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Author Topic: New to the instrument with fairly specific questions  (Read 2937 times)

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Baron Collins-Hill

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New to the instrument with fairly specific questions
« on: January 22, 2014, 04:24:42 PM »

Hi everybody.

Over the past year, I've become very interested in melodeons. I'm starting to think about jumping in and looking to buy an instrument and have some thoughts and questions about models, tunings, versitility, etc. I don't know how convoluted this post will get, but I hope it stays readable.

Who got me interested in the instruments (and the styles I am most interested in playing):

Andy Cutting
Naragonia
Erwan Hamon & Janick Martin

I have been playing the mandolin for 14ish years (it's my profession) and Tenor Guitar/Bouzouki/etc. for several years as well. I love the versatility of those instruments, but also love the wacky (at least to me, on a conceptual level) limitations of the melodeon. While I accept and appreciate the limitations of the instrument, there is also a part of me that wants to maximize my options (number of accessible keys, range of sounds/tonal options, etc). Unfortunately, as the versatility of the instrument goes up, so does the price (rather rapidly).

I am definitely a fan of a dryer sounding box (Castagnaris speak to me the most, sonically).

Because of all this above, combined with my financial constraints, I think I have narrowed it down to some sort of used 2 row. While I haven't played one, I've read good things and like the sounds I've heard from the Sandpipers, and a used one would fit my budget. That said, my plan is to play everything I can get my hands on (I am often within striking distance of the Button Box in western Massachusetts)

Now a few questions.

D/G, C/F, G/D? In a perfect world, I'd love to have it be an instrument I can play along with most Irish tunes, while maintaining the left hand options of a 4ths tuned box, but that said, I'm exceedingly fond of the key of F, and it seems like most of Naragonia's stuff is centered around C and F and their relative and parallel minors (they also have enormous and expensive boxes). Mr. Cutting has his half row to increase flexibility, but adding that half row adds a lot to the price.

What keys are accessible with your average 2 row D/G? And I assume that the same relative key relations will be available on a C/F, is that so?

My brain is swimming with all kinds of thoughts, but I think I'll leave it at that for now. In a perfect world, I would find a very flexible box at a price I could afford. Alas, they don't seem to exist. I'm sure a 2 row will give me plenty to work on, I just have momentary nightmares about not being able to find a note I really want to hit (not a problem on the mandolin).

I've been digging through these forums extensively, and must say you all have created a wonderful thing here. Thank you so much for taking the time to read my rambles and add your thoughts.

Thanks,
Baron
« Last Edit: January 22, 2014, 04:27:24 PM by mandobaron »
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xgx

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Re: New to the instrument with fairly specific questions
« Reply #1 on: January 22, 2014, 04:37:36 PM »

Can't help with the key/tone practicalities however I'd recommend trying any and all boxes whenever you have the opportunity. 

...explore sounds, available notes and degree of 'hands on' comfort for yourself. 
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Re: New to the instrument with fairly specific questions
« Reply #2 on: January 22, 2014, 05:29:40 PM »

all 4th apart 2 rows play best/easiest in their home keys (and releted minors)  and can be persuaded into  another key  eg A on a DG but  without a G# in the higher octave. 

So there are two  fundamental reasons for deciding on which tuning to go for ( and to get round the limitations some people have several boxes in different tunings!)

The keys you like  the sound of  and intend to play in 

 If you are going to be playing with other instruments  ( or singers)  the key(s) they will expect you to ;be  able to play in. 

There is also the option of the 2 row semitone boxes  but that's moving into relatively different territory.

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Re: New to the instrument with fairly specific questions
« Reply #3 on: January 22, 2014, 05:43:15 PM »

To add a couple of snippets of useful information: Andy Cutting plays a DG and a CF box.  Naragonia play GC with a full row of accidentals and 18 bass buttons.   From listening to Erwan Hamon & Janick Martin I think their box is probably GC also.   
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Re: New to the instrument with fairly specific questions
« Reply #4 on: January 22, 2014, 07:53:26 PM »

Buy one you like the sound of and learn to play it properly. You can worry about what keys you want at a much later date.
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Re: New to the instrument with fairly specific questions
« Reply #5 on: January 22, 2014, 09:37:35 PM »

The dryness of a box is a function of the tuning of the reeds, not the marque. Sure, a Castagnari will sound different to a Hohner, but with the tuning that you want, you may like a Hohner ... without having to go to Castagnari prices.

