Jump to content

Tactile Key Discrimination

Recommended Posts



Please forgive and correct any errors I make in the following; I welcome your improvement to the following idea. I have not seen it mentioned on any FAQ, else I would not repeat it here.


As I understand it, Wheatstone regularly color-coded the buttons on his English concertinas. I have also seen pictures of concertinas in which the buttons tops (where the fingers touch) had the names of the notes carved into them (F, C, G#, etc.). Both of these approaches, I presume, are intended to aid the beginner learn the layout of the notes.


Yet these buttons cannot be seen by the player when playing if the concertina is in its standard position -- the ends are facing away from the player, and perhaps slightly downward.



Therefore, rather than relying on sight (colors or carved-in labels) to distinguish one button from another, it would seem more appropriate to use touch. The ends of the fingers are very sensitive, after all, and can easily distiguish different textures.


One might, for example, cut thin horizontal grooves into the tops of the keys, with the number of grooves increasing from the lower to the higher notes. Similarly, one could cut vertical grooves, widening from pinkie to index finger-rows. With this system, each button would have a slightly different texture, and one could tell immediately from one's sense of touch if one's finger were on the right button, or perhaps one off. The grooves would not have to be very deep at all for this to work (far less deep than the carving of note names I've seen in pictures). This proposed system of parallel grooves is but one of many approaches. One could use a matrix of bumps, as with Braille, or any other combination of tactile effects to accomplish the same objective.


I don't doubt that this could make it harder to clean the keys, and would tend to put callouses on more active players' fingertips, which might tend to defeat the objective by deadening their sense of touch -- but by that point, they wouldn't need the help as much, anyway.


For experienced players, there is not point in such an "improvement" (I presume), because their fingers have been sufficiently trained that they jump immediately to the proper key without conscious thought or correction (just as with pianists or touch typists).


However, for inexperienced players -- those who still have trouble remembering which button is which -- taking advantage of tactile feedback seems like a simple and practical step. Furthermore, I suspect that players would tend to learn quickly which button "felt like" middle C, for example, without a lot of explanation.


What am I missing, here? Is there some reason why this wouldn't work, or would be counter-productive? Has something like it been tried and abandoned before? Why?


Thanks! :-)


--- James

Link to comment
Share on other sites

James, this has been discussed before, though not as frequently as some other topics.


My own perspective is that such tactile discrimination is practically useless, and that's probably the main reason why it's not implemented. Consider the following brief scenario: "Oh, that's not the button I want. It has a diagonal cut across it, but the one I want has a cross. Ah, there's the right one! Too bad it's two measures too late."


It makes much more sense for the player to learn to simply feel the spatial relationships. If you get lost, you'll *hear* the difference. And if you've learned the patterns of the keyboard, you'll know instinctively how far and in which direction is the button you need... the *next* button, that is, since it's already too late for the one you missed.


You mention the tactile feedback being a help for beginners, but I doubt it would really help very many. In addition to all the other things they'd be learning, they would have to learn what patterns represented which notes. A more serious problem would likely be learning to distinguish such small tactile variations at anything approaching playing speed. Do you think it would be easy for you to learn to read braille with your fingers? The buttons on English concertinas are much smaller than braille patterns.


Well, when this was discussed in the past, I wrote up some suggestions for how to learn the spatial orientation needed for playing. I don't have time to try reconstructing it now, but if somebody else kept a copy, they're welcome to re-post it.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Another very good reason not to add roughness to the tips of the buttons is that it would catch or drag on your finger tips, slowing down the crisp articulation of quick streams of notes, such as in celtic ornaments, among other things.


-Eric Root

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Maybe I kept a copy of Jim's notes on the spatial relationships...I have kept a lot of notes, but...where??? I'll have to look. (...Seems I'm lucky to find my car keys, lately.)


James P, I am not an expert, but I have found a few ways to get more familiar with the (English) concertia keyboard. I do intend to write something about this (my own discoveries), but, it may be a few months before I get to it.


