Bodhran or Concertina?

Bodhran or Concertina?

I am a long time guitar and mandolin player switching to ITM. Would I find it easier to participate in a session with a concertina or a bodhran do you think? I am working diligently to learn tunes on the mandolin, but would like a back up or even primary instrument for sessions. Thanksgiving

Re: Bodhran or Concertina?

Hello, Mike. Mandolin is fine for playing in sessions. Depending on the session a mandolin may not have much volume, though as long as you can hear yourself & the players on either side of you can hear you it’s worth playing an instrument you’re familiar with.

Not sure why you’re planning to play a new style of music on an instrument different from the ones you’ve played before. If you want to play bodhran or concertina by all means pursue your goal. But if you want to transition to playing Irish tunes, in a trad session begin with an instrument you know something about (mandolin or guitar) & then work toward expanding to instruments you want to learn.

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Re: Bodhran or Concertina?

I’d continue with mandolin family instruments to start off with, if I were in your shoes. However, there are enough bodhran players, and I don’t think it is a good idea to take up bodhran with the intention of being able to go out and quickly start playing in sessions. I think out of the two instruments you mentioned that it would be better to take up concertina, though you won’t be able to join in most sessions until you’ve learned to play it, which will take some time. You’d be better off starting to learn tunes on an instrument that you are already proficient with, the mandolin. Not to mention, it has enough similarities that learning to play trad on the mando could allow for some cross over to other instruments such as tenor banjo, octave mandolin, cittern, bouzouki, tenor guitar, mandola, etc.

Check out Marla Fibish’s mandolin playing. As far as I’m concerned she’s the best example of ITM on the mando that is available on recordings. She also has a tutor out, if you are completely new to ITM. Here is an excerpt from it, and you can hear her playing a tune three times through at around 49 seconds into the video. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7ESBrq76whY

Re: Bodhran or Concertina?

I agree. Mandolin can be a great session instrument. If things get too loud, switch to tenor banjo. Also, it seems clear that the ability to be heard depends not only on instrument volume alone - clarity of playing makes a huge difference; the precision of the notes and the clear and clean execution of the notes is especially important with a relatively quiet instrument like a mandolin.

If you can get your hands on an old 1920’s Vega Cylinder-back mandolin you may find that when you play it with a lot of energy it will really belt out the sound, and it’s a sound that fits very well in ITM and folk music.

Good guitar accompaniment is a rare and wonderful thing in a session; it’s also very difficult to do well, or maybe deceptively difficult is a better way of describing it - it seems like it should be easier than it is. The well-familiar three-chord progression of the garage band era don’t apply here.

One final thought in these meanderings, most of us guitar players were brought up on major (ionian) or minor (aeolian) modes alone. In ITM, there is also dorian and mixolydian - those modes that fall between major and minor and help give ITM it’s distinctive sound, and also make playing accompaniment more difficult and also more rewarding when well done.

Hope this helps. Good luck from a former guitar player, now playing mandolin and tenor banjo.

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Re: Bodhran or Concertina?

Concertina 🙂. It’s not that hard to learn to play, and you can teach yourself. Plus there’s never enough concertina players.

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I should clarify- I am diligently working on several Irish tunes on mandolin and just bought a really nice oval hole to play ITM on. Plan to stick with it. The other two would be secondary instruments. I play finger style on the guitar and really don’t want to go the accompaniment route on it. Thanks for the comments so far.

Re: Bodhran or Concertina?

Hi Mike!
We could really use an octave mandolin/mandola player. Or concertina! 🙂

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Hi Michele,

My concertina should arrive here on Wednesday. If that experiment doesn’t work out, maybe I will give the octave a go. The mandolin tunes are coming along well (finger is healing). At least the notes are the same on the octave. I am really hoping I take to the concertina though; would like to be able to play a non-string instrument…….

Re: Bodhran or Concertina?

Mike, I’d die to have a session only 24 miles away and an invitation like Michele has made would really make it worth the effort!

I’ve been playing guitar for five decades but four years ago I fell into ITM big time and bought a mandolin. There’s nothing wrong with the mandolin except possibly volume but it aligns quite nicely with the fiddle which means that it also works with ITM very well. If you want to stay with fretted instruments, then add a bouzouki but if you’re looking for that special bit of difference, tune the zouk GDAD vs GDAE. I’ve been solidly in the fretted regime since entering into the ITM realm with the exception of a hammered dulcimer where I’ve been hedging my bets. By that I mean that I’ve had a bunch of hand surgeries and I’m finding it increasingly difficult to play the wider necked instruments at my disposal such as cittern or guitar. Even if I wind up getting the wrist fused, I can still play the HD but I would certainly take a look at a concertina or button accordion if I thought I was still physically capable of those. Failing that, like you’ve mentioned, there’s the bodhran but that’s an instrument that gets limited somewhat at sessions if more than one shows up. A concertina would be a winning had there. Then there’s the hurdy-gurdy… nah, maybe not.

Understatement of the year:

"…there are enough bodhran players…"

(Posted by Christopher Selby 7 hours ago. )

Re: Bodhran or Concertina?

