Bass buttons

Bass buttons

So, just wondering why a lot of modern accordion players just play half the instrument ( no bass used)

Re: Bass buttons

I think most good players of ITM use the bass, but sparingly to emphasize certain parts of the melody and add momentum and lift. Poor ones play the bass like it’s a Bavarian clap dance. Also Um-pah doesn’t really fit many Irish rhythms. Also adding bass means more push and draw, which is physically more demanding.

I also think part of it has to do with the Paddy O’Brien focus on ornamentation on the two row. The tutelage of students in this kind of playing doesn’t emphasize bass.

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A couple of previous discussions

https://thesession.org/discussions/37215

https://thesession.org/discussions/13455

I think fundamentally push-pull basses don’t sit very happily with right hand end accordion Irish playing, unlike say "English melodeon" style where one seems designed for the other

Basses can work well in Irish music when used in a similar style to pipe regulators.

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I think it’s to do with the now abundant stringed accompaniment in Irish trad music and the fact that the music is very melody based.
Accompaniment is, I think, more common in Scotland where box and fiddle groups are in abundance for dances and where the music is slightly more harmony based. I remember Ian Lowthian (accordion player from the Scottish Borders) telling me he had some well-known Irish box player come to him for lessons on how to use the basses (though Ian’s style is quite funky and not very box and fiddle).

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Bob Sturm, I’m confused Paddy O’Brien Tipperary was one of the greatest and was noted for his use of the left hand.

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Not that I agree with him, but Seamus Tansey said that the "left fingers touching the basses are like milking the tits on a bull, which have no substance to the music whatsoever…" I don’t know if this referred to all box players or just to those who use the bass inappropriately.

https://thesession.org/discussions/6093

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Tansey’s shameful comments, uttered for the purpose of insulting the unfortunate young woman they were directed at, can be ignored.

Playing effective basses for Irish traditional music on a B/C box is not easy given the limitations of the instrument. Playing the damn tunes is hard enough, and many players just never get around to paying serious attention to the left hand. Playing the basses seriously is a separate game level that is unnecessary in most contexts and requires musical imagination and/or some basic music theory if it is to add to (rather than detract from) the music.

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At the time B/C style was developing the basses on the weren’t of much use for playing in D and G? They were laid out for Playing in B and C.

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Wow. I just spent about forty-five minutes reading the thread David linked to and the other thread on that topic which someone on that ancient thread posted. Been playing Irish music since 2004 and that incident passed me by. I’ve heard of other incidents involving Tansey being an ass to someone, and I’ve read his book, but the chauvinism and vitriol of that letter really takes the whole biscuit tin. What a guy.

Sorry for the digression. Carry on with the thread about basses.

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Just have to add… I love his digression into Russian geography… Because Leningrad and Stalingrad are totally old Soviet names for the same city…. Except they’re really not. Truly classic stuff.

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I always rather enjoyed Seamus Tansey’s flute playing - going to find it difficult from now on. What a piece of work.

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You have to be able to play suitable chords. Sometimes they aren’t there.

The C#/D basses suit the inner row in D. The B/C basses suit the inner row in C. Both systems play a large number of tune in the same keys. Some chords are there, some aren’t. Sometimes the easiest way out is to not use the basses.

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Sometimes the bass is played, sometimes it isn’t. The instrument wasn’t designed with ITM in mind and because of that it’s not used to it’s full potential 100% of the time.

How often do Irish fiddlers leave 1st or 2nd position? There’s a full fingerboard available but for these tunes you don’t need to use the whole thing.

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I play B/C but of course play tunes in whatever key everyone else is using, mainly G, D and A majors, A, B and E minors, but not very often in C and VERY rarely in Bmaj. When I first started, I asked my tutor,
"When do I get to put the left hand in?"
Him "A lot later"
Me "How much later?"
Him "About 5 years".
I laughed despairingly, but he was right. D/G players seem to put in chords from when they start to learn.

My box has the "modern" format, so I have G and D chords on both push and pull, which is very useful. And I also have the "take out the middle of the chord" stop, so that it only sounds the first and fifth notes of the chord, which can fit with major, minor or modal. But if I’m playing with the stop in, and suddenly need an Am or Em, I’ll just play the bass button alone and not the chord. If a Bm chord is shown, I’ll just play a D bass, which is within the chord, or if the melody includes a C, but the chord is Am, I’ll just play the C bass: (the A bass being on the pull, and C right hand on the push, so not possible to do otherwise!) This is where it does help to know a bit of music theory as Stiamh says, although not to over-egg it as both he and jeff have said.
I’m about 15 years on and still learning!

