From Free Reed (The Concertina Newsletter), Issue No 13, July 1973
First of all I must offer my apologies for the long delay of this article, which is entirely due to my own inefficiency, and hope that the gap since the last one hasn't been so long that some of you have abandoned hope and taken up the trombone or something. Now then, before getting bogged down in the ins and outs of chords it's worth considering some Anglo styles, because style is largely determined by the manner and extent to which chords are used.
Simplest of all is the single-note melody played up and down one row. Hardly a style but common enough to merit a mention. The A part of Shepherd Hey would come out exactly as it looks in the music books (fig. 1)
This can sound pretty deadly if you play each note in exactly the same way, so try putting in some expression by varying the volume to emphasise the natural climaxes in the music, and by employing contrasting legato and staccato techniques such as I suggested in Part 2, issue 10. Fig 2 shows one way of using staccato notes to add interest - cut short the notes with a dot over them.
Try some other ways and see what you think sounds best. Time spent at this stage in getting light and shade into your music will prove invaluable later on. However fast and flashy you become later the whole process is a sterile intellectual exercise unless you can give your music life and feeling.
Decorations on the individual notes of the tune can enhance the rhythm and add lift and bounce and danciness, as well as make life much less dreary for the player. With a few twiddles in the appropriate places Shepherds Hey can look like this (fig 3).
It's a pretty terrifying sight when you write these quick ornamentations down, but once you've worked them out they're much easier to play than they look.
All the twiddles I've shown are done simply by going up to the button above on the same row and then back again. This kind of thing is dead easy on all squeeze-boxes with buttons, and although you don't get it so much with traditional English players as with Irish, it sounds well on morris and sword tunes and makes whatever you're playing sound more interesting. Even if you decide you don't like this sort of thing it's worth having a go as it helps develop the quickness and accuracy of your fingers.
One style which seems to have been fairly common in bygone days is that of playing the tune in unison on both hands an octave apart. This is what Scan Tester did most of the time, as far as I can tell from what little I've heard of his playing. Incidentally the only commercial recording of Scan that I know is on a Folktape published by EFDSS called 'Songs and Music of the Sussex Weald', recorded by Tony Wales. Only a couple of tunes but better than nothing. The LP Leader Records are preparing won't be out for at least several months.
This unison style obviously requires equal agility on both hands, so unless you're ambidextrous it will take a while to get them both working completely together. If you can manage it you get quite a full sound, more powerful than you'd expect from the individual parts. (fig 4).
However, one of the drawbacks with this style is that if a tune goes down below the range of the right hand you have to go up an octave in each part to accommodate the lower notes and at the same time keep the unison effect (fig 5 - Bobbing Around).
Sometimes this sounds great, sometimes it sounds a bit peculiar, but don't take my word for it, - try it for yourself.
It's interesting to note that while this technique is not the most apparent feature of William Kimber's playing, it does crop up in some of his tunes very noticeably, eg: The Ribbon Dance on the EFDSS LP. On the same record, compare his singing of The Willow Tree with the way he plays it - the tune is almost identical to Bobbing Around. And in his version of Jockey to the Fair the same phrase occurs as in bar 4 of fig. 5, but this time the tune was actually noted by Sharp as jumping up at that point - an example of the way an instrument can change a tune simply because of the nature of that instrument itself, rather than any deliberate move by its player.
Fig 6 shows what happens when you play two buttons at once all the time, ie: the tune plus the next button down, so that you play in thirds. This is quite easy and fits most major tunes most of the time. In Shepherds Hey (fig 6) it's only in the last bar that it doesn't really work.
In Bobbing Around (fig 7) you need to be more discriminating, so observe the lower melody line staying on E in bar 2 and dropping out altogether in bar 4. Again don't take my word for it but try yourself and judge whether you think it sounds OK.
You can do a similar thing a sixth lower instead of a third, so that you'd be playing more of the second part on the left hand. (fig 8). This isn't quite my cup of tea and it sounds best on tunes that don't jump around too much, but try it and see.
