Posted 15 August 2005

“Faking It”

A guide to selecting appropriate chords
on the Anglo and Duet Concertinas

Roger Digby

with a section on the Duet Concertina by
Kurt Braun


Note for the web edition

The four instalments that make up ‘Faking It’ were originally published by the International Concertina Association during 2004-5. Intended for inclusion in the newsletter, Concertina World, they in fact appeared as an appendix to the ‘Music Supplement’ which allowed an A4 format.

In preparing the pages for this web-based version I have made some minor changes, based on observations received in the interim, (Doug Watt was particularly helpful), but I have maintained the episodic nature of the 4 parts in order to emphasise the necessity to stop, reread, absorb and practise.

I have tried to achieve clarity and simplicity and keep musical theory to the essential minimum. Nothing can replace the necessity of practise and the familiarity which can be achieved by it.

There has been a lot of recent interest in what is being described as ‘The English Way’ of playing the Anglo. This is becoming a description for the technique of playing the tune on the right hand while using the left hand to provide chords and rhythm. There is evidence in early written tutors that this approach is as old as the Anglo itself. It’s independent ‘discovery’ by a large number of players in recent decades suggests that it an obvious way of approaching the instrument. The practise of ‘Faking’, based on the tune/chord pattern published in Fake Books, reflects this approach. I believe this is a completely legitimate way to play the Anglo which, once understood and practised, leads to more adventurous ways of developing left hand techniques.

For the web version I have added a dozen examples of what I describe in the text. I have chosen twelve tunes that are common in sessions and include most of the dance rhythms, six tunes in C and six in G as the most common Anglo keys. Each tune is represented by the music (printed without chords), and also by a sound file of Anglo concertina played as you might hear it at a casual session.

I am very happy to respond to any individual queries which this piece may suggest. I repeat that there is no substitute for diligent practise.

Good luck.

Part 1

A recent discussion on ‘Fake Books’ in the online newsgroup created the request that someone explain how to use them. It’s a fascinating feature of music that what is a commonplace to one is a mystery to another. I first discovered the approach of ‘Fake Books’, or ‘Busker’s Books’ as I usually call them, when dealing with sheet music in the 60s for piano or guitar. The piano score could be ignored and a competent version could be built up around the top line of the score, i.e. the tune, and the chord name or sometimes ‘guitar shape’ which was placed above or below. In ‘Fake Books’ the piano score is left out and you are left with just the tune and the chord. So fundamental is this to my musical playing that this is effectively all I do. It’s how I play and think, whether the tune is written or simply in my head by ear.

It seemed to me that I was therefore well placed to reply to the online request for an explanation of how it’s done, not least because ‘What to Do with the Left Hand’, ‘The Three Chord Trick’, etc. are frequent themes of mine when giving Anglo Workshops and the subjects are inextricably linked.

First of all some caveats:

  1. I can only write about the Anglo; it’s all I know. I am grateful to Kurt Braun, a Crane system player in Baton Rouge, who is also a Fake book busker, for contributing a fourth part for Duet players.
  2. I am going to assume a starting point of zero, so some readers might find some of this very, very basic. If so skip those bits!
  3. I will inevitably have to employ some musical theory. I’ll assume nothing here as well so the same advice applies to those readers who are musically literate.
  4. I don’t really start answering the question in this first episode! Basics first!

Next some very fundamental theory:

The names of the notes

Convention names the notes by the first eight letters of the alphabet (A - G) and whichever note is the starting point for the eight note scale names the scale; so, the scale of C starts on C and is said to be ‘in the key of C’, the scale of F starts on F and is said to be ‘in the key of F’, and so on. Anglo concertinas have the two home rows tuned to keys that are a ‘fifth’ apart. This means that the inside row starts on the same note as the fifth note on the middle row (or on the upper row when there are only two rows).

The major scale

This is a standard series of notes based on tones and semitones, the latter being one half of the former. The intervals of the scale are tone, tone, semitone, tone, tone, tone, semitone. This makes visual sense when shown on a piano keyboard. The Key of C, which has no sharps or flats, runs up the white keys.

