Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Wheezy bellows

At the end of the last of my three lessons LB asked to look at my melodeon - saying that it sounded a bit 'wheezy'. Investigation showed a long split where the bellows had parted company from the plastic bit (no idea what this is called) which plugs into the wooden ends of the melodeon. It was easily fixed but LB said that he would need to keep the bellows in a press overnight for the glue to set.

I went back the next day to find my melodeon smelling strongly of Evostik - and working far better. A lot of the problems that I was having with running out of air just vanished. I've now got much less need to use the air button, and where I am using it it tends to be at very different times to previously. Some tunes that we had marked up as needing air at certain points just don't need the air button at all now.

EDITED to add:

Suddenly I'm finding it easier - I don't have wheezy bellows any more (goodness knows how long that problem was there). I've lost my fear of moving my hand about the keyboard, and everything is much easier. I'm even trying to do some bass with some of the tunes. I'm really starting to feel like I'm making some progress now.

Some Lessons now that I've retired

As retirement approached I realised that I needed to take some proper melodeon lessons. We will be going out for several weeks boating, and I know that I have a number of problems to deal with. In particular:
  • air button
  • bass
  • not keeping the bellows 'square' 
  • general reading music problems
I also thought there might be some more things I didn't know about. I wanted to start to work on these before we go away.

So, I looked out LB, who sold me my melodeon last year. He was playing melodeon for a local morris side at a canalside pub in my hometown. Would he be interested in giving me some lessons? Yes, he could do that. So we arranged to meet at his home, as I have young adults doing noisy things here.

The first lesson showed up some definite problems. Yes, all of the things I had already identified, which I was given advice about, but also a big problem to do with fingering. I touch type, so I'm very aware of the need to keep your fingers on the 'home keys' of the typing keyboard. I'd asked around a bit with regard to keying the melodeon to find out if it mattered which fingers you used for keying. No, was the general answer, use any fingers. So, I went with what seemed right to me - have your hand over a set of 'home keys', and stretch for any buttons that aren't under your hand. LB pointed out that this tends to give a choppy sound, some stretches are too far to be able to handle smoothly - the timing between some notes is just wrong - especially when I was using the same finger for subsequent notes.

I needed a radical rethink. Subsequent notes played on different buttons needed to be played with different fingers and I had to relearn any fingering that I had already got 'sorted'. However, I found immediately that playing some tunes was much easier.

The next problem, for someone who doesn't really understand music, is that just because something looks to me like it is in the key of G, it isn't necessarily - it could be E minor. That means it isn't played on the G row, but the D row. Ah, another mistake. Funny, I'd originally learned 'Bear Dance' on the D row, but decided that I would get the basses wrong, so relearned it on the G row. Time to go back and try again.

I learned a huge amount in the lesson, and followed on with two more lessons, each of which expanded my knowledge enormously. I have actually found re-learning the fingering far easier than I originally thought I would. I could never just shunt my hand up the typing keyboard a couple of keys and expect to hit the right keys.  I've made a lot of progress with the basses and I've improved on avoiding'rotating' the bellows - and keeping the bellows square. I also know a bit more about music theory and a little bit about chords. I now feel in a much better position to go off boating and practice while I'm away.

Thursday, 11 July 2013

Retirement approaches - lessons seem like a good idea

As I will be retiring soon I will have more time to devote to other things. Boating, walking the dog, learning Welsh, playing melodeon.

Last week I went to watch a local morris side dancing out at our local. I was interested anyway, but I thought there might be an outside chance that the man that sold me my melodeon might be playing there, and I thought he might be prepared to give me a lesson or two before I disappear for the summer on my boat(s). I want some help to iron out some poor habits I am developing before they become entrenched - which is quite likely given how long I will be away for, especially as I will have more practice time than previously.

Well, I struck lucky. He was there, he was prepared to give me some lessons, so I'm now trying to practice a few key tunes before I see him next week.

Monday, 17 June 2013

Where have I been?

OK, it's been a long time. I have been practicing, honest, well, at least some of the time.

Nagging health problems and a great deal of work have really messed up my schedule of practice. However, I have made the decision to take early retirement, and I look forward to regular daily playing, as of the end of term.

I still need to work on the bass end. I still need to work on making sure I REALLY know tunes so that I can play them whatever, and wherever. My son will occasionally accompany me on guitar while I'm playing - at which point I completely forget where my fingers should be, so lots more practice required here. 

I practice, Alan steers, Odin is resigned
I also need to work on folk tunes, but I also need to know and recognise them better first. Last weekend I heard melodeon players and knew that I recognised the tunes, but couldn't name them. 

So, still hanging in there, just finding things a bit fraught at the moment - looking forward to the light at the end of the tunnel.

Thursday, 14 February 2013

Review of Progress

It's about 3 or 4 weeks since I last reviewed where I had got to, so time to review progress. Which is not as much as I had hoped, it is always the case with learning anything, you do hit plateaux. 

