Button accordion or concertina for Irish music?

Button accordion or concertina for Irish music?

I’m considering getting some sort of squeeze box to practise on and was wandering which type is preferable for playing Irish music? Also, what are the best makes for a beginner like me? Preferably under £400.

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Re: Button accordion or concertina for Irish music?

You can get a wren concertina for 300 euro.

Re: Button accordion or concertina for Irish music?

Concertina
Button Accordion
Piano Accordion

In that order if I’m not mistaken.

As for pricing, free-reeds are definitely amongst the more expensive instruments. You won’t be able to find a high quality instrument for a relatively cheap price like some of the other instrument families.

Re: Button accordion or concertina for Irish music?

First off, no one calls them squeezeboxes.

Second, they are both different instruments and demand different playing styles. One thing to consider is that concertina players in the Irish tradition almost universally play 30 button C/G instruments, which makes playing in G very easy but leaves playing in D a little more of a challenge and A rather difficult.

The two most common arrangements for button accordion are B/C and C#/D, and that comparison has been made at length elsewhere.

They also sound different, concertinas only having one reed per note and using reeds of a different kind than accordions.
Follow your ear. Whatever your favorite players are playing is probably what you should play.

Re: Button accordion or concertina for Irish music?

I don’t know where you got that list Jerome, but all of those instruments are equally acceptable. Concertinas are not better or more right that button accordions.

Piano accordions get a bad rap because of people who play non trad music showing up to sessions, not because they are incompatible with trad music.

Re: Button accordion or concertina for Irish music?

A £400 button accordion is usually less likely to break than a £400 concertina, and is probably easier to get started on (especially with B/C tuning) by yourself. I would imagine most concertina players in Brighton are not interested in playing Irish style C/G, and finding tutoring would likely be difficult.

Ultimately, once you gain proficiency on either concertina or button accordion you will likely be welcome to play anywhere with others. I would recommend against piano accordions as they are harder to learn and more difficult to play in an Irish style.

There’s nothing to say you couldn’t play both. And yes, people do call them squeezeboxes. Consider trying them both out via rentals or even just at your local Comhaltas branch or box store.

Re: Button accordion or concertina for Irish music?

Definitely, listen to what sounds you like and consider getting that type of instrument. In terms of button accordion, C#/D and B/C, while both capable of playing chromatic notes, give very different sounds from each other due to where the push and pull need to happen in the most commonly-played Irish keys.

Some potential players to listen to if you want box player examples are listed here: https://thesession.org/discussions/2921 — I like both sounds, but am starting on B/C because that’s the loaner instrument I had available to me. ;)

Piano Accordion examples are out there, but the instrument gets a bad rap due to a reputation for overuse of the basses and/or drowning out everyone else in a session. Some good people to listen to include Jimmy Keane, Karen Tweed, Mirella Murray, and an array of great Scottish players like Phil Cunningham, Ian Lowthian, and Sandy Brechin.

Re: Button accordion or concertina for Irish music?

Not a box player myself, but one way to go could be to start with the (single row) melodeon. As it’s a simpler instrument than a two-row button accordion, logic says you should be able to get a better instrument for less money (although that may not necessarily be the case - I don’t know the intricacies of the free reed instrument market). It would prime you for C#/D button accordion, should you wish to take it up at a later stage.

Re: Button accordion or concertina for Irish music?

Wesley, it was just Pub talk. One of my pals plays button and piano accordion and was telling me about how well-regarded each free-reed instrument is. That’s why I tagged on, "if I’m my mistaken". To clarify, I am never opposed to being mistaken and/or corrected

Re: Button accordion or concertina for Irish music?

Wesley mate they are called squeezeboxes round my neck of the woods (Ireland) don’t be so quick to shoot people down. Concertina is a lovely instrument If I had time to start a third instrument that would be it. As for button key accordions and especially for Piano Key accordions. Please burn them all. No ones ever happy to see a Piano Key accordion. Button key can be alright so long as there are at least 5 pipers and 15 fiddlers in your session

Re: Button accordion or concertina for Irish music?

I am a professional pianist and I found Irish tunes very awkward on the piano keyboard. Fiddle and whistle are both easier for me. I do know a guy who does piano accordion very well but my advice to somebody picking up free reed for the first time (with the intention of playing Irish) would be to go concertina or button.

One guy. I bet I’ve met hundreds of people who play this music and exactly one of them plays piano accordion well.

Re: Button accordion or concertina for Irish music?

Thanks everyone for all the responses!

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Re: Button accordion or concertina for Irish music?

D is not hard to play in on a C/G anglo concertina.

Re: Button accordion or concertina for Irish music?

Where I am there are accordions (piano) and squeezeboxes (everything else).

For 400 you’ll be better off with a button accordion as most concertinas that cheap are terrible quality.

More importantly than price though if you can find a shop with both and try them out you might find one more comfortable. Or maybe you have a favorite professional musician you prefer?

Re: Button accordion or concertina for Irish music?