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Make a real effort to understand this graphic. It’ll come back later.

The interval between the C and D is a tone with the black note between being the semitone. The desired semitone between the 3rd and 4th note and the 7th and 8th note is automatically in place.

If the scale is started on a different note then some of the black notes (the sharps and flats) must be brought into use to maintain the relationship of tones and semitones. If the fifth note up the scale (G on the example above) becomes the starting point (the key note) then the F must be raised to an F# to maintain the correct tone/semitone relationship on the last three notes. Every time you go up a fifth you need an extra sharp. The function of ‘flats’ has the same purpose.

I’ll leave it there for now! I think the logic of it is clear from what I have written, but you might need to reread it and try out some examples.

Now let’s turn to our Anglo.

First of all, know what notes you have on your instrument! This is not as daft as it sounds. Most of us Anglo players know what we have on the home rows but are often very hazy on the top row. I usually know(!), but have to think for a second, especially when there are variations between instruments. If you have never done so , map out your instrument.

Here’s the front page of one of Jeffries’ own instruction booklets, written for an F/C 38 key and it shows one way of doing it.

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(This booklet came with a concertina which is actually tuned to F/C high pitch, but it seems to have always belonged to that instrument. The entire booklet is reproduced elsewhere on this site.)

Here’s another way that links it to the musical stave for those who can use that; this for my C/G Crabb:

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which is probably as much detail as anybody could ever need! (There's a blank diagram like this at the end, to print and fill in for your concertina.)

Of course to map out at all requires some knowledge of music and those who play entirely by ear won’t have a starting point. So to go back to the very beginning, it’s a fair bet that the basic 20 buttons at the heart of the Anglo are tuned like this, (assuming a C/G):

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(The reversal of the F# and F on the rightmost button of the lower row is a common variant.)

If your instrument is not C/G, the intervals will be the same. i.e. if you have a G/D every note will be a fifth (five notes) higher (though an octave lower in pitch, but don’t worry about that.). For additional buttons, first find the ones that give an already identified note in the other direction (there are probably two in each direction). After that you will need to use your ear if it is up to it or call on a friend with a piano or other fixed pitch instrument.

What this is all leading up to is your ability to form chords on the left hand. You know what all your buttons do? Yes? Then we can look at chords.

Major chords

Full major chords are formed from the first, third, fifth and eighth note of the scale (the shorthand is 1 3 5 8) so in the Key of C, as depicted in the piano keyboard earlier, the notes will be C E G C.

Find these notes on your left hand PUSH direction. They will almost certainly be:

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Now this is fine for those of you with seven fingers on the left hand, but what it clearly indicates is that we are sometimes faced with choices. More of that next episode!

To start with, work out finger patterns like this for the PUSH and DRAW for four major chords:

  • the two for your home keys,
  • the key that is one sharp up from your inside row,
  • the key that is one flat down from your middle row.

On a C/G instrument this means the home keys of C and G, the key one sharp up from G which is D, and the key one flat down from C which is F. On a G/D the four chords are G D A C. (Remember that what I am calling ‘the key that is one sharp up’ will start on the fifth note of the scale. The ‘key that is ‘one flat down’ will start on the fourth note to maintain the relationship.)

Use the blank sheet at the end for this. Simply ignore or cross out buttons you don’t have, and add any you need!

In the next part I’ll endeavour to explain how to use this knowledge of chords to get you started on ‘Fake Books’. In the third part I’ll explain bluffing the 3 chord trick.

Part 2

Introductory Note

In this part we’ll finally get to look at the ‘Fake Book’ approach of tune/chord, but first a couple of points from the last episode!

I explained that the shape of scales is a constant with the name of the key coming from the first note of the scale. Therefore to play a tune in G is exactly the same as playing it in C except that the key is a fifth higher. On the assumption that this is understood, I intend to proceed on the basis of a concertina pitched in C/G, which is, I believe, the most common. Those with G/D or other pitches will need to make the mental key shift. (mutatis mutandis as we used to say!) The four chords that I urged you to discover at the end of part 1 shall therefore be known as C G D and F.

Let’s begin with looking at those chords and the problems you may have encountered.