Anyway, before I even thought of playing the concertina, and was more interested in the piano keyboard and it's theory and harmony, I did some particular study of the tritone, the +4, the 'Devil's Note' or whatever (I guess the +4 was banned by the ancient church!) I was interested in why we make certain associations with certain intervals.


To make a long story short, for now....I came to see how western music is very 'boxy,' like the music by Bach, etc.. (The tritone was a great interval to start with, for this study.) WHile this fact is why many 'new age' fans say western music is somehow inferior to the so-called more natural type, 'just intonation,' it's none the less a pretty cool system and form. SO....




Since the concertina is, in a way, a box....well....I deliberately tried to come up with some boxy things for it. And, though I feel like I'm really not saying what I'd like to in this post, what I mean is...


...if, just like Bach, you can invent and practice some things with patterns that try all corners of 1) the 'box' of music theory and 2) the 'box' of the concertina both at the same time, I think you start easily picking up some basic patterns.


I have written a few practice things that I wouldn't necessarily call great tunes but they help with patterns. They're at my website....I've got to post this, though, then edit it to add the info...can't recall it at the moment.


Okay...here's the info...



Don't let all the detailed explanation fool you, it's very simple stuff, just explained for the sake of getting the theory, etc..

Edited by bellowbelle
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Bellowbelle --


If I can paraphrase, you're saying that the serious concertina student should (a) understand the intervals and hence arpeggios and chords that the layout of the English keyboard makes most natural, and then (B) practice those. Further, that your concertina contrivances were specifically designed as examples of this approach.


Is that a fair summary? If so, it sounds quite reasonable to me, although I'll need to work my way through some more introductory material first.


I've poked around your website a bit, and your example do indeed seem interesting -- although it's going to take me a while to get there. I'm coming back to instrumental music after a 25-year hiatus, so I have some catching up to do. :-)


Please let me know if I've misunderstood you.


One other point. Playing the MIDI versions of your various concertina contrivances, I got a very strange combination of instruments, none of which sounded much like a concertina. Is there a software concertina (MIDI instrument, sample file, whatever) that I need to download/install to make 'em sound right? If so, where can I get it?


Thanks for your post! :-)


--- James

Link to comment
Share on other sites

:) That summary sounds rather good, on target or not...I wish I'd said something that cohesive!


I'm WAY over-tired lately, but, I think what I was getting at is:


1) Music as the western world knows it, with it's particular attention to chordal harmonies, in so many ways, follows the form of the BOX. I can't easily explain this concisely, but there are some books that, by way of criticizing this 'boxy' element, help my explanation a bit -- one is Harmonic Experience, by Mathieu (sp?) and I know that a web-search will pull up a website for it. (I confess, I've never read his book cover-to-cover, but it has some interesting sections.)


2) The concertina is 'boxy,' the way the buttons are set up -- at least, the English (which I play) is -- even an a 3-D way.


Thus, a kind of mental 'morph' of the two box-systems together yields some interesting theory and practice tricks.


At least, for me! I never said I was 'normal!'


....Oh, I believe I DO have the post of Jim Lucas' to which he refers in this thread, but I e-mailed him to ask about it and if he replied, I didn't get it. My e-mail has been acting up lately, so...who knows. Anyway, I don't want to post it unless he said it was the one he meant.


Anyway... my website, the MIDIs...


MIDIs (which aren't so great, anyway) can vary in sound per computer, and no, there's no actual 'concertina' voice for the midi selections that I have. Since I can't (won't) pursue making really spiffy sound files, nice MP3s or something, I've kind of lost interest in bothering with MIDIs very much. It's very difficult to get them to sound like I want them to! More trouble than it's worth. (And then, we lost our sound on the computer...which showed up again after several months, once someone explained things to me about removing all the extra, strange programs that were opening up at start-up...etc...)


