>I'm a professional pianist who plays piano accordion as a second
>instrument. I really like the look and lesser weight of a
>concertina, but I'm trying to decide whether I should look into
>an English concertina or a Duet.
To my mind (I play a duet, but I've heard a lot of English
English => Violin
Duet => Piano
A violin can do more than just play melody, but that's what it
does most of the time. Likewise the English, and they have
approximately the same range. Duets can play melody against an
accompaniment of chords or a countermelody. The analogy with Piano
may be no more than that, depending on the system, but you get the
So what do you want to do, duplicate the kind of stuff you can do
on the PA with a Duet, or change gears entirely and imitate a
fiddle with an English? Apologies to my English playing friends
for the implication that it's just imitating a violin, but my
point is simply that the capabilities and range are comparable.
<______> | | | | | David Barnert
<______> | | | | | <davba...@aol.com>
<______> | | | | | Albany, N.Y.
Just some thoughts -- do the pieces which you would like to play
involve complex chords? Those might be easier to handle on some system
of Duet. Fast melody runs are probably easier on the English system in
>3. Since I already know the piano accordion, the Duet would seem an
>easier adjustment, but since the button system is different that might
>not make such a big difference.
*Which* duet? There are several systems out there. Depending
on your needs, different ones come to the fore.
1) Crane/Triumph -- easier to learn to play, more difficult to
do more complex things.
2) Standard MacCann -- works well with traditional music, requires
re-learning the piece to transpose to almost any other key.
Somewhat variable at the extremes of the scale.
3) Chidley Modification of MacCann -- Perhaps more tailored to
Music-hall style music. Same problem with transposition, but
the ends of the keyboard are a bit more sane.
4) Jeffries duet -- not at all sure about how this fits into the
5) Hayden system -- very easy to transpose -- just move hand to a
new starting position and play -- unmodified fingering pattern
(unless you drift too close to the edge of the button pattern.
Not sure how easy some complex chords may be to finger. *Very*
expensive in quality instruments, though the new Russian-made
one may be an excellent compromise. I see a report on them
lurking somewhere down the newsgroup's list of articles.
>Has anyone else made a similar adjustment, or is there perhaps someone
>who has knowledge of both systems and can make a recommendation? My
>gut is telling me go with the Duet concertina. Any help would be
I've not made the transition from PA or Piano, and I normally
play the English system, but I've seen some amazing things done with the
MacCann system duet. The Hayden system seems to be a better fit for me,
however. (I've got a nice Chidley MacCann, but haven't really spent
enough time to get a serious feel for the difficulties of playing --
normally, I'll pick up my English -- but I don't go in for complex
+ Todd asks:
+ >I'm a professional pianist who plays piano accordion as a second
+ >instrument. I really like the look and lesser weight of a
+ >concertina, but I'm trying to decide whether I should look into
+ >an English concertina or a Duet.
+ To my mind (I play a duet, but I've heard a lot of English
+ playing), think:
+ English => Violin
+ Duet => Piano
+ A violin can do more than just play melody, but that's what it
+ does most of the time. Likewise the English, and they have
+ approximately the same range. Duets can play melody against an
+ accompaniment of chords or a countermelody. The analogy with Piano
+ may be no more than that, depending on the system, but you get the
+ So what do you want to do, duplicate the kind of stuff you can do
+ on the PA with a Duet, or change gears entirely and imitate a
+ fiddle with an English? Apologies to my English playing friends
+ for the implication that it's just imitating a violin, but my
+ point is simply that the capabilities and range are comparable.
I would agree (as an English player) with Dave's take on this. Since
you mentioned Bach inventions, I'd say:
for 2-part inventions, go with the Duet
for Violin/Cello Suites, go with an English
I agree (as a former keyboardist) that the English layout is supremely
easy for a pianist, but the Duet is not all that weird (unlike Anglos
:-)), and it is admirable for counter-melodies, whereas these are a
real problem with the English.
You should hear what Norbert Pignol (Grenoble), or "Gazman"
of Brittany do on the diatonic accordion! Formidable!!
