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Author Topic: Breton music - why G/C boxes?  (Read 7776 times)

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Jambouton

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Breton music - why G/C boxes?
« on: July 12, 2008, 10:36:11 AM »

I posted this at the end of another thread but I suspect it just got lost there.  My apologise if reposting it is frowned on.

This might be a dim question but ... why do Bretons prefer to play boxes tuned to G/C?  I don't possess any real background in music theory so it isn't obvious to me why this might be.  I play an C#/D Erica and trying Breton tunes seems quite difficult, when played as they're given on the page (I can struggle through the dots if I have a day or so to spare).  :-[

Would anyone have a minute to explain?  Ta.

Jim
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Re: Breton music - why G/C boxes?
« Reply #1 on: July 12, 2008, 10:57:36 AM »

Jim,

Most diatonic melodeons are tuned a 4th apart across the rows. In France and many other European countries, and (I think), parts of the US, G/C is the common tuning; in Germany it's C/F; D/G is the common tuning in much of England and Wales, although one-rows in C are still popular in East Anglia. As far as I know, it's only Ireland and Scotland where the semitone-tuned boxes (B/C, C#/D, old C/C#) are really prevalent.

As to why it has developed like that, I'm not so sure and I'll leave others to explain.  ;)
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EeeJay

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Re: Breton music - why G/C boxes?
« Reply #2 on: July 12, 2008, 03:14:08 PM »

Well, current convention I suppose. The whole French 'diato' movement is based on the sol/do system, and the learning process, tutors, etc. revolve around that...

Then you have the whole Breton bagpipe/bombarde thing that works round Bb. I know for a fact musicians in Galicia/Asturias (with a similar piping tradition) use flat tuned melodeons, so I guess some Bretons do too. And some might even use other systems to get around this tuning conundrum - Thomas Moisson uses G/C, A/D, Bb/Eb... and possibly B/C/C#?? :o 8) ;D

Yann-Fanch Perroches often uses an Gailliard A/D box for Breton tunes - in order to work with Irish system flute a simple key system flute commonly used by Irish but also Breton players. Not strictly Breton, but Emmanuel Pariselle also seems to use an A/D box quite a lot on his recordings.

That said, A/D seems to have preceeded the G/C in Italy. Here's an extract from the webpage of The Bosio Big Band (now defunct?)...

"In the case of the Bosio Big Band instruments, the keys are G and C, that is presently the most common in Italy (we actually biased the melodeon market as I explain in the BBB history page; only 15 years ago the most popular melodeon was in A-D)."

Ed J
« Last Edit: July 12, 2008, 06:21:19 PM by EeeJay »
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Re: Breton music - why G/C boxes?
« Reply #3 on: July 12, 2008, 05:37:52 PM »

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EeeJay

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Re: Breton music - why G/C boxes?
« Reply #4 on: July 12, 2008, 06:48:23 PM »

Sorry to be a pedant but there is no such thing as an 'Irish system flute'.

Point of order. Amended to suit. :D

Back on topic...

I think the key thing with French/Breton players is tabulation systems.

A heck of a lot of players seem to be reliant on these systems to learn everything by rote, keystroke for keystroke (kind of frightening - sounds more like a typing pool than a musical tool ;D), rather than working it out from the printed music. It's a very specific approach with it's own strengths and weaknesses. Virtually all of this tab stuff is in sol/do, and this dictates the choice of first instrument... and subsequent development...

As for Breton on C#/D... Gilles Poutoux is worth seeking out (not necessarily for Breton, but he advocates the "Irish" system beyond its confines). Conor Keane is another good point of reference...

Ed J
« Last Edit: July 14, 2008, 12:07:34 AM by EeeJay »
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Re: Breton music - why G/C boxes?
« Reply #5 on: July 13, 2008, 06:07:47 AM »

Sorry to be a pedant but what exactly is the difference between learning a tune from conventional stave music, ABC, tabulation or American shape note?
They are all agreed printed codes representing pitch and note length, and in common with most musicians, tunes are learnt effectively by rote, just another name for practising from whatever source, until it sticks.
Old Crotchety Bill.
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Re: Breton music - why G/C boxes?
« Reply #6 on: July 13, 2008, 08:36:04 AM »