My printable music, with some exceptions, is as precise as it can be. I know there are a few that could be fixed up...in a week or so I need to totally revamp my website, anyway, especially since I'm almost out of space allowance and I don't want to buy more. I may try to make it look a bit prettier but remove MIDIs and make things simpler.


The main thing is -- in my opinion -- PLAY WHATEVER YOU WANT and all for enjoyment -- but, to learn something extra, examine the piece and extract some self-styled lessons from it.


What the hey...I'll add one of my favorite self-styled boxes, my Music Snake (which is on my website, with further explanation or confusion!), the picture part, anyway...

Link to comment
Share on other sites



You’ve sparked some thinking (always a risk) in my musically under-educated brain (extremely dangerous). Someone, please jump in and correct me before I get completely off kilter. :-)


It is my understanding that Wheatstone specifically designed the 48-key English concertina to have the same compass as the violin. This was no accident. Had Wheatstone not done this, he would have faced a classic chicken-or-egg problem: no one would buy a concertina before there was music for it, and no one would write music for it before the “installed base” of concertina players was large enough to make publishing concertina music profitable.


By matching the compass of the violin, Wheatstone made the English concertina “backwardly compatible” with the existing body of violin music, so that concertina players had something to play when they had worked through their introductory tutors. This overcame the chicken-or-egg problem, allowing the market to grow large enough to (hopefully) justify the publication of concertina-specific compositions and arrangements.


Wheatstone also commissioned concertina-specific compositions, but I submit that this was more a marketing ploy (“Look! Serious music from serious composers! The concertina is a high-class instrument!”) than a serious attempt to subsidize a significant body of work.


Thus, even today, the modern player of a 48-key English concertina could simply pick up a piece of violin music and have a go, with a reasonable expectation of compatibility.


However, violin music is usually written to take advantage of the unique features of the violin. The physical shape of the violin and the physical mechanism by which it is played lend themselves to certain combinations of notes (together or in sequence) and idioms. For example, the violin can glissando smoothly from one note to another, along the same string.


The English concertina has completely different physical constraints. For example, the concertina can play more notes simultaneously than a violin can (not being a violinist, I’m out on a limb here). But the concertina can’t glissando smoothly between notes, since each note is on a separate reed. (I understand that Wheatstone experimented with a “gliding reed” concertina which could have overcome this constraint, although the solution would probably have introduced new and different constraints).


The layout of the buttons on the English concertina introduce yet another set of constraints, making some note sequences and combinations easier and some harder, leading to a different set of idioms than is used on the violin.


These constraints can be thought of as the walls of a box (getting back to your posting, BellowBelle). To play the English concertina within the violin’s box will work – you can do it – but it doesn’t get the best out of either the violin music (which will always sound better on a violin) or the concertina. When playing the concertina, it’s always better to play music which has been composed, or at least arranged, for the concertina – that is, which has been designed to fit inside the concertina’s constraint-box. That way, the player can exploit the strengths of the concertina (e.g., chords), and avoid its weaknesses (e.g., glissandos).


Which brings me to my other posting, enquiring about the availability of Regondi’s tutor. Being the recognized, unmatched master of the instrument, both as a player and as a composer, at the peak of the instrument's popularity, it is reasonable to expect that Regondi’s tutor is still among the best ever written. Regondi understood the concertina’s constraint-box better than anyone before of since (although, should the concertina regain popularity, his virtuosity is will certainly be eclipsed eventually). It is likely that the subtleties that he transmitted in his tutor have been simplified away by later tutor-writers, who either didn’t understand the subtleties or didn’t want to bother teaching average students about them.


Since it’s been in the public domain for over a hundred years, let’s get a copy of Regondi’s tutor scanned in and posted online for others to download and/or reissue!


