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Left-hand Key Assignment On 46-key Duet


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As things stand, you can't play a triad of E-flat (major or minor) on the left hand of a a 46-key duet concertina, either Maccann or Hayden system, except in inversion.

 

I have recently obtained a 46-key Maccann Duet, which I am teaching myself. As a pianist my inclination is to play chords with the left hand, and a tune on the right. In fact I selected this concertina precisely because with a piano background the duet seemed most likely to fit under my old fingers, you can get a decent quality Maccann for a modest investment.

 

However the absence of an E-flat triad (except in inversion, or by picking out a note on the right hand) makes ordinary keys like B-flat major and even C minor, something of a headache to play in.

 

To play every triad, major, minor or diminished, it suffices to provide a chromatic scale of 19 notes. Both Maccann and Hayden 46-key duets have 21 keys for the left hand, but the chromatic portion is only 18 notes long, in each case from E to A. It follows that precisely one triad (major and minor) is unachievable, and that is E-flat. The Maccann gives you additionally a C at the bottom and B and C at the top, whereas the Hayden gives you C and D at the bottom and B at the top. [in contrast, a 48-key Crane/Triumph has only 20 keys for the left hand, but they form a chromatic sequence from C to G, which allows one to play Onward Christian Soldiers in E-flat.]

 

Now I assume "professors" Maccann and Hayden thought rather carefully about the key selection, after all they were/are good players and I am barely starting. However it does, perhaps hubristically, occur to me that a small adjustment to the key allocation would give me a more useful accompaniment instrument.

 

How easy is it (for a professional repairer) to change a reed by small amount, say a tone or minor third - would it be a matter of retuning the reed, or would one need a replacement reed - if the latter is there serious engineering work to the reed pan?

 

What would duet players think of the following alternative substitutions?

 

1. Change top G# to B-flat - still has only 11 triads, but the missing one is now the less useful C# (still be available in two inversions) - and the changed key is duplicated on the right hand

2. Change bottom C to E-flat - now has all 12 triads, but lose bottom C, and on the whole I would have rather more use for a bottom D than an E-flat

3. Change top C to B-flat - now has all 12 triads, top B-flat is a useful key, but more useful with the C

 

If I selected option 1, I might also think about also changing the bottom C to a D, which would "give some life" to the bottom F# I have, since three C's in 21 keys seems a luxury in comparison to one D (when I have 2 F#s and G#s).

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As things stand, you can't play a triad of E-flat (major or minor) on the left hand of a a 46-key duet concertina, either Maccann or Hayden system, except in inversion.... makes ordinary keys like B-flat major and even C minor, something of a headache to play in

That's because those concertinas are the smallest duet types. Larger versions will have that low Eb.

Now I assume "professors" Maccann and Hayden thought rather carefully about the key selection, after all they were/are good players and I am barely starting.

I can't say for Prof. Maccann, but Brian Hayden told me that he considered the 46-key to be the smallest workable layout (for his system) that encompassed British folk tunes (which are predominantly in G and D, and less so in A, C, E, and F).

However it does, perhaps hubristically, occur to me that a small adjustment to the key allocation would give me a more useful accompaniment instrument.

If you'd rather not get a larger box that plays easily in all the keys you want to, you *could* have the smaller one made to "center" on keys you prefer, say Bb and F, then you'd be really set for Ab, Eb, C, and G, plus relative minors of course, and with all the other keys available but more difficult. I say *could* as it is possible though perhaps not very realistic given the expense involved (not to mention finding someone willing and able to do it.

How easy is it (for a professional repairer) to change a reed by small amount, say a tone or minor third

Retuning a reed up a HALFTONE is okay - but I wouldn't want to do it with a box I really cared about. Down a halftone is possible but even less desirable. A full tone up is pretty much the max (particularly for the smaller/higher reeds but you'll get a differing tonal quality to it. A full tone down is flirting with destroying the reed. Larger/lower reeds have more latitude with tuning up a half okay, a full tone marginally okay, down a half pretty iffy and down a whole not a recommended. Downtuning weakens the reed....

