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Button Sequence...

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Ok. I finally succumbed, deciding that I must not get any older before owning (and hopefully playing) a concertina. So I’ve got a Tedrow C/G Anglo on its way (it should be here by the middle of next week). It’s a couple of years old, but according to Malcolm Clapp who I got it from, it’s as good as new. Anyway, I’ll give an overview of it once it arrives – although as an absolute beginner I don’t know if I can make any really meaningful comments…


But in the meantime I’ve acquired Mick Bramich’s ‘The Irish Concertina’ tutor and am slowly working through the first few pages and tapping my fingers on virtual keys. I’m reasonably proficient on guitar and keyboards, so working through the tutor with no instrument is okay.


However, there is one question that I cannot resolve:

What is the logic behind the button sequence? I understand the principle of the 3 rows, but the sequence of notes within a row has me beat… The C and G rows seems to make sense for at least 3 and a half buttons on each side, but even there if I’m working up the C scale with the left hand starting from middle C using the C-row, I am playing each note in sequence as a push-pull-push-pull etc. until I end up playing A as a pull note with the left hand. The next note B is with the right hand, which to my logic should be a push. But no, it’s a pull also. Why not a push to keep the push-pull sequence going? The G row does the same. Hmmm…


Another Newbie question: what is the logic behind the selection of the notes which the little finger plays – these seem to be out of sequence – and also on the left hand pinky C and G rows, why double up with 2 Gs next to each other and 2 Ds next to each other?


I’m sure this is all perfectly obvious once you actually start playing, but I’d really love to know the logic behind it all!

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Consider just the C row on both sides. Except for the bottom-most button, all the others play C, E or G on press, and D, F, A, or B on draw. So you get a sort of built in harmony when you press extra buttons in a given direction (C maj on press, D min on draw, sort of). As for why the pattern shifts between octaves, blame the Greeks for inventing the musical scales we use now that have an odd number of unique steps. No way to fit that evenly into twos.


Another nifty thing is how you can play octaves. Always every fourth button on press and every fifth button on draw, again if you stay within one row.


I became more conscious of all this when I began to study one row diatonic accordion in C for Cajun music. Anglo is played across the rows so much than many players don't use these patterns much. But that is where they come from, for the C and G rows. The third row, now that is arbitrary by comparison!

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Welcome Keith, and congratulation on your impending arrival :)


Given your nick name [Tassie Devil] I can make the assumption that you are in Tasmania, down under? [i'm in Melbourne on the mainland]



Morgana :D

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What is the logic behind the button sequence?

Gary Larson? Rube Goldberg? :)

...(If you're not familiar with RG, you could do a web search, or start at

the RG home page, or go straight to

a gallery of his cartoons).


What makes you think anything designed by humans should be logical? Even Spock (whose character was designed by humans) isn't really logical. And human languages certainly aren't, though you probably get along just fine with at least one.


Then again, human languages weren't designed in one stroke from "basic principles", they were developed over time. And so was the anglo layout.


Ken's explanation is as good as any, for a start. I thought there was an earlier Topic that covered this, but I can't find it. (Was it in the old, now inaccessible, Forum?) So here's my attempt at an extended narrative. I'm not claiming that this is exactly the way it happened, but it might have, and I think it helps to understand the current layout(s).


The anglo keyboard derives from the earliest diatonic accordions, which were single row-single key instruments, i.e., one row of buttons played in one diatonic key. Since one could have different notes on push and pull, it was arranged that all the notes in one direction (for modern instruments, this is the push direction, though for many older instruments -- not concertinas -- the choice was reversed) were the notes of the major chord in the main ("tonic") key. Just 7 buttons gives two full octaves; assuming we're in the key of C, that's C-E-G-c-e-g-c'. On the anglo, this "row" is broken in the middle, with "half" put on each end of the instrument. (It also has 3 more buttons, but I'll get to that.)


Note that the basic concept (I prefer that term, rather than "logic") here is chords, rather than quick melody playing. Now what about the pull notes? A quick look indicates that the push notes start out being every other note, so we start out by putting the in-between notes in the pull positions. This works fine for the first few, but then there's the B-A sequence.


