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I don't understand the thumb straps and pinky rests of the EC


John Ray

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I recently received my very first concertina--a 48 button Lachenal Excelsior one I purchased from a very kind user on this forum. And it is lovely in all regards... But I'm perplexed.

When I place my thumbs through the thumbstraps at a reasonable depth (like what I see others play) and put my pinkies within the pinky rest entirely, my wrist is at so ungodly a position, and my hand bent so back, that anything in the first octave is not only nearly impossible to play without using the back of my fingernail, but is is also supremely uncomfortable and takes all mobility and dexterity away from my fingers, particularly my ring fingers.

So I've tried various combinations of positions and it seems like the only way to maintain any kind of dexterity and not likely immediately get carpal tunnel is by just barely having the tips of my thumbs in the straps and using the pinky rest more like a hook for my pinky to grab with it's tip/first joint. But with this set up, it is difficult to have control over the bellows, and leads to me putting strain on my right pinky when I push in. It also makes truly 'holding' the right hand side difficult as I can't really support the weight like that for a sustained period of time.

I'm no stranger to uncomfortable instruments, be they large (upright bass) or small (flute, ukelele, etc). But this seems like something is difficult to overcome by the cramp-ed-ness of the instrument, and the placement of the straps and rests. Though I don't see so many others struggle with this.

My left hand not really being subject to the bellows movement, is much more comfortable and dexterous not even using the pinky rest at all, but I can't really push in the bellows on my right hand if I were to do the same.

I've read a few dozen posts here on the forum about wrist straps, wrist rests, and so forth, but I'm not sure I could find the repair(wo)man in my area or capital, given I've just invested in the instrument itself, or guts if I were to attempt it myself (which just seems like an awful idea) to install such things. It's a beautiful instrument, and I can't imagine it being at fault.

What am I missing? What can I try? Are there 'home remedies' for this sort of thing? I already feel my tennis elbow flaring up.

If a picture or video would help, I can try to post something, but I have a feeling you all have heard this before and I just couldn't find the right posts. :)

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If you tell us where you live then there might be an EC player nearby who could drop by and assess what is happening. 

 

Failing that a video might help.  If you have a cloud storage account somewhere then just share a link to a video, you won't have enough space here to post a video directly.  

 

I wonder if the bellows are new and are still very stiff and unyielding? 

 

I have an Excelsior myself and do not experience the problems that you are having.  I do have fairly large hands but I doubt that makes much of a difference.

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5 hours ago, John Ray said:

When I place my thumbs through the thumbstraps at a reasonable depth (like what I see others play) and put my pinkies within the pinky rest entirely, my wrist is at so ungodly a position, and my hand bent so back...

 I am not sure what you mean by this, but taking your words at face value I wonder whether you are trying to get the full length of your finger under the rest. The shape certainly suggests this might be correct, but to do so would certainly force your hand into an uncomfortable position. A photo or video to illustrate what you are doing would help.

 

I don't play EC myself, but I observe that most players seem to have just their fingertips on the rest. This Youtube of Rob Harbron has a number of close-ups of his playing, eg at around 34:40 which show very clearly how he holds it.

 

 

 

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Combination of things.Yes, you only need the thumb tips in the straps to be able to get to the first octave. It helps to tighten the straps to make this firmer. Yes, you only need to hook onto the rest to get some control. No you shouldn't be supporting the weight. Rest the concentina on one knee and use that to support the weight. Look at videos of players to see how they do it. 

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So before I post the video, here is where I'm getting some of the ideas of how it 'ought to be' or is played.

I had mentioned on the forum that I was primarily interested in trying to play Jazz or maybe some baroque pieces on the concertina and was recommended to listen to Randy Stein. So I found a couple of his videos and it seems like his hands are so much more 'forward' into the straps and pinky rest.
 



It's a very old video, but it looks to me in moments like this that his thumbs are just about 'to the hilt' in the straps, and that his pinky is slid all the way forward into the rest. And he has great control.

image.png.e1c63ed6b56d5f911cf6d6248ee69a1d.png

And when I was looking through the forum posts on wrist straps, I found this performance by Juliette Daum:


Which as a side note, is just an absolutely gorgeous performance... Wrist straps notwithstanding, she is supporting the whole right hand side (which she mentioned she could do without the wrist straps on such a heavy instrument!) somehow:

image.png.c25302896eab2e5d2ee9cfcc766f3458.png

With seemingly only the left-hand side of the instrument's weight being rested on the leg. And of course Randy's video did not have any of the weight rested.

So I'm perplexed by how they're able to maintain dexterity while positioned in these various ways or holding the instrument in certain ways.
 

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but I observe that most players seem to have just their fingertips on the rest.