 

Tuning a reed up by a minor third would work only for the largest reeds, and would seriously change it's tone and response. Don't even think of downtuning by this much by removing metal though this is possible by adding metal to the end of the reed - again seriously compromising its tone and response.

 

These tuning estimates are considering average quality vintage concertina reeds and my feelings of appropriateness. Other makers/repairers may have differing values.

 

would it be a matter of retuning the reed, or would one need a replacement reed - if the latter is there serious engineering work to the reed pan?

Depends on the size of the reed and the pitch amount you want to change. Replacing a reed with another more than a couple steps away most likely would entail reworking the dovetail rebates, with a good chance of having to fill and/or enlarge them. There's also a fair chance (when wanting a substantially lower reed replacement) that the chamber size won't be large enough. Not much way around that, if there isn't room there isn't room!

 

This is for the vintage setup. The accordion reeded boxes have more leeway for replacement sizes.

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Many thanks for your comments.

 

If I might summarise Richard's advice, the practical route is to swap reeds, and for that to be straightforward then they need to be reeds of the same shoe size. I presume I would get a pro to do it, as there would be some final tuning, as from what I gather you can't just put a reed in a box and expect it to be in tune.

 

But I am still not sure whether my idea of doing this is dotty. At the moment, I THINK that a top B-flat is more useful than a top G# on the LHS, and possibly bottom D rather than C, (cf comment on mostly playing in D/G - the B-flat being useful for G-min), so I shall have to look at the shoe sizes and then investigate whether spare reeds can be sourced.

 

I notice from Maccann's own tutorial manual on the Maccann site (which for some reason I can't get the pdf to print off beyond page 8) he gives a fingering chart for 39 and 47-key boxes, not 46. The 47th key is the left hand top B-flat which is the key I feel I am most missing.

 

The reason that I have a 46-key Maccann is that (1) I didn't want to spend a huge amount of money on an untested new hobby (2) I didn't want a big heavy rapidly depreciating Stagi Hayden and (3) I had a window of opportunity to get a Lachenal 46-key steel reed concert pitch 6-fold Maccann in good working condition for rather less than I would pay for an 48-key English with the same spec (and seeing the 46-key unrestored Maccann currently being auctioned on ebay, I am even more appreciative of what I have).

 

If the hobby sticks, I might feel I want to dip my toes in deeper. I will have the basics of playing Maccann system. I could therefore try to get a larger Maccann, though from what I see they tend to be special boxes and hence considerably more expensive than a 46-key. Or when the production Haydens really are in production, that presents another attractive possible route.

 

I observe that Chris Timson recently purchased a 39-key Maccann, which according to you has fewer keys than one would reasonably wish for. I wonder how he finds it?

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I observe that Chris Timson recently purchased a 39-key Maccann, which according to you has fewer keys than one would reasonably wish for. I wonder how he finds it?

It wasn't a 39-key Maccann, but a 35-key Crane.

 

I'm preparing a more detailed response to some of the issues you've raised, but in the meantime I would suggest that you seriously consider a Crane (also known as Triumph) duet as an alternative to the Maccann or Hayden system if you really think a duet is what you want. Even the 35-button Crane is fully chromatic down to the lowest note in each hand.

 

In the left hand the 35-button Crane layout has a full chromatic octave -- from C below middle C (which I call C3) up to middle C (which I call C4) -- plus the D and E above middle C (but not the C# or D#). In the right hand it runs from a lowest note of middle C (not the G above, as in smaller Maccanns) up an octave and a half to G, with no missing notes. Only the D and E above middle C occur in both hands.

 

48- and 55-button Cranes have the same lowest notes in each hand as the 35-button, but...

