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Would You Like A Chording Concertina Tutor?

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Greetings squeezers,


One of the things I've explored fairly extensively is chording on the anglo concertina. I've looked at it from two perspectives: 1) using the anglo as exclusively a back-up instrument (like a guitar or piano in sessions) and 2) something I call "chord-supported melody playing" - adding variety to your melody playing by employing tasteful chording as color and shaping. I'm primarily a piano guy and have played back-up to Irish sessions and contra dances and bring that perspective. Although playing in this way is not "traditional" to the concertina, Irish backup techniqes have been around for a while (e.g. on Michael Coleman recordings)...


I've started pulling a lot of material together and want to assess whether this is something the general concertina community might find interesting... I'm envisioning putting it into an instruction book with companion CD. It would show chords, common chord progressions and techniques with all of the common Irish keys (G, D, A, C, Am, Em). It would have the CD for people who learn best by ear, button diagrams for those who like that, and written music for others. It would be slanted toward the 30-button (the left-hand accidental row can be very helpful in chording). I also address the C/G baritone in the book (and excellent box to backup!) since there are slight variations working an octave lower... It wouldn't require a knowledge of music theory, but would require a basic facility for the instrument (need to be able to play at least a handful of tunes comfortably and know the notes of at least the C and G rows). It would be organized in a series of lessons that get you introduced to basics, get you playing early and advancing in complexity as you go further into the book.


A couple of questions:


1) Would you be interested in something like this if I put it together?

2) Any suggestions on what you would like to see - or not see - in a book like that?

3) Any chording tidbits that you find particularly helpful to put in there - I can help organize and give credit to the other good chording thought out there...



Craig Wagner

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This sounds like just the sort of thing a lot of folks in this forum would be interested in (one in particular that I can think of ;) ). This group is heavy with Anglo players who primarily play Irish music in a "melody only" style, and interest in chording techniques and "English Style" playing has been mentioned in several other threads.


I myself don't play Anglo, but at the Squeeze-In (I suppose I should modify that with "Northeast" now that so many others are under discussion) I sat in on Jody Kruskal's excellent chording workshop because I love the sound so much and because he's such a compelling personality.


I'd say go for it.

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>1) Would you be interested in something like this if I put it together?

>2) Any suggestions on what you would like to see - or not see - in a book


Interest: absolutely. I go to a lot of sessions and play a lot of chord back up --or try to. But I get in trouble when I have to move beyond the 'peoples choice' chords. Never quite sure how to play a B7, or a Cm. And how to incorporate runs with chords. I'm an old rhythm guitar player, and when I'm playing backup on Anglo I hear the runs in my head I'd do on the guitar to connect the chords, but it doesn't always come out right on the c'tina.


So bring it on, I'll buy!

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Hallo Craig,

It is a great idea and even from my tape there is a great response for this type of tutor.Why I restricted mine to twenty button was ,there was not one available and the other I would not be bothered with too many variations from one concertina to another. (See Alex new posting.)even so I expect some variation even on a twenty button box.How can you overcome this variation with your tutor,introducing another row?

I just wish when I started playing the concertina this type of help was available ,many from my era were self taught and frantically listened to John Kirkpatrick`s records to obtain how it should sound.

I wish you every success with this tutor and I know from experience how difficult they are to put together.



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Dear Craig,


This sounds like a very valuable project and I agree with those who are encouraging you to go ahead. Various short pieces have been written on this subject including one very extensive list of chords (including extended and altered chords) that was published in Concertina and Squeezebox, but most of these are out of print and/or hard to find.


The two main problems in creating such a tutor are issues I have encounted many times in private lessons. First, there are as many styles of tasteful (or expressive!) accompaniment as there are good musicians. Many, many genres of harmonized music can be be played on the anglo concertina (e. g., ragtime transcriptions, Morris, madrigals, modern singer-songwriter "folk," etc., etc.). Each of these styles has its own body of criteria for quality that differ from the others, but also within each there are many styles and disagreements. It is a life's work to discover and develop an interpretation of a particular kind of music on a particular instrument, and 150 years into the history of the anglo-chromatic we are still scratching the surface of its capabilities. Ultimately, we would want a book (or writing) from each of many great players explaining how and why they use the harmonies they do. I think not only their techniques but their aims will be radically different.


