The Concertina CD-ROM tutorial

by Niall Vallely, 2002
produced by MadforTrad
review by Ken Coles, with comments by Concertina.netters Lon Mercier, Xcott Craver, and Daniel Bradbury

Available for U.S. $39 from
MadforTrad Ltd,
35 Princes St.,
Cork, Ireland
Tel: +353 21 4275116
Fax: +353 21 4275484

Cover of tutorial CD-ROM

Are you trying to teach yourself anglo concertina without a teacher nearby? Paul has listed a compilation of tutor books for quite a while. Now we can add a digital product: the CD-ROM Tutorial for Anglo Concertina by Niall Vallely and published by MadforTrad. Many other Concertina.netters have commented on this tutor (and gone through more of it than I) before I got this review written, so I am including their comments from the forum below.


photo of Niall Vallely

The style of playing here is Irish traditional dance tunes and some slow airs. Vallely's style reminds me of, but is different in some details, from that of other Irish players I've been privileged to observe closely. If you don't know this sort of playing, I won't try to describe it. Instead, I will direct you to the Listening page. I got to hear Vallely at a fine concert in Pasadena, California a year or two ago, and it is interesting to note that he played some more contemporary sounding music. Irish trad is certainly not his only style. I find he takes an interesting view of how to play Irish on anglo, and clearly is a good choice for this tutorial.

One interesting feature is that Vallely varies the fingering from early on. Rather than use the same button for a given note, he varies the choices. Teachers and experts will differ on this idea, but it is an interesting inclusion and allows for intermediate and more advanced players to jump into the "beginner" tunes with some interest. For example, Vallely alters fingering in Little Bag of Potatoes. It is no big deal, he just includes it. All experienced players I know vary their fingering, but some teachers introduce these variations early and others later. As Randy Merris commented, there is no home row or scale pattern in Vallely's approach.

He encourages you to accept the bellows reversals of the anglo and not fight "gives rhythm," and you "don't run out of air." How true!

It is also interesting to have reels before jigs. This goes counter to the comments many of us make that jigs are easier when we are starting out. Nevertheless, my impression of the Beginning section is that the tunes are graded in difficulty and it is wise to do them in order.

I would suggest some changes in any future editions. The "ABOUT" section (on READING MUSIC) is probably MadforTrad boilerplate for all their tutorials, but how about some sound clips here to play along with/learn from? This section is essential for those completely new to music and maybe some small sound files demonstrating note-values, rhythm, pitch, etc. would fit on the CD. Some of the music gifs could stand redoing; the last bar of the notated Little Bag of Potatoes is very crowded to read.

I would also like to urge MadforTrad to branch out. If they would look through the British Isles to find a tutor for English dance music and for Morris dances on anglo (would John Kirkpatrick be willing?) and someone to teach an English system concertina tutorial (perhaps on how to accompany song?), I think they would find a market for the result. Finally, they might consider some repertoire CDs, where one could learn new Irish tunes from video clips. One tune might be presented using fiddle, another on pipes, and so on. A slow and a full-tempo version could be included. It would mimic learning tunes from others in a session for those of us who don't have one handy.

Overall, this tutorial presents a useful approach to learning Irish music on anglo concertina by an experienced, knowledgable teacher. Technically it is well done within the limits of the CD-ROM format and the great variety of computers it will be used on.


[If you are not interested in how the computer works and if the tutorial runs fine on your computer, I suggest you skip this section!]

The publishers have chosen to use a universal, low-level format for the disk and the files. This is a welcome move, as Lon Mercier notes in his comment in the next section. I would imagine that they are already looking at using DVD format in the future, as some other publishers are already doing -- Homespun comes to mind.

One thing on my wish list would be to extract just the audio tracks from the video clips. My operating system did not have an easy way to do this; perhaps others do. I had to tweak the set up on my 1997-vintage computer to play the video clips without gaps (copying to the hard drive helped). Also, once I knew how to play a tune, all I needed was the sound to play along with. I ended up just playing the video clip and ignoring the images, using only my ears to follow the tune.

I also spent some time altering the Preferences on my two Web Browser programs and the video player plug-in I use. You might want to do this too; I found it can really improve performance on an older computer like mine. Because we all have different computer set ups and this varies so much, I will leave to your inclination whether you want to look into this. The video clips are 320 by 240 pixel MPEGs, a reasonable compromise between showing detail and hardware requirements for playback. I find it helpful to play some at double size, possible even on my clunky computer.

The System Requirements given are pretty close to reality. I found that the need for a Pentium or better is true insofar as playing the videos is concerned. I could not get the videos to play smoothly on an old, but hot-rodded, 486 computer belonging to a relative. MadforTrad gives 604 Power PC as the minimum Mac processor, but I got the tutorial to run pretty well on my 603e 250 MHz machine.


