B/C button box ( a few questions)

B/C button box ( a few questions)

A few quick questions. By the way, I love this website. It is very, very insightful and helpful! Thank you in advance.

I just purchased a B/C button accordion about a month ago. I am having very good luck learning some tunes both old and new to me. I used to have a C#/D a long time ago and played a few tunes on it but the learning curve was much bigger. The B/C is much easier to learn tunes on, at least for me.

Question number one: When playing a tune, if I want to use the left hand bass and chord accompaniment, how do I find those basses and chords? Trial and error? Just use my ear to find them gradually and slowly? I also read on different websites that B/C Irish button box players don’t normally use that many basses and chords. Is this actually true? If so, why is that? Just curious.

Question number two: When I am online listening to different tunes and want to learn one, they are often in several different keys. Is there one specific key or do I just choose one that fits my playing style and beginner needs?

Third and last question: When I am playing a tune with the limited chords and basses that I DO know, I will sometimes have the bellows extended very far out. In other words, I am running out of air, mostly on the pull. I know that the air button has something to do with this issue. Any tips or advice on how to use the air button more efficiently?

I know these are complicated questions, but this forum has proved to be a delightful one for me to look at. Thanks in advance for any help and advice!

Bill

Re: B/C button box ( a few questions)

Hi Bill,

Welcome to thesession!

Your best bet would be to draw up a diagram of the buttons while using a tuner to determine the pitch of the bass notes in both the push and draw direction. Generally, the chord note is directly adjacent horizontally to the bass note. There are some common layouts for 8 and 12-bass instruments, it would be useful if you would post what brand and model of B/C box you are playing.

As far as using the basses, I’d been playing over 10 years before I even tried to start using them, and I was already comfortable with backup on bouzouki and guitar as well as playing bass and chords on piano and chromatic button accordion. If you’re only playing for a month, I’d perhaps focus more on the right side for a while, but it doesn’t hurt to get familiar with the bass/chord layout on your instrument.

I put together a free/tip-supported book for learning the basses by rote, perhaps it may be useful to you at some point in your box-playing journey:

http://michaeleskin.com/box.html

Cheers,

Michael

Re: B/C button box ( a few questions)

> Question number one

When the first B/C boxes were made, they were given bass buttons suitable for playing in the keys of…B and C. Not hugely useful for traditional music! So some early influential players just ignored them entirely. Today layouts tend to be more useful, though there isn’t one fixed standard. Some people study their music theory and work out what is going to sound good; some people keep hitting the buttons till they learn what sounds good. Michael Eskin’s book is a good place to look at something that works.

> Question number two

The vast majority of Irish music is in one or two sharps (G or D, or any of the many related modes). When you listen to recordings, it’s quite common to hear other keys, for a variety of reasons that usually boil down to "this instrument sounds good but the music comes out in a different key". The best guide though is the people you might ultimately want to be playing with.

> Third and last question

The air button is used to get the bellows from where you are to where you want to be. So if you’ve got the bellows extended, and your arm is about to fall off, you’d press the air button on a push note to try and take up some space. Certain tunes have a habit of using a lot of pull notes, or push notes. A couple of useful tricks are: (1) knowing you’ve got a B and E on both rows in different directions, and (2) especially with the bass, just tapping the button rather than pressing it.

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Re: B/C button box ( a few questions)

I’ve never used it for box playing, but http://oaim.ie/ has a progressive course on learning to play the B/C box.

It has a 14day free trial so worth giving it a go and seeing if it fits with your style of learning (I found it great for the tin whistle and flute).

Re: B/C button box ( a few questions)

The air button is the most important button on your box. It’s not for emergency use - to bring hopelessly extended bellows back in, or to take a desperate gulp when you realize they are almost closed and you need to keep pushing. You will need to use it constantly to keep the bellows where you want them - which will usually be not very extended at all.

And the key to this is to learn to use the air button while you are sounding notes - not during a gap between notes. For example, you might have a long series of pull notes, one push note, and then another bunch of pull notes. That one push note is where you will bring the bellows back in, using the air button as you play the note. But you’ll be doing the same thing all the time, even when the imbalance between push and pull notes is only slight.

