Now what is the hardest trad instrument to play

Now what is the hardest trad instrument to play

Well there were quite a few opinions last week on the easiest instrument to play.
I think it goes without debate that the tin whistle is, as practically every child in school in Ireland learned the penny whistle.
Now to expand on this and discuss the most difficult.
If we look at the origins of trad music we can see that it was primarily played for the dancers. It then, with time became popular to play together and form a session. You will still see Ceili bands playing especially for the various set dancers.
To deviate slightly on this theme we can also consider which was and now is the nicest and best instruments to play in a session . The bosca ceoil, the fiddle and the flute are and to this day and not to forget the banjo.
Of course other instruments enhance a session such as the pipes, concertina, the piano and I was recently sitting beside a harpist in a session which was beautiful. The mandolin, and bouzouki a Greek instrument introduced into trad in the 1960s by Johnny Moynihan of Sweeney’s Men also adds sweetness to the overall sound. As for the bodhran there are many different views on this drum. So back to the original post.
If you take all stringed instruments you either pluck the string with your fingers or a plektdrum and this makes a sound. It requires lots of practice to achieve an acceptable sound especially the banjo. Nevertheless once you pluck the strings a sound is produced. The fiddle produced a sound when you draw the bow across the strings. The box and concertina for instance produces a sound when you press a button which allows the air to pass across a metal reed which makes a sound. A combination of buttons pressed will also produce different notes and in such a sequence a tune. There is no denying that the pipes are complicated as you have to coordinate the bellows and the bag with the chanter, the drones and the regulators. However once the technique is mastered the sound or note is produced by allowing air to pass through the many reeds. The whistle standard or low produced a sound when you blow into it. Again both hands/ fingers used will sound a tune if used correctly. So now we come to consider the flute. This instrument is in my opinion the most difficult to master. You will use your 2 hands and fingers just like all the other instruments discussed but you also have to produce the sound. There are no reeds, strings, keys or buttons to assist you. It is a fact that when a person starts to learn the flute the most difficult part is to get a sound out is flute. It can take many many hours of practice trial and error to get a reasonable embouchure. It is not unheard of for a flute tutor to send a pupil home with only the mouthpiece head joint and practice getting a sound from it.
It requires shaping your lips, facial muscles tongue and throat and lots and lots of patients along with good lung capacity. . Apart from this the sound tone produced is very different for trad music than
classical. Lots of people give up on the flute early on and change to a more forgiving instrument.
So there you have it, my opinion and as with any posts I submit I’m always open to and interested in your opinion.
Stay safe and enjoy your music whatever instrument you love and play
Rob G

Re: Now what is the hardest trad instrument to play

You have a point, Robin. Say to a flute player, "How’s your bottom D today, Dierdre? Nice and hard?"
You may see them pull a face.
🙂

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Re: Now what is the hardest trad instrument to play

About stringed instrument and boxes I know nothing, but as I said in the other thread, as somebody who plays whistle, flute, and uilleann pipes I can confidently rank them in that order of difficulty.

And the reasons aren’t opinion but cold math.

Obviously for any melody instrument you have to learn how to play the tunes. That’s the given.

For whistle you have to learn fingering, breath control, and articulation (assuming you do that).

For flute you add
1) embouchure formation
2) more complicated maintenance (assuming a metal whistle and a wooden flute)
3) operating the keys (if you choose to employ them)
On the other side of the balance sheet you might choose to do less articulation on flute than on whistle.

For pipes you subtract breath control and articulation but add
1) more complicated fingering
2) more complicated ornamentation
3) manipulation of the bellows and bag
4) playing of the regs, if you choose to employ them
5) the adjusting and tuning of the reeds
6) more complicated maintenance than even a wooden flute.

Now, just watching people play push/pull boxes it looks like that adds a huge dimension of complication that no other instrument has. Is that true, or is mastering the bellows direction analogous to mastering bowing direction and/or picking direction?

Re: Now what is the hardest trad instrument to play

From a flute player perspective, I think it takes much more time to play the uilleann pipes well.
And I think fiddle might be harder to learn too. I’m quite confident to say that bowing is at least as difficult as blowing, if not more.