Don’t bother with concertina unless you’ve got $US5-6 thousand to spend on a proper instrument. So probably a B/C button accordion is the best choice. It will still be over a thousand, but not ridiculous.

Re: Button accordion or concertina for Irish music?

"D is not hard to play in on a C/G anglo concertina."

As long as it has the 3rd row (28-31 keys). It is important to stress this - it would be all too easy for a beginner to go out and buy a 20-key C/G because it’s so much cheaper (…because not many people want them), only to discover that they can’t play 50% of the tunes in their proper key on it.

Re: Button accordion or concertina for Irish music?

I recommend the Anglo Concertina, but as mentioned above, a 20-button is far too limited. The 30-button model in C/G tuning is a good choice, although you can find some with a few more or a few less buttons that would also be suitable.

They are available in other tunings such as G/D and Bb/F and there are benefits to each, but I recommend the C/G because it is most common and can be played in a number of different keys.

I routinely play tunes in C, D, E, F, G and A on C/Gs. Yes, some are more difficult than others until you gain proficiency, but once you get there you have a lot of versitility. New players start off quickly in G and D which allows them to handle a lot of Irish music.

The C/G instrument has the physical notes to support several other keys too (C#, D#, etc.) but the note locations for tunes in those keys may not offer practical fingering solutions.

By the way, I also own Anglos tuned in A/E and Ab/Eb but I play them because I like the sound of the instruments and not for the various unusual keys one could access with them.

As to Anglo vs Accordion, I like the Anglo for its small size, the ease with which it can be played and the quality of its sound. Accordions tend to be bigger, heavier and have a different quality of tone that I don’t find as appealing for some music. I especially find the multiple reed models have too heavy a tone for my liking.

It’s all personal choice and opinion though, others no doubt may see things differently.

Here in the US I’d say expect to pay about $350 to $400 for a decent starter 30-button Anglo to learn the basics on and about $1,700 minimum for a good used intermediate level instrument. Many are very satisfied with this level of concertina and never feel the need to seek a higher grade. Concertinas at this level play readily and have have a sound that people find quite pleasing. If you want to move to a top grade instrument with faster response and true concertina reeds then expect to pay about $4,500 to $7,000, depending on what you seek. You can spend even more for certain highly prized models.

A final comment, if you do decide to purchase an Anglo, seek advice from someone that plays. There are lot of under $600 models out there that I couldn’t recommend. They may look like a concertina, but they are no fun to try to play and are prone to problems.

Re: Button accordion or concertina for Irish music?

I suppose I’m biased, but I would suggest going for a second hand D/G button box, in the English style. Simpler to learn than the semi box and is basically a big mouthorgan. The keys are both common in Irish music (you can also play in A) and it is practical to use the basses.
In England, even new, one would cost only around £600 or so, but second-hand, a good one would be well within your £400.00 budget.

Re: Button accordion or concertina for Irish music?

I’d endorse that- you also have A and E dorian and most of the right basses - Bm too if your canny

Re: Button accordion or concertina for Irish music?

If you don’t like one more than the other enough to know which you want to try… First, do you actually like either? If not, I’d suggest you take up something else altogether.

OK assuming you are still reading and like them equally, consider other aspects: the difference in weight, and portability for one. Then think about which you’d be happiest to be seen playing - if image is important to you (if it’s not, you’re a rare human 🙂 )

More importantly than anything else: ergonomics and feel. Have you ever had a concertina in your hands, or a button box on your knee? I think the concertina is a fantastic little instrument: so ingenious and so beautifully compact, and simply great for Irish music. But I cannot stand the feeling of those horrid little buttons pressing into my fingertips. Obviously many people don’t have this particular problem, but there may be some aspect of physically playing one or the other that will decide the matter for you. Try to borrow a box and a concertina, if only for an hour.

I know everyone is on a budget but I don’t think a price ceiling is the best criterion for deciding on an instrument in which you are potentially going to invest thousands of hours over many years learning to play. What you really want to play is a much better point to start from.

Re: Button accordion or concertina for Irish music?

well said Bruce! I play both a one-row D melodeon (not exactly what we call a button accordion, but close) and the 30 button C/G anglo concertina. I think both the button accordion and the concertina are suitable, and both have similarities and differences. If you go with concertina, probably stick with Anglo rather than English. There are good players of Irish music on English concertinas but most folks play Irish on the C/G Anglo.

Re: Button accordion or concertina for Irish music?

Bruce McCaskey very useful information.

My dad plays the button accordion back home in Carlow, Ireland. He has just retired from carpentry last week, and so I wanted to buy him something nice. Thinking a concertina would be good, and it’ll keep him busy in retirement. He plays in a few of the local pubs 3 to 4 nights / week with various groups, so he knows his way around an accordion. Would it be much work for him to pick up a concertina?

Also, are there any particular brands you’d recommend that i’d be able to purchase in ireland when i’m home next? around that $1000-2000 mark that would be half decent!

Cheers
Kev