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Melody vs. Harmony


OldDog
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Hi,

 

I'm trying to teach myself how to play melody on the right side and harmony on the left side on my anglo concertina. I'm making progress, but I still have one problem that someone may be able to help me with. How do I keep the sound of the chords from drowning out the notes of the melody? 95% of the answer will probably be 'practice, practice and more practice,' but I've played "Behind Those Swinging Doors" close to 1000 times now, and the bass notes still seem to overpower the treble notes. There must be a way around that.

 

I've enjoyed listening to the clips that Alan Day has been posting and I only wish that I could eventually sound 1/10 as good. (See the 'Practice, practice...' comment above).

 

Thanks for any help.

 

Regards,

Paul N.

Edited by OldDog
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Hi,

 

I'm trying to teach myself how to play melody on the right side and harmony on the left side on my anglo concertina. I'm making progress, but I still have one problem that someone may be able to help me with. How do I keep the sound of the chords from drowning out the notes of the melody? 95% of the answer will probably be 'practice, practice and more practice,' but I've played "Behind Those Swinging Doors" close to 1000 times now, and the bass notes still seem to overpower the treble notes. There must be a way around that.

 

I've enjoyed listening to the clips that Alan Day has been posting and I only wish that I could eventually sound 1/10 as good. (See the 'Practice, practice...' comment above).

 

Thanks for any help.

 

Regards,

Paul N.

They will probably advice you to play bass/chord shorter, almost stacatto, or at least not as long as melody notes.

A sound clip will help and I suspect your bass/chords sound as long as your melody. But then again, perhaps your ear is more advanced and what your perceive as bad will sound stupendous to some.

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They will probably advice you to play bass/chord shorter, almost stacatto, or at least not as long as melody notes.

A sound clip will help and I suspect your bass/chords sound as long as your melody. But then again, perhaps your ear is more advanced and what your perceive as bad will sound stupendous to some.

I agree about playing the bass/chords shorter; as a general rule try to keep the accompaniment light, except where you need it to be powerful for effect's sake.

 

However, I always think that the spatial sound volume envelope from a concertina is extraordinarily complex. And different concertinas will sound different too. Therefore what you as the player hears is different from what an audience hears a few feet away, and in fact the melody may well be coming through just fine. You can test this by asking someone to listen to you playing (choose someone whom you trust to be competent at listening to music with a critical ear so they are aware of your concerns and don't just end up saying 'sounds alright to me'). Back this up if possible by making a recording of your playing with the microphone placed a similar distance away in front of you, and see what it sounds like to you.

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I agree with the comments and advice given.As a beginner it is most likely that your left hand is slower than your right and therefore sounds louder.

My playing and style has only come from a lot of practice,I am not a natural player and I still have a lot to do.

Al

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I'm trying to teach myself how to play melody on the right side and harmony on the left side on my anglo concertina. I'm making progress, but I still have one problem that someone may be able to help me with. How do I keep the sound of the chords from drowning out the notes of the melody? 95% of the answer will probably be 'practice, practice and more practice,' but I've played "Behind Those Swinging Doors" close to 1000 times now, and the bass notes still seem to overpower the treble notes. There must be a way around that.
Your post wasn't what I expected from the subject line, but I'll get back to that. ;)

 

As the others said, playing the chordal accompaniment more staccato usually helps. What is seldom said, though, is that learning to cut short the notes (lift the fingers off the buttons) of one hand while sustaining the notes (keeping the buttons depressed) in the other hand is not something that comes naturally to most of us. It can be learned, but it's easier said than done. It will take practice, and you may need to practice the two hands separately, then try to put them together without losing the difference.

 

Another thing to consider is not playing as many notes at once.

