New to Box… question about keys

New to Box… question about keys

I’m thinking about taking up the box. I like how C#/D boxes use more bellows movement and allow for a more contained, simpler right hand compared to a B/C box, but some of my favorite tunes are in less common minor keys and/or make use of accidentals frequently. I love Co. Clare tunes. Would I still be able to play these on a C#/D box or would a B/C be required?

Re: New to Box… question about keys

It really depends on which minor keys. Flats in the key sig? You’re better off with B/C.

On C#/D, Em & Bm are a complete doddle, and Am & F#m are also fine.

It follows that on B/C, Dm & Am are equally easy, with Gm & Em just fine too.

I find Dm-dorian OK but a bit less easy on C#/D, and Gm-dorian is a bit of a pain. True Gm with E-flats and things are getting distinctly uncomfortable.

Sure you can learn to play in any key with sufficient application. And at some point down the road, as you experiment with different keys and fingerings, what seems like a clear dividing line between the two systems gets blurred. But why make it too hard on yourself? ๐Ÿ™‚

Accidentals BTW are equally handy on either system.

PS consider the following: C#/D players will naturally play a tune like John Brosnan’s reel in Bm, because the fingering is just so. B/C players will use the same fingering, playing the tune in Am. (Peruse the book of Paddy O’Brien compositions and notice how many of his fluid reels are in Am…)

New-Mown Meadows and Sporting Nell: C#/D players will do these in E whatever, B/C players in D whatever. Simply because you will get fantastic punch out of the tunes using that fingering.

Re: New to Box… question about keys

So which is better for sessions?

Re: New to Box… question about keys

Either is totally fine for sessions. The important thing is to really get stuck in and keep going. C#/D might be easier to get going on because learning to play in D will be more straightforward. But that’s only a temporary advantage. You can’t get to a decent standard on either system without putting in a LOT of time and sustained work. Trust me!

Go with your hunch or your instinct, or choose depending on whether you have someone in your vicinity to teach you. Best of all, borrow a box for a week or two - B/C or C#/D, doesn’t matter - and try to learn tunes on whatever system it is, and then pretending it’s the other one (a tone up or down).

That should help you make your choice and also tell you whether you think the box is for you. Might save you a pile of cash and hassle if you decide it’s not for you. Hanging out on various fora I have seen plenty of evidence of people trying the box and throwing in the towel and putting it up for sale after a few weeks. Usually after trying B/C, in fact - but that isn’t a reflection on the B/C system, but rather on the lack of staying power of the people concerned, or their failure to consider the fact that it might not be easy ๐Ÿ˜‰

Re: New to Box… question about keys

I’ve mastered more than one instrument, so I know what it entails and am not one to give up. I’m just interested in learning the pros and cons of each system so that I can decide which is best for me.

Re: New to Box… question about keys

After a dozen years at it, I’d say that the pros and cons are exactly equal - they just come in different places. ๐Ÿ™‚ The choice between the two is a subject that has been done to death on here and on other forums so I would suggest a wee search. But borrowing a box will give you the best idea.

Re: New to Box… question about keys

I did do a search and that left me with the impression that C#/D is superior for tunes in D and Em, and that the right hand does a lot less work but the bellows are used more. B/C seems to be the best for odd tunes like those from Clare but requires a virtuoso’s right hand. The longer bellow motions make for smoother playing.

Unfortunately there are no box players near me so I can’t try before I buy. I’m looking at a Paddy Clancy 2 voice with 23 keys and 8 basses in c#/d or a Saltarelle Tara in B/C with 4 voices.

Re: New to Box… question about keys

That’s a reasonable summary and will do as a working hypothesis - you’ll discover the nuances as you go along. A Saltarelle Tara is a nice instrument if well set up - but a lot of accordion to handle, esp. as a first instrument. If you go for C#/D, 23 buttons is a good idea (or at least a D row with 11 buttons), and the Paddy Clancy should be very nice to drive. [Logging out for a while now - no doubt others will have useful things to add.]