Chris Ryall Birkenhead UK (lurking)
Possibly good advice. And this from a concertina fanatic.
> ...no need for using two hands for the melody line per se as
> is often the case on concertinas...
Depends considerably on the kind of concertina... and the range of the melody.
> It's half the weight of a typical piano accordion, but 2 to 3
> times the weight of a typical concertina.
> Choices, choices... I did try a Hayden duet concertina
> previous to the CBA but didn't take to it as well.
As someone with more varied concertina experience than most, I should have
responded sooner. I *play* the English concertina. I play a bit on the anglo,
MacCann duet, and Crane (also known as Triumph) duet. I've tried Hayden duets
a few times, and even handled Jeffries and Linton duets in the distant past.
In the end, what would be best for you depends on what sort of music you want
to play on it. And it's not just a question of which system, but the range as
well. My following quotes from Todd's original message will be taken out of
"Todd Hildreth" <jav...@iglou.com> wrote ...
> 2. I'm not particularly interested in playing melody/accompaniment
> type pieces, and if I need to, I've always got the piano accordion,
> but Bach inventions sound like fun, and would seem to be easier
> on a Duet.
Do you play those on a piano accordion? I don't play PA, but I don't see how
you could do it properly, at least not unless you have free bass.
Adaptations aren't necessarily bad, but if you're thinking of playing the
original score on a duet concertina, the little ones (46-60 buttons) won't do.
You would need an 80-button "monster" to do it properly. My 80-button MacCann
has the necessary 5-octave range, equivalent to a 3-octave cello in the left
hand and a 3½-octave violin in the right hand, with 1½ octaves of overlap. In
theory, this would be ideal for the 2-part inventions, which can be played very
nicely on two such separate instruments. But "Baby Huey" weighs in at 7 lbs,
not the 2½ lbs of my treble English, and this particular duet has aluminum reed
shoes and ebony ends. Get one with metal ends and brass reed shoes and you're
probably talking at least 10 lbs. It's something to think about.
> 1. I would like to play mainly classical and jazz, usually in group
Again, it depends on just what you want to do in either of those realms. Of
the duet systems, I would judge that the Hayden is the least suited to jazz.
The keyboard layout is specifically designed for easy transposition in common
diatonic keys, but I think it's much less suited for chromatic work. The
Crane, MacCann, and Jeffries systems will each have particular keys, chord
progressions, etc. for which they are more comfortable, and those for which
they aren't. And which are better or worse will be different for each. I have
heard amazing stuff done one each... and on the English and anglo, as well.
Only with the largest duets will you get a range approaching that of a standard
keyboard, so you have to decide if that matters to you. After all, even the
guitar doesn't go nearly as low as a piano... nor as high, in most people's
hands. Of the smaller duets, the MacCanns usually only go as low as G above
middle C in the right hand, while Cranes usually go down to middle C. So
again, if you demand the full range and richness of a piano or even a piano
accordion, you're not likely to get it with a concertina. They don't have
multiple reed banks and stops for selecting different octaves, either.
On the other hand, if you're willing to learn the instrument's capabilities and
work up your own style, there are lots of possibilities. As Samantha said,
Pietro Valente and those who have been learning from him do some very nice jazz
("Bye, Bye, Blues" is one that comes to mind) mixing transient rich chords with
melody improvisation on the treble English. (I.e., no true bass.)
Unfortunately, I don't know if he has any recording available. John Nixon has
a CD, showing a rather different jazz style, also on the English; more group
than solo. Simon Thoumire does some wonderful stuff on the English, as well,
and again in a very different style from the other two. He plays a
tenor-treble, which goes down to the low C of a viola, rather than just to the
violin's low G, as a standard treble does.
For blues or jazz style on the anglo, look for stuff by Harry Scurfield. He
plays many different styles. Bob Walser used to do a version of Maple Leaf
Rag, which made it sound like Joplin had composed it for the anglo.
Unfortunately, he hasn't recorded it.