  • It's often possible to play less than a full chord, and yet give the listener the impression that the chord is there. E.g., with a tune in the key of G, playing just an F# and a C will normally "project" a D7 chord, even if neither the D nor the A is there. And any note that's in the melody doesn't have to be repeated (in a lower octave?) at the same time in the corresponding chord.
  • Don't play all the notes of the chord at once: You may already be doing the most common version of this, which is alternating the tonic (base) of the chord with the rest of its notes together. (E.g., for a G chord: low G, then the B and D above it, played together.) An arpeggio is another common variant, in which the individual notes of the chord are played sequentially, rather than all at once.
  • An "alternating bass" combines the two above ideas, just alternating the tonic with (usually) the fifth of a chord (G and D for a G chord, D and A for a D chord, etc.), and omitting the third. This is a common technique for guitar players (especially in the blues?), as well as being the "oom pah" of the tuba in the stereotype of a German brass band.
  • Then there are "harmonies" that aren't "chords". More about that, below.

I said I expected something different when I read your subject line. In fact, what I expected was a question about harmony "lines", rather than "chords". Coming to the concertina from a background of wind instruments (including voice), instruments that can play only one note at a time, to me the word "harmony" means a sequence of notes that contrast with the melody, not a "stacking" of notes into a chord. Some common examples are:

  • Parallel thirds: Along with each melody note is played the note two notes above it in the scale (musically known as a "third", because counting the melody note as "one", the harmony note is the "third" in ascending the scale). This is probably the simplest harmony to do on an English concertina, but on an anglo it won't put the melody and harmony into separate hands.
  • Parallel sixths: Musically, this is the same as harmony in thirds, but with the harmony notes then dropped an octave, so they sound below the melody. This kind of harmonizing can often be done on an anglo with the melody in the right hand and the harmony in the left. This can also be inverted, i.e., playing the melody in the left hand and the harmony in the right hand, giving a separation of an octave plus a third (a "tenth").
  • Parallel octaves: While some might object to calling it "harmony", playing the melody an octave lower (in the left hand) in parallel with the melody in the right hand does sound different from the melody in only one octave, and it can be quite effective.
  • Not strictly parallel: This is a catch-all for "everything else". A harmony could follow the melody rhythmically note for note, but take varying directions in terms of pitch. Or it could diverge rhythmically from the melody, with more than one note in either pairing with a single note in the other. And such harmonies can be multiplied, with more than two notes sounding at once, though not necessarily built upon a formal "chord" structure.
  • Bass runs: A particularly common example of "not strictly parallel". On any instrument that can play both chords and single notes, this technique is often used for moving from one chord to another in a series of steps, rather than a large jump. It can also add variety to the rhythm and motion of a piece, e.g., as a temporary change from a steady "boom-chuck" chordal accompaniment.

These are just a few simple suggestions that you can experiment with, if you have the desire, and they can be elaborated and combined in countless variations.

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I'm trying to teach myself how to play melody on the right side and harmony on the left side on my anglo concertina. I'm making progress, but I still have one problem that someone may be able to help me with. How do I keep the sound of the chords from drowning out the notes of the melody? 95% of the answer will probably be 'practice, practice and more practice,' but I've played "Behind Those Swinging Doors" close to 1000 times now, and the bass notes still seem to overpower the treble notes. There must be a way around that.
Your post wasn't what I expected from the subject line, but I'll get back to that. ;)

 

As the others said, playing the chordal accompaniment more staccato usually helps. What is seldom said, though, is that learning to cut short the notes (lift the fingers off the buttons) of one hand while sustaining the notes (keeping the buttons depressed) in the other hand is not something that comes naturally to most of us. It can be learned, but it's easier said than done. It will take practice, and you may need to practice the two hands separately, then try to put them together without losing the difference.

 

Another thing to consider is not playing as many notes at once.