Problem 1. Some of the chords are very thin and lack certain notes.

Players with less than 30 keys will find this frequently as we proceed. Players without a left hand thumb button will have found the draw C very thin and the push F lacking the key note. (If your left thumb button is a drone C rather than the much more useful C/F consider getting it changed! I see no point in duplicating the C which already exists on the push in the middle of the second row.) The push D is thin on the 30 key as the most common layout lacks a push F#.

There is no solution to this problem except not to see it as a problem. Every instrument has its individual limitations, but trumpet players don’t dissolve in despair because they can only play one note at a time, nor guitarists lament because they only have 6 strings. My favourite examples in this context are musicians like Oscar Woods on one-row melodeon and Jim Small on mouthorgan. These are very ‘limited’ instruments but Oscar and Jim could hold you spellbound. Accept what you can—and can’t—do and work within it. Don’t give up!

Problem 2. There are more notes available than fingers to play them.

In this case you have to select. If the key note is available as the lowest note, use it. The use of the ‘third’ or ‘fifth’ opens up issues of harmonic theory which I don’t understand and is not relevant to the concept of ‘faking it’. You can pursue this area if you wish once you’ve understood the basics.

Problem 3. For mechanistic reasons (leaks, small bellows, set of the reeds) the air runs out very quickly.

You need not play all available notes all the time and this is something I’ll return to in a minute.

Before proceeding, recheck that you know which buttons are available to you on the Pull and Draw of the four chords. (i.e. Check your homework!)

Written Music

Like it or not, Fake Books will give the tune in conventional notation. I know various alternatives have been devised for Anglo concertina; you won’t find these in publications. It is therefore essential that you can read the notes on the stave at least in the treble clef and know the value (length) of the notes. This is not hard and should only take a few moments of serious application. You only need to know the very basics and your ‘mapping out’, which is where I started in Part 1, will have got you started.

I hope the following diagram explains more than words.

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I genuinely believe that there is enough here, together with the mapping out process of Part 1, to understand the notation of the treble stave and relate it to the Anglo.

Here’s a simple rhyme as it could appear in a Fake Book:

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Repeat the first line.

Let’s look at the rhythm first. The numbers at the beginning form the ‘time signature’. Here are some examples:

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The lower number in our music (4) tells us that the basic unit is the crotchet (which is the most usual unit in time signatures) and the upper number (2) indicates that there are two of them in each bar (i.e. between the upright divisions). The most common time signature is four crotchets per bar, thus known as ‘common time’ and often represented by a letter ‘C’ in place of the two numbers. Waltz time is three crotchets per bar.

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The ‘hollow’ notes in our music (e.g. on ‘star’, and ‘high’) are called minims, with a time value twice as long as crotchets. The other common notes, not in this tune, look like crotchets with tails and are called quavers, with a time value half as long as crotchets (i.e. twice as fast). Quavers can have their tails joined together visually, with a time value which is the sum of the joined up quavers but the individual notes are played separately. If the quaver is the basic unit of the rhythm this gives a lower number of 8 (4 x 2) for the time, so six quavers per bar is typical of jigs, and nine quavers per bar typical of slip jigs. It is unusual, but not impossible, for the minim to be the basic unit, giving 2 as the lower number.

You should also be prepared to meet ‘dotted notes’, where the dot after the note indicates that the note is half as long again, and ‘tied notes’, joined by an upper arc, which indicates that the tied notes are added together and not played separately,

Always stress the first beat of a bar.

I think that concludes the musical theory for part 2!

Here’s the tune again with the addition of P (push) and D (draw) indicating what will almost certainly be your bellows direction as you play the tune.

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All that remains to do is unite the tune and the chords! In the first bar and second bar you will play your push C chord, in the third bar your draw F chord and so on.

And that’s all there is to it - at least in theory. In fact it’s only the starting point, but it answers the original question of how to use a Fake Book.

Let’s face it, stopping now would be pretty silly, so let’s go a bit further. If this is your first experience of working with chords on your left hand you are probably still fairly bewildered. Just how do you use them?