I remember when my son was learning to read, at one point he could read well over a hundred individual words, but didn't seem to be able to string them together. He loved books, was always looking at them, and talking about them, asking about any words he didn't recognise. However, it was "What is this word, David?" "Can you read the next one?" all the way through the book. This seemed to go on for ages. Then one day I was tidying the room, David was sitting on the sofa, with a book on his lap, as usual. He picked it up, and read it aloud, cover to cover, no prompting. It seems like you have to go through an awful lot of learning to be able to put all the things together and do something new. 

So, I don't beat myself up if I haven't made the progress I'd like, I remind myself that this 'invisible learning' is going on, and is a necessary part of the process. It is also true that where I can't see progress from day to day, someone else might be able to see it if they were only looking at my progress every month, say. I did intend to video myself early on, as a reminder to how much progress I had made, but it just didn't happen.

The 'folkie' and nursery tunes have been fairly easy to get the melody for, they are easy to practice, I just rattle them off, one after the other, once through only. I probably should run through several times, but I get bored with nursery rhymes.

I do understand the music theory a bit better, I wouldn't be so daft as to say that I 'understand music', but some things are starting to make a bit of sense. One of my colleagues in the music department spent some time explaining the 'circle of fifths' in a different way, and it really did make sense (I show her how to use the computers, she explains music, works well really). I've also been following Howard Goodall's TV programme on music.

I also asked on about sessions locally. My plan is to lurk in the corner and watch what other people are doing, learn some tunes, and maybe at some time in the future join in with some easy bits. I went to my first session last Sunday night. It was snowing heavily, so many regulars cried off. At first I found myself in the pub with just my husband, and two other people, one of whom was only there as the husband of the woman, Sue, who was organising it. Other people did arrive later, and the group were very welcoming, but there were no melodeons, and they were largely playing Irish tunes - none of which I recognised - except the tune which Simple Minds used for 'Belfast Child' about the Enniskillen bombing. Clearly I need to work on my repetoire. The only thing I tried to play, when virtually everyone had gone, was Bear Dance, and I completely messed it up.

Short term I need to have just one or two tunes that I can completely rely on getting right every time, whether I am performing in front of others, or not. Probably Bear Dance. I've already decided that I need to not just run once through a tune to remind myself of the sequence of notes, which I've got into the habit of doing in a rather lazy way. I've got to stick to a vey limited set of tunes, and play the whole tune, A and B music, as many times as they need to be played in session - then I won't launch into the B music when I should be playing the A music.

I am also trying to make progress with the left hand, but it's very slow. 

Today, walking through the main school hall at work, there was a group of 6th formers sitting around drinking coffee. One of my A level students was playing 'Clocks' on the grand piano - so I talked to him about how he gets right and left hand coordinated. He says he learns each hand completely separately, and doesn't attempt to put them together until he is completely fluent on each hand. He then slows right down and puts them together, slowly building up the speed. He says it can easily take a month to get it so that he can play a tune to his satisfaction. I think maybe I need to try that. It might not be the recognised way of doing it, but I think I need to at least see if it helps me. Work out the left hand end and learn it separately to the right, then put them together.

Still continuing to love squeezing.

Thursday, 24 January 2013

Learning to play with 'others'

Continuing to learn new right hand tunes - stuck on the bass end - a way of playing with 'others'

Having largely dumped the Christmas tunes - except for the occasional quick run through - I've started to add more tunes. Which, for me, usually means learning the tune first - via YouTube or getting the ABC and putting it into a converter (see my links). I've added a few 'folkie' or 'nursery' tunes that I already know as well - Drunken Sailor, Scarborough Fair, Polly put the Kettle on, Bobby Shaftoe, etc. Also ones that I don't know, not having come from a folkie background - Buttered Peas, Bear Dance, Dirty Old Town, Buffalo Gals, Dorset 4 Handed Reel, Princess Royal, etc. I'm still working on Theme Vannitaise (there's just a couple of bars that I can't get to work right). Some of them I just sit down and learn - Bear Dance and Scarborough Fair were easy enough, others I just play from the 'dots' - and find that after a while I know enough of the bars to be able to start learning some of the rest. 


I had decided that after Christmas I would start seriously on the 'Left Hand End' - the scary end. And I do work on it every day - a bit. Not surprisingly I find that my hands always want to do the same thing at both ends - Twinkle Twinkle is easy-ish, but when my left hand is following a very different pattern to the right hand it becomes much harder. So I just work on small sections - for example the first couple of bars of Buttered Peas, repeated endlessly, starting slowly and building up speed. After a few run throughs of this there start to be noises from elsewhere in the house - my husband sighing quietly, the dog groaning from his bed, "will you SHUT UP!!" from the room where my son is on-line gaming. The whole thing is made harder by me being tone deaf and having no idea about music theory. I've started to read music books at bedtime to try to better understand things like bars and beats. 

