Another crossover - PA to CBA two months in



Another crossover - PA to CBA two months in

Postby TomBR » Wed Feb 08, 2017 2:35 pm

As it says in the title, I'm now two months into transition from PA to CBA. At this stage I don't see myself going back....

I don't want to restart the PA vs CBA debate that's been run so often in this forum and I'm certainly not trying to persuade anyone else to change, but I thought some observations at this stage might be of some interest.

I was always aware of the lure of the CBA, and I knew that my lack of "piano" skills probably placed me in the category where CBA made more sense, but I stuck with PA because of easy instrument availability, and didn't all the players I like best play PA? - Phil Cunningham, Alan Kelly, Karen Tweed, Gordon Patullo etc.
(As that list indicates, I'm mainly interested in traditional dance music of Britain and Ireland, also France.)

But there were always those Saltarelle videos....
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F16tzebkVsA

In 2015 I got hold of a B system Hohner Sirena CBA, 80 bass. Total refurb needed but I did the treble end so I could start playing that. I found I would pick it up, enjoy it, then within 30 minutes or so I'd get fed up and not want to continue. This happened a few times at varying intervals until I decided B-griff was not for me.
(I'll finish the refurb, inc bass end, then this one will be for sale.)

So, I happily played my PAs but with glances over my shoulder until a Delicia Sonorex 17 72 bass CBA came up on Ebay at the end of November at a fair Buy-it-now price. The listing gave good confidence that this was being sold by someone genuine who knew what they were talking about so I had no hesitation in going ahead, and I got it in early December.


Finally getting to the point, here are some observations

C-system made a big difference for me, I liked it much better than B-system from the start and it felt much more natural.

Although I mainly play by ear, I'm finding reading notation easier than I expected. After all, it's not hard to learn the rows
B D F G# / C# E G Bb / Eb F# A C
Once you know which row a note is in, it's pretty easy to get the right one first time.
(Obviously I'm talking about a very low level here!)

Accuracy is quickly better than on PA, tunes become matters of shapes and patterns rather than distances. (I'm particularly pleased about this. On PA I was finding it very hard to improve accuracy.)

Some tunes seem to go equally well on either keyboard but there are some where what's easy on PA seems harder on CBA and vice versa. Given my lack of real piano skills I was always struggling with arpeggiated tunes lying across a wider range, CBA makes them easier. A tune like "Blarney Pilgrim" was easy to play "caterpillar fashion" on PA (ie no thumb crossings and falling very naturally under the hand) - that one takes more thought on CBA.

A little while ago I realised while playing some tunes with my lovely partner that I was becoming much too reliant on looking down (thanks to Paul and Acon for comments about this.) A suitably shaped piece of cardboard under the clipped-back bellows strap gives a "blind" that's easy to flip into place to stop the eyes creeping back down, but I've very quickly found it's not necessary any more - hopefully the bad habit was caught in time.

I'm sticking to three rows for the moment because; I think it's good discipline and makes me learn to use some less natural fingering shapes; I'd like to be able to play a three row instrument if one comes my way; I'd like to have the famed easy transposition. I'd also like to be able to play a four row, that format seems to make good sense as a three row with the fourth as a "helper."
I haven't yet found anything where I really feel I must use an extra row.

I play quite a lot in G. At first I found the "big zig-zag" tricky, ie ABCD. That's becoming more natural and I'm getting much more comfortable with forked fingering, fingers 2 and 4 on the third "D" row while finger 3 is on the C row (thumb as 1.)

I'm trying to make sure I play a reasonable number of D and C/A tunes so that I get used to those patterns as well as G. I've also tried moving the same tune across the rows, starting out on rows 1-3, then 2-4, then 3-5, so I play it in all three fingerings without transposing it.

I find it's easy to use the thumb a bit too much on row 1 so I look for fingerings that spread the load a bit.
I think my little finger is getting more use than on PA.

I don't yet have a fingering I really like for "the little zigzag" eg C# D E F# G A and back down, so I'm still trying different things depending on circumstance, particularly at the turnaround to go back down the scale.

I'm working on runs where the fingers don't fall in 12345 sequence, eg BCD with the thumb on C. It's fine just once, but keeping it even when repeated BCD,BCD, is harder.

To start with I couldn't really touch the basses, even on tunes I know quite well, but the bass is starting to fall back into place.

Anyway, I'm enjoying it hugely, and my partner is much amused by my slight obsessiveness...


Instrument availability is pretty dismal in the UK, there's no obvious upgrade path or choice. Being happy to restore and retune, my pianobox collection cost me very little. I love the look of the Cavagnolos, but also the little modern "melodeon style" wooden French boxes. My Delicia was too wet tuned for me at about 25cents sharp, so I've retuned that almost dry. I'm wondering about getting a set of Tipo a Mano reeds to put in it.
But... I'm only a couple of months into playing this system, I don't know where it'll take me so I'm in no hurry (unless something turns up on Ebay...)

My main instrument is fiddle and I play for ceilidhs, in a pub band, lead a large local group, and play solo for English step clog. Immediate target is to get some tunes fluent and secure for clog practices, then to be playing them "out" at pub evenings this summer. We'll see...

