Notes For Newcomers
BCC# BUTTON BOXES
NOTES FOR NEWCOMERS by George Garside
PART ONE - Introduction
These notes are intended to provide newcomers, and others wishing to know a bit about the BCC# box with an insight into the system and of basic playing technique. They are not intended to provide a comprehensive course of tuition or to be a substitute for hands on advice from an experienced player or teacher.
An overview of the system
The BCC# 3 row box is often loosely referred to a being ‘diatonic’ which it is in so far as that each row contains all the notes for a particular ‘diatonic scale’ in just the same way as does a one row melodeon. However it is also ‘chromatic’ having all the notes required to play in the 12 major keys. I have avoided using the term ‘fully chromatic’ as an instrument either is or isn’t! Some other 3 row boxes e.g. ADG may be able to be played in several keys but not all 12 and are therefore not ‘chromatic’. The 2 row BC and CC# boxes are ‘chromatic’ but some keys are fairly tricky to play. So perhaps the fairest description of the BCC# is that it is ‘easily chromatic’ as a mere 5 scales provides the wherewithal to play in 12 keys – 7 come entirely free of charge!
BCC# boxes come in a range of sizes with from 12 to 120 bass and nearly all employ the tried and tested ‘stradella’ system as used on piano accordions. This can put some 2 row 8 bass players off but ‘stradella’ bass are not at all difficult to learn the basics of. I will give an overview of the stradella system later in these notes and would suggest that any piano accordion tutor book will cover the subject in depth.
Where are you coming from?
Those who already play other diatonic accordion/melodeon systems already have many skills that are transferable to the BCC# which despite sometimes being referred to as a ‘diabolical contraption’ by its detractors is in fact quite logical.
Those already familiar with 2 row BC or CC# boxes will find it is simply a combination of these two layouts the C row being ‘shared’. Therefore anybody who can play BC or CC# box can already play the treble side of a BCC# and after a little practise will find that having a 3rd row makes fingering and bellows control easier, not more difficult.
Anybody who can already play a ‘4th apart’ melodeon e.g. DG, CG, is also already part way there! They will be quite familiar with the concept of each button providing a different note on the push and pull of the bellows which is a vital ingredient of playing any so called ‘diatonic’ box. The similarity of the systems is clearly demonstrated by the fact that playing in A on a DG box requires pretty well the same fingering as playing in G on a BCC#! Those who play 3 row ‘4th apart’ boxes e.g. ADG in keys additional to AD & G will probably find that, contrary to popular belief, so doing is actually much easier and more logical on a BCC# , but more on this later!
Piano box players may lack the intuitive push/pull skills of the diatonic brigade but these are not difficult to get the hang of. However they will be on reasonably familiar ground if the middle (C) row is ‘deemed’ to be the ‘white’ notes on a piano and the B and C# rows as the ‘black’ notes. The difference is that most of the black notes and some white notes are duplicated in both bellows direction making fast fingering easier and more compact.
To be fair anybody with no previous instrumental experience will find learning the BCC# difficult unless they can obtain some hands on help from an experienced player or teacher.
Choosing a ‘starter box’
This section is included for those contemplating having a go at the BCC# system but who have not got as far as purchasing a suitable box. Those who have never tried a BC or BCC# box should if at all possible borrow one for a few days or at least try to ‘have a go’ on one under skilled supervision before taking the plunge, perhaps by attending one of the weekend workshops mentioned on this forum. Those already reasonably competent on a BC or CC# box should not have any real problems with the 3 row box as the third row makes life easier, not more difficult!
Probably the most affordable ‘way in’ is with the tried and tested Hohner Trichord which comes in 2 and 3 voice varieties most with 12 ‘stradella’ bass. However beware, some have 12 push/pull ‘melodeon’ bass and are best avoided! The same goes for the current Hohner Compadre BCC# which sadly is only available with ‘melodeon’ bass. Trichords come up for sale fairly regularly and are in the sub £500 bracket for a decent example
Next in size there are the 48 bass instruments, most if not all having the very useful ‘12 x 4’ bass arrangement rather than the common, at least on piano accordions, 8x6 set up. Probably the best known is the 3 voice Casali which is a very pleasant box to play and is an ideal long term box for those not requiring, desiring or being able to afford multi-coupler 80 to 120 bass instruments.