These last two techniques - playing a parallel part a third lower or a sixth lower - supplement the tune without drowning it out. The ear usually picks out the highest notes most easily and so far we've kept the tune on top all the time. But it is effective sometimes to do exactly the same thing above the tune. If you do this it's probably a good idea to keep the tune as your highest part for a couple of times through, then add the higher line later after your audience has got the hang of the first bit.
Fig 9 shows the B part of Bean Setting. To keep a parallel part the whole time you have to go over onto your second row some of the time, and the phrases you have to play in this way are shown in square brackets. The last chord can be played either by pulling on the G row or by pushing on the C row, and in this case the former is easier. Kimber sounds as though he used to cross rows a fair bit although he never seems to have done it as explicitly as this.
Before we finally tackle chords another style must be discussed - the Irish Anglo style from (mainly) County Clare. This involves playing a single-note melody line, not in the basic keys of the instrument but in the normal fiddle keys of G, D, A minor, E minor etc, and picking notes from all over the keyboard to achieve this. One of the Newsletter's previous correspondents, talking about the concertina in Irish music, implied that it was generally regarded as definitely inferior to the more common 'accordion' (- actually a two row melodeon usually in B and C, but tuning of C/C; C/D, D/D are also found among Irish box players.) This is obviously not a view likely to be shared by readers of this magazine, but to understand it one must appreciate that both instruments are played in a similar way. On the accordion the accepted style is to play chromatically, ie: across the rows, in the normal fiddle keys mentioned above. This system falls easily onto these boxes because the notes are arranged fairly logically and you don't have to reach far for any accidentals, passing grace notes, or alternative fingerings that you might need. As I mentioned earlier the Irish put a lot of decoration into their music and the less jumping about your hand has to do the more freedom the fingers are allowed to execute complicated patterns of ornamentation on a very few notes.
To achieve the same thing on an Anglo your fingers have to fly all over both sides of the instrument, making the whole process more laborious and less likely to succeed. Of course it can be done and there are fine exponents of this school of Anglo playing, some of whom can be heard on the records published by Comhaltas Ceoltoiri Eireann, the Irish traditional music association. If you want details write to the CCE, 6 Sr Fhearchair, Baile Atha Cliath, 2, Ireland.
The prospect of playing in different keys on what is basically a 2-key instrument is a fairly daunting one and something that you will have to cope with yourself. As your playing improves and your aspirations rise you may be tempted to have a go at tunes in other keys, and I would be the last to discourage you. However, reticent though I am about expressing too many of my own preferences with regard to style, I think that you should not lose sight of the fact that the Anglo is a lovely medium for providing full, happy music, and is a complete band in itself. To stick to a single-note melody, even though it may cover the whole range of the keyboard, is to completely ignore the massive potential that lies at your finger tips. And so, at last, on to chords.
The beauty of the Concertina is that you can make up chords at any pitch you choose, from simple two-note efforts right up to positive palm-stretching fistfuls spanning the whole range of the instrument. Whatever you decide to use depends ultimately on your own taste and ability, but there are certain considerations to bear in mind. If you're playing a tune you want people to be able to distinguish it from the other notes that you're playing as accompaniment to it, so you should not bury the tune in a cacophony of chords which makes it unrecognisable. In Part 2 I suggested one way round this was to play the tune on the right hand and add very staccato chords on the left hand so that the tune comes over easily. This works the other way round too, tune on the left and chords on the right. The concertina can sound a bit thin on the very high notes and this would avoid the problem of the tune not being loud enough to come over the lower chords. Kimber did this sometimes too. Certainly the tune always comes over very clearly in his playing, even though he usually plays a fairly full style.