The second problem (as Alan has mentioned) is due to the wide variation in button number and note layout found among the anglos currently being played. The same beginners and hobbyists who most need a tutor of the sort you describe are the ones who get most confused by these keyboard differences. Musicians like yourself (and me) with a keyboard and theory background don't have a problem with different concertina layouts - but then, we can usually figure out our own harmonies! To deal with each beginner wanting to learn chords on her or his particular instrument you need to customize the tutor in some way to her or him. This seems an ideal application for a software tutorial that could be initially programmed with the student's layout and then would automatically configure the subsequent materials appropriately.


I have an interim solution to both problems that I use in my teaching of harmonies, chords, and polyphony on the anglo. It is the first section of MY unpublished book, but I'll publish it here. It is a deceptively simple idea that has a lot of useful implications:


The anglo has two keyboards. Not left and right, but press and draw. Take YOUR concertina (or your note chart, if it is accurate) and use it to draw up two charts: one showing all the notes the buttons would produce on the press, and one showing all the notes the buttons would produce on the draw. I know, the information contained in these is also in the "master" chart but it is harder to read and mentally process there. Now get any books available (or private instruction, not necessarily from a concertinist) on the use of harmonies/chords/accompaniment in the particular style of music you are tackling (or better yet, as used in the style of the particular musicians that inspire you), and learn the appropriate harmonic and chord theory for that style. You just have to keep in mind that at any one time, the only notes that can be played simultaneously are on one chart (press layout) OR the other (draw layout). If you learn some jazz chord theory, you will learn to look at your two charts and see that (on most 30 - keys) a Cmajor 7 can be played in the left hand on either press or draw (kind of a weird inversion on draw, but the notes are there), but an E7 usually only on press. On the other hand, if you are playing traditional songs, once you learn which notes harmonize well for the style you like to hear you can see in which direction they can be played - and (for example) in which direction smooth voice leading can be achieved without bellows changes.


Beyond the location of notes that can be played simultaneously, there are a few other issues particular to concertinas as opposed to pianos, guitars, etc (e.g., 1. at any one time, all the reeds being sounded are experiencing the same bellows pressure; 2. there is no built-in decay of notes so that timing and duration of each key-depression must be carefully controlled, etc.). Some of these issues are related to the techniques of playing organs and piano-accordions (and of course the english and duet system concertinas), and all have been written about for many years.


SO -- I think the tutor is a great idea, but I think in the course of time we will need more than one of them! And in the meantime, students can try the suggestions I have given. Keep in mind that the most basic type of chord theory is probably better learned on a "piano" (the cheapest electronic keyboard will do) with the help of one of the many books or a teacher, than on an anglo.


Have any of you see Alan Lochhead's brilliant book of transcriptions for the anglo (including ragtime tunes, Sousa marches, etc.) or heard him play? John Kirkpatrick has also written very insightful and useful articles describing how he creates his unique sound. And the old article in C & S (I just looked it up) was by Barry Metzner (1987, C. & S. 14/15:56-68).


Best wishes and good luck with the project!



Edited by Paul Groff
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Thanks for the thought provoking and lucid reply... I've grown accustomed to nothing less from you after reading many of your other postings...


I haven't seen Alan Lochhead's book or John Kirkpatrick's articles but would very much like to... Any leads on how I could acquire? If appropriate to copy the articles, I'll gladly pay you for copying and postage...


Your approach of analyzing things on the push and pull is the exact right starting point since, in my opinion, the changing avaiability of tones (based on bellows direction) is the defining character of our instrument when chording. Your approach gives the ultimate - a full knowledge of the tonal and chordal landscape at our disposal... Some chords are available one direction, some the other, some both, some not at all! It gives you the complete view of every possibility. I trust that your approach would draw in the dedicated musician and one already a bit comfortable with chord theory and the one willing to put some intellectual muster into their concertina effort.


Your 2 points are meaty. Let me attempt to address them.