--- James


P.S.: To paraphrase Mark Twain, please forgive the long posting; I didn’t have time to write a shorter one. :-)

Link to comment
Share on other sites

....Oh, I believe I DO have the post of Jim Lucas' to which he refers in this thread, but I e-mailed him to ask about it and if he replied, I didn't get it.  My e-mail has been acting up lately, so...who knows.  Anyway, I don't want to post it unless he said it was the one he meant.

I did reply, so here's the reply, again.


Yes, that was the post I meant, and feel free to post it or give a link to where you put it on your web site.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

TO Mr. Plamondon: Your statement that Wheatstone [% Co] commissioned music for the English concertina is interesting. Can you point to specific documents, specific composers, and specific pieces. Such information would be most valuable.


In fact, it would seem that much -- perhaps even most -- of the concertina music written by the "mainstream" composers such as Molique, Benedict, Macfarren, Barnett, et alia, as well as by such slightly lesser and somewhat later lights as Eduaord Silas (the emigre Dutch composer-organist who taught composition at the Guildhall School of Music and wrote a fair amount of chamber music for the concertina, all of which, unfortunately, is now lost) was probably commissioned by Richard Blagrove as part of a continuous project to build up the repertory for the instrument. On the other hand, we know that it was Regondi who commissioned the first of Molique's two concertos for the instrument, paying Molique £21 (I might be off by a shilling or three) in the process (the evidence for this appears in Molique's own Tagebuch).


Again, then, is there specific documentary evidence for specific commissions by Wheatstone? For while we can probably assume that they encouraged such compositions and even commissioned some works (but not those by the "mainstream" composers), it would be nice to have "hard" documentary evidence.


I would certainly like to know, since I am currently working on a project that concerns the marketing strategies of Wheatstone & Co.



Link to comment
Share on other sites



I have no evidence of Wheatstone's commissioning such works, and apologise for sounding as if I did. From what I had read, I had ASSUMED that he had commissioned some of the concertina-specific works. That's certainly what I would have done in his place, to help overcome the chicken-or-egg problem. I am surprised that this was not the case (although I am not arguing the point).


I've ordered your book from Amazon, Allan, but have not yet received it; once I do, I hope that my signal-to-noise ratio will improve.


Thank you for pointing out this error. :-)


--- James

Link to comment
Share on other sites

THIS IS THE POST BY JIM LUCAS ON DEC. 20, 2002, mentioned previously in this thread -- I can't promise that it's all visually arranged exactly as it was originally, I think some lines may have shifted slightly.



learning reference (somewhat long; not just for Delbert)


Posted by: Jim Lucas, Dec 20, 2002

Visual reference is of course not possible for both ends of the instrument at once, unless you have a special mirror arrangement. (This is not restricted to the English, of course; it can even be a problem with guitars.)


My recommendations for learning non-visual reference are:

1) Start with finding the lowest notes on each side. (The first few times you might need to look, but you should quickly learn to do it by feel.) These will be your "anchors", easily identified by touch, because each is on the easily-located edge of its array and also quickly located within the 4 buttons along that edge. (This method of location is even better than having a button with a rhinestone or rough surface, because with such a button once you're lost you don't know in which direction to hunt for it in order to regain your orientation. For these lowest buttons you always pull your fingers "downward", then search "upward".)

2) After that, always keep at least one finger on each hand touching a button (making sure you know which button it is). When you're not pressing a button, you can still keep a light touch on it to keep your orientation.

3) Basing yourself in the key of C, practice shifting your fingers over different intervals between adjacent buttons, e.g.,

"up" or "down" a fifth (B-F is a diminished 5th)

"diagonally" a third (some major, some minor)

"sideways" a half step (some up, some down)

Practice these shifts both using the same finger on both buttons and using different fingers. Learn to *feel* the distances and directions, at the same time "feeling" the musical changes.

4) Do the same over longer intervals (buttons not adjacent). At first you should drag-brush the finger which will hit the next button over the intervening buttons (without pressing them), to learn to correlate the distances and directions of movement with an internal consciousness of the button array.

