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Beginners First Song - MAD WORLD

Jody Kruskal

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Of the 60+ students I’ve worked with over the years, most of them have been adult beginners. I’ve found that the hardest thing about playing (or teaching) the unruly Anglo concertina is student motivation. If you want to challenge yourself to play with rich harmonies and self accompany the melody as I do, well... it’s hard to do, yet that’s what I teach. 


Each finger has to move independently and the bellows has to support the rhythm. This is an extreme form of manual acrobatic multitasking. Because it is no easy task for a beginner to learn their first song or tune, they have to really want to knuckle down and do it. I show them how to beak down a seemingly impossible task into smaller learnable chunks and practice efficiently.


The first tune I suggest to my students needs to be both easy and satisfying. Twinkle Twinkle Little Star is a delightful little tune. Mozart loved it and many of my beginners struggle and sweat to learn it. I have performed Twinkle for young audiences many thousands of times and I have not grown weary of its charming twists and turns. Variations just spring forth.


Still, many of my students have loftier goals. They long to play the songs and tunes that are more meaningful to them. As a teacher, I need to pay attention to their strongest motivations and guide them to a place where they want to put in the considerable time and effort to practice and learn. 


I try to align my teaching with my student’s musical desires and aspirations by helping them decide what music they want to learn next. Song selection is key. This is especially true with my students who can’t read written music or have meager skills and little knowledge of music theory. If they already know and love a song, then they are way ahead of the game in learning to play it.


Such a student is my fabulous new concertina learner.


With no previous musical experience, They have thrown themselves into the Anglo world on a Rochelle. My job is to help them do it.


After a few lessons it was clear that they were not finding enough practice time in their busy schedule to progress. Yet, they clearly loved the concertina and wanted to play. Together, we discovered their new song choice. It was not too hard to play and it spoke to them... that classic EMO anthem, Mad World.


Mad World, by the British band Tears for Fears was big in 1982 and generated lots of covers and a vast following over the years. My student could sing it from memory. The perfect choice for their first serious concertina challenge.


Here is my arrangement for C/G Anglo written in a modified Coover text based tab. This notation only works if you know the song already, yet if you know the rhythm, melody and structure of the song then it gives you everything you need to play it on the Anglo.


Here is the original song video.


Mad World for c.net.pdf

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In my last post here I went into detail about my fabulous new concertina learner. This person practiced Mad World studiously and then wanted to sing the song while playing. I was dubious at first, but encouraged them to try. Sure enough, in the next weekly lesson, with further encouragement they were belting it out with feeling while squeezing at the same time. Amazing!


Then they picked the Carter Family’s Sunny Side of Life as their next song. A much more complicated affair but they were up for the challenge. I made them a text tab arrangement document (much like Mad World) and they are working on it, with a ways to go, but coming along.


At the end of our last lesson I asked if there might be a new song they wanted to tackle next. They asked me for the punk rock White Stripes classic, Seven Nation Army. You must have heard it somewhere along the way, it's so catchy and simple and angry.




This is totally doable on C/G Anglo in several keys, especially since their spouse is a drummer who might join them and they could play together. What do you think?

Edited by Jody Kruskal
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