Re: New to Box… question about keys

"Iโ€™d say that the pros and cons are exactly equal - they just come in different places. ๐Ÿ™‚"
Nice one Stiamh!

Re: New to Box… question about keys

Either system works fine. Unless you’re aiming for a certain (musician’s?) repertoire in certain keys, you’ll learn the tunes you like. The "core" repertoire is still played by most proficient accordion players, regardless of the system.

Re: New to Box… question about keys

One consideration we see fairly often over on is folks selling larger, heavier boxes because they have a shoulder or arm issue -

a nice Saltarelle Boeube or a Hohner double ray can sound great and they are lightweight —-

one argument I’ve heard in favor of the b/c system is that it is more smooth flowing - fewer direction changes on the bellows - I would be concerned about the in/out/in/out/in/out (chucking) of the c#/d to lead to injury —-

I don’t find playing in any of the usual keys (D, Emin, G, A) on the b/c to be particularly challenging - especially if you take advantage of the B and the E alternate in/out fingering —-

c#/d is android,
b/c is iOS

Re: New to Box… question about keys

Write down all the box players you prefer to listen to, find out what system they play and then chose the system that is the most popular among your favourite box players.

so do you prefer, the style of charlie harris, joe cooley, Tony macmahon, Mick mulcahy, Seamus Begley, Andrew Mcnamara,

or do you prefer
Joe Burke, Paddy O’Brien (Tipp), all the all ireland champions of the last 20 years, Joesphine Marsh, Danny O’Mahony, Oliver Diviney

eg if you like Tony Mcmahon, you will never sound like Tony playing a B/C, you will never sound like Tony playing a C#/D neither, put you have more of a chance of getting closer to it with a C#/D

there are certain players that deny any logic, Finbar Dwyer, Dermot bryne, so forget about whatever system they play

Re: New to Box… question about keys

irlandais, you left Jacky Daly off the C#D list - or maybe it was intentional? I ask as he’s the box player
whose playing I most aspire to [but not even halfway there yet]

Re: New to Box… question about keys

I left Jackie and about 1000 others off the list… a reasonable list is here
and some of the information is incorrect.

Re: New to Box… question about keys

"one argument Iโ€™ve heard in favor of the b/c system is that it is more smooth flowing - fewer direction changes on the bellows"

I haven’t done the maths, but if a try a tune with B/C fingerings there’s bellows movement all the time.

This is like comparing playing in G on a D whistle, and then on a C whistle (different fingering for pitch-G as we all know) - both are manageable, and you’d do your cuts and rolls in roughly the same places. Or tune your guitar down a whole step (DGCFAD) and play a song with D, G and chord shapes, then switch back to EADGBE and play the same thing with C, F and G shapes.

As long as you stick to standard chestnuts, anything is equally playable in both accordion tunings.

As Peter Browne said a loooooong time ago:
"For instance,I play B/C,and if I play a tune in C(which many tunes are written in) it`s the same as D fingering on a C#/D and every tune has its own combination of bellows work,so if I play a tune in D on the B/C
it doesnt necessarily mean it`s going to be a smooth ride.
play D,F#,A,F,D on a B/C and it`s out in out in out on the bellows.
Play the same on a C#/D and it`s all the same direction.
You can also play chunk on a B/C and smooth on a C#D.
And also pooled with the fact that the general repertoire in ITM anyway
is to know how to play in C,D,E,F,G,A,Bb .
so,its a bitch either way you look at it."

Re: New to Box… question about keys

"As long as you stick to standard chestnuts, anything is equally playable in both accordion tunings."

Some tunes definitely lend themselves to one or the other. For example Drops of Brandy in D, horrible on a B/C, much easier played along a D row. But averaged out over the standard chestnuts my guess is that overall ease of playing would be about the same.