Sorry, I know what the theory is, and I like to listen to music, so my brain must be able to process the information, but I really can't hear 'beats'. I'm not talking about the tremelo 'wet tuning' beats when I play one long note on my pokerwork - I'm talking about the beats in a bar. I have tried listening, but I can't tell the difference in beats between a 4/4 tune and a 3/4 tune. I can cope with beats when it's simple, like "Twinkle Twinkle" - 4 beats to the bar - I can SEE that when I look at the music. Each note is one beat - apart from the couple of longer ones. But show me something with a 4/4 time, but has 8 little dots... No, actually, I can sort of work that one out. It's when it gets more complicated - it hasn't got to be dozens of dots, or complex time signatures - even this sort of thing (Dirty Old Town - Ewan McColl) is difficult to work out. 

I know from theory where the beats should be - but can I 'hear' them? No.

Obviously, I'll just have to work on it - one day it will seem simple.

I came across Noteflight a couple of years ago when one of my students was putting his own compositions into his blog. A free membership allows you to put up to 10 tunes in - with a limited number of instruments. You can set the time signature and the key, and you can change the speed - which is very useful for me. For more tunes and more features you have to subscribe.

I've put a few tunes in that I'm currently working on. I slow them down a bit - to 80 or 100 crotchets per minute instead of 120 then I bung in a couple of empty bars at the beginning, and then try to play along with the computer.

Good heavens it's difficult. Things that I thought I'd got pat become unplayable when 'someone else' is playing at the same time. I find I've got some sections at a completely different speed (the harder sections!) I can't remember the sequence of notes when I'm concentrating on keeping up - even slowed down. I'm pushing in when I should be drawing out - and vice versa. It's very like the only time I got to play with others, at the Melodeon Playday. While I was OK playing alone, or with the massed melodeons playing "Donkey Riding" - I completely lost my head when I tried to play along in the pub. I panicked and just played rubbish. So, I'm now working on a few tunes at a time, I will speed them up as I get more proficient, and then substitute new tunes.

But - still LOVING it.

And I've signed up for Melodeons and More in March - although I've got some rather odd options, having left it too late when sending off my application. One row Cajun in C? Oh well, I'll try something new - who knows where it will take me?

Saturday, 5 January 2013

Into the New Year

I've tried to do some practice every day - twice if possible, as I think that breaking up your learning is more effective. So I'd rather do two (or even three!) shorter sessions, than one longer one. The only day I didn't get to practice was when I was staying in a Travelodge in Loughborough, and it was torrential rain outside - I couldn't even go and practice in the car, as that was some distance away in an NCP car park.

During December I played quite a lot of tunes from Paul Hardy's Christmas Tune book, but in the end I concentrated on four tunes, and tried to learn them: Good King Wenceslas; Ding Dong Merrily (Branle de l'officiel); In the Deep Midwinter; Sussex Carol. They were chosen either because I like them, or because they were themed on, or, in the case of Wenceslas, I found that I'd learned large chunks of it, 'by accident', anyway.

I now sort of 'know' about 15 tunes, although I can find myself getting completely confused at times. I've decided to drop the Christmas ones, to pick them up again when I need them in December, and substitute some more folky tunes - including 'Buttered Peas' and 'Buffalo Gals'. I'll also be working to really learn the ones that I 'know', so that I won't have to think about them.  

I've also started to try and get to grips with the 'grumpy end' - the bass. Oh, wow, that is hard! Trying to do different things with different fingers at each end - not easy. A little bit each session at the moment, and don't feel guilty when I trip over my fingers, or make horrendous noises. It will come.

I sometimes feel that almost everyone playing the melodeon plays just folk tunes, or ones that have been specifically written for the melodeon. I do wonder about the 'melodeon etiquette' of playing pop tunes, etc. There are examples where accordions are used in modern popular music, although they are rare - Jona Lewie played accordion in 'Seaside Shuffle' and there are Finnish Metal Bands with accordion players.  I love Ed Rennie's version of 'Flowers in the Rain', but these examples seem very rare to me. (ADDED: my son has just reminded me of this version of Mamma Mia  - not sure what I think of that!)

Don't get me wrong. I want to play folk tunes. However, I do wonder if there is a reason why there seems to be so little cross over with pop/rock? Is it that many of the tunes can't be played on the diatonic keyboards? I'd be interested to know, as there is so much modern 'folk', which perhaps could be played (and is often very available in guitar books). As an example, I've been playing 'Fields of Gold', which appears in a simple guitar book that we've bought now that my husband and son are having another go at learning the guitar that we bought 30 years ago. It seems to me to have many similarities to more traditional folk songs - or perhaps in my ignorance, it doesn't.