.. 48-button: 1½ octaves (C3-G4) left hand, fully chromatic; 2½ octaves (C4-F6) right hand, missing highest C# and D#; ½ octave (C4-G4) overlap

.. 55-button: 2 octaves (C3-C5) left hand, fully chromatic; 2½ octaves (C4-F6) right hand, fully chromatic; 1 octave (C4-C5) overlap

 

In terms of notes available, I suspect the Crane is much closer to what you say you want... with no alterations. Crane duets aren't as common as Maccanns, but so far the demand isn't as high, either, so I think prices may still be comparable, especially if you factor in the cost of modifying the Maccann you have now. (Maybe you could work out a partial trade with a dealer?)

 

Chris had started a Topic on the Crane in the Teaching and Learning subForum. Here is the link to that Topic.

 

And here is the link to a Crane tutor (in PDF format), which includes layouts for various keyboard sizes.

Edited by JimLucas
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Hi Ivan,

 

In your introductory post, I feel you've implied certain assumptions, and I'd like to suggest some alternative viewpoints. Toward the end I'll give some actual advice, so if you get tired of my ramblings, you might want to skip to that part. :)

 

As things stand, you can't play a triad of E-flat (major or minor) on the left hand of a a 46-key duet concertina, either Maccann or Hayden system, except in inversion.
While "uninverted" triads are often handy, it's possible to make some fine music even without the tonic in the bass. Since you can't use what you don't have, why not learn to use what you do have before you try changing it? Experimentation can lead to some wonderful things that you might never discover if you just try to follow particular "rules" or "designs". I know it's been that way for me.

 

However the absence of an E-flat triad (except in inversion, or by picking out a note on the right hand) makes ordinary keys like B-flat major and even C minor, something of a headache to play in.
I don't believe that most of the posters on Concertina.net would consider "B-flat major and even C minor" to be "ordinary keys". What is "ordinary" depends a great deal on the repertoire you intend to play (though transposition is often an option, too). Aside from mentioning the piano and one song ("Onward Christian Soldiers"), you haven't told us what your intended repertoire might be, but apparently it's not the traditional Irish and English dance music which often dominates discussions here.

 

Now I assume "professors" Maccann and Hayden thought rather carefully about the key selection, after all they were/are good players and I am barely starting. However it does, perhaps hubristically, occur to me that a small adjustment to the key allocation would give me a more useful accompaniment instrument.
Maybe so, but it's quite possible that their intended/preferred repertoire or styles of arrangement were quite different from yours... or mine. They are not to be faulted for this. One might fault you for not considering the note selection and its ramifications before buying your instrument. However, I am trying to suggest some after-the-fact alternatives. :)

 

I have recently obtained a 46-key Maccann Duet, which I am teaching myself. As a pianist my inclination is to play chords with the left hand, and a tune on the right.
You make it sound like that's what all piano players do. Now I'll show my own prejudice/limited experience, but I find that style much less common among those who play in flat keys than among those who play in sharp keys. RH melody-LH chord I associate with traditions of dance music where melody is often played on flute, whistle, or fiddle and favored keys are G, D, A, and C. Flat keys I associate with "traditions" that use brass and reed instruments, such as jazz and marching bands (though I rarely see a piano in a marching band :)), and they tend to have harmonies that are more complex and more evenly divided between the hands (or "hands"). Songs, of course, could be in any key, depending on the voice of the singer, but transposing by a half step either direction rarely leads to difficulties... for the singer.

 

In fact I selected this concertina precisely because with a piano background the duet seemed most likely to fit under my old fingers,...
Apparently, the correspondence -- at least with a 46-button Maccann -- wasn't quite as simple or complete as you expected. And as I think you're now discovering, there's quite a variety of different duets -- in terms of both range and keyboard design, -- and they are not all equal for your purposes/needs.

 

...you can get a decent quality Maccann for a modest investment.
Some time ago I coined a phrase: "No matter how much you paid, if you didn't get what you need, the price was too high."