There are various way solutions to this problem. Strict alternation is not one, since it violates our first principle: neither B nor A is part of the C chord, and strict alternation would have the C chord on push in one octave but on pull in the next. There are too many other possibilities to go into them all, but the one that was chosen is to lay out the "leftover" notes in a line for the pull and ignore the fact that this causes a "shift" relative to the push notes in going from one octave to the next. That makes a certain kind of sense, but how does it fit with the "chord" concept? If you sound all the buttons at once on pull, the result is not a simple chord, but you don't have to sound them all at once. Pulling just the left-hand C-E-G buttons gives a Dm chord, not a bad choice, while pulling the right-hand c-e-g gives a G7 chord (the G is only implied, not really there, but it still feels like a G7). How about an F chord? We're missing C/c on the pull (that's one of the options that wasn't chosen), but playing just F-A or f-a will still feel like an F chord in the framework of a C major tune. And if we consider not just full chords, but 2-part harmonies, it turns out that this layout serves us pretty well. We've satisfied an additional principle with no additional work.


Having split our keyboard for the anglo, we see that we can easily accomodate 5 buttons on each each, but so far we've used only 7 out of 10, 3 in the left and 4 in the right. On the right hand, it makes sense to add one more button at the right end, to give us the pull b that had "disappeared off the end" due to the way we chose to allot the pull notes. And it's only reasonable to put e' -- the next note of the C chord -- on that button for the push. Left hand? On push we should extend to the left with G_ and E_, but having the lowest note of our main chord as the 3rd rather than the tonic is unsatisfying. So we use the G_, but break the pattern to put a low C_ on that last button. Putting a pull B_ with the push G_ not only continues the original pattern, it gives us our (implied) G7 chord in the lower octave. But once again, we're not entirely happy about not having a tonic bass for that chord, so we put that on the pull against the C_ push.


Voila! We have a 10-button row in which 9 of the buttons follow a strict pattern -- though perhaps not the one you had in mind -- that gives us many nice chords and harmonies in a single diatonic scale, and where the 10th button breaks pattern to give a solid ground to each of the two most important chords. That's the basic 1-row, 10-button "anglo"... rarely seen these days, because most folks want at least two keys. How to choose the second key? I think most Western musical traditions tend to concentrate on two keys that are a 5th apart. (I suspect I know why, but that explanation is too long to go into here.)


To our 1-row anglo in C we could just add a second row in G, exactly a 5th above (or a 4th below, which is an uncommon variant) our C row. But remember that 10th button that doesn't follow the strict pattern? To follow our C-row pattern, that button would be (push/pull) G_/D, and I've seen some instruments that do this. But we already have G_ on the push in the C row, so why not return to the strict pattern here and make that B_/A_? Indeed, that's one of the most common variants and becoming increasingly popular, for melody players because they need the low A_, and with chord-oriented players because that low A_ is useful in D chords. The other common variant is B_/D, giving the lower 3rd (B_) for the push G chord, but replicating the pull D so that the pull D chord can be gotten with 3 in-line buttons. Another less common variant I've seen puts G_/D_ on that button, i.e., the additional pull D is an octave lower, to give a nice bass ground to the D chord.


Wonderful. We can now play in two major keys, their associated minors (if we're careful with chording), and a number of modal or gapped melodies. But some folks want more than that, so we add another row. Adding a third a half-step away from one of the others would guarantee all the chromatic notes (except at the extreme ends, where the pattern is incomplete), an idea which is becoming increasingly popular today (e.g., (C#)/C/G), but didn't catch on historically. (Some were made; I once owned an old Lachenal like that.) Instead, the standard results suggest that first the missing accidentals (C#/D# and G#/A#) were put onto the 3rd row next to their associated natural notes, and then the remaining buttons were used to provide some otherwise-unavailable chords and harmonies: low F_ on the pull to give a bass base to the F chord, low E_ on the push both to fill in the lowest C triad and to provide a bass base for Em, low A_ on the push for Am. The reversed G/A key expands chord and harmony options. The low A#_ provided as a "missing accidental" is the bass base for the Bb chord, so useful when playing in F, but G#_ in the bass is in less demand and was omitted in favor of the notes (A_ and E_) that were included. Note that in the standard layout we're still missing low D_, low F#_, and C on the pull (which would be nice for playing in F), though instruments with a drone buttton have that last.


There was less agreement on how to arrange the extra row in the right hand, hence the two "standard" layouts, usually known as "Wheatstone" and "Jeffries". (You can find links to diagrams of both at the bottom of this page on Juergen Suttner's web site.) In the Wheatstone layout the rightmost 3 buttons of the left-hand third row are repeated exactly an octave higher as the leftmost 3 buttones of the right-hand third row, then the c#/d# is repeated an octave higher as c#'/d#' and a couple more useful notes are put on the last button. Jeffries, on the other hand, seems to have followed the principle of continuing to put the accidentals adjacent to their natural counterparts -- c# & g# push next to c & g push; d# & a# pull next to d & a pull -- and then filled in the remaining spaces with notes they thought would be useful. Push d# allows an Ab (same as G#) chord; pull c# allows Bb minor or A (major) on the pull, etc. (It might seem "sensible" to reverse the positions of the high a and c#', but that would move the c#' away from the c' button.)