You can play the chords crisply in identical rhythm to the tune. This leads in a Kimber direction and will please dancers who will want your left hand to provide their steady foundation. A singer, however, might not want an accompaniment that was such a tight straitjacket.

You can break the chords up playing the bass note on the first beat of the bar and then bringing in some other notes on the second beat (boom - chink , boom -chink). This is particularly good for waltzes (BOOM - chink - chink, BOOM - chink - chink).

You can select individual notes from within the chord to make bass runs, counter-melodies. And, of course, you can do all of them together! You have months of experimenting ahead. The sky (and your bellows) is the limit!

One word of advice. The great quality of the Anglo is the crispness which derives, in part, from the double action. This is greatly diminished if you allow the change in bellows direction to change the chord for you which is very tempting on the middle row. Practise changing bellows direction in the split second between beats and with no buttons down. Once you can do this you can decide when and if you want to do it. I often keep my little finger down to provide a smooth bass presence below the rest of the chords which I keep crisp.

More Chords

You will, of course, need more than the 4 chords we’ve used so far. Based on the explanation of chord structure in Part 1 you can work out any major chord you want. Now is the time to print up some blank chord charts and start working out and filling in a few more chords. Some chords will be very thin, but will usually give you enough to suggest a passing chord.

(Some of these chords will sound out of tune if you have one of the very few concertinas still in existence that originated in uneven temperament and have never been retuned. This tuning recognises the difference between, say, C# and D flat. The quality of their tone is incomparable but a lot more care is needed in choosing the correct notes for a chord and there are very few options. I had a beautiful uneven G/D and parted from it simply because I couldn’t find the chords in their ’usual’ places. I’m delighted to say I eventually bought it back—never to be retuned in my lifetime! If you have one—treasure it.)

The chords will not be full enough to allow you to play with big chords in, say, the key of Eflat. Fred Kilroy, probably the greatest exponent of playing outside the home keys, employed runs and ‘broken chords’ (i.e. one note at a time) when in the outer keys. Irish players who get around the keys all over the place seldom play more than the tune.

Other chords

For Minor chords, depicted with ‘m’ or ‘min’ after the note, (e.g. Cm or Cmin)’ the third note of the scale is lowered by one semitone, so the 1 3 5 8 for Cm is C Eflat G C.

Seventh chords, depicted with a 7, (e.g. G7) include the 7th note of the scale, so G7 is the G chord with the addition of the note of F. This seventh is very common and NOT to be confused with a major seventh.

Then there are 6ths, flattened 5ths, diminisheds, augmenteds, sustained 4ths and heaven knows what else and if you find yourself encountering these you’ll be so far advanced that you’ll understand them when you meet them! You’ll probably also have changed to the piano! Seriously, don’t abandon a piece simply because you haven’t the buttons for such and such a chord. This is ‘Faking it’ - the art of fudging and getting away with it. Every musician who doesn’t work to a definitive score does it a lot of the time, but, of course, that’s a secret which you are duty bound to keep.

One final word for Part 2. Don’t expect to be able to understand and do all this in a matter of minutes. Even if you practise hard you may still not be there by the time Part 3 hits the printer. Don’t worry. There are not many who can learn an instrument quickly and after 30+ years I’m still working out new chords and new ideas.

In Part 3 I’ll look at how to fake it when all you have is the tune in your head!

Part 3

(in which there is also some consideration
of chords in traditional music)

In the first two parts I’ve tried to explain how a Fake Book works, how to know what notes make what chords, and how to map these chords on the Anglo’s left hand. I’ve also suggested different approaches to using and selecting notes from within the chords.

Part 3 looks at the ultimate practice of ‘faking’: how to create a full rendition of a tune or song when all you have is the tune.

The starting point for this is the ‘Three Chord Trick’, known and relied upon by buskers and bluffers the world over. By using this trick, three chords can fill the place taken by the given chords in the Fake books.

The three chords in the trick - for any key - are the chords that start on the key note, the fourth and the fifth, regularly depicted in Roman numerals as I, IV, and V, which has the advantage of being non-specific in terms of key.