I think Rees has a point. Don't spend all of your energy worrying about how to do everything, but get a box (a simple 2 row I'd say, to start with at least) and start to do *something*. None of the learning will go to waste.

For instance, with a D/G box you can try many things that Andy Cutting does and it will play also an Irish repertoire in the "right" keys. You can also play a lot of French music, but it'll generally be in a different key, or a different position on the keyboard. If going down that route I would consider a 3 voice instrument (LMM) to make the higher end of the instrument more accessible when playing French type stuff.

You could go for a G/C instrument which would be more "authentic" for the French music, but you can still play Irish music on it if you wish, it's just that it will often be in the "wrong" key, but they'll still be the same tunes.

Point is, going down one route doesn't preclude the other, and anything you learn will be helpfull.

Boyen

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Re: New to the instrument with fairly specific questions
« Reply #6 on: January 22, 2014, 10:04:49 PM »

Baron, if you want flexibility in the melody in common keys than you should probably get a semitone box, especially for Irish music.
Otherwise, I would get a D/G box, quite simply because if you want to be playing with others you need to be able to play in atleast those two keys, A is a plus but that's possible with D/G but with your ambition for flexibility I'd go with D/G/Accidentals
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Re: New to the instrument with fairly specific questions
« Reply #7 on: January 23, 2014, 12:56:55 AM »

What keys are accessible with your average 2 row D/G? And I assume that the same relative key relations will be available on a C/F, is that so?
Just to address these specific questions:

On 'your average 2-row D/G' you can play in the following keys...
Very easily:
G major
D major
E minor
A minor (usually the higher G# will be missing, but in modal tunes that's not a problem, and fudges can nearly always be found)

Slightly more awkward:
C major (the lower F-natural is usually missing, but again fudges can be found)
A major (see comment above about G#)
B minor
F# minor

On C/F box using the same fingering everything will come out sounding a tone lower so the above keys will transfer as follows:
Very easily:
F major
C major
D minor
G minor (usually the higher F# will be missing, but in modal tunes that's not a problem, and fudges can nearly always be found)

Slightly more awkward:
Bb major (the lower Eb is usually missing, but again fudges can be found)
G major (see comment above about F#)
A minor
E minor

For both D/G and C/F systems, the most useful part of the range tends to fall in the lower octave half of the keyboard nearest the chin end, the upper end tending to be more squeaky (there have been many discussions about the relative merits of this on this forum). Fragments of other keys/scales can also be found on both systems, but they do not sit comfortably in the push-pull 'feel' of the instrument.

A G/C box is a rather different instrument in that the G-row is tuned an octave lower than the G-row of a D/G box. A G/C box is usually played with a bias to the middle and upper (knee-end) half of the keyboard. Most French musicians play using this system, often using smooth cross-rowing techniques, rather than the bouncy, bellows-driven style found in much of the UK. On a G/C instrument, keys of C major, G major, A minor and D minor are easy; more awkward are F major, D major, E minor and B minor.

A D/G box will allow you to play a huge repertoire of Western traditional music (including Irish) which these days tends to be centred around the keys of G, D and to a lesser extent A, plus the associated minor keys of Em and Am. Additionally, the push-pull action combined with the LH bass/chords layout lends itself easily to playing with a wonderful rhythmic drive highly suitable for much traditional dance music. In my opinion no other free-reed instrument comes near this facility, with the exception of the anglo concertina.
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Boyen

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Re: New to the instrument with fairly specific questions
« Reply #8 on: January 23, 2014, 09:10:21 AM »

A minor (usually the higher G# will be missing, but in modal tunes that's not a problem, and fudges can nearly always be found)
??? Aminor doesn't have a G#, though I have played some tunes in Aminor that took a tour to the Amajor scale,a famous Dutch traditional tune called "Blauw Garen en Koperdraad" does that, for instance. Did you mean the missing F naturals? Also, the Bminor scale is exactly the same as the Dmajor scale, so shouldn't be more awkward.
On another note, the G/D is capable of some other modes that you didn't mention (but are perhaps obvious) which are common in at least Irish music:
Edorian
Amyxolodian
Adorian
Dmyxolodian
« Last Edit: January 23, 2014, 09:17:22 AM by Boyen »
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Steve_freereeder

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Re: New to the instrument with fairly specific questions
« Reply #9 on: January 23, 2014, 09:42:00 AM »

??? Aminor doesn't have a G#
Of course it does.
A harmonic minor:
A B C D E F G# A

A melodic minor:
Ascending - A B C D E F# G# A;  Descending - A G F E D C B A

The modal scale of A doesn't have the G# and I agree that many traditional tunes are structured like this.