It's also difficult for me to point you to relevant recordings of duets. Jean
Megly of France comes to mind for the Crane system, playing many styles from
French folk to Balkan, and certainly some stuff that could give a jazz musician
something to start from. Much of the MacCann playing I've heard has been Music
Hall stuff or arrangements of classical pieces, though I've also heard a couple
of excitingly creative "folk" players. But there's certainly no reason why it
shouldn't be great for jazz. If Dave Cornell is reading this, maybe he could
give you some advice.
> 3. Since I already know the piano accordion, the Duet would seem an
> easier adjustment, but since the button system is different that might
> not make such a big difference.
The button system might be the least of your worries. You'll also have to
learn different chord configurations, harmonies, etc. to get the effects you
want. Just trying to copy what you already do on the piano or PA is unlikely
to give you something you will like. The range and sound of the instrument
will be significant factors. And you'll almost certainly have to develop a
style on your own, no matter which type of concertina you choose. Teachers for
any of the duets are not common, and persons who could teach jazz on any sort
of concertina are rare, indeed.
"DoN. Nichols" <dnic...@d-and-d.com> wrote ...
> Just some thoughts -- do the pieces which you would like to play
> involve complex chords? Those might be easier to handle on some
> system of Duet. Fast melody runs are probably easier on the
> English system in most cases.
It's generally held that the English is more of a melody instrument, the duets
for richer harmonies. This seems to be the usual tendency among players, and
it's probably easier starting out. Like a mandolin, the English is nice for
melody or chords, but harder to do both at once. Nevertheless, it can be done,
as some of the above-mentioned demonstrate quite well. Duets lend themselves
more readily to melody and chords together at the very beginning, but they can
also be excellent straight-melody instruments.
Keep in mind that most guitarists play either lead or chords, but rarely try to
do both at once.
> *Which* duet? There are several systems out there. Depending
> on your needs, different ones come to the fore.
> 1) Crane/Triumph -- easier to learn to play, more difficult to
> do more complex things.
I disagree strongly with that "more difficult..." part. It depends
considerably on which particular "more complex things" you're trying to do.
> 2) Standard MacCann -- works well with traditional music,
> requires re-learning the piece to transpose to almost any other
> key. Somewhat variable at the extremes of the scale.
He's referring to the regularity of the pattern of notes under the buttons. I
personally don't find the variations in the "standard" pattern to be a problem.
In some keys or pieces, it's an advantage.
> 3) Chidley Modification of MacCann -- Perhaps more tailored to
> Music-hall style music. Same problem with transposition, but
> the ends of the keyboard are a bit more sane.
Some things will be easier than on the "standard" MacCann; some will be harder.
On balance, I don't think it would matter which you try, as long as you stick
with whichever one you start with.
> 4) Jeffries duet -- not at all sure about how this fits into the
I've heard some fantastic stuff, but they're hard to find, and it's even harder
to find teachers (or even keyboard layouts) for them. If you can find one
cheap and in good condition, I would recommend seeing what you can do with it.
But not worth hunting for one.
> 5) Hayden system -- very easy to transpose -- just move hand to
> a new starting position and play -- unmodified fingering pattern
> (unless you drift too close to the edge of the button pattern.
Drifting "too close to the edge of the button pattern" is unavoidable in keys
with lots of accidentals, so playing jazz could in fact be problematic. While
I don't feel that learning the different patterns for non-simple scales is
necessarily all that difficult, I think you're likely to lose the pattern
uniformity when shifting keys. So in this respect, I don't think it's any more
rational than the MacCann, perhaps less so than the Crane, and definitely less
so than the English. But I also think that "rationality" is something of a
personal matter, and other factors are likely to be more important.
With all of this, I may have introduced more confusion than light. But I'll
now say that from the tone of what Todd said in his original post, I suspect
that a duet -- either a Crane or MacCann -- *is* likely to be a better personal
choice for him than the English. And while I personally like the Crane,
assistance is likely to be easier to find for the MacCann. So I would suggest
that he look for a nice MacCann, but if he sees a really nice Crane at a really
OR... he could go for a small, single-reed CBA, as Moshe suggested. I'm
personally addicted to the concertina, but I don't assume that *everybody*
Best of luck, /Jim Lucas
> OR... he could go for a small, single-reed CBA, as Moshe suggested. I'm
> personally addicted to the concertina, but I don't assume that *everybody*
> should be.