[Selected comments on Vallely's tutor, from the General forum, slightly edited]

New Concertina Tutorial

Lon Mercier, Jun 2, 2002, who must have gotten the CD within days of its initial release:

I just received the new CD-ROM concertina tutorial put out by MadforTrad. I am very impressed. It has enough material to keep any serious concertina player busy for some time. There are two sections - one for beginners and another for advanced players. It covers a large repertoire of airs, jigs and reels.

The lessons are taught by Niall Vallely and he does a great job explaining each tune. The best part is his use of ornamentation. Each tune is shown in sheet music format with all the ornaments included. He covers a wide variety of ornaments such as grace notes, triplets and crans.

Between this new tutorial, Edgley's book, and Noel Hill's summer class, I've got enough material to last me for years. By the way, don't miss Niall's solo performance at the end of the CD - it's mind blowing!

In response to a question on how to order, Lon said:

As Bill says, go to It costs $39 and will arrive in about a week. When you order, they'll give you a password and number so you can download some lessons right from their website even before the CD-ROM arrives. Service is very good.

Another question asked about the video

Yes - there are pop-up videos of every piece taught. They show the A and B parts of tunes done slowly and focusing on each side of the concertina. The pieces are then shown at a faster pace as well. There are 14 pieces presented in this manner as well as an interview with Niall.

A video of each ornament is also shown.

With respect to whether one could use a 20-button anglo, Lon noted, Jun 3, 2002

I'm not too familiar with the 20 button anglo. I'm assuming the accidental row is missing, so it is possible to play in C and G. I reviewed the CD-ROM. There are plenty of pieces playable on a 20 button anglo. Here's the breakdown:
Beginners: 5 airs in G
5 reels in G / 1 in C
3 jigs in G / 1 in D
The advanced section:
2 jigs in G / 4 in D
4 reels in G / 2 in D
2 slipjigs in G
1 slide in D
2 hornpipes in G
1 barndance in D
Looking over this list I see there is a lot more music than I had originally thought - certainly plenty for a 20 or 30 button instrument.

On this same question, Xcott Craver gave a count as well, Jun 14, 2002

Hmmm. There are pieces further on that require a 30 button, but many only a 20 button. With over 30 tunes, that's going to happen. Let me check:
Beginner: 14 tunes, one of which requires a C#
Advanced: 18 tunes, 7 of which require C# or G# (I think)

Xcott gave his "Initial Impressions: Niall Vallely's MadforTrad tutor" on Jun 11, 2002

small image of tutorial video

Just got it in the mail today.

First, the technical side. The folks at MadforTrad thoughtfully composed the tutor entirely in standard HTML with all the video in MPEG. Without any Windows/Mac-specific technology, it should run on just about any OS, a big plus for me. I was able to run it on BeOS, with a pretty bare-bones web browser.

This also means you don't have to install any software; just drop the CD into whatever computer is nearby. If you have to use someone else's computer, this is ideal.

Secondly, the video: there's gobs of it, over 600 Megs of it, or about 50 minutes total. This is pretty much the limit of what can be fit on a single CD in MPEG format. There are clips of every tune being played, and clips illustrating individual ornaments.

Bridging the gap between a video tutor and a book, the CD has a good deal of tunes, over thirty. All the bits of sheet music are in GIF format.

How is it as a tutor? I *just* got the CD, and I bought it in search of tips and tricks for an intermediate player; so I don't know enough to judge its value as a first tutor for the new box player. I do notice that the text does not particularly lead one by the hand, but is quite concise; it's essentially a collection of tune examples with sheet music and video. The text introduces the examples and ornaments, and avoids talk of such like scales or theory or modulation. I think Mick Bramich's book and this CD would complement each other perfectly.

Regarding tips and tricks for the intermediate player, I'm very happy with it. Niall Vallely explains his particular "concertina roll," which is really slick. I'm going to have to practice that one for a long, long time. I already know and use many of the other ornaments he describes, but from watching the video I've already learned some new, important bits about how to play them; it's valuable to hear how he puts them all together, how he makes them sound just so.

Finally, joke on yours truly:

RE: Reviews of Mad for Trad -is it just me?

Posted by: Daniel Bradbury, Sep 26, 2002

I had on my window's media player and was checking out the folder "vids" on the CD. I found Eavesdropper. Now when I run the 'autorun" version, I haven't come across it. I haven't checked for others, but perhaps more is "hidden" on the disk.

It turns out "Eavesdropper" is not a program planted to see what tunes you play the most from the CD. Rather, it is another video clip of a tune (a double jig, given as tune 715 in the facsimile edition of O'Neill's) that evidently was not worked into the tutorial itself. If you fish around in the CD directory, you can find and view it.

Thanks to MadforTrad for letting us look at this CD and patiently waiting for this writeup, and to Lon, Xcott, Daniel, and everyone else who asked questions, gave answers, and strives to play the concertina.