Also, the Bminor scale is exactly the same as the Dmajor scale, so shouldn't be more awkward.
B minor is indeed the relative minor to D major, but to play a tune in B minor on a D/G melodeon and have the LH basses/chords available involves some less-than-familiar push-pull patterns and cross-row fingering.

Incidentally, it's a D/G melodeon, not a G/D melodeon (unless you have one of those rare instruments where the G row is the outermost).
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Boyen

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Re: New to the instrument with fairly specific questions
« Reply #10 on: January 23, 2014, 09:56:09 AM »

When referred to minor in traditional Irish music you refer to the natural minor scale (Aeolian), not harmonic or melodic. The relevant modes in Irish tunes are Major {Ionian), Natural Minor (Aeolian), Dorian, Myxolidian.
Quote
The modal scale of A doesn't have the G# and I agree that many traditional tunes are structured like this.
May i ask what you mean with a modal scale? All of these scales are modal. Unless we're talking a different language here.

I didn't realize you were talking about bass/harmony patterns, for Irish music not that relevant. Just playing a tune in Bminor shouldn't be a problem. But I guess we're in agreement there.
Also notice, for Bminor to have the same notes as Dmajor you would also need to be talking about the natural minor scale. You don't have the full B harmonic minor (B melodic minor is worse) on a D/G.
Incidentally, it's a D/G melodeon, not a G/D melodeon (unless you have one of those rare instruments where the G row is the outermost).
I have neither  (:) but, incidentally, I don't believe it matters for what we are discussing  ;)
« Last Edit: January 23, 2014, 01:36:41 PM by Boyen »
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Re: New to the instrument with fairly specific questions
« Reply #11 on: January 23, 2014, 03:15:58 PM »

Boyen - I was answering a specific question from the original poster about fourth-apart tuned instruments in D/G and C/F, not necessarily about Irish music scales or semitone-tuned instruments.

Edited to remove unwise, bad-tempered remarks, sorry.
 
« Last Edit: January 23, 2014, 09:15:04 PM by Steve_freereeder »
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Boyen

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Re: New to the instrument with fairly specific questions
« Reply #12 on: January 23, 2014, 03:46:48 PM »

The topic starter specifically mentions he wants to play Irish tunes.
This has nothing to do with semitone boxes. You don't need to play a box to see the notes eh?
Whether the lad can play in Amin or not is quite relevant for his purchase, if I could've played easily in Amin with a D/G I probably would've bought a D/G box. Much of the Dutch traditional music and Breton music that is played in my session is in Amin. It also means that you can play everything in Cmajor which includes a lot of Irish drinking songs.
Whether you can easily play in Bmin or not is also important because a load of Irish music (which the TS mentioned he plays) is in Bmin. That you can't play easily in harmony is something I didn't know, but certainly playing tunes (as the TS wanted to play) are easily done with a D/G box.

Don't interpret this as a personal attack, I don't meant to offend you. We are both trying to help here.
« Last Edit: January 23, 2014, 04:46:52 PM by Boyen »
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Re: New to the instrument with fairly specific questions
« Reply #13 on: January 23, 2014, 05:08:16 PM »

??? Aminor doesn't have a G#
Of course it does.
A harmonic minor:
A B C D E F G# A


I don't think I've come across that minor scale in English tunes I know, do you have any examples Steve?
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Baron Collins-Hill

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Re: New to the instrument with fairly specific questions
« Reply #14 on: January 23, 2014, 07:57:35 PM »

Thanks for all the thoughts, folks. Gave me plenty to think about. I think that getting a D/G box is a good call, because it will give me more people to play along with, and the more I can play the better I will get.