After all, blowing into a flute isn’t really harder than getting a sound from an empty bottle, isn’t it?
Once you get the embouchure right you’ll have to learn how to use your fingers, eventually the keys and when to breath.

Learning the pipes is … something else. You’ll have to care about pressure (wich is a nightmare), check that everything is in tune, learn how to fill the air with the bellow, how to use the regulators, maybe how to make your own reeds etc. And of course like the flute, the ornements and the key system.

Re: Now what is the hardest trad instrument to play

I think you are underrating the initial difficulty of playing the fiddle Robin.
You’re also looking at the initial stages, but the learning curves will be very different shapes between instruments.

I’d set the question as - how long would it take before a total beginner of average aptitude and having average practice time can play a reel at a proper speed in a way that is convincing, and enjoyable for others to listen to, including ornamentation appropriate to their instrument.

Re: Now what is the hardest trad instrument to play

Mastering bellows direction is the least of it (although it can take a while to stop trying to breathe in and out in sympathy with the bellows). More important is controlling bellows pressure, because that affects the tone. However you do have to plan your bellows movements to avoid running out of air, and to manage phrasing. That’s before we get onto fingerings. There’s a lot more going on than is apparent to a non-playing observer, but that is true of all instruments. The really good players make it seem effortless, which makes it even harder to know what they’re doing.

Some instruments are certainly harder to get a sound out of than others, so it’s a lot easier to get started on accordion or concertina than flute or fiddle, but it doesn’t end there. In my view all instruments are difficult to play well, but the learning curve is different.

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I could be wrong, but I’m guessing from "After all, blowing into a flute isn’t really harder than getting a sound from an empty bottle, isn’t it?" that Damien R is not a flute player. To begin with, yes, but it’s much more than getting "a" sound or even a "good" sound. The embouchure and blowing technique you need for, say, an upper a, b, c or even the next d is very different from what works for the bottom D, and for that matter the E which is, even under the best conditions, weaker than the D. Quite apart from "split octaves" (or whatever you call it) and the control of colour you need, even on the "easiest" notes, to play an air with any musicality.

As a wild and non-measurable guess, I’d put flute embouchure and breath control in the same ball-park as bowing the fiddle. Making a harsh squeak is easy, but I think we all know that there is a lot more to it than that, don’t we?

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Re: Now what is the hardest trad instrument to play

"I’d set the question as - how long would it take before a total beginner of average aptitude and having average practice time can play a reel at a proper speed in a way that is convincing, and enjoyable for others to listen to, including ornamentation appropriate to their instrument."

I’m only guessing but something like that

pipes = 4 years
violin = 4 years
flute = 3,5 years
concertina = 3 years
banjo = 2 years
box = 2 years
whistle = 1,5 years

Re: Now what is the hardest trad instrument to play

While whistle is probably the easiest to approach, mastery, musicality and intuitively on any instrument takes time… Maybe the same amount (more or less) of time.

Another measure would be the time it takes for someone who is already a good musician, let’s say on piano, to transfer those skills to a new instrument.

Re: Now what is the hardest trad instrument to play

In my experience, diatonic button box. The in and out being different notes on the same button was just too much to handle.

Re: Now what is the hardest trad instrument to play

About how long it takes to get passably good on an instrument, years ago I was at a party and somebody brought a harp.

A friend who was a very good musician, first piano and trombone and later Highland pipes and Irish whistle, sat down at the harp. He said he’d never touched one before.

So he sat there looking intently at the strings, and with one finger he played the lowest note, then the next, and so on slowly up the scale until he reached the highest note. I don’t think I’ve ever seen such concentration!

After playing up the scale he sat there for a couple minutes lost deep in thought. Then suddenly his face brightened and he said

"It’s just like piano except one hand is backwards!"

And he started playing. He played for an hour, all sorts of tunes. It was very nice.

Re: Now what is the hardest trad instrument to play

Whichever instrument is in your hands.

Re: Now what is the hardest trad instrument to play

Every instrument can be challenging. Just before I decided to buy a box, I feared the push/pull system. Now (more than 20 years later) I don’t think much about it.

My half-serious answer to the original question has to be: the guitar. So it seems.

Re: Now what is the hardest trad instrument to play

If you trawl the web, you will find fabulously accomplished exponents of every conceivable instrument.