  • It's often possible to play less than a full chord, and yet give the listener the impression that the chord is there. E.g., with a tune in the key of G, playing just an F# and a C will normally "project" a D7 chord, even if neither the D nor the A is there. And any note that's in the melody doesn't have to be repeated (in a lower octave?) at the same time in the corresponding chord.
  • Don't play all the notes of the chord at once: You may already be doing the most common version of this, which is alternating the tonic (base) of the chord with the rest of its notes together. (E.g., for a G chord: low G, then the B and D above it, played together.) An arpeggio is another common variant, in which the individual notes of the chord are played sequentially, rather than all at once.
  • An "alternating bass" combines the two above ideas, just alternating the tonic with (usually) the fifth of a chord (G and D for a G chord, D and A for a D chord, etc.), and omitting the third. This is a common technique for guitar players (especially in the blues?), as well as being the "oom pah" of the tuba in the stereotype of a German brass band.
  • Then there are "harmonies" that aren't "chords". More about that, below.

I said I expected something different when I read your subject line. In fact, what I expected was a question about harmony "lines", rather than "chords". Coming to the concertina from a background of wind instruments (including voice), instruments that can play only one note at a time, to me the word "harmony" means a sequence of notes that contrast with the melody, not a "stacking" of notes into a chord. Some common examples are:

  • Parallel thirds: Along with each melody note is played the note two notes above it in the scale (musically known as a "third", because counting the melody note as "one", the harmony note is the "third" in ascending the scale). This is probably the simplest harmony to do on an English concertina, but on an anglo it won't put the melody and harmony into separate hands.
  • Parallel sixths: Musically, this is the same as harmony in thirds, but with the harmony notes then dropped an octave, so they sound below the melody. This kind of harmonizing can often be done on an anglo with the melody in the right hand and the harmony in the left. This can also be inverted, i.e., playing the melody in the left hand and the harmony in the right hand, giving a separation of an octave plus a third (a "tenth").
  • Parallel octaves: While some might object to calling it "harmony", playing the melody an octave lower (in the left hand) in parallel with the melody in the right hand does sound different from the melody in only one octave, and it can be quite effective.
  • Not strictly parallel: This is a catch-all for "everything else". A harmony could follow the melody rhythmically note for note, but take varying directions in terms of pitch. Or it could diverge rhythmically from the melody, with more than one note in either pairing with a single note in the other. And such harmonies can be multiplied, with more than two notes sounding at once, though not necessarily built upon a formal "chord" structure.
  • Bass runs: A particularly common example of "not strictly parallel". On any instrument that can play both chords and single notes, this technique is often used for moving from one chord to another in a series of steps, rather than a large jump. It can also add variety to the rhythm and motion of a piece, e.g., as a temporary change from a steady "boom-chuck" chordal accompaniment.

These are just a few simple suggestions that you can experiment with, if you have the desire, and they can be elaborated and combined in countless variations.

 

First of all, thanks to you all for your help. Playing the chords for a shorter time than the melody notes is what I'll try. It sounds like that is what I'm doing wrong - in addition to my hands working at different speeds. I guess I always thought that a chord was to be held for the same amount of time as the melody note. I've never had any musical training, by the way, so my terminology is not very accurate, I'm afraid.

 

I don't usually play the full chords either - only two notes which, I guess, is an interval rather than a chord.

 

I may not be good, but I'm having a grand time and learning something. That's the important thing.

 

Thanks again,

Paul N.

Edited by OldDog
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There is a school of thought that 'minimal is better' when it comes to concertina harmony. I strongly dissagree. Decent chords is one thing that a concertina can do like very few other instruments. Play 2 note chords to get started, fine, but do not let that stop you from hitting the full, magnificent, animal with further practice. Learn to use them and revel in them.

 

(Then you may find you disagree with me but at least by then you aren't using it as an excuse to play to a lower standard.)

 

You're completely right that you should arrange your learning so that you want to do it, of course. It's the painless way.

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There is a school of thought that 'minimal is better' when it comes to concertina harmony. I strongly dissagree. Decent chords is one thing that a concertina can do like very few other instruments. Play 2 note chords to get started, fine, but do not let that stop you from hitting the full, magnificent, animal with further practice. Learn to use them and revel in them.

