Category Archives: Teaching

B/C OR C#/D: Irish button accordion tunings compared

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:

B/C or C#/D comparison of the D scale

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”):

B/C or C#/D comparison of bellows movement the D scale

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:

Benny McCarthy from Danu. He is a prominent C#/D player and you can clearly hear the rhythm from the bellows movement

Here’s a nice example of some smooth B/C playing:

Shane Mitchel from Dervish plays a B/C button accordion. Since the band plays everything half a step up, his tuning becomes C/C#.

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.

Looking for a beginners box in C#/D or B/C? Take a look at our Shop.

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Irish Folk Workshop Bonn: Button Accordion class

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.

More information & sign-up

Claus Steinort, myself, Éamonn Coyne, Sabrina Palm and Ekhart Topp at a former Irish Folk Workshop in Bonn (2014).

In March, the classes will be:

  • Ensemble w. Jarlath Henderson
  • Tin Whistle w. Claus Steinort
  • Fiddle w. Sabrina Palm
  • Guitar (backing, standard tuning) w. Ekhart “Ekki” Topp

The weekend starts off with a free concert by the teachers on Friday evening (8 pm, 20th March 2020) in the Versöhnungskirche in Bonn-Beuel.

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.

Free Button Accordion Tutorial: Egan’s Polka

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:

Download free sheets

If you have any questions or want a lesson in person or via skype, please don’t hesitate to contact us.

How to play fast on the button accordion?

“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:

Play efficient

Keep your fingers close to the buttons. The less far the finger needs to travel to press down the button, the better!

how to play tunes fast on melodeon

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.

Minimize ornamentation

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!

Re-think fingering

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 

Irish button accordion fingering techniques

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.

Practice!

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.   

DIY Box repairs

I started a series of small accordion repair instructions. Simple things that are easy and good to know for every accordion player.

For those of you who took the effort to visit this page: Thanks you! Here’s some exclusive blooper content from the video for you.

The pair of pliers that I use – that are light and can be operated with one hand – are available from Amazon via this (affiliate) link:

If you want to know more about accordion repairs or have a suggestion for a specific topic for the next video, just let me know.

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