's Guide, "The quick and simplified answer is that on a traditional B/C button accordion you’ll move your fingers more, but the bellows less. On a C#/D accordion you’ll move your fingers less, but the bellows more."  Of course this difference leads to a different feel, and even different phrasing, to the music.

 

Common wisdom seems to lean toward B/C as favored, since it's been used by more players historically and almost all instructional material assumes this tuning.  But the one box player semi-local to me that I know of prefers C#/D, and there seems to be a trend where C#/D is in ascendance.  I'm not too worried about tutors and such.

 

The other advice is to listen to players of each type to see if you prefer the sound of one tuning over the other.  Maybe I'm just easy to please, but when played well, they both sound fantastic to me.

 

As a C/G Anglo concertina player, I'm not intimidated by constant bellows direction changes.  I'm also not one who thinks "along the rows" when it comes to playing concertina, so the shared "C" row of a B/C box and C/G concertina isn't a big factor for me.

 

I'm in no rush, and I'm looking for a reasonably good deal on a high quality used instrument.  Though C#/D instruments do seem harder to come by, I don't mind waiting for the right one to pop up.

 

Hoping some of you have experience and insights on this question that you're willing to share with me.  Thanks!!

 

Jack

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The obvious road to take would be to look at players whose music you enjoy, styles you like, and look at which system they play. When a pattern emerges, it may point to  an answer to your question.

Edited by Peter Laban
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In general F# is draw on the C/G concertina and C# is press on the concertina. It is the other way around for both notes on the B/C style accordion.

 

I made the move in the opposite direction, from B/C accordion to concertina, and, inevitably, I ran into that problem of "is it press or draw", so much so, that I gave up the button accordion entirely.

 

I quite liked the idea, in theory, to try the single row style, so, eventually, I did purchase a C#/D accordion, but that's like a foreign country to me now.

Edited by John, Wexford
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I am not a melodeon player.

 

but I picked up a decent c/c# box a while back. As a self taught/ self Lerner. I had thought I had done enough research before plunging in. After I picked it up, I started really trying to dig in. I noticed what I thought was a lot of viable info just, to me, was not.

 

I found that learning resources favored the b/c by an order of magnitude. I decided to sell it and stick with the concertina. 
 

that said. If I were to take the plunge again. As an Irish melodeon newbie, I would absolutely opt for a b/c first. I think the learning options and resources just lend itself to ramping up and learning a b/c quicker.

 

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I occasionally play my ( late) Father's button accordion.. two rows and in the very odd key arrangements of C and C Sharp! You can get the most interesting tonal feel just pkaying on the C Sharp row on its own.  He played it for years and seemed quite happy without question over playing it 

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On 8/19/2022 at 5:50 AM, SIMON GABRIELOW said:

I occasionally play my ( late) Father's button accordion.. two rows and in the very odd key arrangements of C and C Sharp! You can get the most interesting tonal feel just pkaying on the C Sharp row on its own.  He played it for years and seemed quite happy without question over playing it 

C/c# is pretty common.

And most that offer a b/c box have a c/c# as an option.

 

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I went in the other direction, too. I think what I really wanted was an anglo concertina, but a cheap one-voice B/C accordion was what I could find locally that was affordable, so I started there. Pretty soon of course I needed to upgrade, and by then I knew I liked playing button accordion. I ended up with a less-cheap but very reliable C#/D, again because it was affordable and available. I don't remember the switch from B/C to C#/D being terrible, but then I didn't have that much to relearn.

 

I played that C#/D for several years until I eventually took the plunge on anglo. That felt like starting over completely, although I suppose the basic kinetic knowledge of push-pull patterns and row crossing carried over, but that was about it. The most challenging thing, which still sometimes trips me up when I switch from one to the other, is that on the C#/D the D chord is on the push, while on anglo it's on the pull. (And the way I play anglo, I tend to play pull Ds more than push Ds, but that's another story.) So if I go from playing a reel in D on one to a reel in D on the other, it feels like my patterns have just been turned inside-out, if that makes sense.