 

To play every triad, major, minor or diminished, it suffices to provide a chromatic scale of 19 notes. Both Maccann and Hayden 46-key duets have 21 keys for the left hand, but the chromatic portion is only 18 notes long, in each case from E to A. It follows that precisely one triad (major and minor) is unachievable, and that is E-flat. The Maccann gives you additionally a C at the bottom and B and C at the top, whereas the Hayden gives you C and D at the bottom and B at the top. [in contrast, a 48-key Crane/Triumph has only 20 keys for the left hand, but they form a chromatic sequence from C to G, which allows one to play "Onward Christian Soldiers" in E-flat.]
True enough. In fact, on the left hand of a 48-button Crane you can play that melody in 5 of the 12 possible keys: Eb, E, F, Gb, and G. But I thought you wanted to play melody in the right hand. There the Crane also gives you an advantage, being able to cover those 5 keys in the right hand even on a 35-button, and all keys on a 48. Furthermore, on the 46-button Maccann (and even 55-button Lachenal Maccanns), you would need to play that particular melody an octave higher than "normal". Also for Eb on the 46-button Hayden, though transposing up a step to F would work.

 

By the way, crossing an occasional note into the other hand isn't a disaster. Anglo players do it all the time, and I understand Hayden players also do it for certain notes (like that "missing" RH Eb). I do it on my Crane when the melody goes below middle C.

 

One thing you didn't mention is whether you intend to play your duet with other instruments. If not, you should seriously consider the possibilities of transposing. If so, you should consider using those instruments to supplement your arrangements so that nothing appears to be "missing". (You might even try doing both.)

 

How easy is it (for a professional repairer) to change...
I think Rich Morse answered that question pretty well. I would add my recommendation that if you insist on changing some notes you do so by replacing the reeds -- not altering them, -- and keep the originals. If you ever want to sell the instrument, prospective buyers may prefer an instrument without your changes.

 

What would duet players think of the following alternative substitutions?

 

1. Change top G# to B-flat - still has only 11 triads, but the missing one is now the less useful C# (still be available in two inversions) - and the changed key is duplicated on the right hand

2. Change bottom C to E-flat - now has all 12 triads, but lose bottom C, and on the whole I would have rather more use for a bottom D than an E-flat

3. Change top C to B-flat - now has all 12 triads, top B-flat is a useful key, but more useful with the C

I think you'll be doing yourself and your musical future an injustice if you base such decisions only on the ability to form uninverted triad chords. There are not only many other kinds of harmony (arrangements for two recorders can be fun), but there are many more chords than simple triads. (Even some of the simplest folk music and hymns use 7th chords, and your substitution 1. would lose you the upper Ab you might want for a Bb7 chord.)

 

Recommendations:

... 1. Don't change any notes on your current instrument for at least 6 months. Instead, explore what you can do without any changes and experiment with ways to get around what you are viewing as problems. In particular, try to replace the concept of "triad chord with tonic on the bottom" with "does that sound nice". I just tried playing "Onward Christian Soldiers" on my 48-button Crane -- in both Eb and G, -- with melody in the right hand and chords in the left. (In Eb, I even tried limiting myself to the notes of a 35-button Crane.) I discovered that several of the chords sounded better (to me, anyway) in higher inversions, i.e., with either the 3rd or the 5th as the lowest note. At a few points in the tune I even found that I liked open intervals -- of a 5th, octave, at one point even a 7th -- in the left hand against a sequence of melody notes in the right. And don't feel you need to use all and exactly the same chords someone else did in their arrangement, or as you have played on the piano, or even the same chords/arrangement every time through the same piece.

... 2. Nevertheless, investigate the cost of making the change(s) you currently think would help you. Then check out the possibility of trading "up" to a larger Maccann, or "across" to a Crane, and see how the cost compares.

