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 – Who Invented the Concertina?
Charles Wheatstone, an English scientist and inventor, invented the first concertina in 1829. Gradually, due to its prestige and sweet sound, you could find concertina players in fashionable drawing rooms all over England.
2 – How Does a Concertina Work?
Simply put, a concertina is a free reed musical instrument, like the accordion and the harmonica. It consists of bellows that expand and contract, with buttons (or keys) on both ends, which push air through the reeds to make a note.
A concertina is a bellows driven 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.
3 – What is the Difference Between a Concertina and an Accordion?
Concertina vs Accordion
The most obvious differences between a concertina and an accordion relate to size, sound and button position.
Although concertinas are often called Concertina Accordions, concertinas are the smaller cousins of the accordion family 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.
Accordions tend to produce a much bigger sound and are favoured by large musical groups such as céilí bands. Toncertina produces a more mellow tone however 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.
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.
4 – How Many Buttons Does a Concertina Have?
A concertina can have any number of buttons. Many models exist. 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). The options are endless.
Concertina buttons are usually made of plastic, plastic composites like Delrin or metal. Concertina buttons on vintage concertina makes such as Lachenal and Jeffries were often made of bone and sometimes ivory.
Modern makers tend to make a dome shape out of the top of the concertina button for a more comfortable touch for the finger tips.
Noel Hill purportedly plays the smallest concertina in the world. It is two inches by two inches and features 5 buttons on each side.
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 on the market. 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!
Read more about the different concertina types here: English vs Anglo Concertina
5 – 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.
6 – What’s the Difference Between Jeffries and Wheatstone (or Lachenal) Layouts?
The two most common setups for Anglo concertinas are the Jeffries layout or Wheatstone/Lachenal layout.
Each layout features a slightly different positioning of the notes played by the buttons on the right hand side of the concertina.
The difference is slight. The main observation for Irish concertina players is that with the Jeffries layout, the C# in the right hand is played on the push and pull, while with the Wheatstone layout, it’s played on the push.
Refer to the above chart for more details.
Jeffries vs Wheatstone – which layout is best?
It’s important to note that one system is neither inherently better nor more difficult than the other. It comes down to personal preference. Either layout is equally appropriate for a beginner concertina player.
That being said, the Jeffries layout is sometimes preferred by Irish concertina players. So, if traditional Irish music is your preferred genre, and you have the choice, you may well opt for the Jeffries system.
Some concertinas are only available with Wheatstone layout. In fact, the Wheatstone system is actually the more common of the two. This in no way excludes the playing of traditional Irish music using this layout however.
As far as learning goes, any teacher worth their salt will be able to instruct you without issue regardless of which concertina layout you choose.
See our concertina fingering chart below for more details.
7 – 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.
8 – PS Where Did Concertina Wire and Concertina Folds Get Their Names?
Concertina Wire photo by Darin Marshall CC 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. Concertina wire for example earned its name because it mimics the shape of the concertina bellows and expands and contracts in a similar way.
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.