Sorry to be a pedant but what exactly is the difference between learning a tune from conventional stave music, ABC, tabulation or American shape note?
They are all agreed printed codes representing pitch and note length, and in common with most musicians, tunes are learnt effectively by rote, just another name for practising from whatever source, until it sticks.
Old Crotchety Bill.
The useful thing about tablature (as employed by the French musicians, e.g. on Bernard Loffet's website) is that for melodeon players, it tells you exactly which button AND which bellows direction is needed for every note. Conventional staff notation or ABC cannot do that. (Don't know about American shape notes)

Whilst this feature of tablature is good in some ways (perhaps for musicians whose conventional music reading skills are not too fluent), it does 'lock you in' to that particular style of playing - again good if that's what you want. I have learned quite a lot about the French cross-row style of playing, exactly by using their tablature, even though I have been reading and using conventional staff notation since the age of 9. But as we all should know on this forum, melodeons are strange beasts, frequently with more than one combination button and bellows to achieve the same note; and so we should be perhaps questioning what tablature is telling us: 'Is this really the best way of playing this particular phrase?' Maybe it is, maybe not. It depends on what effect we are trying to achieve: smooth and silky or bouncy and stampy.

Ultimately, we have to remember (as has been argued about many times on this forum and elsewhere) that written notation only gives the bare bones of the tune. It's up to us, the musicians, to clothe them with flesh and blood and exciting garments. And with that thought I will bring this rambling reply to a .
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Re: Breton music - why G/C boxes?
« Reply #7 on: July 13, 2008, 10:35:03 AM »

To the best of my understanding the difference between learning from tablature (which tells you which button to push) and learning from notation (which tells you which note to play) is that with tablature it doesn't matter whether you've got a D/G box, a G/C or anything in between, you'll still get the same tune out, just transposed according to the pitch of the box.  So I'm not convinced by the argument that a preference for tablature leads to a preference for a particular tuning, unless there's a part of the picture I'm not seeing.  It seems more likely to me that preference for a particular tuning depends on what instruments you're playing with and their favourite keys, but all my 'proper' Breton music (bombarde, biniou & drum) is on LP and my turntable's been in the loft since our bundle of joy started learning to walk.
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Re: Breton music - why G/C boxes?
« Reply #8 on: July 13, 2008, 11:24:26 AM »

To the best of my understanding the difference between learning from tablature (which tells you which button to push) and learning from notation (which tells you which note to play) is that with tablature it doesn't matter whether you've got a D/G box, a G/C or anything in between, you'll still get the same tune out, just transposed according to the pitch of the box.
Perhaps I should have made it clear that the tablature I'm referring to also has the conventional staff notation written above it, so you also see which note you are playing.
Example here:
http://diato.org/tablat/tab174.gif

Quote
So I'm not convinced by the argument that a preference for tablature leads to a preference for a particular tuning...
I agree - I don't think it does lead to a preference for a particular tuning. After all, in most cases the tunes came first, long before anyone thought of writing them down in tablature form. It's simply that there is a lot of combined staff and tablature music available for traditional Breton/French tunes, written out by players of G/C boxes.

Quote
It seems more likely to me that preference for a particular tuning depends on what instruments you're playing with and their favourite keys...
Agreed.

Quote
but all my 'proper' Breton music (bombarde, biniou & drum) is on LP and my turntable's been in the loft since our bundle of joy started learning to walk.
You may find stocks useful ;)
« Last Edit: July 13, 2008, 11:27:06 AM by Steve_freereeder »
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EeeJay

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Re: Breton music - why G/C boxes?
« Reply #9 on: July 13, 2008, 12:50:15 PM »

They are all agreed printed codes representing pitch and note length, and in common with most musicians, tunes are learnt effectively by rote, just another name for practising from whatever source, until it sticks.

With French melodeon tab, it's the keystroke for keystroke thing that's different. Like bowing marks for violin, it's not the actual dots, but the punctuation - which can make all the difference to trad tunes each time around. Like Steve said, exclusive reliance on the system can potentially (and I say that objectively) lead to inflexibility.

However, this aversion is tempered for the fact it forces people out of the rut of just playing up and down the rows. This not a bad thing in itself (and has its own place in various traditions), but the earlier row crossing becomes a usable tool, the better.

Even now, row crossing is still often looked upon by too many English melodeonists as beyond the ability of mere mortals... ::)

... with tablature it doesn't matter whether you've got a D/G box, a G/C or anything in between, you'll still get the same tune out, just transposed according to the pitch of the box.

Exactly. You can use it for other tunings, but in practicality, the tab dictates only close tunings (such as A/D) will sound half as good. A tabbed tune in G or A minor is going to sound rather squeaky on the top range of a D/G. Not wrong, necessarily, but not so nice.

