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Concertina basics

What is a concertina?

No matter what type of concertina, there are some features common to all:

  • The sounds are made by free reeds (vibrating metal strips) powered by air flow.
  • Bellows (the pump).
  • Concertinas have two keyboards (button boards), one each end of the bellows, each with note selector buttons.
  •  Concertinas are usually hexagonal, but some have eight, some twelve, sides. The ends can be wooden or have a metal insert.
  • They range in size from smallish to biggish instruments, are portable (depending how many you are trying to carry), producing clear and pure notes; the notes can be sounded singly or in groupings (chords).
  • Concertinas are divided into three basic systems: Anglo, English and Duet.

What is a concertina system?

  • Each system has an entirely different button board layout; it is not easy to transfer from one layout to another.
  • The Anglo plays two notes on a button, one note on squeezing the bellows and another on opening the bellows. The English and Duets play the name note on a button, irrespective of the bellows direction.  Click here to find more details about button layouts.
  • English and Duet systems are fully chromatic which means they have buttons for all of the sharps and flats possible. The Anglo is diatonic (they play in set keys), meaning it has the sharps and flats found in particular keys. Anglo concertinas usually cover two keys – for example C and G or D and G or Bb and F. 
  • All systems have variations in the number of buttons covering more octaves.