For the key of C major I is C, IV is F, and V is G, but this chord is frequently V7,which gives G7 here. If you do a rethink on lV and think of the F an octave lower you will realise that all these chords are a fifth apart so C is a fifth higher than F and G is a fifth higher than C. I mentioned earlier that each time a key note moves a fifth higher another sharp is needed so these three chords are adjacent in the cycle of key signatures. (Just another example, really, of the mathematical symmetry that shapes musical structure.)

If you think of these key progressions as a circle you come up with this: The Circle of Fifths.

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The relative minor, to which I shall come in a moment, is a 90° turn clockwise, so the relative minor of C is Am, the relative minor of G is Em, and so on.

Don’t worry if this is not immediately clear. If you are starting out you only need to know the three chords for your two home major keys.

I am now returning to a graphic with which you should be familiar from Part 2, but this time I am placing below it the 1 3 5 8 notes of the three chords in the trick for the key of C.

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From this you can see that all the eight notes in the Scale of C occur within the three chords and those that give their names to the three chords (C,F, G) occur in two chords. This means that the chord that contains the note being played can be accompanied by the chord that contains it.

Put in Fake book terms the scale could be expressed thus:

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These hollow notes without an upright are called ‘semibreves’. They are twice as long as a minim and therefore last as long as four crotchets. They take up a whole bar in ‘Common Time’.

Practise playing this scale until you can do it in your sleep and your fingers start to move into position instinctively when you know what note is coming up in the tune.

For the notes that occur in two chords you will have to rely on your ear, but there are some generalisations that should help. The key note is most likely to require the I chord rather than the IV. A tune is virtually bound to end on the key chord (I). The fifth will tend to take the V at the end of a phrase, but I at other times. Be warned: these are guidelines, not rules. Your ear must tell you.

Some people lack confidence in their ear, but … ears can be improved. If you really work on the scale on the previous page you will soon start to hear and distinguish the different chords. If you know a fellow musician ask him or her to play the chords (on any instrument) while you try to identify them. It will come with practice.

Other chords

If a chord from the three chord trick does not sound right the first place to look for an alternative is the relative minor. Every key has one, so every major chord has one. These are indicated on the Circle of Fifths. Try this first.

If the tune contains an ‘accidental’, i.e. a note that is not in the major scale, this nearly always indicates the need for a chord outside the three of the trick. Look for the nearest chord that contains the accidental. The most common accidental in the key of C is F#. You only have to move one key around the Circle of Fifths to encounter the chord of D which contains F#. This is the one to try first and will usually be right. It invariably leads into the V chord and this is a chord progression the sound of which you will come to recognise with practice.

Other common chord patterns

The pattern (in C) of C – Am – Dm – G7 – and back to C is so common it has its own name, ‘The Blue Moon Sequence’, because it is the basic structure of that well-known song. If you find that a relative minor sounds right, the ‘Blue Moon Sequence’ may well lead you back home.

Another common pattern in Ragtime and often found in popular song involves going immediately from the Key (tonic) chord to the VI (A major in the key of C) and then round the circle to home, usually with 7th chords. E.g. C – A7 – D7 – G7 – C.

Minor keys

The trick can work for minor keys, but you need to be aware of more possibilities. The key of A minor, for example, could use a lot of E7 and D. It could also use a lot of G, the V chord in A minor’s relative major, C. This depends very much on the nature of the tune.

Don’t worry if this is not crystal clear on first reading. If you persevere, understand and practise you will be able to structure whole versions of tunes from just the melody line.

Unless your ear is spectacularly good you will find some tunes are crying out for other chords and you can’t find them. When this happens you need to go and find a Fake Book. Some composers, like Gershwin, are virtually unbluffable. We all have our own thresholds!

The ‘right’ chords

I can’t leave this topic without some thoughts on ‘right’ chords. I have already said that your ear is your guide, but it is easy to be mislead. There has, in my opinion, been a deliberate attempt by some music-publishers to impose unnecessarily complex chord patterns onto traditional tunes. Here’s Jim Small’s ‘Shepton Mallet Hornpipe’ as it appears in an EFDSS Country Dance Manual.