> Best of luck, /Jim Lucas
I would only express my doubt that a small CBA is different than PA. The range of
a small CBA is as tiny as your average PA and the left hand is the same. To learn
a free bass CBA is the same as free bass PA, so given the familiarity with the PA
keyboard, why switch systems? Free bass is strange instrument, it is clearly an
adaptation, with all of the problems of quick fix designs.
I also have a problem with classical pieces on the accordion. Firstly, Stradella
bass need to be fought with, because it is 'not' designed for counter melody, and
bass-chord is a bit simplistic. Also, this sudden two octave drop, when combining
left and right hands... And rather weird combinations of single or double voice on
the right and deep throaty 4 reeds bass on the left... A concertina is sertainly
more even instrument, more 'delicate'. It looks very nice, small and light,
doesn't require strapping into etc., but honking chords can be somewhat
>Of the duet systems, I would judge that the Hayden is the least
>suited to jazz. The keyboard layout is specifically designed for
>easy transposition in common diatonic keys, but I think it's
>much less suited for chromatic work.
It would certainly seem so, but interestingly, the CD "Boxing
Clever," which features numerous concertina players with numerous
kinds of concertinas (and has a drawing of a Hayden on the cover)
has two tracks played on the Hayden, and both are Jazz-oriented.
I guess the lesson is: There are no rules.
And Miles Davis on the trumpet. But it's not a concertina.
;-) /Jim Lucas
I usually compare the different kinds of concertina to the different kinds of
stringed instruments (hand-held, i.e., not the piano).
English - like violin or mandolin
anglo - like banjo
duet - like lute or guitar
Chemnitzer - I don't know; maybe viola da gamba?
I base this in large part on the styles in which they are usually played,
something not unrelated to what's easy or hard at a beginning level.
> I would agree (as an English player) with Dave's take on this. Since
> you mentioned Bach inventions, I'd say:
> for 2-part inventions, go with the Duet
> for Violin/Cello Suites, go with an English
Agreed, although I like splitting the 2-part inventions with another player.
E.g., I've played the right-hand part on my treble English with a cello on the
left hand... and I've played the left-hand part on my bass (cello range)
English with a fiddler on the right hand. Nice stuff, IMO.
> I agree (as a former keyboardist) that the English layout
> is supremely easy for a pianist,...
Not that clear cut. Some people's brains don't like the way the keyboard is
split between the two hands. I found it natural, but I've met people who
consider it self-torture. Also, I didn't come from the piano, but from French
horn and tin whistle.
> ...but the Duet is not all that weird (unlike Anglos :-)), and
> it is admirable for counter-melodies, whereas these are a
> real problem with the English.
Again, not true categorically. I find two-part pieces much easier to play on
the English if they're written on the same staff, though, rather than split
over two staves.
The CBA's treble keyboard is much more compact, allowing the whole box to be
smaller and lighter. My small CBA has 34 treble notes, just like many PAs that
weigh up to twice as much. Very-lightweight PAs typically have about 25 treble.
Also, the original question was about learning a new system anyway, adding a
concertina of some sort to the PA. I suggested that going to the CBA instead was
a way to learn one system that will serve most purposes, as one can have both a
small and a large CBA. Moreover, there will be carry-over of skills (bellows work
and the stradella bass) from the PA to the CBA, making it easier to get started.
(The CBA treble system also has some advantages over the PA, after a few months
I could play fast melodies better on it, and others told me the same.)
> I also have a problem with classical pieces on the accordion. Firstly, Stradella
> bass need to be fought with, because it is 'not' designed for counter melody, and
> bass-chord is a bit simplistic. Also, this sudden two octave drop, when combining
> left and right hands... And rather weird combinations of single or double voice on
> the right and deep throaty 4 reeds bass on the left... A concertina is sertainly
> more even instrument, more 'delicate'.
