Arranging a Lead Sheet Melody










          Besides playing music especially written for the concertina, it is of course also possible to adapt any
          piece of music for the instrument. Arranging music for the concertina requires solid knowledge of
          harmony, voicing and the character of the concertina. Unfortunately many arrangements that have
          been published show very little knowledge of both music theory and the possibilities of the


          Lead Sheet notation
          The following example consist of the first 16 measures of the ballad "You don't know what love is"
          by G. de Paul. This form of music notation, a melody line with chord symbols, is called a lead sheet,
          and is the standard form of music notation for all forms of popular music. 


          This ballad, in the key of F minor (4 flats), consist of a simple melody with a constant harmonic
          rhythm. The chords change about every two beats.  When you're going to arrange a melody like
          this, you first should play it through a few times, in order to get an idea of the character of the
          song. This ballad is rather slow, with an expressive melodic line. The expressive character should
          not be disrupted by the accompaniment you are going to add. This means that you should give
          the melody 'room' to be expressive.


          How to determine the type of accompaniment
          When you examine the melody more closely, you'll see that most of the rhythmical/melodic action
          is on the first and 4th beat of the measure. The second and third beat often consist of long notes. 
          When you combine these two aspects, the accompaniment should be played on the 2nd and 3rd beat,
          leaving the melody enough 'room' on the 1st and 4th beat to be played expressively. If you would play
          an accompaniment on every beat, the melody would loose the necessary freedom. Considering the
          limited time available in each measure, an accompaniment consisting of  block chords, rather than
          arpeggios or a counter melody, would be the most effective.


          Chords on a Concertina
          Playing chords on a concertina requires special attention. Close chords, e.g. C-E-G, do not sound
          good on a concertina (or any other free reed instrument for that matter). The harmonics of the three
          tones, being so close together, tend to clash. Chords sound a lot better when played in a wide position,
          for instance C-G-E. The spacing between the notes prevent the harmonics from clashing.
          Especially on instruments with metal ends close chords are a problem. Because the metal ends create
          a high sound reflection, overtones can become a serious problem. On the other side of the spectrum,
          brass reeded instruments suffer a lot less from clashing overtones. On these instruments close chords
          can sound quite good. This fact becomes more relevant when playing Victorian concertina music. In
          19th century compositions, when brass reeded concertinas were the standard, composers frequently
          wrote large close chords. Also Victorian concertinas with steel reeds were suitable for close chords,
          because of the leather baffle, which muted the higher harmonics.

          When arranging music for the concertina, either for  treble, tenor-treble, baritone or bass, pay
          attention to the following points:

  • The melody should be supported by the accompaniment, not distracted.
  • The accompaniment has two functions: 1) providing harmony 2) providing rhythm.
  • When playing chords, keep them 'thin' and sporadic. It is not necessary to play the
    accompaniment on every beat. It should complement the melody.

          This arrangement, complete with fingering and bellows signs, is for tenor-treble concertina.  If you
          compare this arrangement with the lead sheet, you'll notice that the melody has been moved up one
          octave. This will give you enough room under the melody for the chords. Listen to the sound file


          Necessary variation
          The 16 measures of the example actually consist of a repeated 8 measure melody. Repetition of a
          melody is common, especially in popular music. When you arrange such a piece, don't just repeat
          the first melody. Repeated melodies become boring very quickly. Do something different in the
          repetition. You can make small changes in the melody such as measure 12 in this example
          (triplets instead of 8th notes), or you can change the accompaniment.
          In this example I exchanged the wide block chords I used in the first 8 measures for a counter
          melody (measures 12-14) with a poly-rhythmical element (two eight notes against a triplet), and a
          short 'bass-chord' pattern in measure 15.

          To illustrate that such an arrangement sounds good on any concertina, listen to this version of
          "You don't know what love is"  played on a single action bass concertina with brass reeds,  built 
          by Edward Chidley in the 1860s.  The example below is exactly the same as the tenor-treble version,
          only notated in the bass clef.

 Sound File                 See the Instrument