So there you have it. These may not be the exact principles the original designers used, but they do provide a basis which would produce the results we know. Like grammatical rules of spoken language, they are descriptive, rather than prescriptive, but I think they illustrate that there can be more than one "reasonable" basis, principle or pattern for making choices, and that making sense of a system is often just a matter of finding the right viewpoint.


Oh yeah, what about the placement of the additional notes on instruments with more than 30 buttons? The drone button is a special case, apparently added on some instruments to give a bagpipe-like sound. As far as the rest, they seem to have been placed for convenience, probably originally as special requests by players who wanted specific additions to allow them to play their own personal style of music more easily. This would explain not only the apparent lack of a guiding principle beyond "lower to the left, higher to the right", but the many custom variations that are found on vintage instruments. (E.g., all the 38- or 39-key Jeffries anglos I've played deviate significantly from the layout pictured on the Suttner site... and from each other.)

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Ken: thanks for the insights – I had not noticed the octave thing before your note. It gave me something to ponder prior to Jim’s thesis!


Morgana: yes, I’m about 30 km south of Hobart overlooking the D’entre Casteaux Channel towards Bruny Island (I have visions of taking my concertina up the hill to my meditating log and playing a hornpipe as I watch the Bruny Island ferry chug its way across the channel). :lol:


Jim: As long as GL had anything to do with designing the concertina, then I know it’s for me!

Your explanation has left me somewhat overwhelmed – no that’s wrong – totally overwhelmed. Firstly, let me say thank you for spending the time with such a detailed answer. I’ve had to print it out and I’m going to slowly work through your points, although I can already see the glimmers of understanding. I’m sure that when I graduate this week from a virtual to real concertina, the concepts (a much better word than logic), will become more apparent. Thanks again.


But a couple of questions already surfaced:

- Your explanation of button sequence puts a lot of emphasis on chords, but are chords actually used a lot when playing an Anglo? My uninformed picture was of the Anglo being mainly a melody instrument.

- How is a drone used on the Anglo? I like the idea of having a background tonic underlying a melody (kinda like a Uilleann pipe with drones), but I assume that the drone button would have to be held down all the time with no ‘permanent on’ feature. Do many Anglos actually have drones?

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I’m sure that when I graduate this week from a virtual to real concertina, the concepts (a much better word than logic), will become more apparent.

What I suspect you'll find -- what I think most players find -- is that the concepts will help you at first in finding your way around, but the real progress will come when you start to feel what's happening, rather than think about it. (It's just like spoken language: You don't think about when "read" should be pronounced like "reed" and when it should be pronounced like "red", but no matter where it falls in your speech, you automatically use the right sound for the context.)


But a couple of questions already surfaced:

- Your explanation of button sequence puts a lot of emphasis on chords, but are chords actually used a lot when playing an Anglo?

Not in the popular contemporary Irish styles, but they just use what's already there.

They aren't the ones who designed the layout.

Most players in other cultures -- Germans (who invented the 10- and 20-button layouts), English (who added the third row), South Africans (who did neither, but have separate black and white traditions), and others -- do use chords. And you asked about the "logic" behind it, which I took to mean why it developed the way it did, not how it came to be used after it was developed. (I have a lovely padded camera case in which I carry two concertinas, but those who designed it didn't have concertinas in mind.) As far as I know, only the drone button was added with the Irish players in mind, and I'm not even sure that wasn't actually for some other reason.


My uninformed picture was of the Anglo being mainly a melody instrument.

It can certainly be played that way, as the Irish -- and their imitators -- are showing these days. But few who use it for singing, Morris dancing, jazz, etc. limit themselves that way. Check out just about any of the English or American players. Scan Tester (late English) was known for playing melody in parallel octaves. Jody Kruskal (contemporary American) has described his style for dance music as being "as many buttons as possible at all times." Or ask Alan Day (here on Concertina.net) about his own tutorial CD.


- How is a drone used on the Anglo? I like the idea of having a background tonic underlying a melody (kinda like a Uilleann pipe with drones),...
Note that because of bellows reversal it won't be quite constant, as it would be on bagpipes.
...but I assume that the drone button would have to be held down all the time with no ‘permanent on’ feature.
That's my understanding. In truth, I've only heard about it being used that way. I haven't personally experienced players who use it in a constant fashion.


Do many Anglos actually have drones?

Many do, though many more don't.

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