What is a Concertina and how is it played?




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Concertina is a free-reed instrument, invented by Charles Weatstone that belongs to the accordion or squeeze box family. Based on their design, arrangement of buttons, and sound they generate, concertinas are divided into three main groups. English, Anglo, and Duet. Typically, concertinas are tuned in C and G keys. Concertinas are small and compact and most cases hexagonally shaped. Unlike accordions, which play an entire chord when a bass button is pressed, concertinas can play only one note at a time.  

What is an Anglo (Irish) concertina?

This type of concertina is bisonoric. Meaning, that it produces a different note depending on the direction of the bellows. Anglo concertinas are often referred to as “Irish concertinas” because they are predominantly used by Irish folk musicians and play an important part in Irish cultural heritage and traditional music.

The most common types of Anglo concertinas are those with 20 or 30 buttons (10 or 15 on each side). The 20-button concertina is most suitable for beginners and those who’d like to learn to play Irish folk tunes. Anglo concertinas are played by English musicians as well and can be found in music shops all over the world. Nowadays you can learn how to play an Irish (Anglo) concertina just by watching online tutorials or even hiring a virtual tutor from Ireland.

What is an English concertina?

Although the terms “Anglo” and “English” may imply the same meanings, when it comes to concertinas, there are some notable differences. Unlike Anglo concertina, the English one will produce the same note whether you push or pull the bellows. Meaning, they are unisonoric or chromatic. Just like the name implies, English concertinas are widely used in English folk music and bands.  They come in 48 and 30-button versions.

Video courtesy of Daddy Long Les

What is a Duet concertina?

Duet concertina has buttons with lower-sounding notes on the left side and higher-sounding notes on the right. So, a duet concertina has mixed features of both, Anglo and English concertinas. As seasoned accordionists would say “It’s got the best of both worlds.”

Is Bandoneon a concertina or an accordion?

The bandoneon (named after its inventor Heinrich Band)  is a free reed, an accordion-like instrument that belongs to the family of concertinas. So, the bandoneon is an accordion-like instrument that belongs to the family of concertinas.

This type of concertina is particularly popular in Latin American countries like Uruguay and Argentina where German immigrants introduced them to the natives along with the dances and folk melodies. These instruments quickly spread and became a part of folk music and culture. Bandoneons reached massive popularity in Argentina and in 1930 German bandoneon factories manufactured and exported as many as 25 thousand bandoneons to that country.

There are two kinds of bandoneons. Unisonoric (producing the same sound regardless of the direction of the bellows movement)  and Bisonoric (producing different sounds when bellows are either pushed or pulled).

Video courtesy of Julan Rowlands

So, a bandoneon would be a simplified version of a concertina. Its shape is square rather than hexagonal or round. For more information on bandoneons, you can refer to this website. Bandoneons, just like most accordions, are considered a work of art and the vintage ones became collectible and sought-after instruments.

How do you play the concertina?

In the video below, music instructor Robert Johnson gives us some basic explanations on how is a Concertina played.

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