That, and the video you posted, seems more like what I do, but in my very short time looking at other players, I haven't seem them play this way very often and just wanted to make sure I wasn't doing something wrong. A lot of virtuoso's on other instruments have quirks in their technique that are not recommended, and I'm not really experienced enough to know what's right and wrong so far. The method book/tutor I am reading through for the EC described holding the concertina by saying:

'The little fingers should rest under the finger plates, so that the weight of the instrument is taken on the thumbs and little fingers.'

And here's me explaining trying what I've seen and what I've ended up doing. For the most part my left hand doesn't even use the pinky rest
 


 

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If you tell us where you live then there might be an EC player nearby


Not likely! I'm in pretty rural eastern Michigan in the US. Most people that have seen me practicing have commented on it as like "that monkey with the cymbals thingy". I only wish I were kidding.

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I've been playing English for 30 years (I'm 70), and still have the Excelsior I learned on. Here are my hints:

 

I  have the left end of the instrument and the beginning of the bellows on my left knee, and start by pulling more with my right hand so that most of the weight remains on the left knee. As time as gone on, I've tended towards having the thumb straps tighter so that only the very first section of the thumb is inserted up to the knuckle. That gives me one fixed reference point at each end.

 

I start playing with just the the tip of the pinkies touching the inside of the curved end of each of the rests (finger at right angles to the end, not along the rest), which gives me a second fixed reference point on each side. So I can reliably put the index and second fingers on particular reference notes G & B on the left and A & C on the right, to locate myself on the instrument. Practice picking up the instrument and without looking at it, play the G and B on the left and then the A and C on the right, to ensure you have a good home position.

 

Without moving those initial reference points I can pretty easily put a finger on any on the full range of notes from lowest G to highest C on the right without any noticeable strain. Once I'm located on start notes and am playing tunes, my pinkies tend to slide back to the middle of the rests, so that they are more under the centre of gravity of the instrument and hence can be used more easily for bellows control.

 

I have had arthritis in various joints (elbow, shoulder, neck), but rather surprising find that playing English concertina does not put any real stress on the joints of the hands or wrists.

 

I hope this helps.

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I think that your thumb straps are too loose.  Try tightening them up so that they grip the thumb, either just before the first joint or, if you want to insert your thumb all the way into the thumb straps,  as tight as possible to get them to just slip over the thumb joint.

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Posted (edited)

I agree with Don that your thumb straps look much too loose. Here are a couple of screen grabs from this video of Alistair Anderson:

 

 

aa_holding_english_concertina_2.jpg.eb4d6f38cba990494e41788c2bf691aa.jpg

 

aa_holding_english_concertina_1.jpg.08f5a318e30aa29ab0c45ac2e72538e4.jpg

 

Incidentally, my understanding is the finger rest was originally intended for both third and fourth fingers while playing with the first two. Most people now only place the fourth finger on it, or don't use it at all so they can play with three or four fingers on the keys.

Edited by alex_holden
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6 hours ago, alex_holden said:

Incidentally, my understanding is the finger rest was originally intended for both third and fourth fingers while playing with the first two. Most people now only place the fourth finger on it, or don't use it at all so they can play with three or four fingers on the keys.

My music teacher always recommended her beginners to work with only the little finger if possible. However, many beginners were unsure or not confident of holding the instrument that way, and needed the extra security they felt with 2 fingers on the rest. They were "allowed" to work that way as beginners but encouraged to switch to one finger as soon as possible.

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Posted (edited)
8 hours ago, John Wild said:

the extra security they felt with 2 fingers on the rest

When Sir Carlos Trigopiedra went to Bolivia to sell English concertinas from the back of his covered wagon, he taught the Bolivians to use two fingers in the pinkie rest:

 

 

Looks like they are playing Excelsiors.

Edited by Don Taylor
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If something does not fit your playing style . Then adapt to what works for you best, at least I would say🌝 I hold my own Anglo concertina very loosely indeed,which has been commented upon.  But works for me so that's all that matters🌝

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Everyone's hands are different, so what works for one player may not work for you. It's no good copying another player, even one whose playing you admire, if their technique isn't suitable for you.

 

I am an anglo player and a great admirer of John Kirkpatrick's playing. We both play near-identical 40 button Crabbs. He often uses his pinky to support the instrument, but I cannot do so comfortably, and if I try it greatly restricts my playing, so that is something I don't try to copy.

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Thank you everyone for the really helpful feedback and advice! You all are always so helpful.

Tightening the thumb straps by a notch did seem to help a bit in the control department. Also seeing some different people play different styles with different techniques was helpful, too.

I thought that there might be a pretty rigid pedagogy, but I suppose not. I'll try experimenting with different anchor points for the pinky, too.

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