... 3. If you intend to stay with smaller duets (something which isn't independent of price), seriously consider switching to the Crane system. I have always liked the Crane system, though I've had Maccann's for longer, but that's not the basis for this recommendation. My general interest in the Maccann and also the Jeffries duet is increasing, but when it comes to the smaller duets I think the Crane is more versatile, and it especially seems better suited to the sorts of things you have in mind.

 

Best of luck in your endeavor, ... /Jim

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I notice from Maccann's own tutorial manual on the Maccann site (...) he gives a fingering chart for 39 and 47-key boxes, not 46. The 47th key is the left hand top B-flat which is the key I feel I am most missing.
And apparently no diagram of the 56-key version that is mentioned.

 

Well, apparently the details of the "standard" design changed over time. I don't recall having seen either a 47- or a 56-button Maccann (I don't count air buttons or novelties like whistles), but I have a couple of 55-button Maccanns by Lachenal, and I've seen many a 46. The Wheatstone "Instructions for the Duet Concertina" (I don't think Wheatstone ever used the Maccann name) has diagrams for keyboards with 46, 57, 66, 71, and 80-button varieties. (On all but the 46, there is also an air button, which Wheatstone includes in their count, but I don't.) Another significant difference between the Lachenal 55-button Maccann and the Wheatstone 57 is that the latter has middle C as its lowest right-hand note, while the former starts on the G above middle C, just like the 46-button model.

 

I had a window of opportunity to get a Lachenal 46-key steel reed concert pitch 6-fold Maccann in good working condition for rather less than I would pay for an 48-key English with the same spec (and seeing the 46-key unrestored Maccann currently being auctioned on ebay, I am even more appreciative of what I have).
Well, I don't know what you paid for yours, but duets do generally go for less than comparable Englishes. It sounds, though, like you may have paid less than even the usual for what you got.

 

If the hobby sticks, I might feel I want to dip my toes in deeper. I will have the basics of playing Maccann system. I could therefore try to get a larger Maccann, though from what I see they tend to be special boxes and hence considerably more expensive than a 46-key.
Which is reasonable. Duets with more than 50 buttons not only have more musical capabilities, they were also generally of higher-quality construction. Anything above 60 buttons was probably considered a "deluxe" model when it was built.

 

Or when the production Haydens really are in production, that presents another attractive possible route.
If you're going to seriously consider jumping from one kind of duet to another, I (again) seriously recommend that you consider a Crane.

 

.....By the way, where are you located?

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I feel overwhelmed with your kindness to share your thoughts, Jim, and what you say makes a great deal of sense.

 

Don't change any notes on your current instrument for at least 6 months. Instead, explore what you can do without any changes and experiment with ways to get around what you are viewing as problems.

 

Thanks, I'm persuaded.

 

RH melody-LH chord I associate with traditions of dance music where melody is often played on flute, whistle, or fiddle and favored keys are G, D, A, and C. Flat keys I associate with "traditions" that use brass and reed instruments, such as jazz and marching bands

 

On the piano I play anything from Bach to Elton John. With the concertina, I mainly want (at least for the moment) to play British folk-songs etc, which I don't do very well on the piano, and anyway pianos aren't very useful around the camp-fire. As you say, Celtic dance music is largely confined to keys with small numbers of sharps. But a fairly high proportion of the British folk music that I have in printed form is in flat keys; and a great deal is in minor keys, and that usually means flats too. (In truth a lot of English folk music is modal, much of it Dorian, but a lot of it has evolved, or has been "corrected" by censorious Victorians, into minor keys.) But with just a 2-octave range for the right hand, I can see that some work with a pencil to transpose some favourites might be time well spent, and then I have more control over the incidence of black notes.

 

If you intend to stay with smaller duets (something which isn't independent of price), seriously consider switching to the Crane system.

 

When a man who has spent a long time playing on Maccanns tells you that, it is a statement that carries some considerable force.

 

Some time ago I coined a phrase: "No matter how much you paid, if you didn't get what you need, the price was too high."

