Roy Janik (zinereem) wrote,
Roy Janik

The Ford Focus of Concertinas

So I e-mailed the guy who sold me the concertina some questions, about how to manage the bellows, why some notes growl, etc.. And this novel is what I got back... Warning, only read as much as you can take. It's all interesting to me, but I'm sure you could give a rat's ass.


Great to hear from you and I'm glad you enjoy the concertina....

Yes, you have run into the "bellows management" skill that you need to
develop... When you get accustomed to it, you'll find a smaller bellows
very workable - having a long bellows is a problem in itself because as
the hands get further apart, the coordination of the hands and fingers
has a different and a little more unwieldy feel. To get you going on
bellows management here are some thoughts:

1) In the key of D and G, you will notice you often have more "pull"
notes than push notes. This is by virtue of the fact that F# is only on
a pull.. Of course, the melody line will dictate whether you have issue
or not...

2) There are a number of ways to manage your bellows...
a) Manage the bellows at the end of a long note... This is the easiest
and the one you should probably start with. If the song has
predominantly 8th notes, you will find some quarter notes. By playing
the quarter note a little shorter, you can get a quick reset of the
bellows - either push or pull - depending what you need.
b) Changing your fingering. You will notice that in the left hand
there are two buttons exactly the same (G and A) except that on one
button you get the G on the pull and on the other button you get the A
on the pull... By using this or other "duplicated notes in opposite
directions" you can use the button that helps you get the bellows more
balanced. I find this particularly helpful at the end of a phrase or
8-bar segment.
c) Correct the bellows as you play notes.... This is the most difficult
thing to do, but once you learn how to do it, is certainly the most
versatile. And in some cases, especially fast tunes, it is about the
only way you can do it... The idea is that if you are reaching a fully
extended bellows, find some note that is on a push - and as you play
that note on the push - also press the air button.... Alternatively, if
your bellows is almost closed, find some note on the pull - and as you
play that note on the pull - also press the air button. This will be
difficult for you to do at start because it is yet one more thing to
wrap your brain around simultaneously. First practice by playing a note
in your left hand while you press the air button with your right thumb
(it is easier to do it in opposite hands first, then you can graduate to
doing it with the right hand only). Open and close the bellows and get
the feel and the sound of it... You will notice that the note sounds,
but at a softer than normal volume because much of the air is escaping
through the air hole and not being sent through the reeed. Now, it
would not be a good thing to use this technique and every time you do,
play the note softer - you would lose the melodic character of the tune.
So, what you have to do, is apply more pressure on the bellows than
normal as you do this bellows management (because you want the same
amount of air going through the reed to maintain correct volume while
sending excess air through the air hole) - you can tell the amount of
extra pressure to use by simply hearing that the note is of the correct
volume. This technique allows you to get smaller bursts of air in/out
of the bellows and you may need to do it on a few notes to get the
bellows where you want it (because the note, when playing fast, will go
by quickly!).

3) Experiment around on tunes and find out where you need bellows
management. What you will find is that as you learn the tune, you will
use the exact same bellows management technique at the same spot
consistently... It becomes second nature to you for that tune, just as
the changes in bellows direction required in the tune will become second
nature. The way you know you have it right is by what it sounds like...
Make sure that your bellows mangement choices don't interfere with the
rhythm or the volume of notes.

4) Higher end concertinas require less bellows management. This is a
combination of two things. First, a higher end concertina has tighter
bellows and pads, so there is less air leaks - air leaks is one cause
for the need for bellows management. The second, and I'm not 100% sure
of this, but I think Italian reeds require more air to get to a certain
volume than steel reeds.

5) As you start playing faster you will find that you need less bellows
management. This comes from the fact that each note uses less air
(because played for a shorter duration) and you can get around to the
end of the 8 measures quicker (where you might well find you do the
bellows management).

Lightness in weight is really important in a concertina... People can
get carple tunnel with heavy ones... Plus to get going fast, you must
be able to move the concertina in and out quickly - and it is much
easier to do that with a lighter concertina. For this reason, the pros
always use 30 button concertinas - it gives them all the notes they need
and they avoid the increased weight of more notes.

Yes, you can get some movement of the bellows without buttons depressed
- that is true in new Stagi's too. But, don't push or pull the
concertina without depressing at least one button... If you do, you
cause air to be forced in/out either through the pads or through some
juncture of the bellows. The more you do it, the more you are
encouraging your concertina to leak - this is not a huge thing, but is
something that can compound and may cause the need for repairs sooner.
Therefore whenever you are playing with people you'll always get "wow,
is that cool, can I try it?". As you hand it over to them, tell them to
always keep a button depressed as they work it.

Also, there are slight variations in the charter of sound from various
notes. Part of that is the physical placement of the reed in the
instrument... Some reeds are directly under the palms and therefore
sound a little more muffled than others. Also, each reed is a little
different. You should be able to get some good sounds out of it. The
thing to do is to constantly listen as you play and focus on the sound
you want. You will find that your hands will start moving in ways to
get the sound you want (for instance, if some note requires slightly
more pressure than others to get at a certain volume, unconciously
you'll start playing that note with a little more pressure). For this
reason, and every concertina player finds this, moving from concertina
to concertina is like moving from driving one car to another. All the
basic skills are there, but they handle differently, shift differently,
corner differently, etc. You've got a reliable Ford Focus now and a
learners permit... Driving a BMW (Jeffries/Wheastone) is still driving,
but is a decidedly different experience.

Hope this helps...
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