...a preference for tablature leads to a preference for a particular tuning, unless there's a part of the picture I'm not seeing.

Like I said, G/C is just some arbitrary current convention. Lower range tunings seem to work better for Breton tunes though, because of the convention for using the top range. A/D is good, somewhat brighter sounding. Bb/Eb kind of sits in the middle (like 'baby bear's porridge' - not too high, not too low :D ) - tunes in C minor seem so plaintive...

Ed J
« Last Edit: March 18, 2011, 07:45:08 PM by EeeJay »
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Re: Breton music - why G/C boxes?
« Reply #10 on: July 13, 2008, 04:47:15 PM »

Sorry to be a pedant but; actually I'm not sorry, I'm rather enjoying it. ;D

Steve, you are seriously misleading us ignoramuses when you suggest that melodeons are peculiar in sometimes having a choice of buttons (fingerings) for the same pitch. You as a highly skilled clarinettist, know this is common in woodwinds, known as forked, false or alternative fingering and is also a feature of the higher harmonics/valve/slide combinations of the brass family, if your name is Maynard Ferguson. The late, unfortunately.

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Theo

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Re: Breton music - why G/C boxes?
« Reply #11 on: July 13, 2008, 05:24:32 PM »

Steve, you are seriously misleading us ignoramuses when you suggest that melodeons are peculiar in sometimes having a choice of buttons (fingerings) for the same pitch.

And its also true of stringed instruments, apart from a one-string fiddle of course.
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Re: Breton music - why G/C boxes?
« Reply #12 on: July 13, 2008, 07:08:16 PM »

The issue boils down to the keys of the partnering instruments.

Some instruments (notably the classical orchestral families and piano) play almost as comfortably in any key you choose - provided the player is sufficiently skilled.  Wind instruments and string instruments - particularly with players who wish to use open strings are more comfortable in some keys than others.  "Folk" instruments play the tone rows they are designed to play easily, and notes outside the tome row with varying degrees of difficulty - a one row melodeon plays the notes under the buttons, a simple system flute can get fairly close to chromatic.

Bombardes like Am, Great (and Border) Pipes like Bb.  Flutes and fifth tuned string players "like "D" and D Dorian, G and A Guitarists (in closed chord systems) play happily in any key, using open strings they like G D and A, in altered tunings use capos... So you use the melodeon tuning that best suits the instruments you habitually play with.

I would think that if you played Breton music with simple system "D" flute rather than Bombarde, you would end up playing D/G and transposing the tunes.

Regarding tab;  as I see it, on a two row diatonic, there can only be at most, two ways of playing a given note in a given octave.  The alternative you use is going to be to either accentuate the choppiness of the music (by necessitating a bellows reverse) or to allow legato by keeping the phrasing in the same sweep.  I would not have thought that required tab.
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Re: Breton music - why G/C boxes?
« Reply #13 on: July 13, 2008, 11:53:33 PM »

Bombardes like Am, Great (and Border) Pipes like Bb.  Flutes and fifth tuned string players "like "D" and D Dorian, G and A Guitarists (in closed chord systems) play happily in any key, using open strings they like G D and A, in altered tunings use capos... So you use the melodeon tuning that best suits the instruments you habitually play with.

It ain't necessarily so... but these things adapt and evolve...

Key wise, G/C (or any other) melodeon fits very oddly with some French trad instruments.

Auvergnat (G) and Bourbonnais (D) hurdy gurdy tunings, for instance, stick to tonic major and minor, and not much in the way of relative minor. French pipes are vaguely similar in their range of preferred keys.

Which is an absolute barsteward on a melodeon, unless you keep swapping 2/3 boxes, or you have a special contraption to cope with it... hence the development of three row 18 bass G/Cs...

I would think that if you played Breton music with simple system "D" flute rather than Bombarde, you would end up playing D/G and transposing the tunes.

A/D is what the Bretons prefer for this - it's a tone up from a G/C box and gives the same scope, feel, ornamentation, etc. D/G is different... I think Rod Stradling has it pinned down how/why in this article...

If we start getting techy, the prime difference (apart from the melodic and chordal structures which are different though not hideously so) is that they all play G/C boxes whereas we play D/G, and they play in the top octave where we play in the bottom octave. So the compass of the tunes is exactly the same, but the arrangement of the notes is different in the top octave from that in the bottom octave, so all the little frilly bits and accidentals and ornamentation that an English player would put in naturally is going to be different from what an Italian would put in .