My small CBA, in its free-bass mode, has only one reed per note on BOTH sides,
and there is some overlap in the range, so it can sound balanced, I think. (The
lowest notes on the bass serve as the bass & counterbass in the stradella mode,
and are also part of the freebass range, while the medium notes make up the chords,
or are played singly in the free-bass mode.)
> [concertina] looks very nice, small and light, doesn't require strapping into etc., ...
That I agree with. But it's a new system to learn. Choices choices... :-)
> The CBA's treble keyboard is much more compact,
That is obviously true.
> allowing the whole box to be
> smaller and lighter.
And this is not the case.
Weight of the accordion is affected by the number of reeds mostly.
> My small CBA has 34 treble notes, just like many PAs that
> weigh up to twice as much.
Because your typical PA has two reeds, mostly an octave tuned.
> Very-lightweight PAs typically have about 25 treble.
> (The CBA treble system also has some advantages over the PA,
Not if you are a professional pianist.
> > I also have a problem with classical pieces on the accordion. Firstly, Stradella
> > bass need to be fought with, because it is 'not' designed for counter melody, and
> > bass-chord is a bit simplistic. Also, this sudden two octave drop, when combining
> > left and right hands... And rather weird combinations of single or double voice on
> > the right and deep throaty 4 reeds bass on the left... A concertina is sertainly
> > more even instrument, more 'delicate'.
> My small CBA, in its free-bass mode,
Free bass accordion is not very good ergonomically and if you are health oriented, is better
to be avoided. I think ergonomically nothing can beat the piano, and then next is Anglo
For a small portable "piano" Duet is unbeatable, if you like the sound.
I got myself charts of Duets and even learned a couple of songs on them (using charts for
substitute). I'd say, this prepared me for trying out real instrument, when I got a chance.
To my dismay, I didn't like Hayden at all, it wasn't as chromatic as I thought (if at all).
I found that McCann is not all that difficult to figure out, but the best was Crane (again,
opposite from what I imagined reading other people's opinions ). So I got Crane, learned a
few songs on it and sold it. It was too small for the Duet, only 35 buttons, and the
bellows capacity wasn't enough for accompaniment. But the overall range was two/half
octaves, and was quite enough for melody playing. If I had more money for better
[ ... tentatively settles on English system ... ]
>At this point it's a matter of choosing a baritone or a tenor or
Hmm ... for most things, my preferences is a tenor-treble. It
is a little heavier than a stand-alone tenor and more so than a treble,
but it gives more range. I do have a baritone (which I need to repair),
and a contrabass (for when you *really* want the low notes), as well as
individual tenor and treble instruments. What I most often pick up is
the tenor-treble, because the treble just doesn't go low enough for my
pleasure. (Treble starts at G below middle C. Tenor starts at C below
middle C. Both cover 3-1/2 octaves. Tenor-treble covers the range of
both Tenor and Treble (4 octaves total.)
Beware that there are extended trebles (same number of keys as a
tenor-treble), but the range is extended into the treble end -- good for
conversing with bats, but not satisfying to me -- and those top notes
are a real pain to tune, for those who work on instruments.
There are even instruments which start an octave above the
standard treble. Cute instruments, but I really cannot hear the top few
Also -- when checking out a Tenor -- see how fast the bottom
reeds speak from a dead stop. And check both reeds for each button.
Some are very slow. If just one or two are slow, it probably just needs
the reed's "set" tweaked a bit.
The reason for checking from a dead stop is that when the reed
in the other direction is sounding, the silent one is vibrating in
sympathy, and when you reverse direction, it will start more quickly
than it would from a dead stop. You *will* encounter times when it has
to start from a dead stop -- usually in the middle of a piece -- and
having to remember that you need the bellows to be on the press (or
draw) cycle for that note gets old fast. :-)
"Right." An interesting word. Maybe it won't do what you're imagining, but
you might consider trying other things, to expand your imagination. Pietro
Valente does great backing, with rich jazz chords, on the treble English. With
Rainer Schwartz (I hope I spelled that right) improvising the melody on another
treble English the combination is great! As I listened, it simply didn't occur
to me that it needed anything bassier. Fiddles and mandolins also sometimes do
chording for another instrument playing melody, and they have the same lowest
note as the treble English. With a bass or guitar it's different, but without
them it's *not* inadequate.