A well played bodhran is great to play with. But the only way to get to play the bodhran well (i.e. in a way that is at once solid and supple, sensitive to the nuances of the tunes) is to know the tunes well - and the best way to do that is to learn to play the tunes. My main instrument is mandolin, so I have to approve of that choice 😉 , but I might well be learning to play concertina if not for the fact that I have been wrestling with the fiddle for the last 12 years and there are just not enough hours in the day or compartments in my brain. I’ve always enjoyed playing with concertina players, so one more in the world can’t be a bad thing.

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For my 2 cents…I can’t think of a more versatile fretted instrument than a mandolin. Volume is often mentioned as a drawback and I suppose in a big session that could be a problem. Still, I’ve been fortunate enough (make that very fortunate) to play a few times with Marla (mentioned above) in big sessions and have never had a hard time hearing her. Same thing with Dave Shapiro in Ennistymon, a wonderful luthier, player, and person. If hearing yourself in a session is a problem, sound holes can be added to the shoulder of the instrument and they help a lot. I play, flute, mandolin, banjo, tenor guitar, guitar and bass, but if I have to travel light I take a mandolin and keyless flute for maximum versatility. Octave mandolins, and this is only my opinion, are great backing instruments, but get a bit "muddy" sounding for melody. (don’t hate me here, it’s just my thinking, I gave the OM a chance for 2 years and couldn’t make it work).

All that said, I agree that there are never enough concertina/box players. It seems strange to me when I think about the way that some people think you can’t make good music without strings. As for bodhrans, well I think a good player has something to add. I’m including myself here when I say that there are more bodhran owners than bodhran players.

Re: Bodhran or Concertina?

Go for the concertina.
Concertinas are magic.

If you’re really thinking about it,
don’t waste time thinking about it.

Go for it.

Good Luck.

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Re: Bodhran or Concertina?

Agree; Not enough concertinas.

The Concertina adds a very nice sound to a session.

Re: Bodhran or Concertina?

Well, it looks like concertina it is for my second instrument (along with mandolin) for Celtic. It also sounds cool for some French music I was listening to. As mentioned above an entry level Rochelle should arrive here tomorrow-let the fun begin. Somewhat surprised that most comments were not bodhran "friendly". Thanks for all the comments and support.

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For "celtic" music you need an ocarina and a synthesizer.

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….don’t forget the pan-pipes.
To answer the original query, as far as I’m concerned we need more concertina players and …..figure out the rest for yourself 🙂

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Re: Bodhran or Concertina?

You’ve probably already done so, but check out www.concertina.net - like this site it’s a wealth of information on many varieties of concertinas, styles of playing and tips on how to proceed. If and when it comes time to upgrade from your Rochelle you’ll get ideas on that too.

Re: Bodhran or Concertina?

How can you even begin to compare the two???

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Re: Bodhran or Concertina?

Hauke, Mike posted above that he was considering a second instrument to his mandolin; i.e. learning a new instrument. I don’t think he intended a comparison of which might be better for his primary instrument. Of course all that could change as he progresses on the new concertina.

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Re: Bodhran or Concertina?

As has already been said ( lots!) Concertina all the way. The Rochelle is a good entry level concertina -MUCH better than many of the cheaper ones. Check out Concertina.net and, if your in the UK, Swaledale and the West Country Concertina Players -very friendly club with a membership far broader than just the west country. And welcome to the world of ‘old squeezers’ 🙂

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Thanks to all for the encouragement. Five days in on the Rochelle. I can play the D And G scales and about half of The Mountain Road and Maggie of the Wood-all pretty slowly. Seems quite fun so far-a long way to go………

Re: Bodhran or Concertina?

even i as a bodhrán player agree: there are not enough concertinas.

should you, however, decide that you want to take up the bodhrán too, you may find that at least the basic techniques will come to you naturally, if you are used to strumming your guitar. basically playing the bodhrán requires the same up- and downstroke technique, only with a stick instead of a pick and a slightly different angle of your wrist.

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Doubt if anyone cares, but my experiment with the concertina continues. The Rochelle (rental) got me started, but it was stiff and hard to get any speed up so it is on its way back. I bought a 30 button vintage refurbished Lachenal from around 1900 which is much easier to play, is smaller, and sounds better. I am woodshedding away on it to the detriment of my other instruments. The concertina is a lot of fun to play plus it has forced me to learn how to read music-all good….

Re: Bodhran or Concertina?

practice practice practice 😉

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Short update that no one will care about. After 3-4 months of woodshedding away on the concertina to the detriment of the guitar and mandolin, I sold it and am going to concentrate on mando and guitar. It would take way too long to be able to fully participate in a session with the concertina. No worrys. All is good - will be ready to go on those by the next scheduled session.

Re: Bodhran or Concertina?

I for one think there are not enough mandolin players in sessions, melody players anyway

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Well, after about 18 months away from the Anglo, I re connected with my instructor and bought a used Rochelle. I just upgraded to a used Edgley and am having a lot of fun with the Concertina again. I may never be fast enough to play at a session, but am glad I started up again. After hearing (in person) a bodhran it’s probably a good thing I went with the concertina. Not enough coordination to play the bodhran well……….