 

Finally, a few years ago I really got into Québécois music and switched my C#/D for a D/C#. That transition was more or less instantaneous and painless, and in many ways D/C# feels more intuitive because the accidentals are on the inside row, like on a piano, or an anglo. But I still sometimes get tripped up switching between accordion and anglo, especially if it's not a well-practiced tune on both.

 

I've done a lot of listening to players of different button accordion systems, and like you, Jack, I don't hear much that recommends one over the others. Personally, I think the "B/C smooth, C#/D punchy" comparison is oversold. A good B/C player plays with plenty of punch when they want to, and a good C#/D player can play smoothly. And once you get into other keys, there's less difference anyway: G major fingering on a B/C is A major fingering on a C#/D, and E minor fingering on C#/D is D minor fingering on B/C.

 

I've heard it said that you play a D/C# if you want to sound like Joe Derrane, but I think the thing that made Joe Derrane sound like Joe Derrane was... that he was Joe Derrane! What I hear in his playing is, I suppose, the result of starting on melodeon before switching to piano accordion for several decades. Impressive, but I have no desire to play that way, and I don't think I do.

 

If I were starting over on box, coming from anglo, I'd probably pick B/C since those scale patterns (in D and G anyway) seem a little more similar to each other. But I wouldn't expect too much skill transfer.

 

(Actually, I'd probably pick C/B since accidentals-on-the-inside-row makes so much sense to me... but that wasn't one of your options!)

 

- Aaron

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16 minutes ago, seanc said:

C/c# is pretty common.

And most that offer a b/c box have a c/c# as an option.

Are you thinking of C#/D? C/C# is an older system that is much rarer these days, and in Irish music it's almost always played as a transposing box (e.g. using B/C fingering but sounding a half step higher -- an "Eb box" in Irish terms).

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Yes, talking about the notes being on similar places as Anglo concertina.. that was an aid to me when I first began to try and learn to play that button accordion; the difference  being physically, of course, that the right hand has more to do ..bigger leaps up and down than my smaller concertina!

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There's plenty of discussion about the different semitone melodeon systems, although I'm not sure there's much agreement. All the systems have their advocates, for different reasons.  However I think the OP is asking which is the easiest for a C/G anglo player to adapt to.

 

I'm not sure whether my insight helps, as I play a different style of music - I play English music on C/G and G/D anglos, and I also play D/G melodeon - but here it is anyway.  I don't have any difficulty switching between anglo and melodeon (but I don't play from music and I don't think in terms of named notes). I find there is less similarity between anglo and melodeon than you might imagine, except when playing strictly up and down the rows.  Otherwise the relationship between the rows is quite different (whether it's a semitone or fourth-apart box) and you have to learn different fingering patterns.  It's far better to think of melodeon as an entirely different instrument with its own keyboard (which it is) rather than trying to find false equivalences based on superficial similarities.

 

My suggestion would be to decide between melodeon systems based on their own merits, and just get on with it.  If you find that your "concertina brain" is getting in the way too much, then it shouldn't be difficult to sell that box and try a different system.

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Thanks folks!  Though there's no clear answer, this is still helpful to me.  For reasons more intuitive than rational, I'm leaning toward the C#/D, but if a quality B/C box turns up at the right price, I may try that route just to see what it's like.  I appreciate the help!

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The CG ‘Tina has *some* similarity with the BC melodeon, in that players of the Irish style Anglo ‘Tina tend to play the bottom part of the D and G scale on concertina C row, then switch across to the G row when you need the F# and upper notes. And the BC is played mostly on the C row, so the D pull scale and push G scale on a C row transfer quite well to the BC. Obvs you are doing different things with the accidentals. Whereas the C#D is a new (ish) game. You can access the D scale easily, although it is now on the push and you don’t have the nice runs you get with a BC, and the G scale is like playing in F on a BC (or CG Anglo). It starts in the pull. Having tried all of these things this is my experience anyway.

Edited by RogerT
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JackJ, are there some specific box players you enjoy listening to and perhaps would like to learn from?  That might help drive your choice in box tuning.

In my case, I really love John Whelan's playing and approach to the B/C instrument, so that had a big influence in my choice to play B/C.  Also, all the local players I knew when I first started played B/C so that's what I went with.

Edited by eskin
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