Therefore all are equally easy, as all have been mastered.

In terms of strict logic, it follows that all must be equally difficult.

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The most difficult instrument to play is the one you don’t practice.

Re: Now what is the hardest trad instrument to play

probably all the ones i’ve avoided taking up. I’m like that.

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Much depends on the player, and the "fit" between player and instrument. Maybe "aptitude" is a better term. I took to the fiddle like the duck takes to water, but the uilleann pipes or the box I would have to drop all other things and practice exclusively for a long time just to get to the slow player session. Someone else might pick up a concertina and whoops! hey, presto! they’re already squeaking out tunes. Anyway, it’s all fun, and you’ve got to love what you do, right?

Re: Now what is the hardest trad instrument to play

Oh about my super-talented friend who instantly got good on the harp?

One day he asked to strap on my uilleann pipes.

He sat down and strapped on the bellows and connected them to the bag and put his fingers on the chanter.

He’s a Highland piper so the bag-arm and chanter grip are familiar.

So with the same intense concentration that he displayed when his brain was processing how the harp worked, he moved his bellows-arm a bit and carefully examined, in turn, the chanter, the bellows, and all the regulator keys. Just like with the harp he sat there lost deep in thought for a while.

Then life suddenly returned to his face, he unstrapped the bellows and handed the pipes back to me!

I guess he either figures out how to play an instrument immediately, or not at all.

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In Irish sessions I would say guitar and bouzouki are the hardest instruments to play successfully. They are exotic newcomers to this music which is predominantly single line melody with (mostly) drone accompaniment; if any.
If you don’t believe me feel free to read anything posted by Iris Nevins.
https://thesession.org/members/9898

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Re: Now what is the hardest trad instrument to play

I find the free-reed instruments like Anglo concertina and B/C box the hardest to play, they are the most remote from the body, at first more like operating a piece of equipment than playing an instrument.

I remember before I ever played box, I thought "why would anyone want to strap an air conditioner to their chest and try to play music on it."

Finally after 10 years, its only recently in the past year or so as a result of a lot of practice and careful continuous attention to ergonomics, starting to feel more like an extension of my body.

Anglo Concertina, while still like a little steampunk engine, doesn’t feel so remote to me, I think mostly because of the lighter weight and connection with the hands.

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@AB….. I totally agree with you Ben, especially about the guitar. That fits with my objection to an earlier post which suggested that it was an easy instrument to play in ITM. Not So!

Re: Now what is the hardest trad instrument to play

The original question wasn’t about sessioneering, it was about "hard to play." That means playing solo, anything else is extra. That surely changes the situation for guitar and zouk etc.

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the B/C accordian because everything about it seems counter intuitive - the moothie , the D melodeon and even to a much lesser extent the anglo concertina make perfect sense to me , just like breathing in and out. The C#/D accordian makes almost as much sense [though i don’t play one] but the B/C is an enigma and i am constantly amazed at the quality of music that can be produced from something so illogical. I am particularly in awe of musicians like Bobby Gardiner and Damien Mullane who can move from the 2 row chromatic to the 1 row melodeon and back again apparently without blinking!

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"The original question wasn’t about sessioneering," … Well that changes it completely, and it takes the question way beyond my experience. But I there I was thinking that this site WAS about ‘sessioneering’!

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Whatever, in all my ignorance I would give my vote to the Irish pipes.

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The B/C box certainly takes a while to find your way around. Having the D major arpeggio, probably the most common phrase in Irish music, as pull-push-pull across the rows is an absolute swine. However you work away at those things and they progressively become less of a problem.

I took up the box after 30 years of playing the fiddle. The fiddle is a beautiful expressive instrument in the right hands. Trouble is all too often it’s in the wrong hands and it’s out of tune and scratchy. I never got to the point where I enjoyed my own playing, so I called it a day a couple of years back.

The two hardest things to do on the fiddle, playing in tune and producing a good strong tone, come for free on the box. So i’d have to say that the fiddle is the harder instrument to play well.

Re: Now what is the hardest trad instrument to play

I see a lot of comparing a single aspect of an instrument and then jumping to conclusions.

