Some people like to play along one row at a time. They don’t explore cross-rowing. That means that they can play in the 2 obvious keys for each row: C major and D minor on the C row, G major and A minor on the G row.

I imagine these are the folks who, wanting to play in D major or E minor, will want a G/D or even a D/A instrument.

That’s pretty normal. It’s how a lot of us started.

But there is a way to play in these 2 important folk music keys without having to have an extra instrument. Especially if, like me, the thousands you’d spend on a G/D you’d rather invest in something else ( in my case it was a good clarinet).

I remember about 15-20 years ago I was talking to the accomplished Australian Anglo player Ormonde Waters about buying a G/D to supplement my C/G. I was complaining about the technical demands of playing Irish music in D and E minor on the C/G. His curt reply was – “How much D and E minor have you actually played on the C/G ?”.

I didn’t like that rebuff at the time. But after a while I realised that it was a challenge I could ‘man up’ to. And Ormonde was right. Playing in those keys, becoming adept at the cross-rowing required, is very achievable. You don’t need to be a virtuoso, nor especially talented.  And if you are already playing comfortably in G major, you are already using much of the D major and E minor scales. You’re half way there.

D MAJOR

I think the challenge in this key is to play mainly on the draw. That and cross-rowing. It may surprise you to know that one of the most popular and classic Irish tunes, the D major jig ‘The Lark In The Morning’, can be played totally on the G row. So easy.  Likewise another common jig, ‘The Connaughtman’s Rambles’. The latter with maybe more bellows changes than you might be used to, but still readily done. What is more, each of these tunes contains no C sharp. They use a hexatonic scale: only 6 notes. So you don’t need to go over to the T row ( or outside, accidentals row whatever you want to call it). So completely achievable on a 2-row C/G. In fact, as I said, only one row needed.

And 2 common D reels which can be played completely on the G row without cross-rowing:  ‘The Merry Blacksmith’ and  ‘The Humours of Tulla’. Alright ….. I exaggerated just a tad: Merry Blacksmith does involve 1 note on the C row. But pretty surprising, eh ?

Whilst these tunes, and many more, can be achieved without cross-rowing, I’m suggesting them not to dissuade you from cross-rowing. No, but it might help your willingness if you don’t have to cross-row too much all at once. But playing these tunes all along the G row will require you to develop a different aptitude, namely, regular and perhaps unaccustomed bellows changes. This is a skill, along with cross-rowing that is important to acquire.

PARTICULAR CHALLENGES OF E minor TUNES

E minor, on a C/G instrument, is more difficult than D major. It does require cross-rowing, no way around that.

1. Playing consecutive  E and B, or e and b.   The fifth interval is very common in folk music. In the E minor scale it’s not quite so comfortable on Anglo concertina.

In both lower and upper octaves on the press  the E and B (at C4 and G4, ) and the  e and b ( at C7 and G7) are played with the same fingers ( in each case the middle fingers). So you’d have to ‘chop’ to play them consecutively, and at speed that’s a ‘no-no’.

You can’t avoid a bellows change in the lower octave, going from E to the drawn B at C6.

Several  of this bellows changes in a row can initially  sound awkward and jerky ( e.g. the opening bars of Morrison’s jigDever The Dancer or of Drowsy Maggie ). But with persistence, and playing with minimum bellows movement  this jerkiness is mitigated.

In the upper octave, you should generally use  the drawn e at G5 and the pressed b at G7. But if you extend your right pinky you can reach the drawn b at C10. Takes a bit of practice, but do it repetitively, and soon your pinky devlops the muscle memory to find the note.

Aussie singer and player John Thompson with his 1859 Wheatstone baritone English. What a beast !!

2. Upper octave e,g,b in succession – in the upper octave also you sometimes run into the problem of playing the notes in the E minor arpeggio – e, g and b in succession. All 3 are available on the press, but again we have, as in the lower octave, the juxtaposition of the pressed e and b keys, both operated by the middle right finger.

So what about on the drawNow e and b are available ( at G5 and C10), and so is the g (at T7 or T10, depending on your instrument). So I sometimes  just play that arpeggio on the draw (G5 T7 C10) where there would be too many bellows changes using the pressed g and b. It just means you have to get used to flicking from G to T to C row, and does require a bit of drilling I find. Examples of tunes which require this are The Maid Behind the Bar, Bunker Hill and Trip To Durrow.

3. G- F#- E (or E – F#- G) in a row:  Another problem with E minor, and in tunes in other keys notably G major, is the repeated bellows changes when playing the 3 notes G- F#- E (or E – F#- G) in a row . Now that makes 2 ( or 3) bellows changes in a row, and low down on the instrument can sound sluggish. I have got around this, as indicated above, by putting in a pressed F# ( see  Customizing the Anglo keyboard).