What a night! The Chancers from Kiel played a reunion show to help celebrate the cultural center Hansa 48 in Kiel. Bringing one hour of our favorite arrangements back on stage felt unreal and I am still surprised that my fingers remembered all the arrangements.
Thanks to the good folks at Hansa 48, my band mates from The Chancers and everybody who came out to see us play. I really had a blast and I hope it won’t take us another 5 years until the next show…
Probably the most common question we receive is about the two Irish button accordion tunings, B/C or C#/D. That’s why we wrote the following lines. Here you’ll get a small overview on the matter alongside some points we believe are most important to know. We hope they prove useful for one or the other aspiring box player.
What’s the difference for the player?
In two -totally oversimplified- sentences the difference is this:
On a B/C box you’ll have to move your fingers quite a bit while the changes in the bellows movement are relatively little.
On a C#/D box you will have to move the bellows quite a bit, while the fingering work is less demanding.
You can get a better picture when you look at the following D-scale and the according tabulatures for both C#/D and B/C:
No too surprisingly the D-major scale can be played entirely on the inside row of a C#/D accordion while on B/C accordion two notes have to taken from the outside row.
Now let’s take the same scale and look at the bellows movements (“in & out”):
When playing the D scale on a C#/D accordion you will have to work the bellows more. Now as for the fingering, note that you will only need 4 buttons (3′, 4′, 5′, 6′) to play the scale so you can conveniently use one finger for one button. On the contrary, the B/C tuning will require 7 buttons ( (3′, 4′, 5, 5′, 6′, 6, 7′) ) so you cannot use one finger for just one button and have to spent some more thought on fingering.
Whats the difference in sound?
Of course the two tunings not only play different, they sound different too. C#/D is sounding much more ‘choppy’ than B/C because of the frequent bellows movement. This pattern is sometimes more and sometimes less obvious and I know for sure that good players can emphasize or surpress the push/pull sound to fair degree too…
Here is an example:
Here’s a nice example of some smooth B/C playing:
So which tuning should you pick?
Here are some points to consider.
C#/D is closer related to non-Irish diatonic button accordions. If you have some experience on a diatonic instrument such as a melodeon, a concertina or even a harmonica, you will probably find the C#/D tuning easier to start with. The scales are also often perceived as less chaotic. You can see the trend on the above D-major scales. Note how regular the D-scale is laid out as compared to the B/C one…
Here’s the biggest argument in favor of B/C: It is much more popular than C#/D. That might sound like a bogus argument to you, but it does have quite some relevance. There simply exist more books, dvd’s or teachers for the B/C accordion. Finding a teacher for the C#/D box can be a problem.
If you are still undecided, remember that in the end, it does not really matter all too much. Both systems can be played in any key. Both systems are giving you an authentic Irish sound and finally both systems are incredibly fun to learn and play.
What would be the most popular melodeon tuning? Probably D/G, C/F or maybe G/C, depending on whether you ask in the UK, the Netherlands or France.
So which one should you pick?
Well, if your intention is to play in a session (or a band), then you should consider sticking to the popular melodeon tunings used in the particular style of music you want to play. Otherwise you won’t be able to join in any jam sessions. After all, there’s usually good reason those melodeon tunings are so popular. For example, fiddle players like to play in the keys of D and G (and related). Not only does it sound better – due to open strings that can resonate or be used for double stops – it’s also much easier to play in those keys.
If, however, you enjoy a lone tune by the fireside every now and then (as I myself do), or you want to accompany your singing, then it’s worthwhile to revisit some different tunings, like Eb/Bb:
Take for example the D/G melodeon, you might not have noticed, but it is actually tuned very high in pitch. In fact, among the commonly available melodeon tunings, D/G is the highest one:
G/C < A/D < Bb/Eb < C/F < D/G (lower < higher)
If you prefer a more mellow, low accordion sound, then you should take a look at the other end of the scale, starting from G/C. As for the singing, let’s say you own a G/C accordion and you find it hard to sing along. It’s just a bit too low for your voice. One remedy could be to play the same tune on an A/D accordion instead. The melody will sound one note higher and will hopefully match your voice now.
So what do I prefer? My own favorite melodeon tuning is located in the golden middle. I have re-discovered this sound ever since I heard Ollie King play so wonderfully on his clubbed Erika in Bb/Eb,
I am delighted to announce that I will be back at the Irish Folk Workshop Bonn to teach a beginners/intermediate Irish button accordion class. The workshop takes place from 21. – 22. of March 2020 in the facilities of the Music School in Bonn.
The classes will run from Saturday morning until Sunday evening (with coffee/lunch breaks in between) and a nice trad. session in the local Irish Pub on Saturday evening).
The button accordion class aims at beginners and intermediate players who own a B/C button accordion. You can lend an accordion during the workshop (for free) in case you don’t have one. We’ll learn one or two easy tunes (I provide sheet music and tabulature) and discuss all matters of Irish button accordion playing: How to make it sound Irish? How to play ornamentation? How to play fast? Where to put my fingers? and more…
Please note: The amount of accordions that can be borrowed is limited and it’s first come, first serve. If you know you want to attend, and you need a box: Reserve your accordion: here.