Like above, just because making a sound is easy on the box doesn’t mean that this is the only aspect of difficulty that an instrument has. For example, how easy is it on a b/c to transpose into another key compared to a fiddle? How easy is it to do ornamentation compared to a fiddle? How easy is it to add your left hand bass and chords essentially doing two things at once?

All of this is going to be an opinion anyway but there’s a lot of flawed /narrow reasonings in this topic.

Either way, my vote goes tor the pipes. Just because almost every aspect comes with struggles.

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Re: Now what is the hardest trad instrument to play

Yes of course it’s all opinion, I’m just giving mine on the relative difficulty of those two instruments having devoted a serious amount of time playing both.

How easy is it on a b/c to transpose into another key compared to a fiddle? About the same, different fingerings to learn other than on a fiddle you can sometimes shift up a string to transpose up a 5th.

How easy is it to do ornamentation compared to a fiddle? Overall about the same. I never got to the point on the fiddle where I could reliably do a single note triplet on an up bow.

How easy is it to add your left hand bass and chords essentially doing two things at once? Yeah that’s hard, only just starting to get to grips with that.

The thing is not all struggles are equal for any one person. On the box I know that as I work on the hard things they slowly but progressively get easier. On the fiddle for the intonation and tone production issues I had a succession of teachers who started me again from basics but it never got to be as good as I wanted. Just wasn’t the instrument for me.

Agree that the pipes are the hardest by reputation. 21 years to master them always used to be the reckoning.

Re: Now what is the hardest trad instrument to play

Probably flutes and bodhrans are the less complex, the more intuitive… Even if the flute can be very energy consuming.
For example, I feel comfortable with the "random" position of the buttons in concertina and diatonic accordions. Figure out the ornamentations is nearly effortless. On the other side, I hate stringed instruments: the keyboard is simple, you see and understand it, but my left hand doesn’t work!
Guitars have to many strings, banjos and mandos are easy for the tuning in fifths, once you "feel" them.
Fiddles and pipes… Mh, you already said everything. I’m sure there are tons of completely different experiences.
The short story is: the most important factor is the APTITUDE.

Re: Now what is the hardest trad instrument to play

I guess we can agree to disagree on the transposition part. Where with a fiddle you change the fingerings, you do not need to change the direction. This is significant as it can mess up your air management but also the path that might work in G does not work in A. Perhaps you find yourself in the lower octave where the same rules just don’t apply. That’s another thing, going an octave up means relearning, here the directions might be the same but the fingerings are not.

Then, playing in Eb, good luck.

All of this taken into account; quite sure that the fiddle is the more difficult instrument. I just don’t feel like picking a single aspect is a fair comparison.

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Re: Now what is the hardest trad instrument to play

The uilleann harp is extremely difficult to master. A combination of both the uilleann pipes and the Irish harp, the player has to be extremely dexterous and focused in order to play the melody line and accompaniment on both the chanter, harp strings and even the regulators simultaneously.

Re: Now what is the hardest trad instrument to play

The voice

Re: Now what is the hardest trad instrument to play

I thought the banjo was going to be very difficult, but my local session said that after two months of playing I was ready to start my own session!!! ; )

Re: Now what is the hardest trad instrument to play

I’ve been playing the box for about four years and I still don’t think I can convincingly play reels at a proper speed. Finding good fingering solutions is difficult. The flute on the other hand is perfectly simple: six holes, six fingers. But it is so much more physical: the breathing, the embouchure, posture etc… Maybe the more control you have over the sound, the difficulty increases. The fiddle strikes me as difficult, because you have so much possibility in control over the sound. And it sounds awful if you don’t have that control yet.

Re: Now what is the hardest trad instrument to play

Sorry, Rob G if your OP was intended as a discussion about solo playing. I assumed it was also open to playing a particlar instrument with others.

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Re: Now what is the hardest trad instrument to play

Juan Creaghe - Nothing is "random" about the notes on the B/C button accordion or Anglo Concertina.

The B/C box has all the notes in the major chord for the named row on a push, and the rest of the notes not in the major chord on the draw. Can’t get much simpler than that.

On the Anglo Concertina the first and second rows, generally in the key of C (2nd row) and G (1st row on the bottom), are just like the button accordion, major chord on the push, the rest of the notes of the scale on the draw.

