Multiple Beginner Box-related questions.

Multiple Beginner Box-related questions.

I am interested in taking up the box but need a few questions answered before I can make any sort of decision on anything specific. Two main questions, I will try to be brief in asking them.

Firstly, although all the information I have found on thew web would suggest that all boxes play one note on the press, and a different note on the draw, the two box players who I have seen in local sessions seem to tap away at buttons with relative disregard for bellows direction, only periodically changing bellows direction when, maybe, the bellows were too far extended. So my question I guess is, do some Accordions play the same note on both bellows directions, and if so what are the advantages/disadvantages of this system.

Secondly, I know that to work out what style of accordion playing I like I’ll need to hear different styles, and see what I prefer, but I wanted to know if anyone could give me a list of good box players, in different styles. I have mostly listened to Shane Mitchell (dervish), Mick McAuley (Solas), some John Williams, Seamus Begley and Sharon Shannon. Any help on either of these topics would be very appreciated for an aspiring box player. 🙂

Re: Multiple Beginner Box-related questions.

Only piano accordions have the same note coming and going.

2 or 3 row instruments that have rows pitched a senitone apart (B/C/C# , D/Eb etc) allow the player a lot of choice about when to change bellows direction if they are good at playing across the rows - as opposed to mostly in one row. So if you play a scale on one row you will change bellows direction on almost every note. If you play a scale using both rows you don’t have to do that.

Semitone spacing is by far the most common in Irish music, although you find the occasionaly player playing 5th spacing (D/G etc). On a 5th spacing box, you will have to change direction more often.

Some who are widely considered to be good would be -

Jackie Daly
Tony MacMahon
Joe Burke
Mairtin O’Connor

and the list will get longer as the day wears on…

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Re: Multiple Beginner Box-related questions.

Re-reading that, it sounds like I might be implying that the above play in 5th spacing. That’s not the case. (Except I think Mairtin has been know to occasionally?)

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Re: Multiple Beginner Box-related questions.

Kris said: ‘Only piano accordions have the same note coming and going’

Not quite true, unfortunately. There are button accordions that have the the same note in and out. French ‘musette’ style boxes provide an example of this system. I think they’re called ‘Continental Chromatic button accordions’ in some circles. They can have 3 rows or 5 rows and usually have both black and white buttons. Also they have the normal piano accordion multiple base buttons.

I mention this only because I know there are a couple of very good players in Australia who play Scottish and Irish music using this system. Maybe kjay has seen one of them?

Re: Multiple Beginner Box-related questions.

thanks for your help Kris and greg.box.
Greg i’m fairly sure the players i’ve seen were playing 2-row boxes, but these Continental Chromatic button accordions’ sound quite interesting.

Re: Multiple Beginner Box-related questions.

If they were 2 rows then they would definitely be of the diatonic, push-pull variety and I must make it clear I’m definitely NOT recommending you take up the chromatic system for Irish music.

I speak from personal experience because I did have one some years ago and it was fiendishly hard to get a handle on. It is a brilliant system but designed for a more ‘jazzy’ and chromatic approach to music (ie using chromatic scales and multiple keys). I’d say go for a BC or C#D 2 row box just like the ones you probably saw.

Re: Multiple Beginner Box-related questions.

Actually , they do and make very tasty French and Belgian music.

I don’t know if they’d get "that" sound if yr after ITM.

Re: Multiple Beginner Box-related questions.

OOPS Cross post. I was refering to the Connychromes, but even in France and Belgium, there’s a spoken preference for diatonics.

Re: Multiple Beginner Box-related questions.

If you’re new to the instrument I’d forget for the moment thinking about style until you have the technical aspects of it fully grasped. Learn how to roll regardless of whether you ever end up playing this form of ornamentation, learn a constant ‘vamping’ left hand style as it’s the best way to develop independence of that hand. Sure, listen to as much music as you can, not just box but other instruments too, but developing a style is a long way down the road.

Re: Multiple Beginner Box-related questions.

You play whistle etc., then you will have an idea of styles and what you like e.g. Sliabh Luachra, Clare, Sligo etc. If you like the polkas and slides etc. as far as I can see, they are best played on the C#/D tuning system. People who play lots of reels and jigs on the box seem to prefer B/C tuning. This is probably a gross exaggeration and bound to raise lots of hackles amongst other box players who are very sensitive about this sort of thing 🙂 But it’s more or less along the general run of things.
If you are unsure, then just get a basic B/C box (you will meet more B/C box players and hence can swop and try their instrum.) and start on the standard tunes and airs. After a couple of years you’ll have a much better idea of style and what sound you want to make etc.

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Re: Multiple Beginner Box-related questions.

Hi kjay - my two cents

The B/C seems by far the most popular tuning for ITM, but I’ve heard many good players on D/G boxes. D/G is perhaps better if you want to play English (Morris) tunes, but doesn’t seem to be a drawback in playing jigs or reels - we have an excellent D/G player at our session who’s streets ahead of me on my trusty B/C. Both of them seem equally good for playing polkas; at least for the handfull I’ve learned.

It’s not the easiest of instruments to learn (and I don’t think it’s just me that finds it tricky some times) but it IS extremely satisfying.

TRY THE INSTRUMENT BEFORE YOU BUY IT - even if you don’t know how to play it, or even put it on, you’ll still get a fair idea whether it suits you. They vary considerably in size, weight, build quality and in the amount of force it takes to play a note. More reeds = more air to push to make a sound. Also check if the buttons disappear below the finger board when fully depressed - they tend to do that on cheaper boxes and it doesn’t feel good to play fast.