Learning to do this without robbing all the air from the note is a bit like learning to use the clutch and the accelerator at the same time on a car with manual transmission. Once you can do it, it becomes automatic (haha) and you never even think about it. Best to learn this vital technique before using the basses, IMO, even though it will become even more important when you add them in.

Re: B/C button box ( a few questions)

The versions posted are all based on versions people heard somewhere, so choose the key based on how you heard the tune. If you’re just cruising tunes to see if you like any, probably choose the more common key if your goal is to play with others (this won’t 100% get you there, but partway at least). If not, try different keys for the challenge.

Re: B/C button box ( a few questions)

Thank you Stiamh, I think I just learned something, I will be more conscious of my usage of the air button in future, I usually use it mostly for ‘emergencies’. I tend to snatch quick gulps between phrases to keep the bellows where I want them. Does the sound of the note not get weaker though? I don’t drive so don’t understand the car analogy.

Re: B/C button box ( a few questions)

It weakens the sound, but note that you just need a light touch on the air button to manage smaller sips of air (rather than a big gulp).

Regarding q2: yeah, tunes CAN be played in a bunch of keys. When you’re looking at settings on this site, check multiple versions to see which are clearest for your learning needs, and review comments below the notes to see if information about common versions emerges. If there are options in A (3 sharps) and G (1sharp) the G setting will usually sit a little easier on your box so might be the one to try first.

Re: B/C button box ( a few questions)

Yes, Peter, the sound of the note will tend to get weaker, and even disappear completely, until you master the knack. First thing to realize, we are not talking about huge gulps here, more like little sips taken very quickly. (Ha, cross-posted with Ben, and he uses exactly the same words to describe the process.)

You compensate (1) by opening or closing the bellows faster during while the air valve is open (which is very easy, because there’s less resistance), and (2) you also learn not to press the air button/lever fully in (or pull it fully down), because doing so would send all the air through the air valve and not through your reed(s).

My bellows very rarely open more than six inches and I use the air button constantly - these little sips keep them in this comfort zone. It soon becomes instinctive. Then you won’t need to be conscious of the process at all. 🙂

Re: B/C button box ( a few questions)

> My bellows very rarely open more than six inches

Peter, if you can, have a look on Youtube at some videos of the late Jimmy Shand - it’s remarkable that despite a huge box driving a big number of reeds, his bellows only ever open a few inches at a time.

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Re: B/C button box ( a few questions)

Thanks Stiamh, Calum and Ben for your informative, useful input, I will take all of it on board, can’t wait to get going with it, cheers!

Re: B/C button box ( a few questions)

Just to state the blooming obvious, starting out on B/C requires a bit of care and attention as to what key you’re playing in (which Bill did ask about.)
An intuitive approach is likely to lead to playing up and down the row C#/D style.

Re: B/C button box ( a few questions)

"I used to have a C#/D a long time ago and played a few tunes on it but the learning curve was much bigger. The B/C is much easier to learn tunes on, at least for me."

I sometimes wonder what makes the B/C so much easier to learn tunes on, especially if you’re tackling tunes in the common keys. I mean, a lot of tunes are in D. The C#/D has a D row. That makes sense. Few things could be more straightforward. Maybe you didn’t play tunes in D.

Re: B/C button box ( a few questions)

I wonder if for some people, it’s easier to map the buttons + bellows combinations when you’re mostly working back and forth between rows, instead of mostly working up and down one row? You’d have more spatial points of reference, as it were.

Brains, and the way they process/internalize information, are pretty amazing.

Re: B/C button box ( a few questions)

Yes, I find it easier to picture a G or D scale on a B/C layout. The thing about playing in the home key of the row is that the notes change - three notes one way, and four notes another way, so the direction that has the four notes "spreads", which confuses me. For some reason, even though the B/C does that same thing, I find it easier to anchor to specific prominent notes.

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Re: B/C button box ( a few questions)

I have to agree with Jeff - if you are playing tunes in D and related keys is it not a no-brainer to have a box tuned to D? Apparently not given the ascendancy of the B/C in ITM, but I’m afraid the logic escapes me totally. Thank God for Jackie Daly and Joe Cooley.