 

(Then you may find you disagree with me but at least by then you aren't using it as an excuse to play to a lower standard.)

 

You're completely right that you should arrange your learning so that you want to do it, of course. It's the painless way.

 

Depending upon the style of music being played, (on an Anglo), there can be many instances where a left-hand chord can be employed in such a way that it effectively represents the true right-hand melody note and not only renders the right-hand note superfluous but adds greater colour and overall variety to a tune. In other words the tendency for left-hand chords to drown out right-hand melody can in fact, in this way, convert a problem into a virtue. There will surely always be the tendency for a three note left hand accompanying chord to starve a single right hand melody note of sufficient air pressure. Particularly with an instrument in which the higher reeds demand greater pressure to speak. Practice will reveal subtle methods of overcoming the problem. A 'staccato' left hand is just one of them.

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Play 2 note chords to get started, fine, but do not let that stop you from hitting the full, magnificent, animal with further practice. Learn to use them and revel in them.

 

Depending upon the style of music being played, (on an Anglo), there can be many instances where a left-hand chord can be employed in such a way that it effectively represents the true right-hand melody note and not only renders the right-hand note superfluous but adds greater colour and overall variety to a tune. In other words the tendency for left-hand chords to drown out right-hand melody can in fact, in this way, convert a problem into a virtue. There will surely always be the tendency for a three note left hand accompanying chord to starve a single right hand melody note of sufficient air pressure. Particularly with an instrument in which the higher reeds demand greater pressure to speak. Practice will reveal subtle methods of overcoming the problem. A 'staccato' left hand is just one of them.

 

There is this one problem that I have with concertina players: they talk at length about playing, but when we actually hear it, where are those "magnifiscent" chords? For the most cases we just hear exactly what the first post was about: left side simply drowns the right side, talk about it in musical terms or not. For the most part big rich chords on concertina are very riskey. More often than not they don't sound good at all, or not in all keys or all inversions. Good players are few and most of them don't use those big chords, as 90% of Anglo pros play Irish. So what is the basis for the quoted statements? Theory?

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Slightly different thinking is that the reeds on the right hand are smaller and take less air to create a big sound,whereas the left hand having larger reeds take more air. Working on that thought the right hand should always be louder than the left.

That's given the hornets nest a nice rattle.

Al :ph34r:

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Have you tried recording yourself playing? I found that helped me see if one truly drowned out the other. The stuff that sounds terrible to me seems to sound nicest when I listen to the recording.

 

It was funny the other day I was filing my audio files and came across a recoding I'd done ages ago...I thought that's quite good...then realised it was me....that was quite a surprise.

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Good players are few and most of them don't use those big chords, as 90% of Anglo pros play Irish. So what is the basis for the quoted statements? Theory?

I agree with you that good two handed playing may be relatively rare, but it does exist. Jody Kruskal, as one example, seems able to use left hand chords to support and enhance his melodies in a very sophisticated way. He talked a bit about this at a workshop, and it was evident that a lot of thought and musical experience goes into his choice of left hand notes and chords. He played on both a Morse and his vintage instrument, with equally good results in terms of right/left balance.

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How about this one, from the Salvation Army duet player Archie Burgess? Though as I listen to it more closely, he's got a big sound but may not be playing more than 3 or 4 notes at a time.

 

There is this one problem that I have with concertina players: they talk at length about playing, but when we actually hear it, where are those "magnifiscent" chords? For the most cases we just hear exactly what the first post was about: left side simply drowns the right side, talk about it in musical terms or not. For the most part big rich chords on concertina are very riskey. More often than not they don't sound good at all, or not in all keys or all inversions. Good players are few and most of them don't use those big chords, as 90% of Anglo pros play Irish. So what is the basis for the quoted statements? Theory?
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How about this one, from the Salvation Army duet player Archie Burgess? Though as I listen to it more closely, he's got a big sound but may not be playing more than 3 or 4 notes at a time.

