• Woman playing Irish simple system wooden flute in rosewood

    The Learning Curve – Anglo Concertina, Fiddle & Irish Flute

    How easy is it to learn the Irish concertina, the Irish fiddle and the Irish flute? These are easily three of the most popular Irish musical instruments catching the attention of beginners today. But how long does it take to become session ready?

    To help you out, I’ve examined three very different, but much loved Irish musical instruments to see what the learning curve is like for each.

    So, if you’re wondering which of these Irish musical instruments is the quickest or easiest to learn, look no further. 

    This short guide will give you an idea of how fast (or slow) the learning process is and how long it will be before you’re playing tunes.

    The Concertina

    McNeela Swan concertina with mirrored metal ends on worktop with McNeela Wren Concertina visible in background

    If you want an instrument that can more or less play itself within a few weeks, the concertina is for you.

    The Anglo concertina is a bisonoric instrument. That means each button produces two different notes depending on whether the bellows is opening or closing. All the notes are there, ready and waiting for you to find them. 

    Once you have a fingering chart it’s quite easy to find and play the notes on the concertina. Learning the push pull technique can take a bit of practice but it’s easily acquired. 

    It’s not uncommon for students to be playing simple tunes within just a week of first picking up the concertina. So in terms of producing a tune, you’ll find yourself up and running fairly quickly.

    The hard part comes afterwards! 

    Mastering traditional Irish music on the concertina can take years of work. Just witness concertina maestro Noel Hill in action. Noel has been playing the concertina since 1967 and claims not to have fully mastered it yet. What a time he’s had along the way though.

     

    The Irish Flute

    If you have a healthy set of lungs and aren’t afraid to give them a good workout, the flute might be your first choice of Irish musical instrument. Though, be warned. As a flute player myself, I’m probably quite biased in its favour.

    The Irish wooden flute follows the fingering layout of a tin whistle and shares similarities with the recorder, so finding the notes shouldn’t be a problem if you learned either in school. If you’re already a seasoned tin whistle player then you’ll be flying in no time!

    What can prove very challenging for a beginner is actually getting a sound out of the instrument. This is where embouchure comes in.  Embouchure is the way you shape and position your mouth over the aperture or mouthpiece on the flute. 

    You may feel lightheaded and bit dizzy after your initial practice sessions, but that passes after you get used to breath control. Breathing exercises are your friend here.  

    You’ll need a good stretch in your fingers too. The small handed and short fingered amongst us should practice stretching our fingers, as the modern Irish simple system flutes are usually based on the large Pratten style flutes from the 19th Century

    You’ll also probably cover the tone holes more akin to a piper than a classical flautist. 

    If you’re already classically trained, you might need to forget some (but not all) of your training. Traditional Irish flute playing typically uses less tonguing than classical playing, and the ornamentation used also differs. Overall however your prior skills will help you progress much faster. 

    Learning a tune on this beautiful wind instrument is relatively simple however, once you’ve mastered the embouchure and breathing. Especially if you’ve already learned the fingering. Maybe give yourself about 6 months before you request an audience though!

    In the meantime, you might seek some inspiration from these trailblazing flute players and their unique playing styles or have a listen to the mighty Neansaí Ní Choisdealbha:

     

    The Irish Fiddle

    If you’re a stubbornly determined individual then the fiddle may just be the right instrument for you. This popular string instrument is infamously difficult to learn, but don’t despair. A little hard work never hurt anyone.

    In order to achieve a sound from the Irish fiddle, several techniques must be learned, and that’s before you even get into tuning. While every note you play on the concertina will already be in tune, tuning on the fiddle like the flute, is determined by how the player interacts with the instrument. 

    According to expert Liam O’Connor, a good fiddle player needs an excellent ear, good bow technique and accurate finger placement:

     

    Accepted wisdom claims it takes up to three years to get a good sound out of the violin. There are many stories to the contrary however and you will find all ages taking it up! 

    The good news is that when you are finally up and running you will be playing a universally admired instrument and one of the most prominent and versatile instruments on the traditional Irish music scene.

    Demonstration of traditional Irish musical instruments. Woman playing an Irish fiddle violin showing close up of finger placement and bow placement

    Make a Start

    There’s no time like the present.

    If you’re wondering whether to take up an Irish musical instrument or you’re considering relearning an instrument you learned in childhood, stop hesitating. Start today.

    It takes great skill to master any instrument. Most importantly, it takes practise. Ideally, you should give yourself as much time as possible to perfect your new craft. 

    Do you think you’re too old to start? It’s never too late to take up a musical instrument. In fact, music is scientifically proven to improve brain function in all age groups, but most significantly in the 60+ age group. 

    So, what are you waiting for? Check out our online store and see which instrument is right for you. We have a wide range of concertinas, fiddles and flutes available. 

    If they’re not for you, we have plenty more traditional Irish musical instruments to choose from. 

    If you have any questions, or want advice on making a purchase, don’t be shy. Contact us and a member of our expert team will be happy to offer whatever guidance you need.

     

    Posted by McNeela

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