Concertina for Beginners


Celtic music is often played very fast and with a specific rhythm. But, when played at a more moderate pace, Celtic music elicits a wider range of emotions and exhibits many flavors that are lost when the music is played very fast. If every song is played very fast, every song will sound exactly the same, and people will get bored no matter how fast you play. It is the odd sharps and flats, wide variety of styles and speed, and expressed emotions that tickles the brain and keeps people interested.

The advantage of the English concertina is that it plays well in any key on any type of tune that is melodic. It adapts well to music from many different cultures and time periods. When traveling, you can bring only one English concertina to play many types of tunes and keys with many odd sharps and flats because it is chromatic. Tunes which are melodious or are enhanced by smooth playing are usually good candidates for the English concertina. The English concertina often allows more control over phrasing and expression. If you want broad variety, then the English has a definate advantage.

Rythmic / dance tunes often tend to play better on the Anglo concertina. This is partly due to a speed and rythm advantage of being able to play another note by simply changing bellow directions instead of finger movement. The fact that it has fewer keys and they are arranged horizontally, also means there is less distance for the fingers to travel giving another speed advantage. But the Anglo is not chromatic. And excess emphasis on rhythm or speed can obscure the magic of the melody and emotional expression. The best musicians do not try to speed up the tempo so much; instead they try to play with increased expression, ornamentation, and improvisation. Today, Celtic dance music is played so fast, that the dancers can't even keep up.

Most Celtic tunes were written for a specific instrument, such as the harp, flute, whistle, etc. The audio clips on this web site were played using English concertinas. That does influence the choice of tunes. The tunes on this site are some of the more melodic examples of Celtic music.

One trick that is useful when first trying to learn a new difficult song is to play it every day until you become very proficient at it. Then the brain seems to move it closer to the central core for faster access. Then you can drop back to practicing it once a week to maintain that proficiency.

The key to playing fast is to play slow. At every practice, play very slow the first time through, and notice every note. Then play faster and faster. If you always play fast, it isn't long before the brain tries to take shortcuts.

Also, the parts of the brain that are used for playing are not exactly the same as the parts used for listening and recognition. Practice listening and recognizing almost as much as you practice playing. And then not only practice playing by yourself but also practice playing with others on you tube, midi, etc. This requires extra co-ordination between the different parts of the brain.

Before discussing rythm it is important to point out that most tunes will play with the correct rythm fairly naturally without much effort because of the way they are written. But some songs can be played either way; such as reels and hornpipes. Playing in a session with a good Bodhran drum player will make it much easier to play with correct rhythm.

Reels are usually 4/4 time and are played with the emphasis on the ONE; ONE 234 ONE 234 ONE 234

Jigs are usually 6/8 time and are played with the emphasis on the ONE and FOUR; ONE 23 FOUR 56 ONE 23 FOUR 56 ONE 23 FOUR 56

Hornpipes are usually 4/4 time and are played with a bouncy emphasis on the ONE and THREE; ONE 2 THREE 4 ONE 2 THREE 4 ONE 2 THREE 4

Play List of Beginner Tunes

Fanny Powers Key G - Air Lord Inchiquin King of the Fairies Waltz - Inisheer Waltz - Give Me Your Hand Slip Jig - The Butterfly (Irish Traditional) Far Away The Waltz Book pg 21 Si Beag Si Mohr by Turlough O'Carolan Snowy Path Key D - Slip Jig Stan Chapman WAV Greensleeves Frank Roche's Favorite Planxty Irwin Childgrove Rakes of Kildare Lucy Farr's Nicky McCauliff's Hills of Tara