Bellows Technique
Basic Control and Movement






          The famous German musician and composer Hugo Herrmann (1896-1967) once called the bellows
          of the accordion the 'soul' of the instrument. The bellows are responsible for the quality of the tone,
          articulation and phrasing. The bellows on a concertina, belonging to the same family of bellows driven
          instruments, have exactly the same function as on an accordion.

          Tone production is always one of the main points of attention on every musical instrument. String
          players spend years developing their bowing skills, wind instrument players are always working on
          their embouchure, pianist on their touché, etc.. (Schooled) accordionist are aware of the possibilities
          and the importance of bellows technique and have a selection of methods available concerning this
          subject. Concertinist  however, are  not always able to obtain the information necessary to develop
          these important skills. This section, basic control and movement,  explains the basics.

          The main objectives in bellows technique are:

  • stability of the instrument
  • maximum control over tone forming


         Why stability
          Stability is necessary in order to have any form of control over the bellows. You can compare it
          with writing. When you write, you keep your arm and hand on the surface of the table. This allows
          you to perform even the smallest movements of your hand and fingers. You could call the table
          your arm support. Now lift up your arm. The only contact you now have with the table is through
          the pen on the paper. I am sure you'll find it a lot harder to perform those small movements without
          any support.

          This same principle  applies to the bellows of the concertina (and all other instruments with bellows).
          If you hold the instrument up in the air without touching anything, it is almost impossible to
          completely control the bellows. You'll hear every movement you make with your hand and fingers.
          When you put the instrument on your knee, you'll notice that touching something (in this case your
          knee) helps you to control the movement, just like with writing.  Creating a bellows support is essential
          for controlling the bellows movement, and therefore the tone forming.


          Bellows support
          On all instruments with bellows, we create a bellows support by keeping one side of the bellows
          closed (the ends touch). On accordions this is the bottom of the instrument. The bellows are placed
          on the (left) leg, which acts as the pivot point. We need a pivot point because the bellows move.
          Because of the size of the concertina and the fact that it is best played in a standing position (see
          "Holding the instrument 1: Instrument control"), we use the lower front side as a pivot point. The
          reason why we use this pivot point, and not for instance the bottom side, is the angle of the arms.
          If you hold your hands in front of you, as you would when playing on a concertina, you'll see that
          your lower arms form a "V", because your body is wider than the concertina. When you continue this
          "V" through the concertina, the front of the bellows will touch. Your arm should always form one
          line with the ends of the concertina.

The players point of view: the arms/hands and ends
form a "V", which creates the bellows support.


        Bellows movement and the "V" support
          Bellows movement can be divided in  periodical movement and phrase movement. For now we will limit
          ourselves to the first and least complicated form.
          Periodical bellows movement simply divides the music into even parts, following the structure of
          the music. If the music is not too complicated, periodical movement is often the best way to deal
          with the bellows. Because (most) tonal music is symmetrical, we can decide on forehand where we
          want change the bellows direction. You should not be able to hear the change of direction. Just like
          you do not hear a wind instrument player or singer gasp for air between the notes. The place you
          chose depends on the structure of the musical phrase. Musical phrases normally are 8 measures long,
          consisting of two 4 measure sections. Depending on tempo, dynamics, number of bellows folds, air
          consumption of the instrument etc., the bellows change every 1, 2 or 4 measures.
          To indicate the bellows changes in the score we use standard symbols. The first symbol indicates
          expanding and the second symbol (V) closing of the bellows

In this example changing bellows direction after every measure might
be another option, because of the symmetry of the musical phrase.


          Because the moment of bellows changes are related to the symmetry of the musical phrase, the
          length of the expansion of the bellows musically required is usually limited. Just like wind instrument
          players take a new breath whenever musically possible. They don't keep blowing until their lungs
          are completely empty. Another reason to limit the bellows expansion is the bellows support. 
          The "V" support is only possible when the bellows are partly expanded. If they are expanded further
          you loose the support and the ability to fully control the tone forming. When more air consumption
          is required, for instance with chord playing, only the first part of the phrase can be played with the
          bellows support. This shows the limitation of periodical bellows movement and the need for phrase
          movement. Other variables, which will be discussed later are dynamics, finger and bellows articulation.
          Although Technically more demanding, the following examples can still be played with periodical
          bellows movement.



          During the 19th century concertinas usually had only 4 fold bellows. Because of the high standard
          of the playing technique they did not need more folds.