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Just a couple of comments. The "unfortunate young lady" is a very accomplished and well respected box player. If she said Seamus was out of tune, he probably was. He has insulted other notable players, bringing discredit entirely to himself.
Yes, he can be a horse’s ass. But I have been in small sessions with him and he can be a lot of fun. He is an old crank at times but people have learned not to take him too seriously. He is a great player and well worth listening to. If we can, we should forgive him his dyspepsia.
Treasure the old characters — they will be too soon gone.

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Apart from the poisonous nature of Tansey’s letter is there any foundation for his contempt about ‘melodeon players’ - was there a time as he claims when the instrument and those who played it were generally held in low regard by the rest of the trad music community, or was it simply because a ‘melodeon player’ was the target of his ill humour at the time?

Re: Bass buttons

I once heard him commenting on a very good B/C player with a great left hand " good to hear a man playing with both hands, not like the one arm bandits "

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/The "unfortunate young lady" is a very accomplished and well respected box player. If she said Seamus was out of tune, he probably was.//

I think she may have been right. I read the letter and listened to the radio broadcast, over 14 years ago, and do agree it was pretty nasty. I thought about it a few times in later years, and it occurred to me that Seamus might have had just a little bit of hearing loss. One of the first manifestations of that is inaccurate discernment of sound in a very noisy environment (which it was at the time).

I know it’s wrong, but later on I did laugh at some of his analogies. Actually, he posted a long multi-page rant here, around 7 years ago, beginning "all you keyboard warriors…" and ending with "get stuffed and shut your traps". It was all in upper case, with no punctuation at all. Anyway, the subject matter and tone were pretty similar, but 100 times worse, and actually it got deleted not long after posting.

All that said, he still has a very good reputation as a musician, as I think everyone here would agree.

On the subject of how much to use the bass buttons, on a melodeon, I’ve always noticed that players use very sparsely and often not at all. I can remember reading an article by Dave Mallison (who plays melodeon, and published all these Irish tunebooks) something along the lines of "you have two hands - so use them…" .. .so that’s another perspective on the topic.

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I wasn’t going to comment but since this thread continues to be as much about S Tansey and his letter as accordion basses I’ll add this from a large piece of text which appears on a website as written by him.

"When you say to a traditional musician that their instrument is flat its an insult and say it twice it’s a double insult, if on the other hand she said my instrument was either to high or low then I could have made the necessary adjustments at the same time retaining respect for the dignity of the man and musician, which is me."

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That makes no sense. ST doesn’t know the meaning of the word flat? Hard to fathom…

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I do remember the flap being discussed on RTE, years ago, as Jim says. Jim, do you remember the flap about Alec Finn? That was just as ridiculous.
But you have to appreciate a postman who probably weighs close to 300 pounds, rides a bicycle, and who is such an accomplished fluter and raconteur. He comes to the session wearing a bandolier filled with pennywhistles in different tunings, and sings IRA songs as if they were written yesterday. In his own words, “To Hell with the Begrudgers.” What is there not to like?

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David, no I missed the thing about Alec Finn.

What happened, briefly?

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It had nothing to do with bass buttons, Jim. May I suggest that discussions of the ravings of curmudgeonly old bollixes be taken outside?

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@David Levine - I do remember a little dispute on the De Dannan name at some point after Alec Finn and Frankie Gavin went their different ways.

@Stiamh //May I suggest that discussions of the ravings of curmudgeonly old bollixes be taken outside?//

Of course, and that would include me too 🙂

Back to bass buttons …

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Jim, I sent you a message. It’s pretty much as you remember it.
Long live "curmudgeonly old bollixes."
Here or anywhere.
Especially here!

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What’s the story re: Alec Finn?

Sorry, this stuff is way more salacious than box basses. 🙂

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Watch Phil Cunningham play and you’ll see he uses the bass for accompaniement with ITM or STM. Some of what he did with Silly Wizard is flat amazing.

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Phil Cunningham is kind of a different story. He’s a piano accordion player so he’s not really limited at all in what he can play on the left hand while playing the melody on the right hand. Having 120 bass buttons with both melody and bass keys playing the same note pushing in and pulling out compared to a semi-tone diatonic with 8-bass buttons.