For sale is a very special, very sweet sounding Hohner Pokerwork in the key of Bb/Eb. The instrument was restored and tuned following a baroque tuning system from Andreas Werckmeister first published in his writings from 1691.
Readers of our website know about our praise of Ollie King’s fantastic solo record and obviously we had to make a Bb/Eb box after hearing it sound so mellow and pure on that recording. To generate an even more harmonic and sweet sound we choose Werckmeister’s non-equally tempered tuning system in combination with a flat and modern tremolo.
The Hohner Pokerwork itself, is an early one with a black wooden keyboard. Some normal, age related, wear and tear, can be seen on the outside of the box but it comes in overall perfect playing condition.
brand new reeds
new felt pads (to quieten the noise of the keyboard)
While we are in the final stage of completing the next restored melodeon, we have a hot tip for all those of you who can never get enough traditional Irish music: Nuadán is an exciting young band from the Gaeltacht area in the County Waterford (Déise).
These guys were brought up with traditional music and that can be heard. A lovely selection of tunes and songs played on fiddle, flute, box and bouzouki. What strikes me most is the wonderful arrangements and the lilting pace. It’s almost like the instruments are singing the tunes. While the band is harmonizing perfectly, the box playing of Cárthach deserves to be highlighted. This is an accordion site after all. Well done, gents!
Tip: Check out the brilliant lift created when going into the final polka on track #2.
I will definitely have my eyes and ears open for what future traditional Irish music Nuadán will play.
Lately I find myself enjoying more and more English folk music, especially English melodeon music. If you do too, then you should really check out Ollie King’s superb two solo recordings.
I have just discovered them myself and wish I had done so earlier. This is hands down some of the best melodeon playing I came across so far. Beautiful tunes in the most skilled, yet tasteful arrangements.
Did you notice something unusual about the sound of the box? Ollie gives it away in the description of one of his videos:
Finally, I’ll finish with one of my favourite tunes played on my favourite melodeon. I learnt this in sessions with Anahata back in my native Cambridgeshire many years ago. A wonderful, bouncy tune that sounds especially lovely in Eb. Played on an original clubbed Hohner Erika in Bb/Eb.
That’s why! Here you can see and hear the box in action:
More about Ollie King’s English melodeon music can be found on his website. His highly recommended records are available online here.
Hint…we have Bb/Eb reeds and vintage wooden Erikas in stock as well. Contact us if you interested in such an instrument.
Here’s a free button accordion tutorial using some footage of a workshop I gave in Bonn/Germany about two years ago. The recording is supposed to help the participants remember the tune and the bass line as well as some ornamentation. I always teach this tune to my students, it’s simple yet fun to play. Especially when spiced up with some nice bass notes.
Have a look:
Download the free sheet music for the lesson here:
“What do I have to do to play tunes faster on the button accordion?” is by far the most asked question when I teach Irish button accordion to my students. Here are some tips & tricks that will help you to play fast tunes:
Keep your fingers close to the buttons. The less far the finger needs to travel to press down the button, the better!
Try to operate the bellows with minimal effort. It does not require much work to make your box sound! Find a good compromise between desired loudness (it needs to sound good!) and effortless playing. Little bellow movements can be carried out very controlled and very fast. Don’t push and pull too hard. You will tire out and have little control, sounding hasty and sloppy.
Hint: If one or two notes, need much more bellow pressure to sound right, have your accordion repairman take a look. Very often, this can be fixed fairly easy.
It’s possible to play fast and still use all the beautiful, delicate ornaments. However if you are struggling with keeping up speed, then it’s time to let go the fancy ornaments. It makes a good exercise too: Just focus on the tune and groove!
If somehow you are always running out of fingers, you need to re-think your fingering.
I personally consider the following points most important:
As a rule-of-thumb you should play “one button, one finger”. Meaning whenever you change the button, you change the finger too. No sliding from one note to the other.
Use your pinky! Four fingers is already little enough, so make sure to use all of them.
Analyze where things go wrong. There is a part in a tune where you always get stuck? Most likely it can be resolved by changing the fingers in a smarter way before that part comes up. Look at the following examples of common tune patterns and my suggested fingering
Hint: Need help? Sign up for a lesson with Ole either in person or via Skype if you want to learn how to play tunes faster on a button accordion.
Listen to as much Irish accordion music as you can!
Fiddle players might favor a different version of a tune than you. It’s easy to play for them, but hard for you. In this case, search for a box recording of that tune. Not always, but often you might find a variant that sounds and plays better on the box. If you are in a band and have to play what the fiddle plays, check out the next point.
This is by far the most important point. Practice should be fun: Don’t practice one phrase over and over and over again like the classical players do. Instead play it a couple of times and when you feel you get frustrated, play something else for a while to give your brain some rest. Then, try it again. If it still doesn’t work, try again tomorrow or in the evening. It will work eventually and then it feels great :-)
To be most efficient, you should try to practice at least every other day. It doesn’t need to be long, but it must be frequent. I found that 20-30 mins practice every other day generated quite a boost in my repertoire and skills.