My own views on how to play chords have been largely determined by the fact that I came to the Anglo from the melodeon, and was already conditioned to playing the tune on my right hand and chords on the left. After playing the Anglo for some time I still think this is the most logical way of doing it and it comes most easily to me, so this is the way I suggest you set about chords, at least to start with. For dance music you need a strong rhythmic vamp, and again influenced by the melodeon, I think a low bass note followed by a high chord sounds best, to give an um-pa effect. Here's some suggested chord shapes to get this melodeon-like effect.
|C||C (L)||C (R);||E (M);||G (I)|
|G||G (L)||B (R);||D (M);||G (I)|
|G (L)||G (R);||B (M);||D (I)|
|F||F (L)||F (M);||A (I);||C (R)|
|B||B (L)||D (R);||F (M);||Bb (I)|
|D||D (M)||F (L);||A (R);||D (M)|
|D (L)||F (I);||A (R);||D (M)|
|D min||D (R)||F (M);||A (I)|
|A||A (L)||A (R);||C (I);||E (M)|
|A (L)||C (R);||E (M);||A (I)|
|A min||A (L)||A (R);||C (M);||E (I)|
|A (L)||C (R);||E (M);||A (I)|
|E||E (L)||E (M);||G (I);||B (R)|
|E min||E (L)||E (M);||G (I);||B (R)|
Where you get chords that could easily occur on either direction of the bellows I've given both alternatives. Practise each chord separately, once you've found where the notes are, then try the vamping action by playing the little finger first, then the other three together. Once you can manage that, put your skill to the test by accompanying a tune. You will find that the direction of the bellows is determined by the notes in the tune, and this can be frustrating sometimes if you can only get the chord you want in the opposite direction. Such a problem occurs in Shepherds Hey in the third bar, where the E at the end means you can't play a chord of F, which would have been desirable. When this happens, you can try changing the bellows direction in the tune by looking for an alternative fingering, E on the pull in this case. E lies on and but if you haven't got a 19a you'll find there are no spare fingers for 15, so the easiest way out is to play the 'um' and the 'pa' at the same time, and just leave a gap under the tune when the E sounds. So Shepherds Hey would end up like this (fig. 10)
The G's in the last bar are best played pulling the bellows - and or . This enables you to play the G chord with less jumping around on the left hand than if you pushed the bellows. Try it both ways and find the easiest way for you.
To develop your little finger here's an exercise which fits in as a bass run in quite a few tunes (fig 11).
|C (L)||C (R);||E (M);||G (I)|
|E (L)||C (R);||E (M);||G (I)|
|F (L)||F (M);||A (I);||C (R)|
|G (L)||E (R);||D (M);||G (I)|
Once you have grasped the idea of this um-pa accompaniment you can experiment with your little finger and poke about for more runs like this to have ready up your sleeve. However don't think that I'm suggesting you should never vary your technique. This would obviously be tedious for you and for anyone who's listening. Apart from the other styles I've mentioned above, which can be introduced in some passages to relieve the monotony, there are a number of other ways of playing chords. As we have described already, you can put the 'um' and the 'pa' down at once, to give a series of repeated block chords. Or play the 'pa' with the 'um' as well as in its own place. Or leave out the 'um' altogether, as long as there's something going on to make up for its absence.
For songs, at first you'll find it easiest to stick to tunes with a dancy rhythm that you can play in much the same way as dance tunes. But once you feel the need to go onto greater things make sure you can play the accompaniment first before you try singing with it. Don't learn the song and the accompaniment together, as it'll take ages and will just frustrate you. Learn the song first, work out what you want to play to supplement it, learn to play it, then try the two together. There are no rules for song styles, as long as you remember that you've got to play quietly enough for your voice to be heard over the top of the concertina. It's easy to make a lot of noise on the Anglo, so watch it.
Well, that's it. I don't think it's possible or worthwhile to go into any more detail in general articles like these. Apart from anything else, I'm very conscious of influencing anyone who reads this with my own views, and while this is reasonable to expect at a basic level it may serve to hamper another player's development at a more advanced stage. With a basic grounding such as I've tried to provide the imaginative Anglo player can find the full potential of his instrument and his ability on it for himself, so now I'll leave you to get on with doing just that. If you've got any problems, write and I'll try and answer them. Meanwhile, good luck.