Regarding tab;  as I see it, on a two row diatonic, there can only be at most, two ways of playing a given note in a given octave.  The alternative you use is going to be to either accentuate the choppiness of the music (by necessitating a bellows reverse) or to allow legato by keeping the phrasing in the same sweep.  I would not have thought that required tab.

The French diato cogniscenti seem have latched onto tablature, and it's good as far as it goes, as a learning tool. But only as far as it goes. The rest is the magic bit, the twist and variety of the tune time and around...

I don't bother with tab much, if at all. Maybe so with advanced music like Bruno Le Tron or whatever, but just as a safety blanket, to know what the keystrokes are in complex bits. But apart from that, I'm more comfortable with dots, and "écouter et répéter"... :D

Ed J
« Last Edit: March 18, 2011, 07:44:05 PM by EeeJay »
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Re: Breton music - why G/C boxes?
« Reply #14 on: July 14, 2008, 05:57:19 AM »

Steve, you are seriously misleading us ignoramuses when you suggest that melodeons are peculiar in sometimes having a choice of buttons (fingerings) for the same pitch.

And its also true of stringed instruments, apart from a one-string fiddle of course.
Pleased to be a pedant but on sober reflection Theo, you will realise that it is possible. Resting the finger lightly on the string instead of stopping results in a harmonic which is also playable further up the neck.
Summing up, all instruments are the same except piano keyboard instruments but we don't mention them here, except I just did. ;D
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Re: Breton music - why G/C boxes?
« Reply #15 on: July 14, 2008, 12:59:29 PM »

This is heading in the general direction of how we learn and arrange "folk" music.

If you learn at the feet of the master, you learn what the master passes down, nothing changes, nothing innovates.

If you plan your own route through the instrument, you do things differently.  If you play other instruments (for example guitarists who play also mandolin or 5 string banjo) your technique becomes cross-fertilised by what you have learnt on other instruments.

At some stage someone must have decided to use one of these "new fangled" free reed instruments to play "traditional" music - probably to the same opposition that electric musicians still get today.  This has changed the balance and techniques used in very much the same way that decent PAs and tunable head bodrans have changed bodran playing.

I notice that Rod Stradling is not convinced by cross-rowed fingering techniques in his article.  Having the choice gives you two colours and more ways to move the music in my view.
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Re: Breton music - why G/C boxes?
« Reply #16 on: July 14, 2008, 05:26:13 PM »

I notice that Rod Stradling is not convinced by cross-rowed fingering techniques in his article.

From how I read it, Rod seems to be perfectly OK with row crossing, even wants to teach it in workshops, etc. Overblown technique (and the relentless use of it) seems to be his main bugbear...

Ed J
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Re: Breton music - why G/C boxes?
« Reply #17 on: July 14, 2008, 06:35:21 PM »


Overblown technique (and the relentless use of it) seems to be his main bugbear...


Now I know this doesn't apply to Rod, but "overblown technique" is generally a phrase used by the jealous to players who are more dextrous.

The one that goes with it (leastways in the frets world) is "Lots of speed, but soulless".
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Re: Breton music - why G/C boxes?
« Reply #18 on: July 15, 2008, 01:17:04 PM »

I just assumed G/C were good keys for singing to with guitars as in Germany before the war (As an aide my brother who works there said the folk music became a bit out of fashion after the war, with ' Volk' associations, which could explain fascination with 'Celtic' stuff nowadays), and that's why they were mass produced by Hohner etc, and that musicians played with what they could get hold of. I like the lower G  for songs but play tunes at the high end.

I've just sold two boxes in G/C to a Frech musician so assume they are popular over there.
A lot of old Irish players used C melodeons and it was playing with fiddles and flutes that forced the need for D/G/A and hence B/C or other Half step boxes that are so popular nowadays

(There's a good thread on the Session site about D/Eb(D+) boxes at the moment)
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Re: Breton music - why G/C boxes?
« Reply #19 on: July 16, 2008, 01:46:26 AM »

Hello all,
 I have been lurking for some time and have never had anything to contribute really, but have learned a lot from visiting the site. I play a G/C box and I got this tuning just to play French and Italian music since that is what most tabs and teaching materials are in. I do love the deep sound of the G/C tuning, more of a growl actually, and can see why this tuning was favored. I like the sound so much I ordered a three reed Hyde box (which is almost done!) musette tuned, just for this music .
 For me, this is a tuning I love.
Kurt
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