• Paraic McNeela plays a Jeffries Concertina

The 7 Most Asked Questions about Concertinas

I get several enquiries a day regarding our best-selling anglo concertinas, from customers looking for the best beginner concertina for their level and budget.

These include parents looking for a suitable starter concertina for their child. They also include adult learners looking for the best price/quality ratio when it comes to choosing the best concertina for an adult beginner.

So I’ll answer all these questions in one place, ensuring you are fully briefed before you buy a concertina

These are some of the most common questions I get asked about concertinas.

1. Is the concertina easy to play?

Concertina playing is Child’s Play

Yes, the concertina is a very easy instrument to play. Its compact size and fixed tuning mean that any age can pick it up. You’ll find it simple to get a sound from it immediately.

With the help of a fingering chart and online concertina lessons you can be playing a simple tune within 20 minutes.

All good concertina makers will provide access to a selection of free online concertina lessons.

Read more about how easy it is to play the concertina here

2. What key is a concertina in?

Concertinas come in different keys but the most common key, especially for traditional Irish music, is the key of C/G.

The key of C/G which basically means the outside row (or middle row on a three row) plays the key of C and the inside row plays the key of G.

The third row on a 30-button C/G concertina features various other accidentals which enable the player to play in virtually any key. In other words, a standard 30 button concertina in the key of C/G is practically fully chromatic.

See our concertina fingering chart below for more details.

An anglo concertina fingering chart to show a 30 button concertina in the key of C/G. Most Asked Questions about Concertinas
The 30-Button Anglo Concertina Fingering Chart

Read more about the history of concertina playing in Ireland

3. Who invented the concertina?

Charles Wheatstone, the inventor of the concertina. Most Asked Questions about Concertinas
Charles Wheatstone
London Stereoscopic Company/Getty Images

The first concertina was invented by English scientist and inventor, Charles Wheatstone in 1829. Gradually, due to its prestige and sweet sound, concertina players were to be found in fashionable drawing rooms all over England. 

Picture of an early 12 button Wheatstone concertina. Most Asked Questions about Concertinas

Picture of an early Wheatstone Concertina
http://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/503683

Read more about who invented the concertina here.

4. How does a concertina work?

The Anglo concertina is typically held by placing the hands through a leather strap, with the thumbs outside the strap and the palms resting on wooden bars. Most Asked Questions about Concertinas
How does a concertina work?

A concertina is a bellows-driven, free-reed instrument, like the piano accordion and the button accordion. It features expanding and contracting bellows, a reed pan, an action pan, and buttons on each end

Pushing a button while pushing/pulling the bellows will raise a lever on the action pan, uncovering the corresponding valve. This allows air generated by the bellows to travel through the valve to the corresponding reed on the reed pan. 

This vibration will cause the reed to sound. It’s a bit like blowing air through a blade of grass in your cupped hands.

You hold the concertina by placing the hands through a leather strap. Place your thumbs outside the strap and rest the palms on the wooden bars. 

This arrangement leaves four fingers of each hand free for playing, and the thumbs free to operate an air valve (for expanding or contracting the bellows without sounding a note) or a drone button.

5. What is the difference between a concertina and an accordion?

The most obvious differences between a concertina and an accordion relate to size, sound and button position

Size

Concertinas are smaller than accordions and are in fact the smallest of the squeezebox family. This feature makes the concertina a very portable, very playable instrument for nearly all ages and abilities. 

Sound

Accordions tend to produce a much bigger sound and are favoured by large musical groups such as céilí bands. Whereas the concertina produces a more mellow tone and is suited for intimate performances and small traditional Irish music sessions. You can of course mic your concertina but traditionally they are seen as a quieter instrument than the accordion.

Buttons

Concertinas have keys operating parallel to the bellows travel and accordions have keys operating perpendicular to the bellows travel. Concertinas feature buttons at both ends of the instrument whereas accordion buttons are on the front.

6. How many buttons does a concertina have?

A 30 button anglo concertina showing 15 buttons on one side. Most Asked Questions about Concertinas
A 30 Button Anglo Concertina

A concertina can have any number of buttons, from a tiny concertina featuring only ten buttons (five on each end or side) to large concertinas featuring as many as 70 buttons (35 buttons on each side). 

Noel Hill purportedly plays the smallest concertina in the world. It is two inches by two inches and features 5 buttons on each side.

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See the world’s smallest concertina in action!

Anglo concertinas usually feature a maximum of 46 buttons. The less common Duet and English concertinas can feature as many as 70 buttons however.

The most common size concertina for traditional Irish music is the 30 button anglo concertina. You will also find a number of 20 button anglo concertinas however you may find yourself restricted in terms of the number of musical keys you can play in.  

Always try to go for a 30 button concertina if you want to play traditional Irish music on your concertina; your future concertina playing self will thank you for it.

It’s worth noting here that you may see buttons referred to as keys in places, try not to get confused!

7. Why is it called a concertina wire? What does concertina fold mean?

A concertina wire so called because it mimics the shape of the concertina bellows. Most Asked Questions about Concertinas

Concertina Wire photo by darinmarshall [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)]

The shape of the concertina bellows has given rise to many modern terms for items or methods unrelated to the instrument itself. Eg concertina wire is so-called because it mimics the shape of the concertina bellows and expands and contracts in a similar way.

A concertina fold shown using a paper brochure. Most Asked Questions about Concertinas

Concertina Fold by Paul Downey Fickr

Likewise a concertina fold also known as an accordion fold is a continuous parallel folding of material in a concertina-like fashion. This can apply to paper, clothing or any construction material.

Posted by McNeela

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