The top row on a 30-button Anglo Concertina has all the accidentals not present in the two lower rows, and does seem a bit arbitrary, but generally where you’d want them to be for most circumstances when you need them… 🙂

Re: Now what is the hardest trad instrument to play

I’m with the other boxers on the B/C box for trickiness: had I realised how hard it was going to be I might not have taken it up! It requires a massive number of brain connections to remember exactly what each right-hand button does: it is not like a piano or piano accordion with a repeating pattern as you go up or down an octave: a whole new pattern to be learned! It is basically pretty illogical: it’s not just push-pull-push-pull alternately as you go up a scale: all of sudden you have to do 2 pulls in a row.
"The B/C box has all the notes in the major chord for the named row on a push, and the rest of the notes not in the major chord on the draw. Can’t get much simpler than that." sez Michael: true in part, but how often in a session do you get to play in C…..or even B maj??? That will REALLY endear you to the other session members!
As or basses and chords: only certain keys in which you can add them in effectively.
But, the glory of the B/C is that it is fully chromatic in the right hand, so "I can play in any key provided I can find the notes" sez me! Won’t always be able match it in the left hand, but there are right-hand chords you can bring in - again if you know your buttons and your notes.

Re: Now what is the hardest trad instrument to play

"It is basically pretty illogical: it’s not just push-pull-push-pull alternately as you go up a scale: all of sudden you have to do 2 pulls in a row."

Two pulls give you the home note in the same direction, and also the rest in same direction as before. Changing bellows directions for each note would be even more illogical - then you’d have a pull C in the next octave, a D on the push, an E on the pull and you can take it from there.

Re: Now what is the hardest trad instrument to play

"Two pulls give you the home note in the same direction, and also the rest in same direction as before. Changing bellows directions for each note would be even more illogical"

Accordion fingering is, of course, logical in its design. But unlike a woodwind or stringed instrument, the relative positions (and bellows directions) of notes are not governed by natural laws.

Re: Now what is the hardest trad instrument to play

All this talk of pushing and pulling is getting me addled.

If I was ever to take up box it would have to be one button, one note.

It would be cool, for Irish trad, to make a piano accordion with the white keys giving the key of D rather than C, I think.

Give me the flute or whistle any day! You just wiggle all your fingers and blow.

Re: Now what is the hardest trad instrument to play

> It would be cool, for Irish trad, to make a piano accordion with the white keys giving the key of D rather than C, I think.

Actually, C is often a trickier key to play in because your fingers have no reference. Beyond the beginner level, it’s much easier to have two or three flats or sharps to "grab on to" while you play, on piano at least.

I am surprised that chromatic button accordions, popular in Eastern Europe, are not more common in British and Irish traditional music. They have a lot of practical advantages, not least an isomorphic scale and much more compact than an equivalent piano accordion.

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Re: Now what is the hardest trad instrument to play

Ah but Jeff, it depends which scale you’re talking about:
C is push pull push pull push pull pull push
D is pull push push push pull pull pull pull
G is push pull pull push pull push push push
A is pull pull pull pull push push pull pull
NOW do you think it’s so simple anyone??

Re: Now what is the hardest trad instrument to play

A few of the recent posts are literally about pushing buttons, pumping bellows & going up the scale on a box.
Is this who we have become?
I trust music is in here, somewhere.

ID me this scale:push, push, push, pull, pull, pull etc. ?

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Re: Now what is the hardest trad instrument to play

"I am surprised that chromatic button accordions, popular in Eastern Europe, are not more common in British and Irish traditional music. They have a lot of practical advantages, not least an isomorphic scale and much more compact than an equivalent piano accordion." - Calum

I’ve used this lockdown time to play through a book of 800 tunes on my 5-row C-system chromatic box. Right and left hand both. Did them all on just the outer three rows since that is the most challenging and transportable if I’m ever handed a 3 or 4 row CBA. Quite the adventure.

Previous to this stay-at-home time, I had never played traditional Irish music on it, mainly French melodeon tunes and waltz musettes, Russian, Tango, and Scandinavian music. I figured, I’ve got the time, why not see what’s possible? A lot!

I agree it’s an amazing system for any kind of music. Uniform (isomorphic on treble, commonly Stradella system on bass) on both sides, transposition is just a matter of shifting starting positions.