> ...but a tenor or baritone could work well.
Indeed they could. For fantastic use of the tenor, listen to Simon Thoumire.
I've never heard anybody make significant use the baritone as a backing
instrument, but I can certainly imagine some nice things for that.
One point: There are two essentially different kinds of baritones. One is set
up like a treble, but sounding an octave lower for the same fingering. The
other has the treble notes in the standard positions, but continues the pattern
of notes downward from there. The first kind seems to be more common, but if
you want to play in the treble range on one of those, all the notes will be on
the opposite side of the instrument from where they are on a regular treble. I
think if you go for a baritone, you should probably look for the second kind.
Then the fingering for the treble notes will always be in the same
configuration, whether you play the baritone, a tenor-treble, or a standard
treble. Just a suggestion.
> Fast melody runs are probably more important at this point. I would
> like to function as a guitar would in a jazz group, with single line
> solos and chord accompaniment for other soloist, but not necessarily
> both at the same time.
> ...it's becoming more clear that the English is what I'd like to
> try. I've got the PA for melody/accompaniment. The English
> concertina seems to make more sense to me as a group jazz
From the above I'll take back my earlier advice and agree an English *is*
probably what you want.
> At this point it's a matter of choosing a baritone or a tenor
> or tenor/treble.
In my experience, tenor-trebles (56 buttons) are actually easier to find than
straight tenors (48 buttons). Most cheaper baritones tend to have slower
response than trebles, even the cheaper ones, but a top-quality baritone will
have excellent response even to the bottom of its range. If you can find such
a baritone, great. But if not, you should go for a tenor-treble or even a
treble while you're looking for the baritone. Then when you find it, you can
always trade up. (And that's another reason to go for the extended-downward
baritone. If you start with a higher instrument, you won't have to relearn the
fingering for the range you're already accustomed to.)
All the best, /Jim
Interestingly enough - the Hayden also maps out perfectly onto the stave
as well, but with either side's buttons falling entirely on the stave in
the correct places. The English results the right and left falling onto
the "lines" or "spaces" of the stave (as is appropriate for the way the
English was designed).
-- Rich --
THE BUTTON BOX
Small aside. The Jeffries duet was basically devised for anglo players
who wanted to play duet. To anyone else I suspect it would prove a
nightmare on wheels. Me, I'd love one, particularly in the home key of
Chris Timson Have concertinas, will travel
and For our home pages and for the Concertina FAQ:
Anne Gregson http://www.harbour.demon.co.uk/
"Sir, more than kisses, letters mingle souls" - John Donne
I've been told that the most common home key for Jeffries duets was Bb. If
true, I don't know if that makes the key of Bb easiest to play in, or not.
Have you never gotten a Jeffries duet player to show you how it all works? I
remember one such person at Witney, and with your ICA connections....
I, too, am very curious about the Jeffries duet. I'd like to know about the
keyboard layout, common scale and chord patterns, some arrangements to see how
it's all put to use....
>I, too, am very curious about the Jeffries duet. I'd like to
>know about the keyboard layout, common scale and chord patterns,
>some arrangements to see how it's all put to use....
I would think there would be useful info on this topic at Nick
Robertshaw's page (Nick is the only Jeffries duet player I know,
he's very good and his web page is full of concertina information)
but I just checked <http://www.clark.net/pub/bignick/> presently
it seems to be under construction.
Try it some other time, or e-mail him privately.
Yes I have, Nick Robertshaw it was. Basically you can think of the
middle two rows as being the middle row on a three row anglo exploded
outwards. This meant I was able to play a scale in the home key in
seconds. The inner and outer rows (in true anglo fashion) are I gather a
collection of useful notes. Thus it is apparently easy to play in keys
close to the home key (G or D, for instance if your home key is C), but
more difficult the further you get away. Easy, that is, for anglo
players. Everyone else, you probably don't have the right mind set.
That's why, although I am not searching for one, I would not pass up the
chance of one if I came across it and it was in a reasonable home key
and my funds were in the right state at the time...