Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Choosing Which Instrument(s) To Play

I'm not sure how I knew that the tenor banjo was going to be the instrument for me.  Having never played any music or any instruments prior to getting a tenor banjo, I didn't know about its advantages or disadvantages, didn't really know how it compared to other instruments, and didn't yet know that Irish trad and oldtime would be the type of music that I would play on it.  It may have been when I figured out that GDAE tuned tenor banjo would be like playing a mandolin but with a banjo sound, that I decided to give it a shot.
London based Irish tenor banjo
player Mick O'connor
Tenor banjo remains my primary instrument, but I have since gotten a tenor guitar and a mandolin.  It might seem like that's three distinct instruments, but really it's not because I tune all of them GDAE.  The mandolin, being one octave higher, happens to have a shorter scale, requiring some different finger placements, but is still basically played the same way.  Eventually I would like to branch out to some truly different instruments.
One of those different instruments is going to be a guitar.  In fact, I already have a Go-Guitar on order.  I'm hoping this will be the only guitar I need for a while.  I'm not getting it because I have a strong desire to play guitar, but it's such a common instrument that I feel like I should at least familiarize myself with chord shapes and anything else guitar-related that I might need to know.  Although I'm sure it'll be fun flatpicking some fiddle tunes.  

At the risk of stretching myself too thin, eventually I'd like to go beyond just stringed instruments.  When I think along these lines there are two different directions I see myself being pulled.  One is toward the tin whistle.  I can't say that I'm particularly attracted to the tin whistle's sound and playability, but I would be drawn to its portability.  It would be nice to be able to make music on such a small, compact instrument.  Traveling would be easier than trying to lug around a banjo.  
Tin Whistles
Another plus is that tin whistles aren't that expensive.  The only con I can think of is I wonder if my life-long breathing and sinus issues would be a hindrance toward playing this woodwind instrument?  Another instrument I'd put in the portable, inexpensive category is the harmonica, but I'd definitely choose a tin whistle over harmonica.
Two-Row Irish style button accordion
What really calls to me, however, is something in the accordion or concertina family.  At the moment, I'm extremely ignorant when it comes to these types of free-reed instruments, so I don't know whether it should be the piano accordion, the Irish button accordion or the Anglo concertina?  I just know that I like the sound of all three.

I can probably rule out the piano accordion.  I've never played piano, so it wouldn't have any advantage there.  It's also bigger than the button accordion and concertina, and not as common in one of the styles of music I like to play - Irish trad.  
Dan Gurney, accordion
The Irish button accordion is the one - you guessed it - used in Irish music. One possible influence for me could be Dan Gurney of The Yanks.  He is one of the leading young players of this instrument and I'm already a fan.  Going farther back, the County Tipperary Paddy O'Brien is another accordion player that I admire.   Paddy composed many tunes as well.  I have his tunebook with the notation.
Oldtime concertina player Bertram Levy
The Anglo concertina seems cool too though.  It's more compact than an accordion, fitting into what looks like a little hat box or bowling ball case.  Niall Vallely is an Irish concertina player whose playing I am fond of.  Another big pro for the concertina is the fact that Bertram Levy uses it in oldtime music.  His "The Bellow and The Bow" CD with Kirk Sutphin is one of my favorite oldtime recordings.

It's more by coincidence than anything else that the instruments mentioned above - tin whistle, concertina and accordion - all happen to be instruments used in Irish music.  If I chose one of these instruments, I would certainly want to also bring to life suitable Appalachian melodies.  I love oldtime fiddle tunes, but most, if not all, of the common oldtime instruments are stringed instruments, and outside of getting a guitar I don't want to pursue any more stringed instruments.
Augustus Pablo on melodica
Actually, another instrument I may have an interest in is the melodica, and that's mainly because one of my idols John Medeski plays one and the Jamaican musician Augustus Pablo played one.  A melodica may encourage exploration into other styles of music.  Once again though, having never played piano, I wouldn't have that experience to base it on, and my breathing/sinus problems may be a hindrance.

Speaking of piano, I've been thinking for a while that an electronic keyboard would be a good instrument for ear training and the study of music theory.  I don't see myself actually wanting to play a piano, but a little keyboard might be a good practice instrument, to help increase my overall understanding of music and intervals.

Yamaha keyboard
I guess there's no reason why I can't pursue each of these instruments over time.  One thing that just occurred to me is that, as a lefty, all of my stringed instruments are made to be lefty with the strings reversed from normal.  But the non-stringed instruments I mentioned here are neither righty nor lefty - you simply play them the way they are without the option or need(?) for reversal.  That might be interesting in an ambidextrous kind of way.  Tenor banjo will likely always be my main instrument, but this music bug is making me want to experiment with other "exotic" instruments.

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