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Tips on imitating legato


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So, I have a question regarding duet, but I guess useful also for English. Let's say, I have a phrase that I'd like to be legato, but which is too long to be played on one push or pull. Of course, then it won't be possible to play strictly legato, but do you have any tips on how can I change the direction of bellows during such a phrase in such a way, that this phrase would sound as close to fully legato, as possible? I've just started learning, and I struggle with this a lot – mostly due to practicing in slow tempo, but sometimes this will be a real issue in the final tempo as well. I was thinking about making decresendo before bellows change and cresendo after – this seems to sometimes do the trick, but also can be undesirable in some cases, as I wouldn't like to have something like that in my interpretation. So do you have different tips or ideas?

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Well, you may want to start by finding alternative notes in the opposite direction that would allow you to play a series of notes all in the same bellows direction.

 

If that's not possible, then it pretty much just comes down to the timing of the release of the note immediately before the bellows change and the press of the new button (if changing buttons) essentially coincidental with the start of the bellows moving in the opposite direction. 

 

Of course if the reversal is on the same button, that's your best case, just leave the finger down, but if changing buttons with a reversal, practice slowly the timing of playing the first note, releasing that button as close to the timing of the bellows reversal, and pressing the new note coincident with the new bellows direction.  

If you release the first button early, you'll get a gap.

If you release the first button late, you'll get the wrong note from the first button.

If you press the second button early, you'll get the wrong note from the second button.

If you press the second button late, you'll get a gap.

This is something that you just need to practice slowly over and over until you can master it.
 

I'd start with practicing the skill in isolation. Pick any two notes that require a bellows reversal between them and aren't on the same button. 

Once you feel like you're able to get smooth transitions (they'll never be perfectly smooth, there's always going to be a break, even if just for a few milliseconds), then try it in the context of a simple tune played slowly.

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It sounds  to me like you're trying too hard to impose your will on the instrument.  As a duet player, I've yet to encounter a "phrase" that wouldn't be improved by or at least tolerate a bellows change here and there.  Limitations are the source of creativity. 

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First question - do you have leaky bellows? - if you hold the concertina by one end without pressing any buttons, how long does it take for the other end to descend to full bellows stretch? There is always some air leakage, but it should take a good 20 seconds. If its a lot less, then look/feel for pinhole leaks in the bellows.

 

Secondly, consider what you feel is a 'phrase' - some good English players like Rob Harbron seem to work in short phrases without ever (or rarely) fully extending the bellows.

 

Finally, I think Michael's comments above thought you were playing Anglo, but what he says about how to change direction with minimal break in sound is totally valid for English and duet.

 

Note that the question is not unique to concertinas - I played cello as a child, and running out of bow is very similar to running out of bellows, so techniques that apply to violin bow direction phrasing would also be relevant. I definitely use the bellows as I would a bow to articulate phrases.

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41 minutes ago, Paul_Hardy said:

Note that the question is not unique to concertinas - I played cello as a child, and running out of bow is very similar to running out of bellows, so techniques that apply to violin bow direction phrasing would also be relevant. I definitely use the bellows as I would a bow to articulate phrases.

 

In general I agree that there is a lot in common between using concertina bellows and using a cello bow. But on a cello, once you get a string vibrating you should be able to change the direction of the bow without interrupting the vibration of the string. When you change bellows direction one reed has to stop vibrating and another one start (even if the note doesn’t change). So it’s a little more complicated.

 

I like Wunks’s answer, above.

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One thing you can do to smooth out your playing is learn how to switch fingers on a note without interrupting the reed thereby re-positioning your hand and avoiding a "hop" to reach a subsequent note or harmony shape.  It doesn't involve a bellows change but smoothing out in general may make those more tolerable.

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I may help if you "engineer" your play so that you're starting each phrase with the bellows completely closed or open.  Assuming you have an air button you can play with a "controlled leak" to achieve this.

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17 minutes ago, wunks said:

[It] may help if you "engineer" your play so that you're starting each phrase with the bellows completely closed or open.  Assuming you have an air button you can play with a "controlled leak" to achieve this.

 

While this is undoubtedly true, in my nearly 40 years of playing, the only thing I’ve ever played where I had to think like that was this, a famously slow piece with exaggeratedly long phrases (and as you can see, I ran out of air at a few of them).

 

 

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Thanks for all the tips!

 

Ending phrase on fully open/closed bellows would be hard I guess as I don't have the air button.

 

And yes, I definitely have leaks! Drop time is about 10-12 s. I've read some things about leaks here on the forum and I'm rather sure it's bellows, not pads. I didn't disassemble my concertina to check for location of pinholes or if there are no cracks in plate for sure – but I'm going to do it soon! I'm for sure getting it repaired – either by myself or by some specialist, we will see after disassembly.

 

But I guess you may be right about rethinking phrasing here and there as well. I'm coming from piano, so I'm used to have my legato as long as i want it to be ;) I guess embracing instrument specifics is also an important thing to do.

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Try the old fashioned "rubato" routine if you are transitioning to a slower part of music.. that is making a note a bit longer than written, just enough to emphasise it.. then it gives you a breathing space to change to slower legato technique Also useful when playing faster phrasing ahead in music also.

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Posted (edited)

I have to agree with Paul Hardy. Sounds like it all gets down to a serious amount of bellows leakage. I just checked the "drop time" of both my light Edeophone treble and even my 5 LB+ Edeophone Baritone and both have a full drop time of over 40 seconds. I play primarily legato, often with both chords and drones, with plenty of air. If you go to my Youtube channel and watch the "Over the Rainbow", "Da Slokkit Light" and especially "The Sword of the Stranger" videos, you will see I use very little bellows for most long slow phrases. My Channel is Matt's Concertina on Youtube.

Edited by Matthew Heumann
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Another thought: sometimes air leakage has little to do with bellows, but instead weakened springs or old stiff pads. Both can prevent proper sealing of the air hole for each note. The leakage may be too subtle to sound a note but if many are leaking a little, the instrument as a whole leaks a lot.  Frank Edgley & I both use a special "blow-pipe": a square of thin ply big enough to cover the largest pad hole, with a hole in the middle and a metal or plastic straw inserted & glued just deep enough to allow the ply to sit flat on the underside of the hole without the straw touching the pad. Then if when you blow, if the pad seal is good, no air hissing should be heard and there will be considerable resistance. If air passes freely, either the pad or spring or both need replacing. Don't forget to check the air button pad as well.

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I've checked my instrument, and indeed this is fault of leaky bellows. I doubt there are any other leaks. 40 seconds sounds like a lot – hopefully after my attempt to restore the bellows I'll be in a similar spot! The difference between how you bellows work and slowly extend in comparison to mine is quite big indeed. Thanks for the tips either way, and nice playing by the way!

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