5) Eventually you should find that you can keep track of where your fingers are relative to the buttons (and that you know which buttons/notes are where in the space your hands/fingers cover) without having to actually touch the buttons.


That's the basic framework, and it should apply equally well to anglos and duets, except that the patterns of direction and distance between particular notes will of course be different, and with the anglo there's also the factor of bellows direction. One factor peculiar to the English is that the standard means of holding the instrument allows greater movement of the hand position relative to the button array, so that you might lose your orientation if your hand flexes without your noticing it. The palm support on anglos and duets (and also Göran's design) gives an additional "landmark" for orientation. But as in throwing a ball, with a little practice you should be able to control the connection between your movement and the location of the result almost unconsciously, without needing extra "guides".


You will of course want to connect your exercises within the above framework to your music: The first thing, then, is to learn to move quickly from the initial orientation to the starting note of your tune. If this is more than one button away from your initial "anchor", you should start by moving to it in series of one-button steps. Start with one particular path, but you should quickly graduate to finding it by more than one path, so that you develop an awareness of the relative positions, rather than the specific path (sequence of single-button "steps").


Start by working on tunes which contain common but simple note patterns; chord arpeggios and scales are probably the best. "Soldier's Joy" is an excellent first tune, consisting mostly of diagonal shifts within one hand and short scale segments which alternate shifts between the hands. (Don't forget to keep touching the button in the hand that's not playing, so that you don't lose your place.)


D is the normal key for "Soldier's Joy", but it's simpler to start by playing it in C, which will keep you in the two central rows in each hand. Once you have that down pat and up to speed, try playing it in G (one button "higher"). You'll find that the pattern of fingers and relative shifts is the same *except* that for one note (the F#, which in the key of C is a B) you'll have to use a button in the outer row, rather than the inner one. (Use a different finger for this note.) Get used to this shift.


Next, learn to play it in G, but an octave lower (now you'll be using the lowest note of a standard treble English). You'll find that the pattern is "exactly" the same *except* that it's a mirror image. I.e., each note of the tune will be played by the *same finger* as before, but in the *opposite hand*. Once you're used to this you can start playing in D, by making the same sort of shift as you originally made in going from C to G (up one button, one more note shifts into the outer row).


Another good beginning tune is "Amazing Grace". It has patterns with different symmetries from those in "Soldier's Joy". It is also normally played at a slower speed. And being based on a pentatonic scale, it can be played in three different keys (G, C, & F) without leaving the two center rows in each hand (i.e., no "accidentals"). Try working it out in all three keys and in different octaves to get a feel for the kinds of *relative* shifts that don't change. (E.g., sequences in terms of right- and left-hand may change, but in terms of same- and opposite-hand they won't.)


Well, I'd better stop here, or I'll be writing a book. (Maybe I should, but *not* as a post on Concertina.net.) I hope somebody finds what I've said to be helpful... maybe even Delbert at some future time.



--Back to now....


I have more to post and would have even done so earlier today, but I've yet to catch up on sleep. My daughter just entered college and there's been a few nerve-wracking events relative to that!


So, James Plamondon, I'll probably get back to this thread later on, tough I don't know if I have much enlightenment to add, so far!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Funny about that emoticon creeping in, though, where there should be a letter "B" (did that work, or is it an emoticon, again?).

It came through as a B. I think the emoticon was automatically substituted fo a B followed by a close parens. I will type the combination here -> B)

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Hmm, I always did like those rebus stories...


Actually, I'm encoding my favorite posts with secret smilies...


No, not really...


I posted a copy/paste job, but the capital letter B followed by a half-parenthesis )

shows up as the sunglasses smilie!!


Kind of funny, but, it could sure screw up some music! I didn't notice this until Jim mentioned it.


To see the symbols that produce the various smilies, click on Show All. I just discovered that.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
  • Create New...