To your first point: You are absolutely right, there is an infinity of genres, approaches, interpretations, and styles that can be applied to the concertina so that making any definitive statement on what is the "right" way to chord the instrument would mean writing a million tutors, obviously impracticle and unnecessary. But, whenever faced with an infinite problem, we need to focus on the sweet spot that is most important to us: we must simplify the problem, drastically reducing it's scope while still maintaining a wide-enough breadth to bring value to a reasonable number of people. In our case, I think there is a clear method of simplification since most budding concertina chordists are trying to do pretty much the same thing with the same kind of music.


My choice to reduce the problem is: The music? Irish (and some other Anglo-European based folk musics of a similar nature to Irish). The style? providing support to the melody line and embellishments indigenous to Irish music through chordal variety and interesting bass lines. The chordal landscape? Simple (in my crowd if I start playing 6th chords I get the evil eye) with enough pushing the envelope to raise the hackles of a stodgy (Stagi?) dyed-in-the-wool traditionalist. Methods? straight backup and chord-supported melody playing. Look-feel of the Tutor? It must be easy to use, easy to understand, and get people playing tunes with chords quickly. etc.


Respectfully, I don't believe your second point is a problem if we define a common denominator, again trying to simplify the problem to it's sweet spot. I would have to believe that 95%+ of 30-button C/Gs have the exact same buttons on the left side (the primary landscape for chording lest we interfere with the melody line too much). Yes, perhaps variants on the lowest note on the G row - but a minor variation we can deal with. Chording does involve the right hand, and that is where the Jeffries/Wheatstone differences come to play on the accidental row. But realistically, the major practical difference is the C#, so let's build a chordal vocabulary that uses only the push C# with the index finger. Yes C# is on a different button but, as we have seen in other tutors, this difference if addressed up front, is fairly easy for even the beginning concertina player to understand and deal with. Yes, the G/A are in different places and one has a dual D#, but again, these are more fringe issues.


So, I started elsewhere, not necessarily in a better place, but just elsewhere. Instead of starting with the complexity of all possibility that can facilitate approaching the concertina for any style of music, I find it more intuitive to start from a much smaller space: start with the music I know I want to play (Irish and other traditional), understand the rather limited "allowable" chordal scope of this genre, start with a common denominator button layout that is very common, and develop an optimal way to navigate the chords progressions natural to, and a bit on the edge of, that music.


This is one point central to my thinking: it makes far more sense to me to think in terms of chord progressions than chords. Let me try to explain wy. We have a strange and wonderful instrument. One strange thing is that the existence of a chord on a concertina does not necessarily make it usable in a chord progression. We may want to grab a certain voicing of the Emaj7 chord, but when we view the chord in the context of the most useful chord prorgressions that use an Emaj7 chord, the finger gymnastics may be almost impossible to grab at speed. Especially as we start using 3 and 4 note left hand chords that move fingers outside of there "home" position, we are moving to a realm where only a full-time professional concertina player would begin to feel comfortable.


As a result of this peculiarity, we are well-served to do some serious optimization before recommending chords that balances many things simultaneously. The major things we must optimize around are: getting the exact tones we want, getting the exact chord voicing we want, getting the right bellows direction to manage air flow, getting the best finger layout to facilitate movement to other chords often used in chord progressions with the chord, getting the right bellows direction to allow the most common melody notes in the right hand we expect to use, etc. I think our role as tutor writers is to work all that optimization out behind the scenes and present it with sufficient context to the student. I'm guessing people don't want 20 versions of a G chord, but the two that are bread-and-butter must-know that squirt out the back-end of a thoughtful optimization thought process. For those who want to go beyond, there should be ample grounding in the tutor to let them explore on their own.


So, I thank you for your suggestions and encouragement to continue. My intent is to try to hit the sweet spot of the chording need and hopefully provide a new avenue of concertina enjoyment to as many people as I can.


As an aside, I appreciate your efforts to be vocal about preserving the vintage instruments out there and bringing them back to life. There is a great musical heritage out there that can get chopped up pretty severely if we don't watch out.




Edited by Craig Wagner
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Hi Craig,


I really enjoyed your comments and look forward to seeing what you come up with!