 

Sounds like a standard hymn tune (Sweet and Low) to me, and these are usually in 4-part harmony in the song books.

I would imagine that this would be played on a Triumph duet as written: soprano and alto lines right hand, tenor and bass left hand. So there shouldn't be more than 2 LH notes sounding simultaneously with 1 RH note at any time, and usually two notes LH, two notes RH. This shouldn't cause "mush" on a decent instrument.

 

I think the mush comes when you try to play only the single-line melody in the RH and do all of the harmony in the LH. This would have a similar effect on both Anglo and Duet, and it's not really necessary.

 

Cheers,

John

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How about this one, from the Salvation Army duet player Archie Burgess? Though as I listen to it more closely, he's got a big sound but may not be playing more than 3 or 4 notes at a time.

This playing left me cold like a fish. The word "dynamics" has never crossed the mind of a player. Just purely awful! A good Christian he better be.

It's especially jarring to my ears, as I am currently researching Connie Boswell, her rendition of Boulevard of Broken Dreams.

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Slightly different thinking is that the reeds on the right hand are smaller and take less air to create a big sound,whereas the left hand having larger reeds take more air. Working on that thought the right hand should always be louder than the left.

To the contrary:

Greater
movement
of the air is what we hear as
loudness
. Smaller reeds -- with less length, breadth, and swing -- may be expected to move less air. That's overly simplified, since the sound spectrum is created by the buildup and release of pressure as the reed alternately blocks and unblocks the opening in the reed frame. But with smaller reeds, the opening is also smaller, allowing less air to pass (under the same pressure) than with larger reeds, so there is less air to be moved. Still overly simplified, but this indicates that the real situation is far more complex than either my arguments or Alan's would suggest. (The sensitivity spectrum of the human ear and other aspects of its function are also factors in our ability to distinguish different simultaneous pitches.)

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How about this one, from the Salvation Army duet player Archie Burgess? Though as I listen to it more closely, he's got a big sound but may not be playing more than 3 or 4 notes at a time.

Sounds to me as if the left hand is weaker than the right. I wonder if it's been muffled somehow. Or maybe the recording was made with the right-hand end turned toward the mike and the lef-hand end turned away?

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  • 2 weeks later...
Slightly different thinking is that the reeds on the right hand are smaller and take less air to create a big sound,whereas the left hand having larger reeds take more air. Working on that thought the right hand should always be louder than the left.

To the contrary:

Greater
movement
of the air is what we hear as
loudness
. Smaller reeds -- with less length, breadth, and swing -- may be expected to move less air.

 

One aspect has not been mentioned yet: in the case of both Anglos and Duets, the ranges of the LH and RH sides overlap. So there are some reeds on the LH side that are higher-pitched and smaller than some reeds on the RH side.

 

In practice, on the C/G Anglo, I almost always have to play tunes "across the divide" to get them in a singable key. Even when I manage to accommodate a tune entirely on the C row, RH, I have to go over to the G row, LH, for the pull C over an F-major chord.

And playing in the higher octave of the RH of the Crane, I've found it best to keep the LH chords (at least partially) up in the area of the overlap, i.e. on reeds that match some of the RH reeds for pitch. Theoretically, this is the same as playing melody and harmony in the RH, but practically much easier.

 

It seems to me that, as long as you resist the temptation to play chords low in the LH against a melody very high in the RH, balance is not a problem. On the Duet, utilise the overlap. On the Anglo, take advantage of the "automatic chording" to harmonise high notes with the RH.

In the case of the Anglo, in particular, I think baffling one side would be definitely counter-productive, and with the duet - at least with my Lachenal Triumph - it's not necessary if you keep the chords "compact".

 

FWIW, your mileage may vary! ;)

 

Cheers,

John

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