Re: B/C button box ( a few questions)

Often fewer bellows reversals possible (in some keys) on B/C vs. C#/D, but not universally. As a result, it provides more opportunities for a mix of legato and staccato style (again, in some keys) where the C#/D might be restricted to more push/pull articulation.

They both have their advantages and disadvantages, I’d say just have to pick your battles and choose the tuning of the artists who you want to learn from.

Personally, I’m a B/C player and learned a lot from working with John Whelan over the last 18 months. His approach to the instrument made perfect sense to me and I absolutely love the energy and lift in his playing.

Re: B/C button box ( a few questions)

There was another thread re B/C boxes very recently on which I spelled out the differences between playing a C scale and a D scale on the B/C box. I repeat, and make no apology for so doing: the D scale is so much simpler in terms of directional changes. So here you are again:
C scale - all on one row BUT!
Push pull push pull push pull pull push
D scale: Pull push push push pull pull pull pull
Ok, the latter requires you to use 2 notes on the outer row, namely F# and C#, but as in the other thread, I likened it to playing the black notes on the piano, exactly as you would in the scale of D on the piano. I still maintain that the latter is far simpler for “we of little brain”. And basically, however illogical it may seem at first sight, you just have to learn it. What slows down your playing more than anything is multiple directional changes: the more 4 - note runs on same direction that you can learn, the better. ( And don’t forget bringing those outer row Es and Bs in to facilitate that process.)
I know some of you have posted here do actually play the B/C box, but suspect that some of the answers are from people who don’t and are just guessing.

Re: B/C button box ( a few questions)

Trish, I often think that B/C players seem to regard bellows direction changes as the enemy, as something inherently difficult. But there’s no getting away from them, even on a B/C. In fact they are the life and soul of any diatonic button accordion, regardless of key - in the same way that the bow is the life and soul of the fiddle. The sooner you get used to doing them effortlessly - which is actually easy enough, given the right technique - the better. If they are hard work, you’re doing it wrong. If you’re doing it right, they won’t slow you down - as the playing of any number of great press-and-draw box players will show.

You make a lot out of the difference in playing the scale of D on a B/C as opposed to on a D box (C#/D or other). Well, yes you have fewer bellows direction changes on a B/C. But the trade-off is that you have you have a lot more finger work to do. On only one button will you play both notes (G and A). For the rest, it’s one button per note. Whereas on a D box, if you play the scale straight up and down, without using the F# reversal, you will play two notes on every button: 7 buttons for the complete scale starting and ending on D, as opposed to 4 buttons on a D box. So less bellows movement but a lot more finger movement. I’m not at all sure that one is easier than the other.

Also, tunes are not all about scales. To play a figure involving an arpeggio of D - take the opening bars of the Boyne Hunt or of 500 other tunes - involves constant fast bellows direction changes on B/C, and none on a D box. Is that easier on the B/C for those of little brain?

Think I’m guessing? Not really. Although C#/D is my main squeeze I spend a lot of time experimenting with B/C fingering (playing in E major and many other different keys). It all boils down to not very much, in my view. At some point, you have to master fast finger work, and you have to master fast bellows work. Your G major is my A major. 🙂

Re: B/C button box ( a few questions)

Stiamh, I wouldn’t dream of suggesting you were one of the guessers! I know you are one of the really reliable authorities on this site, and thanks for your explanation.
Perhaps my little brain does find working out fingering patterns easier than bellows directional changes, as my first instrument was piano. It would perhaps have been easier for me to go to piano accordion than a diatonic animal, but I just liked the sound of the latter better.

Re: B/C button box ( a few questions)

Maybe I’m the "guesser," being a C#/D player with a frequent habit of playing back and forth across the rows in B/C style 😅

Re: B/C button box ( a few questions)

I’m also a C#/D player. Now and then I play tunes with B/C fingerings. Being able to transpose on the fly does come in handy in sessions. One can never know which keys someone else prefers. One time it happened by accident. A guitar was retuned in some way and the tunes came out one tone higher - a set in E, C#m and E. :D

Re: B/C button box ( a few questions)

Apologies for the pedantry, Trish, and thanks for your gracious reply. 🙂