Of the larger boxes that can sometimes be had at sub £1000 prices there are the well liked Paolo Soprani 80 bass Elite III with 9 couplers and the Hohner Gaelic 3 coupler 96 bass as well as others e.g. Super Salas etc. As most are quite old, but often none the worse for that, condition and service history is all important.
I would advise anybody with thoughts of diving straight in and making a substantial purchase to defer such action and instead to learn the rudiments on a less expensive box.
PART 2 - GETTING STARTED
The first thing to sort out is how to ‘wear’ the box as the more comfortable you are the easier it will be to play. Two shoulder straps are essential and most boxes will be so equipped but if yours isn’t, fitting a second strap will make life much easier. The wider and more padded the straps are the better – they won’t make the box any lighter but it will feel less weighty!
The next thing to do is to spend some time adjusting the straps to fit the shape of your particular anatomy. The basic principle of adjustment is to have the right strap a notch or 2 longer than the left strap so that the grill is roughly under your chin and the right elbow down by your side rather than waving about in the air. One the best left –right balance is found both straps can be lengthened or shortened by equal amounts to adjust the height of the box in relation to you! A good starting point is to have the top of the box about a stretched hands width below the chin when standing and looking straight ahead.
On the left hand end there will be a long bar which is the ‘air bar or button’. This is used to open the bellows before playing and to close them after a tune just like on a piano accordion. However its main function on a diatonic box is to enable, sometimes substantial, bellows movement to take place whilst a tune is in full swing i.e. to enable adjustments to the amount of bellows open so as to prevent them going ever outwards or occasionally ever inwards in which case the tune would stop dead as you ‘run out’ of air. It is therefore essential that the new player gets the hang of using the air button whist continuing to play the tune.
On the left hand side the black buttons are the ‘bass’’ and work just the same as on a piano accordion so we will leave that for the moment.
On the right hand keyboard are 3 rows of buttons and at this stage printing off a keyboard chart and scale charts (all available on this forum) will be helpful.
THE ‘C’ ROW i.e. the middle row
In many ways the ‘C’ row is the equivalent of the ‘white’ keys on a piano keyboard. It contains all the notes required to play in the key of ‘C’ but perhaps more importantly if is the basis from which other keys are formed. Another way of looking at the ‘C’ row is to view it as the ‘main road’. Other keys are played on it with the addition of one or more ‘diversions’ onto other rows e.g. the key of G is played on the ‘C’ row except for a diversion(s) for F# note(s). Similarly the key of D requires ‘diversions’ for the notes F# and C#.
It is therefore useful to commence by learning the scale for the key of C entirely on the middle row. Those already familiar with any other one or two row ‘diatonic’ boxes will already be familiar with the ins and outs of a scale played on the row. Anyone coming to the BCC# from a mouthie will find that the push pull sequence is the same as the suck blow sequence on the mouthie.
For those with no experience whatsoever of the suck and blow or push and pull scales refer to a keyboard chart which will show the note C as being on the 4th button from chin end ‘push’. (On Trichords and possibly a few others it can be on the 3rd button).
The suck blow sequence in both octaves is:
Blow/suck, blow/suck, blow/suck, suck/blow.
Practise the C scale over two octaves until it can be played at a reasonable speed on autopilot!
Also try some simple tunes just on the middle row to help get the feel of things.
The ‘G’ scale
Playing in G involves nothing more complicated that starting on a different button on the middle row and instead of playing the F note going over to the outside row and playing F# instead! Try starting on the 6th button (C row) (5th button on Trichords).
It works out like this:
G/A B/C D/E F#*/G *(F# being played on the outside row)
b/s s/b s/b b/b (b =blow, s= suck)
When the G scale as above can be played easily try to work out and play the lower G scale by following the keyboard chart. It will start 4 buttons below the middle G scale as ‘on the row ‘notes played on the ‘push’ repeat every 4 buttons and notes on the ‘pull’ repeat every 5 buttons, but more of that later!
Probably best to get the hang of some tunes in the key of G before moving on to other keys. Here are a few easy ones for starters:
- When the Saints Go Marching In . . . only uses 3 buttons on the C row but gets you
used to the ins and outs of the key of G.
- Cock O’ The North . . . Again played entirely on the ‘main road’ using only 4 buttons.
- Winster Gallop . . . Well known English country dance tune using just 4 buttons on
the main road with a couple of 'diversions' to the outside row for F#’s.
More to follow all being well!