 

When I went out looking at concertinas (and I spent a long time researching first), I realised that I couldn't really know what I ultimately wanted, or even if I really wanted one, until I had lived with one for a while. That was one reason for not wanting to spend too much to start with. I knew that a Maccann is a bit more QWERTY than a Crane, but had no way of knowing what practical effect the design differences would have on playability and repertoire, once I got used to it. What I did know was that I had a quite unexpected opportunity to buy an excellent small Maccann, one whose quality was plainly visible in front of my eyes and ears, and to go on searching and looking from that point would delay starting to learn, and with the risks of buying sight unseen or making long journeys to buy less common boxes. The Maccann I have bought has already been been a huge education, that I could not have had without some concertina. And given its resaleability, it has been an education cheaply obtained.

 

.....By the way, where are you located?

 

I live in Buckinghamshire and work in London.

 

Ivan

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On the piano I play anything from Bach to Elton John. With the concertina, I mainly want (at least for the moment) to play British folk-songs etc, ... pianos aren't very useful around the camp-fire.  ...a fairly high proportion of the British folk music that I have in printed form is in flat keys; and a great deal is in minor keys, and that usually means flats too.
I wonder what the sources might be for your printed music. And whether it's just the melodies, or with guitar chords, or arrangements for piano. I find that in my sources that include just the melodies the keys of C, F, and G are by far the most common, and multiple sharps more common than similar numbers of flats. Where I seem to find more flats is in arrangements specifically for piano. This suggests to me that the flats were introduced by the arrangers, not by traditional singers.

 

The singers? In fact, who were the singers? Were the songs in the Oxford Book of Ballads notated directly from traditional singers? Were the songs actually notated in the keys where they were sung by original sources? Can we be sure that each source sang in precisely the same key as their source?

 

I don't think it should matter. Which is a more "authentic" or accurate reproduction of a song by a traditional singer, if I try to sing the same notes but my voice cracks on the highest note, or if I take it down a step but my voice doesn't crack? As a man, should I try to sing in falsetto a song I learned from a woman? Of course not. We should each sing in keys which are comfortable for us, or easy for us to play in on our instruments,... preferably both.

 

But with just a 2-octave range for the right hand, I can see that some work with a pencil to transpose some favourites might be time well spent, and then I have more control over the incidence of black notes.
I suggest you drop the pencil. If you need to transpose notes and read them, get a simple computer program. Then you can try transposing to several different keys, but you only have to "write down" the tune once. (You might even be able to use software to "read" music that you already have in printed form.) Even better is that you familiarize your fingers with the locations of the scales, progressions, etc. in various keys and learn to do without printed music, even and especially when transposing. (I find it very difficult to read printed music by the light of a flickering campfire. :))

 

If you intend to stay with smaller duets (...), seriously consider switching to the Crane system.
When a man who has spent a long time playing on Maccanns tells you that, it is a statement that carries some considerable force.
Oops! I fear you're overinterpreting something I said. Yes, I have had Maccanns for a long time, much longer than my Cranes, but I never became really comfortable with the Maccann layout and never played it much, though I immediately took to the Crane. But others love the Maccann, and I now believe that I was trying to use it inappropriately, and I intend to give it another try. Colin Dipper is currently touching up one of my 55-button Maccanns, so that I can be sure the condition of the instrument won't be a deterrent.

 

My suggestion about switching to the Crane was based partly on what appeared to be your insistence on a combination of certain playing styles and certain keys. If you start transposing to keys where you can be happy with the accompaniments you build on your Maccann, and if you find the Maccann keyboard comfortable, then there may be no point in changing. On the other hand, if you find yourself still frustrated by the gaps in the Maccann keyboard, and you still want to be able to play around a campfire, then you might consider a Crane. Maccanns with more buttons will be fully chromatic, but they'll also be proportionally larger and heavier, and so less handy around a campfire.

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