The dryness of a box is a function of the tuning of the reeds, not the marque. Sure, a Castagnari will sound different to a Hohner, but with the tuning that you want, you may like a Hohner ... without having to go to Castagnari prices.

This is a good point. It's my understanding that each brand of box tends to have its signature dryness/wetness sound. I understand that reeds can be tuned, but from what I've seen Hohners tend to be wetter than Castagnaris. Do some people get their Hohners tuned drier? If so, is it then a mistaken assumption to assume a Hohner I haven't heard is going to sound like more of the Hohners I have heard?

From what I've heard online in audio clips and videos of the Sandpiper models, they seem to have a dryness closer to what I have heard from Castagnaris than from Hohners.

I'm personally not much for minor and modal (mixo/etc.) tunes (though I'm very much for minor chords in major tunes). If I could learn to play some sweet Andy Cutting style tunes (I am also a huge fan of what Desaunay & LeBigot have going on on their album Tunes for America), in any form, I'll be a happy man. I understand that's not an easy feat, but I'm much more drawn to that kind of box playing than most of what I hear at Irish sessions (don't get me wrong, I love the standard Irish session repetoire, I'd just rather play them on the mandolin or tenor guitar, tenor banjo, fiddle, etc.). To learn to play The Abbess or the first set of schottishes from Tunes for America is what I am ultimately after.

Thanks again for all the info, this has been very helpful.
Baron
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Re: New to the instrument with fairly specific questions
« Reply #15 on: January 23, 2014, 08:46:14 PM »

Well if you want to imitate Andy, get what he's playing D/G/Acc is where it's at! Good luck :)

On dryness, this is entirely tune-able and not instrument specific. I mean how dry or wet a tune is depends entirely on how far the reeds are apart. There's an explanation here: http://www.accordionpage.com/wetdry.html but yes indeed, also as stated there, usually Hohners are quite wet, but that's "easily" changed.
What is instrument specific is the "action", quality of the reeds and air-tightness, that's what you're paying for.
Can't help you on the Sandpiper, I've seen mixed reviews but I just don't know.
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Re: New to the instrument with fairly specific questions
« Reply #16 on: January 23, 2014, 08:57:48 PM »

Here's a video of pretty dry tuned hohner

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uOeAE5lm-Gk

One of the comments mentions they're not the original reeds so maybe that doesn't count.
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Re: New to the instrument with fairly specific questions
« Reply #17 on: January 23, 2014, 09:44:58 PM »

Of course it does.
A harmonic minor:
A B C D E F G# A


I don't think I've come across that minor scale in English tunes I know, do you have any examples Steve?

Well, I'm not Steve and it's hardly an English tune, but there's a Great Lakes shanty that I'm fond of playing in a harmonic minor; "The Bigler's Crew" (or "The Cruise of the Bigler"). I used to play it in Dm on a C box and now I do it in either Bm or Em on an A/D (playing entirely on either the A or the D row). As I recall there's ABC for this on-line somewhere but I'm not able to look for it right now. I'm not sure the ABC would be for the same version I play, though.

TBV
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Re: New to the instrument with fairly specific questions
« Reply #18 on: January 24, 2014, 07:37:05 AM »

A harmonic minor:
A B C D E F G# A

I don't think I've come across that minor scale in English tunes I know, do you have any examples Steve?
I think there a good few in Playford. 'Mr Beveridge's Maggot' comes to mind, originally written in G harmonic minor, though I play it in E harmonic minor on a D/G box. Also 'The Presbyterian Hornpipe'. I'm sure there are others but I don't have the music/memory available just now.
Not English, but sometimes played in English sessions - the French tune 'Les Poules Huppées' (A Aeolian/D harmonic minor) and the Swedish (?) tune 'Schottische Från Haverò' (D harmonic minor)

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Re: New to the instrument with fairly specific questions
« Reply #19 on: January 24, 2014, 02:36:07 PM »

It sounds like you're making some sound decisions, Mandobaron. With a D/G box you'll enjoy using the bass chords and the rhythm that they bring to traditional dance tunes, and if you find this style doesn't sit so well in Irish music (which is often the case) you can still play your mandolin etc for Irish tunes. Not having all the keys is not such a big disadvantage if you have other instruments to choose from.
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