Re: New to Box… question about keys

Just to throw a monkey wrench into the mix, another row possibility is D# (Eb) rather than C#…

Re: New to Box… question about keys

If you love Clare tunes, as I do too, maybe it’s the C/G anglo concertina you should look into. It’s well suited to the keys that those tunes are played in, and it’s an instrument that is associated with music from that County. Just a suggestion.

Re: New to Box… question about keys

I’ve thought about playing concertina but I prefer the bigger sound of the accordion.

How do the left hand chords compare on a B/C vs a C#/D? I is one more useful for accompaniment in ITM than the other? I’m especially interested in using minor chords for accompaniment io give some tunes a darker sound.

Re: New to Box… question about keys

Wow, that was interesting! I assumed that the number of bellows changes per tune would even out along the way.

Perfect 100% match - 51 tunes (not a terribly low number), 108 tunes are in the 101% to 110% range, and 131 tunes in the 99% to 90% range.

Even a quirky tune such as Splendid Isolation (in Gdor) - which I funnily enough had a go at for the first time earlier today (and gave up!) is a mere 104% tune - 224 changes on C#/D vs. 216 on B/C. Who would have known! And MacArthur Road (in E - a key which many avoid like the plague) is the third tune from the bottom (57%, 29 changes for C#/D and 51 for B/C).

Again, this is super interesting!

Re: New to Box… question about keys

I think C#/D will give you a bit more flexibility for playing basses.

There are various different layouts esp. on B/C boxes. Main choices are between the trad layout (or the "McComiskey" variant of same) and the Joe Burke unisonoric system.

Standard 8-bass setup for C#/D will give you F# and B chords which I find invaluable and which B/C setups don’t have. OTOH the 8-bass C#/D does not have a C chord which compromises your ability to put basses on many G tunes.

On C#/D the best pairing on the inside bottom buttons is G/G, not D/G as standard and definitely not E/G (which is a transposition from the McComiskey layout and a mistake, I reckon, unless you expect to be playing in E major more often than in D or G).

If you want more possibilities you’ll need 12-bass setups but as a beginner I would recommend you start with an 8-bass box. Less weight and less to worry about.

All your chords should be either thirdless (as they probably are on a P Clancy box) or have a stop to take out the thirds (which the Saltarelle will have).

Re: New to Box… question about keys

Here’s some nice bass playing -

the only reason I selected the b/c was because the only irish box in my neighborhood happened to be a very nice b/c Irish Dancemaster - I know if I were getting a friend started on the box I would only be able to recommend what I know -
but then again…
the road to hell is paved with good intentions —

Re: New to Box… question about keys

If your looking at the Button Box as your supplier it’s about 6 hrs from you, take a couple of days off and get yourself up there and spend some time, the older 12 bass BC Shamrock might be a better box than the Tara, the Clancy will jump out at you in its refined power delivery. They also have Saltarelle’s Boebe in both keys. Ultimately you’ll find out the one that says "take me home" ๐Ÿ™‚ after all your research of course. All the Best mory

Posted by .

Re: New to Box… question about keys

I’m pleased to see Stiamh’s analysis. I started trying to do something like it maybe about 8 years ago but didn’t have the programming skills. However, I did notice that, as he says, it’s "rough". Probably the most serious shortcoming in the method is illustrated by the way The Blackhaired Lass is counted (in the examples at the bottom). The first four bars are written once and repeated, but only counted once, while the second part is a full eight bars written out and counted. In playing the whole tune once through, the first part is getting only half the weight it deserves in the full count. Correcting for this gives 51 to 29 (175%) instead of 38 to 23 (170%) (also taking into account that there’s no bellows change heading from the pickup into the repeat of the first part). Also, 2nd endings are treated as if they were played immediately after the 1st ending of a repeated part, without playing the repeated part again.

Another problem occurs when the Norbeck file contains a "variation" following the tune, as in Old Pigeon on the Gate. Both versions get counted and combined. If you count the first version correctly, it’s 57 to 5 (1140%), not 98 to 9 (1089%) and the second version is 60 to 5 (1200%).