Despite what I said about British/Irish music, my favourite CBA video is still Portuguese...
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q8j7z8u0xwI

Tom
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Re: Another crossover - PA to CBA two months in

Postby debra » Wed Feb 08, 2017 3:35 pm

Congratulations! Keep it up!
My wife and I made the switch from PA to CBA almost 10 years ago. We settled on the C system right away. The first piece I wanted to play was Oblivion (by Piazzolla). We borrowed a small (Borsini) CBA and after 10 days I played Oblivion at a concert (just the right hand, with accompaniment by an accordion ensemble). The aim was really to learn to play the accordina. A few months into the PA to CBA move I played this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_c-Kcm6hYFs (and the rest of the concert was still done on PA). A major contributing factor to persevering was that my wife and I both made the move, so we could comfort and support each other then the going was tough.
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Re: Another crossover - PA to CBA two months in

Postby Stephen » Wed Feb 08, 2017 3:42 pm

My congratulations Tom with your choice for CBA! Thank you for the detailed review of your early CBA experience.
I think you will like it even more after 1 or 2 years, if you can make it that far, you may stick with cba for ever.

This is usefull info for the forum members.
All stradella bass is shape or pattern based on equal intervals, and so is cba right hand.
That is what makes it easier.

If you play mostly folk tunes (lovely Portugese tune!), I would like to give the readers a suggestion. If you use the French Cheve-Paris-Gallin numbered notation with fixed do, and you combine this with CBA accordion, you will make it even easier.
That's how I play now.

In short: the music instrument and the music notation are reduced to It's simplest form. Mathematics at service of musicians.

It has helped me a lot as a passionate amateur musician.
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Re: Another crossover - PA to CBA two months in

Postby Anyanka » Wed Feb 08, 2017 4:25 pm

Congratulations - and thank you for the interesting review of your progress. I find it particularly interesting that the system made so much of a difference to you: I "chose" C-system simply because the 2nd hand Pigini I found on this forum happened to be that way... i.e. pure luck. Other than that, almost everything you describe matches my experience with the switch - accuracy: yes! - shapes and patterns: yes! - but also the fact that some tunes were easier on the PA, even though overall I definitely prefer the buttons.

The main difference between your experience & mine is that I did have piano experience; the accordion had taken over most of my musical time & attention, but when I switched to CBA I started playing my piano more frequently again, which has made me quite happy ;)
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Re: Another crossover - PA to CBA two months in

Postby Stephen » Wed Feb 08, 2017 5:15 pm

Adding another suggestion for our forum readers, I switched to unicolour buttons on cba in a very early stage, whatever the colour.
Because with cba the names of the notes are less important, it is all about identical and transposable shapes and patterns.

The good thing is, this system improves memorising skills for street musicians. A dream becomes reality

Brain work reduced to the minimal effort.

Keep it up!
Failure is not an option.
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Re: Another crossover - PA to CBA two months in

Postby TomBR » Wed Feb 08, 2017 5:20 pm

Thank you for the kind and interesting responses folks.
(Quite something to play that piece so soon Paul!)

A couple of other things that come to mind
- in my circumstances the "cold turkey" route seemed best, I haven't touched any of my PAs since the Delicia arrived and (mixing my metaphors) I'm planning on burning my boats by selling them.
- The Delicia has coloured, but smooth buttons, no textured buttons. I'm not looking so colour doesn't matter! Would you suggest adding markings? I gather C & F is normal, (like a harp) but Hohners are different?
[Just saw your second post Stephen which is helpful and relevant, thanks]

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Re: Another crossover - PA to CBA two months in

Postby Stephen » Wed Feb 08, 2017 5:34 pm

In reply my extra suggestion, cba teachers may be too conservative on this, and they often make starting pupils using marked c and f buttons. And traditional white and black buttons.

This hardline redneck CBA general says: unicolor buttons, no markings at all.
You look down, I slap you in the face, LOL.

But I honestly believe every CBA starter is best off with weekly lessons and a conservatory trained cba teacher. Human live support from an expert player was so inspiring in my 10 years public music school.

You DIY musicians are brave, hats off!
I am sure a gifted amateur can learn cba in one to two years.
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Re: Another crossover - PA to CBA two months in

Postby debra » Wed Feb 08, 2017 6:59 pm

The color of buttons is irrelevant when you develop the habit of not looking. But when no buttons are textured that is hard as you cannot feel where you are.
Most accordions have marked C and F buttons. Some only on the 1st and 3rd row, some on 1st, 3rd and 4th row. It depends on what you want. The same is true for the melody bass. Typically C and F marked, 4rd row can be marked as well, but not all accordions have that.
Hohner is an exception: A, Cis and Gis are marked on at least some older Morino Artiste models. Markings are on all rows. But... on the melody bass C and F are marked.
I actually have a Hohner with A, Cis, Gis marked and a Bugari, Akko and a Pigini basson all with C and F marked. I don't find it a problem. As long as something is marked I can find my way.
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Re: Another crossover - PA to CBA two months in

Postby Stephen » Wed Feb 08, 2017 7:26 pm

Marked buttons may help beginners in checking visually when they are lost.
But they make you watch the buttons, unmarked buttons make you listen to the music or key or modulations etc
In time this improves your muscle memory and street playing.
Be brave like Columbus, burn your ships and stay on the CBA isle.
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Re: Another crossover - PA to CBA two months in

Postby george garside » Wed Feb 08, 2017 9:13 pm

learn 3 ( or just one if you must) scales without looking at the keyboard but if necessary looking occasionaly at a keyboard chart to check on the required pattern. practice the scales untlll you an play them fluently and rapidly - then practice changing from one scale to another without a pause- then do the same with a few simple tunes- but either play in the dark or look at the ceiling or the clock on the wall but never ever at the keyboard. doing it that way it doesn't matter what colour the buttons are.

For what its worth on a 3 row British Chromatic as played by Jimmy Shand there is absolutely no point in looking at the keyboard because looking would not give any indication of whether a note is push or pull so you have to get the hang of not only which button but what bellows direction for each and every note - really quite simple - once you get the hang of it!!

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