Makes you wonder why it didn’t take off in some countries like the USA. I think it has something to do with door-to-door sales of accordions in the 1950-1960’s. If someone came to the door with a CBA, you’d probably throw them out. At least a piano accordion looks vaguely familiar.

Like trying to put Irish tunes on an English Concertina, to get the feel of a diatonic box, you have be very specific in your phrasing and articulation for it to sound right, but it’s entirely possible. It has similar phrasing challenges to playing tunes on a piano accordion, since it’s essentially the same instrument with buttons instead of keys.

It always messes with my brain going between the CBA and my B/C box, takes me a few minutes to make the switch.

Once we’re back having sessions again, I think I’ll be able to bring the CBA. I’ll certainly get some odd looks, but that’s par for the course with me.

Re: Now what is the hardest trad instrument to play

trish santer - Not clear on your response to my post.

Mine was to someone who stated that the buttons were randomly laid out on accordions and concertinas, I was just pointing out that nothing could be farther from the truth.

Of course, one has to learn to play tunes using the notes where they are on the instrument in whatever key the music is in and that’s the challenge, isn’t it? I never said that part was easy, just that the layout was very simple.

Or just take up the 5-row C-system Chromatic Button Accordion and avoid the issues entirely. Every key can be played using the same pattern if you want (not that that necessarily make sense at times). 🙂

Re: Now what is the hardest trad instrument to play

"NOW do you think it’s so simple anyone??" Not me Trish. I had to take a couple of asprins after reading your post. I’ll stick to my fiddle.

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Michael I was fascinated reading what you said about the chromatic button accordion.

Is it this kind? Usually in Bulgaria nowadays they play piano accordions, but you see these sometimes.

I notice that whether he’s playing in a Major scale, minor scale, or Hijaz scale all the notes are right under his fingers, they stay aligned and parallel. When people play these tunes on piano accordions their fingers are twisted in knots reaching under and over the other fingers.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ss5ljEXykBk

Re: Now what is the hardest trad instrument to play

Yes, Richard, that’s the one. The white and black buttons are the white and black keys of the piano.

There are two layouts, B-system and C-system, and I can never remember which is which or where they are used but one is reckoned slightly easier for melody and one better for harmony playing.

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Re: Now what is the hardest trad instrument to play

While we’re talking about it, the chromatic button system is a great layout. I’ve been playing it for about three years. As a tool for playing music I’d say it verges on magical!
IF you want to play a "same note both ways" type instrument and don’t already have serious piano keyboard skills you’ll progress a lot faster on chromatic button. Availability of instruments is not so easy in some places.

The three outer columns of buttons on the right hand have all the notes. Any more columns than three are duplicated buttons.
As you go along a diagonal row of buttons the intervals are tones one way and semitones on the other diagonal.
C system has tones going outwards from the bellows and semitones the other way. B system is the opposite.

They’re not all huge instruments. Here are some polkas.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BQG2IhzhLkU

Re: Now what is the hardest trad instrument to play

Michael, I agree that the notes on the B/C box are not entirely randomly placed, BUT, as I said before, neither are they in a repeat pattern when you go up or down an octave, which is what makes it to hard to learn.
AB and Gobby, if my post hurt your brains, then that is just what it is like when you start to play: see the thread title - if not the hardest trad instrument to play, it must be somewhere up in the top 3! But having persevered it does play some very nice music too!
THAT is why I posted what I did.

Re: Now what is the hardest trad instrument to play

Trish, my brain doesn’t hurt. Actually I very much enjoy playing the handful of tunes I have learned on button box.

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Re: Now what is the hardest trad instrument to play

Nor does mine now, but it did at first! And I love my 2 boxes now.
But I have had several people say - "Oh, that looks really simple to play" - well, no, it’s not.

Re: Now what is the hardest trad instrument to play

Trish - what I mean is that the layout enables the same note (whichever that is) to be in the same direction regardless of octave. I think that’s rather helpful.

You’re allowed to have your opinion, of course.

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That is true Jeff, and one of the few logical things about it! And the alternative Es and Bs are useful, but took a while to sort those out and make full use of them.

