Concertina bellows dynamics: push and pull balance

Concertina bellows dynamics: push and pull balance

Like the greatest concertina players (and he’s really one of the best ever!), Micheál doesn’t completely open or close the bellows, expecially when he plays fast tunes, like this one:

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


Let’s halve the speed through the youtube settings and consider the first 2 seconds of the video: how can he balance the pulling/pushing in the 2DFD ADFD beginning part of Tossing the Feathers,? Does he alternate the push D and pull D or what?
I really don’t undestand the deepest secret of it…

Re: Concertina bellows dynamics: push and pull balance

Yes, one can substitute the note in the opposite direction to get more balanced bellows direction, but that’s not the most common scenario.

In practice as one gets more experience, you get to where you are able to play notes while also using the air button at the same time to put the bellows extension exactly where you need it to be at all times. Also, when necessary either you learn to take huge gulps or dump air extremely quickly in the context of the tune, similar to taking a breath on the whistle or flute, if you risk finding yourself in the bellows extreme closed or open state.

Re: Concertina bellows dynamics: push and pull balance

Michael, and others, I have a question on that point; in general, would you say that the air button is used in every/most/occasional tunes, or is it also down to the individual player? I’m less than two years into learning concertina so this is just one of the many conundrums in my mind. Thank you.

Re: Concertina bellows dynamics: push and pull balance

It’s possibly a matter of style, as in bellows control and well planned fingering.

Maybe a bit like using less bow if you’re a fiddler, or smooth bellows control as a player of B/C or C#/D accordion.

(Now that I think of it, button accordions with a D/G setup or similar would have roughly the same possibilities as a concertina, but still many D/G musicians use a lot of air. Maybe a question of repertoire.)

Re: Concertina bellows dynamics: push and pull balance

I use the air button on every tune, no doubt about it. Button preference comes down to the sound that you want in my opinion. I like a ‘chunky’ sound in my playing, and I play a lot of chords and octave stuff, so for me I need to use the button direction that gives me the most options in that regard.

A teacher once told me that her father didn’t know that there was a D on the pull until she started taking lessons (he was an old clare dude) and you can hear how that G row style sounds in a lot of older recordings.

Re: Concertina bellows dynamics: push and pull balance

I’m constantly using the air button as required while I’m playing. It’s not something I pre-plan its use for specific tunes, it’s just like the bellows on Uilleann pipes, you pump them when it’s required to fill the bag independent of whatever is going on with the tune.

If I feel like the bellows are getting too closed, I’ll find a pull note coming up soon to share with the air button to take a gulp of air while playing a note. Same thing if too extended, will find a push note to share with the air button to dump air. If the tune pattern doesn’t provide a convenient opportunity to gulp or dump air along with a note, I’ll find an appropriate spot based on the phrase to "take a breath" and reset the bellows where I want them.

Re: Concertina bellows dynamics: push and pull balance

"A teacher once told me that her father didn’t know that there was a D on the pull until she started taking lessons (he was an old clare dude) and you can hear how that G row style sounds in a lot of older recordings."

I’m not a player but there’s a very interesting chapter on the concertina in Barry Taylor’s book, ‘Music in a Breeze of Wind’ http://www.musicinabreezeofwind.com , going into its history in Ireland (Clare in particular) and tracing, as far as possible, the development of the modern playing technique.

Re: Concertina bellows dynamics: push and pull balance

That’s a great book, I thoroughly enjoyed the whole of it.

Re: Concertina bellows dynamics: push and pull balance

@Wesley Mann: Yes, indeed. I’d recommend it to anyone with an interest in Irish Traditional Music – or even anyone with a general interest in music or history.

Re: Concertina bellows dynamics: push and pull balance

It is a good practice technique when starting out on the anglo to play runs of notes, scales even, with the air button ever so slightly depressed. This trains you to compensate for the air loss and once you have the feel of it you can feather the button anytime you want while still playing to readjust your bellows position. Try to avoid the big gulp of air between phrases, it affects your phrasing. Actually, thats too polite; never gulp!

The most important time for planning bellows position is not when playing, it is when learning a tune. Choosing the note you want, not because of the row it is on, but either to continue the same bellows direction or to deliberately change bellows direction, aids in faster playing, helps with air usage, allows creative phrasing and allows you to emphasise rhythm, as you can choose the moment to change bellows direction, a manoeuvre which creates a slightly different feeling start on the note which is useful in rhythm denunciation. It is good to use bellows direction, and ornaments and rather than volume to pronounce rhythm, as this allows you to use a more constant bellows pressure while playing.

When you are starting out you are more likely to have bellows positioning problems for another reason; most people start on a cheap instrument and they have inefficient reeds. The great player you admire is likely to be using a super efficient instrument and thus is not using nearly as much air. Unfair, but just the way it is. If you know you love it start saving..!

So in that first phrase the OP quotes from Micheál, he may well play the D in both directions but it is also possible he is not equally balanced in that phrase but will fix it soon.
PS. Just watched the video, to my ear and eye he plays all of that phrase on the draw and the next three notes as well…

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Re: Concertina bellows dynamics: push and pull balance

A lot depends specifically on what style you want to play. You’ve seen a lot of advice here that is in various degrees based on the style choices players have made, in many cases based on the players they have learned from or developed themselves. I learned from Noel Hill, and he has some very specific ideas about fingering, ornaments, phrasing, some of which may or may not agree with some of the advice others have given here, which may be representative of other world-class player’s approaches to the instrument.

It’s all good, best to find a player who’s style you enjoy and then figure out how they get the sound and feel they do, and if possible, get in-person or Zoom instruction from that player.

I do agree with cag, learning to "play the air button" is a crucial skill on the Anglo Concertina to give you absolute freedom with the bellows. Also, I strongly agree that the inexpensive Rochelle and similar instruments are much more difficult to play efficiently as a "real" concertina, for many reasons, but most of all in my experience, the very inflexible bellows.

Re: Concertina bellows dynamics: push and pull balance

Listening to Jackie Daly play the hexagon on his first album was a turning point for me. I totally agree with Michael that finding a player/style you want to emulate is key to learning the instrument.

Also agree about the air button. It’s the lifeblood of the instrument.

Re: Concertina bellows dynamics: push and pull balance

Very interesting advice, I for one did not realize the that the air button was so central to so many players. Many thanks.

"The more I learn, the more I realize I don’t know." (Albert Einstein, upon being asked how the oul’ concertina playing was going.)

Re: Concertina bellows dynamics: push and pull balance

Yep, it’s not the first thing you’d intuitively think would be crucial when you first get into playing the instrument.

The same skill applies to playing B/C and C#/D diatonic bisonoric accordions where there are similar bellows min/max issues, but not to piano or chromatic unisonoric accordions where the same note plays in both directions for every button/key.