It was complications like these that discouraged me from pursuing the project. While the actual numbers should be taken only as rough estimates, still, the overall picture that Stiamh’s data gives is compelling.

Regarding Jeff’s comment about MacArthur Road, the count with repeats and 2nd endings handled properly is 50 to 83 (60%) though I could have made some small miscounts. Playing in E on a C#/D is like playing in D on a B/C, so you would expect not to have lots of bellows changes. C#/D players would only be avoiding playing in E because it would require them to learn B/C fingering, not because it’s intrinsically hard. Playing in E on the B/C is just like playing in F, except that you go from the B row to the C row for the 4th note of the scale instead of from the C row to the B row. And that means it’s very similar to playing in G on a C#/D, which is easy. So if B/C players avoid E, it’s because it would require them to learn a small modification to C#/D fingering. Again, not intrinsically hard. The tune has no D#s, so on a B/C, the only note that must be on the press is F#. On a C#/D, the notes that must be on the press are G# and A, but there are no As in the tune that aren’t immediately preceded by a G#. Therefore, the question is basically which occurs more: F# or G#? If I didn’t miscount, there are 43 F#s and 21 G#s, so on the B/C you have to move the bellows about twice as much.

Re: New to Box… question about keys

Excellent analysis Gary -
does Stiamh’s bellows directionometer take into account alternate notes for B and E?

I have never been able to wrap my head around comparisons between playing in different keys for the 2 semi tone systems - I guess I just rely on my ear and on muscle memory — sure, playing in D is easier than playing in E — but when you have a tune you really want to play and everyone plays it in E, you suck it up and work through the trickier fingering —

Some keys lay nicer on either system — but it sounds like it’s a draw between the 2 systems -

the one thing I like about c#/d is you have a F# and a C# on both rows and that would lead to handy alternate options for tunes in D, G and A

Re: New to Box… question about keys

Your points about repeats, variations and second-time endings are well taken, Gary, and they alter the counts for individual tunes, but they don’t really affect the overall outcome, i.e. over the 1600 tunes, 13 bellows moves on C#/D for every 10 on B/C.

A more serious shortcoming in my view is that the program assumes that a magic note will always be taken advantage of to save a bellows change, which is obviously nonsense. In the Old Pigeon on the Gate, for example, it’s hard to imagine (haven’t tried it btw) that B/C players wouldn’t use push Es and push Bs, since otherwise only two notes in the entire tune would be on the press, which seems totally unmanageable.

But attempting to predict in what passages the player would choose not to go for minimum bellows movement would have taken the exercise way beyond my programming skills (and playing skills as far as B/C is concerned) and the simple note-by-note parsing that the program performed.

I probably spent a whole day’s worth of hours tinkering with the program, or a bit more, and that was enough. It is what it is, and the results are not to be taken very seriously.

I suppose the main reason I did it was to debunk the received wisdom that people kept repeating - that B/C playing involves an-order-of-magnitude-fewer bellows changes, and I think it made that point pretty convincingly. Since those days I have spent a lot more time experimenting with B/C fingering and have a much more balanced view of the merits of both systems. Which is why I wouldn’t recommend anyone to take up one rather than the other. People should make up their own minds ๐Ÿ™‚

Re: New to Box… question about keys

Very interesting Stiamh, thank you. When I was comparing half-step box systems I just did a little table of the main arpeggios/chords used in this music. As I recall B/C had the highest number of bellows changes required.

BUT, I think a lot of people who put in some thought and research into choice of system before they start playing get a bit hung up on bellows changes. They seem like enemies at first, then you realise they are vital friends.

When I was playing the, potentially very "smooth," D/D# system (at pitch NOT as a transposing C#/D) I found that I was using bellows changes more and more.
(Then other musical needs took me unisonoric anyway.)