Re: Now what is the hardest trad instrument to play

The one you have in your hands. I’m of the opinion there are no easy instruments if you want to be good. Some are easier to start on, but I’m pretty sure they’re all hard if you want to play well. So back to the practice room for me.

Re: Now what is the hardest trad instrument to play

Not a practitioner of either, my own take is - the English concertina, and the Northumbrian pipes. Keeping time, a routine early accomplishment on many instruments, seems on these to be more in the nature of a barely realisable ideal, a bit like forever trying to climb a long rope which takes an extraordinary effort actually to ascend to the top.

In Northumbria, devotees of these instruments notably abound. They apply them to a local repertoire characterised by briskly bouncy tunes, angular intervals and, often enough, very fast runs of notes. And, yes, there are players who can really pull these off. It seems uncanny how they do it. I suspect the influence of a zany, obsessive, markedly technocratic streak characteristic of this part of the world, which has had a long history of pulling rabbits out of hats.

The above is, of course, in jest - to an extent… 😉

I relate more directly to the difficulties people have had with the B/C accordion. I had one for several years. I found it completely counter-intuitive. I never reached the point where I could play standard Irish dance tunes at a satisfactory level in the customary keys, and somewhat impulsively parted with it. I think this was a mistake, but do not assume I’d have improved that much on it had I kept it. I was always a D/G player, I’m at home with its fingering. Having D/G on the go alongside the B/C meant I was less single-minded about mastering the latter than I might have been.

Re: Now what is the hardest trad instrument to play

Well the layout of english concertina is really neat and logical. Except if you have experience on just about any other instrument - where scalar progression is intuitive and successive notes occur where one expects them; not alternating from hand to hand as in EC.

The phrasing, bounce and lift that comes naturally on bisonoric free-reeds (anglo c, diatonic box) is harder to achieve on a uni instrument like EC, CBA, PA, etc. (But this is the perennial debate on concertina.net 🙂 ) This could be the challenge of otherwise "straightforward" (unisonoric) chromatic instruments: employing them in a fashion that emulates the characteristics of idiomatic playing on idiomatic (diatonic) instruments.

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Re: Now what is the hardest trad instrument to play

Oops, I mean …(bisonoric) instruments

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Re: Now what is the hardest trad instrument to play

Well what a huge amount of replies and different opinions
What I was really hoping to put across was what is the hardest instrument to get a sound out of.
So if we take that a little further, you pluck a string, draw a bow, press a key or even force air through a reed they all will make a sound or note.
However you have to put in many hours or even years practice to be proficient on your chosen instrument. It’s not difficult to guess that my instrument is the flute and it takes some amount of time to get a sound from the flute never mind the correct reedy sound. Playing music at an acceptable level in a session is what most of would like to do. So for every musician who responded ,sees their individual instrument the most difficult to master.
That may be so and I am glad I’m not taking up the box because I would be quite confused with all the pushing and pulling and probably not get beyond the single note
It seems that the box is the most popular instrument to play in terms of difficulty and complications. But when all our instruments are played together in synergy in the session atmosphere there is nothing like it.
It’s an Irish ☘️ thing.
Thanks again for all your comments and keep playing and above all
Stay safe
Rob G

Re: Now what is the hardest trad instrument to play

For sure the question "what instrument is hardest to produce a sound on" and the question "what instrument is the hardest to play Irish reels at full speed on" are two entirely different questions.

Our cat can play notes on our piano. He does it in the middle of the night when no-one is watching. Some of his incidental musical works are interesting. He’s focused on pandiatonicism at present.

But pounding out Cooley’s Reel on the ivories is beyond his capabilities, I would bet.

On the other hand it takes months of practice to get a good Bottom D out of a wood flute. Once you have a good embouchure I think playing flute is no harder than playing whistle. Personally playing flute always felt more comfortable to me than whistle.

Re: Now what is the hardest trad instrument to play

> He’s focused on pandiatonicism at present.

Lucky you - my little furball has set himself the task of improvising in the dynamic style of Ligeti, but on atonal clusters. He’s found that a leap from the bookshelf onto the keyboard at 3am has a salutary effect.

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Re: Now what is the hardest trad instrument to play

to sound really good on it I would say the pipes next the fiddle.

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