Find out about wet or dry tuning (search this site for previous posts) - dry tuning gives a ‘thinner’ sound more suited to soloing - wet tuning is thicker, but can sound a bit mushy if you’re not used to it. This is probably the one area you haven’t really considered and may well be the most important in terms of the ‘style’ you’re thinking to cultivate. When you listen to recordings take note of which tuning the player has selected. More expensive boxes will allow you to select a thicker tuning by enabling extra sets of reeds (a bit like stops on a church organ) - you’ll need to decide if you want to pay that bit extra to have the facility.

Be wary of just buying a ‘basic box’ (sorry, Wounded H.) - I decided to take up the box after hearing a particularly good session player in Dublin, and suddenly realising that many of the tunes I thought I was listening to on a piano accordion were actually on the button box. His advice was to buy the most expensive instrument I could practically afford, since I would soon get tired of a cheap starter box and would not be able to sell it when I decided to trade up. I’m very glad I took his advice (I bought the same make and model he was playing, figuring if I couldn’t make it sound like he did it would be my fault, not the instrument). Several people have told me they really like the sound it produces.

The fact that you need to change bellows direction actually benefits the music by producing the ‘pulses’ and variations that make the music so irresistible. To me that is what is often lacking on a piano accordion (although there are many truly excellent proponents of the PA), which lead me to pick up the button box instead, even though I’d played the piano for 20 years and hence would have had a major start on playing one.

Sorry about the long post - more like 20 bucks than 2 cents - but as you can probably tell, I’m pretty passionate about my little cherry wood friend.

Whatever you pick, have fun with it
Eno 😉

Re: Multiple Beginner Box-related questions.

Oh, and another thing… what part of Aus are you in? I can probably point you to someone who can give you on the spot advice - or one of the other skips here can I’m sure. That’d be really handy when you come to making a purchase. If you’re ever up here in Brissie you’re welcome to try out the Mengascini. I highly recommend them. 😉

Re: Multiple Beginner Box-related questions.

I used to play D/G box which meant you had to use the bellows a lot…the idea is much like a mouth organ, so if you can make sense of an ordinary mouth organ (more mouth organ than blues harp) it’s easier to make sense of a button accordion. I play a b/c box now and I like the smoother run of notes that you can get without using the bellows back and forth so much and the way the rows integrate that allows you to ornament the tunes. I watched the tutor videos of P J Hernon and P Brown some years ago although I could get a tune out of it then, but I found the tips and styles of playing that they put over invaluable. P J Hernon for the warmth of playing and P Brown for demonstrating the sheer flexibility of the b/c box.

Re: Multiple Beginner Box-related questions.

I hang my head in shame. I completely failed to mentioned the five row-type of accordion which has buttons. It is an instrument mainly used for "classical" accordion music, and as greg says, French musette. Of course such and accordion can be given a completely wet or dry tuning just like any other, and you could possibly play Irish music on one. It just never occured to me in this context.

I’ll let you know how my disciplinary hearing before the Board of Accordion Teachers and Anoraks comes out in due course. You’ll probably see my in the stocks in the Castelfidardo town square later this year.

I’m so ashamed! (Sob!)

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Re: Multiple Beginner Box-related questions.

The Rusians have their own name for this type of accordion - the bayan.

Re: Multiple Beginner Box-related questions.

Well if Kjay is just 15, I guess s/he may be of somewhat limited resources which is why a basic box might be the best option. Of course, s/he could be fabously wealthy in monetary terms, in which case go for the best!! Now, I have a very nice wee box going here for an exorbitant price - 🙂 only joking……

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Re: Multiple Beginner Box-related questions.

I went to a concert celebrating the music of Astor Piazzola last year featuring the 5-row box player James Crabb. He played using a free bass system where the left side of the box was basically a mirror of the right. Twas magic!

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Re: Multiple Beginner Box-related questions.

A box player in Rhode Island, Fintan Stanley (I think formerly from Donegal), uses one of those chromatic boxes, with a synthesizer hooked into it so he can make it sound like bunches of different instruments, or do things like make the right hand sound like a piano. He is like a one man band with the thing.

Re: Multiple Beginner Box-related questions.

I wonder Al, did Fintan leave Donegal of his own free will??

Re: Multiple Beginner Box-related questions.

bc_box_player, i’m down in Melbourne, and i’m male, and unfortunately not ‘fabously wealthy in monetary terms’.
Thanks for the advice, hopefully now I will actually own a box sometime this decade, and then may have a chance to ever get good. 🙂 🙂 🙂

Re: Multiple Beginner Box-related questions.

Have a listen to Josephine Marsh. She plays a Hohner B/C. It sounds about as good as it could get.

Re: Multiple Beginner Box-related questions.

Well, kjay, if your in Melbourne you’re in the right place to learn all about Irish box playing from some of the masters. Just listen, (if you haven’t already) to Joe and Paddy Fitzgerald at ‘The Cork Man’ in Carlton on a Thursday night or Billy Moran at the ‘Quiet Man’ in Flemington on a Sunday night. Maybe you could get your folks to take you along, considering your age and with them being pubs and all that. Joe and Billy play the BC system while Paddy plays C#D, a Hohner I think.

Re: Multiple Beginner Box-related questions.

Somewhat forgotten box players on the other side of The Pond are Martin Mulhaire, James Keane, Billy McComiskey and John Nolan….and don’t forget that in Clare you have Martin Connolly & Pete Griffin (Four Courts Ceili Band).