Re: New to Box… question about keys

Right, Tom - bellows changes are not the enemy. They are all that separates us diatonic box players from piano accordions!

Re: New to Box… question about keys

I’m in agreement with everything that’s been said since my earlier post.

What would interest me, which would be not much harder to program than what Stiamh did, is to compute and compare the minimum and maximum number of bellows movements on the two systems for tunes in the same key and mode. The range would give an indication of how much choice the tuning gives the player or how much restriction it imposes.

I would also be interested to see some sort of measure of a tune’s "arpeggiation": say the ratio of adjacent notes at least a minor third apart to the adjacent notes a half or whole step apart. I’d bet that for most key/mode combinations this would correlate highly with the differences between the two systems.

Re: New to Box… question about keys

Have any of you had experience with Manfrini accordions? The bolsca ceoil sounds lovely in videos.

Re: New to Box… question about keys

I’ve decided on a B/C box, but I think I’d like to have one made with a B bass replacing one of the other bases.

Re: New to Box… question about keys

Beware of deciding on a nonstandard bass system when you haven’t even started learning. It may seem like a good idea from your vantage point, but the question you should ask yourself is, who else is doing it? If the answer is nobody or virtually nobody (as it probably is in this case), think again about whether it is really a good idea.

If you insist on going ahead, first you have to think what direction you want your B chord to be in. And then what to sacrifice.

Probably you’ll go for a push. All the notes of Bmaj on the melody side are push (on the outer row), and for Bmin you have the first and fifth (B and F#) on the push on the same row. The other possibility is a pull chord for the minor, against which you can play B on the inner row along with the minor third, D (but not the major third D#).

So push seems more logical (I say this with no experience of trying Bm tunes on B/C btw). Next question… are you thinking of this so that you can accompany tunes in Bm, or just to have the Bm chord handy for substitutions in the key of D?

If you want to play in Bm, then logically you would want an F#m chord too. Here you hit a roadblock because F# is on the push, and the other notes in the chord (C# and A) are on the pull. So if you choose push for your B, your F# will be pull, and you won’t be able to sound it against its fundamental.

Perhaps you can understand why nobody else is doing it. Especially as the only bass pair you could conceivably sacrifice on an 8-bass B/C would be the C/D (McComiskey) or C/F (Soprani) and either will hamstring your ability to accompany G tunes and tunes in C played on the row melodeon-style.

Re. Manfrini - yes they sound lovely and all reports suggest that they are well designed and made. But again, beware of going with an expensive box when you haven’t started learning. You are certain that you will not give up, but I have seen many high-end B/C boxes being sold almost new by people who have thrown in the towel. Of course money may be no object to you, what do I know, but unless money is burning a hole in your pocket I think it would be wiser to start with a more modest acquisition such as a souped-up Hohner Double-Ray or a Saltarelle Irish Bouรซbe. They may be all you will ever need. (And you can get basses customized by any repair tech or shop.)

Re: New to Box… question about keys

For the basses you need G and D in both directions, C and E push, A pull. That leaves one pull bass/chord pair which is usually F but could be B. Either way you have to sacrifice something useful. If you go with the B then you lose chords that you need for Cmaj and Gdor.

Another consideration is whether you want just I-V chords or chords with thirds. In the latter case you might have the option of a stop to remove the thirds, depending on the model. If you do have thirds then Em and Bm are more useful than E and B for the common keys.

My personal preference is for the Joe Burke layout with an Em:
C/F E-/A

Re: New to Box… question about keys

Cross-posted with Stiamh.

Re: New to Box… question about keys

I’d mainly be playing in session - friendly keys and when playing on my own would want to accompany Dm, Em, Gm, and Am (and their Dorian counterparts) as well as possible. I want to be able to give these a dark color.

If I choose a box like the Manfrini that doesn’t have stops, I’d have the thirds removed by taping the reeds. It seems that having full chords would make it impossible to accompany minor and parts of dorian tunes.

