• 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 fiddle and the Irish flute? We examine three very different traditional Irish musical instruments popular in the world of Irish traditional music and see what each learning curve is like. If you’re wondering which Irish instrument is the quickest to learn, this short guide should give you a good idea of how fast the learning process is on these three much loved Irish musical instruments and how long it will be before you’re playing tunes.

    The Anglo Concertina

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

    The Anglo concertina is a bisonoric instrument which means it produces different notes depending on whether the bellows is opening or closing.

    Once you have a fingering chart it is quite easy to find and play the notes. Learning the push pull technique takes a bit of practice but is easily acquired. It is not uncommon for students to be playing simple tunes within a week of practising the concertina. So in terms of producing a tune you’ll find yourself up and running with the concertina fairly quickly.

    The hard part comes afterwards! Mastering traditional Irish music on the concertina  can take years and years of work, just witness concertina maestro Noel Hill – he’s been playing concertina since 1967 and claims not yet to have fully mastered it but what a time he has had!

    The Irish Fiddle

    Woman playing an Irish fiddle violin showing close up of finger placement and bow placement

    This popular string instrument is famously difficult to learn. This is because in order to achieve a note from the Irish fiddle so many techniques have to be learnt and that’s before you even get into tuning. You’ll need an excellent ear, good bow technique and finger placement. Accepted wisdom claims it takes three years to get a good enough sound out of the violin but there are many stories to the contrary 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 accepted Irish musical instruments on the traditional Irish music scene

    The Irish Flute

    The Irish simple system flute follows the fingering layout of a tin whistle and more or less a recorder so finding the notes shouldn’t be a problem if you learnt either in school. What can prove very challenging for the beginner is getting a sound out of it and this is where embouchure comes in – embouchure is the way you shape and position your mouth over the aperture on the flute. You may feel lightheaded after your practice sessions as well but that passes after you get used to breath control and sustain.

    You’ll need a good stretch in your fingers, the small-handed and short fingered among us must 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. In fact, if you are already classically trained you’ll need to forget a lot of what you’ve been taught as articulation comes from fingering rather than tongueing. Learning a tune on this beautiful wind instrument should be easy enough once you’ve mastered the embouchure and especially if you’ve already learnt the fingering, but give yourself about 6 – 7 months before you request an audience! 

    If you’re wondering whether to take up an Irish musical instrument or you’re considering relearning an instrument you learnt in childhood, have a read of our inspirational blog post Begin Again – Relearning your Childhood Instrument

    We can assure you it’s never too late to take up a musical instrument and it’s scientifically proven to improve brain function in all age groups but most significantly the 60-plus age group.

    Posted by McNeela

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