I will try to contact Alan Lochhead to see if he is still selling his book, or if anyone else is. It is a classic that never received its due recognition, perhaps because it reflects his unique interests and talents (complicated mutipart arrangements written in standard musical notation). At least at the time of publication (and probably still today) most anglo players were playing by ear, playing mostly traditional dance music and songs, and were far less ambitious in their harmonizations. I often thought that a "record" (we had those then) of him playing the arrangements would have been enjoyed -- and purchased -- by a wider audience.


The articles by John Kirkpatrick were published in Free Reed and may be available in the back issues Neil Wayne has for sale. Mr. Kirkpatrick has an excellent web site that must be easy to find; some of his writings are available there and if the anglo lessons are not, you may be able to contact him about copies. I really admire his writing about traditional music and remember enjoying his observations about concertinas while driving him to the San Francisco airport many years ago. Frequent contributors to this forum Alan Day and Roger Digby have also written here about chordal accompaniment to English music. I really like this style of bass, chords, and melody, and it must be what the anglo was designed for.


In the context of Irish music the players I learned from didn't use chords on the anglo very much. Octaves, yes; little taps of partial chords like the regulators on the pipes, but never a bass line with chords to support the melody. Now there are a number of brilliant younger players over there who can do anything on the anglo, chords, counterpoint, you name it. But I still wonder if the anglo is the best instrument for "backing" tunes in a session of Irish dance music. One of the contributors mentions doing so, and I have seen people try this in sessions in Boston (mostly because they didn't know the tune that was being played and didn't want to sit back and listen), but it is a really advanced skill to accompany good quality Irish dance music without hurting the subtleties of its rhythms and internal harmonic structure. Some of the best players I know (on a variety of instruments) prefer to play without accompaniment of any kind. So it's not a case of, "if I'm not good enough to play the tune, I'll just play some chords along with the musicians." Actually doing a decent job of backing without spoiling rhythm and/or harmony may be a rarer skill than doing a decent job playing the tune! So I hope you will follow the lead of the better bodhran teachers and tell them, "if you are going to do this at all, make sure you do it very well!" And make sure that those who are leading the session find your approach a positive contribution. I'm sure this will vary greatly from place to place and session to session, but most sessions these days have at least one guitar, bouzouki, or piano player and with more than one backer there is a good chance that there will be clashing chord decisions, muddy rhythms, and other reasons to say "less is more."


Having said all this, I love chords and harmonies and play them all the time -- too often, I'm sure.


Best wishes,



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I regularly play with Craig on thursday evenings at the Finnish Centre in Farmington, Michigan (the new home of our Comhaltas branch). His accompaniment is tasteful and interesting and great fun to play along :rolleyes: with. I eagerly look forward to his tutor. I'm sure it will expand my horizons, and from my experiences in playing with him and knowing him I am sure it will be a great contribution to anglo concertina playing.

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i ASK YOU TO PUT ME ON YOUR LIST. ready to buy it.


(Somebody in particular I guess will smile when he reads my answer, but yes Sir, sounds intersting, although I admit there is a lot of Concertina work to be done, also without this tutor).


Craig, I have got tow Tutores for begionenrs (teaching chords on a 20 button Anglo, one with a tape)

Do you thihk this would help you ?





Send me your addres and I shall mail it to you.


Don´t wonder if it takes some days, but I have to trabvel tyeh coming dfays.


Kind regards to Dave !


Joachim Delp

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Good to hear from you again... I'm glad you are interested. Yes, I would be interested in understanding what material you have - no need for me to reinvent something someone else has done.... I have the Frank Edgley, Bertram Levi and Mick Bramich tutors and I think I saw this last week a 20 button book (I didn't spend much time looking at it), but didn't buy it... What is the name of it? I can probably find it at my local music store...




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John Kirkpatrick's articles can be found at http://www.johnkirkpatrick.co.uk/writings.htm


With John's permission and Neil Wayne's I transcribed the 3rd article some years ago, before John had his web site, and put it on my web page.


Because it was difficult to transcribe the handwritten drawings which appeared in Free Reed I redrew them and then added colouring for the buttons for the buttons. It must have a been a slow period at work because I then made them clickable.


My page is undergoing some redesign but you can get to the chord diagrams from http://www.hgmitchell.plus.com/hgm/anglojk...es/CGchords.htm



Howard Mitchell

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