Re: New to Box… question about keys

Trying to decide on a customized bass layout (i.e. other than Burke or McComiskey) before you can even play a tune is needless worry. My advice:
1) get hold of a decent but not top-of-the line B/C box and start learning to play on the right hand
2) once you can play a bunch of tunes decently - which will take you between six months and six years ๐Ÿ™‚ - start thinking about basses
3) consult or take a lesson with a good player to help you explore the basses (judging by your map you have two members of the McComiskey dynasty nearby; Skype lessons are another possibility)
4) if you then decide you need to customize your basses, get the work done professionally, or invest in a top-of-the-line custom instrument.
Good luck, and you’re very welcome ๐Ÿ˜‰

Re: New to Box… question about keys

B/c box is a sham. Don’t waste time. Playing the d scale on a b/c is a tad weird and although its possible, it never will sound like the real thing. Too convoluted. By the way, I can whip through tunes in d on a b/c box but not my cup of coffee,

Learning tunes in c on a b/c box is cheap as most instruments won’t beable to play.

So stick with a d box in my opinion. It is better for sessions, u won’t stick out as much but then again u r playing an accordion. ;)

Posted .

Re: New to Box… question about keys

I have a Paolo Soprani C#/D with hand finished reeds I am looking to sell for around $1000.00 if you are not set on BC. It is the Folk II model with a stepped keyboard but it plays nice and fast and some good local players have tried it and thought it was very good. Let me know if you might be interested.

Re: New to Box… question about keys

"By the way, I can whip through tunes in d on a b/c box but not my cup of coffee"
I’d love to hear that kook, do you have a Youtube link?

Re: New to Box… question about keys

Stiamh gives good advice.

If chords are, or become, really important to you you’ll need one of these! But the time spent learning to play the tunes on B/C meanwhile will be well spent and transfer directly.

(Not a Seamus!)

Re: New to Box… question about keys

I went nuts and had Manfrini build me a C/C#/D LMMH 9 coupler 80 bass, in case any of you C#/Ders want to go the more-money-than-sense route. ;) Just don’t do what I did and place the order without specifying that the bass side shouldn’t be sharpened as well…luckily a simple operation to fix.

Those are different beasts than 2 row 8 bass accordions, to put it mildly. A good LM, even a plain Jane Hohner, almost plays itself, these big 3 rows have to be pushed along in a sense. I use two very tight straps and keep my thumb under the keyboard too, ala Martin O’Connor, who isn’t slow, note. The C row is very handy for certain phrases, Drops of Brandy was mentioned, playing that in G always drove me nuts on the C#/D for some reason, the arpeggios; with the 3 row it’s much more straightforward, 3 pulls and a push. Not that you should shy away from having to throw the bellows around, like Stiamh says we’re here to move the bellows, otherwise we’d all be playing piano accordions. But it’s nice to have options.

Those Gmin tunes are much more straightforward using the C/C# rows, I can testify. An excellent local player can play both of the common systems, preferring B/C for some things - not that he lugs around two boxes, he mostly shows up with the C#/D. Others do this as well, most famously Sharon Shannon.

To start out I’d get a good Hohner, preferably one that’s been tweaked a bit, reeds tuned, keyboard revamped. Those are cheap, play great, and will let you know if the box is for you.

Re: New to Box… question about keys

Csacwp, I just noticed that your profile says you’re in Baltimore, MD. There is a good session scene down there with a fair amount of accordion players. Maybe it would be a good idea to go to a few sessions and talk to one of the accordion players about it. When I first started in playing I did the same (except in Philly) and most accordion players who saw I was truly interested in learning would even let me give it a try.

Another option would be to take the drive up to Liberty Bellows in Philadelphia. Probably a 2 hour drive from Baltimore but they have a friendly staff who would let you try out any kind of accordion you wanted and they have at least one staff member who plays Irish Trad and could help with more specific questions you might have.