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As far as I know Jim Small was the source for this cracking tune. Jim played harmonica in a superbly rhythmic style. A harmonica player’s mouth covers about three holes of the instrument and the tongue is used to block out the two holes (invariably the two holes lower down) in order to play the tune. By moving the tongue on and off these holes the accompanying rhythm is created. Choosing a chord is impossible. There are the two holes available and that’s it! Jim could not have played the chords printed. Have these have been added to make the tune ‘more interesting’ (!!) or as a sop to the omnipresent piano accordions with their 180 button basses?

I think these chords should be rejected as simply too contrived.

There are two statements that are held to be true by very highly respected experts on Traditional British Music.

  1. There are no sevenths in trad. music.
  2. There are only 2 chords in traditional tunes. (I and V in major keys; I and the V of its relative major in minor keys.)

I am not going to discuss this here, but it is a warning against piling on the chords just for their own sake. With traditional tunes - keep it simple.

The one observation I would make is: I think that at the back of theories like this is the awareness that a lot of traditional tunes are not constricted by the (post- Hanoverian?) determination that everything is major or minor. I may well be wrong in this, but as you get more familiar with certain ‘minor’ tunes, particularly slow airs, you might try leaving the third out of the chord and thereby not defining the chord as either major or minor. This is just a whole lot more to think about!

This concludes my attempt to explain Faking It on the Anglo. It may seem a bit intense and involve a lot of practice, but I believe that all you need to know is here. In the next issue of Concertina World Kurt Braun will take on the topic from the point of view of a Duet player.

Good luck with your playing.

Roger Digby
June 2005

Part 4

The Duet Concertina

by Kurt Braun


This part discusses ‘faking’ in the context of the duet concertina. The differences between faking on a Duet and an Anglo have to do with the number of notes available and the fact that the Duets play the same note on pull and draw while a single stud or key on an Anglo changes pitch based on the direction of the bellows. Consistent with the previous three parts of this article, the discussion is focused on the left hand.

Faking here refers to improvising arrangements given a fake sheet. A fake sheet is, as Roger described earlier, the melody and chord symbols. There are two main sources for such sheets. The first is what are called fake books. A second source is popular sheet music arranged for piano and guitar. What the concertina player can do is ignore the piano score altogether and focus on the melody line and the chords intended for the guitar. The piano score is ignored because it is out of range, overly complex or otherwise impractical for the duet. The most common problem for the faker is to find something musical to do with the left hand to support the melody being played in the right hand.


The keyboard of the duet though small, contains all chromatic notes. Roger's point about having to be satisfied with thin chords does not apply. With one hand an experienced player can get fingers over just about any four notes in the left hand which is frequently in a two (or more) octave range. If there are three Cs two Es and two Gs available, the problem becomes which three or four of these notes are going to be used when a C chord is called for. The following figures show three of many possibilities with the I, IV, V7, I progression in the key of C available on my instrument.

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Figure 1 uses open chords. These are rich and often preferred in arranging. When voicing open chords it is common to consider the melody as well and much thought is usually needed to get things to work out correctly. This requires more forethought than generally consistent with faking when the point is to come up with patterns of playing that reduce the players options or need to think. That is, the sort of progressions depicted in Figure 1 require too much thought for faking. We need to reduce the choices and make automatic the production of chords in the left hand.

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One way to do this is to play closed chords in root position as in Figure 2. This sort of playing is found on the "one finger chord" setting of an inexpensive keyboard. It is also similar to what you get from most accordions. It works, but it is pretty basic and not very interesting. Worse, on the concertina it will often force low closed chords, which sound heavy and not suitable for anything lighter than a dirge.

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Another way is to play in one place and let the inversions go as a function of keeping the chords high on the keyboard as in Figure 3. With some practice, this does not require any more thought than playing chords in root position. It is also easier because it requires less hand and finger movement. Finally, it is more interesting to the ear.

With the closed root chords scheme all movement is the same from voice to voice. Notice the first change, from C to F (up one fourth) in Figure 2. The C moves up a fourth to the F. The E moves up a fourth to the A and the G moves up a fourth to the C.

In Figure 3, things are different. The first progression is still from C to F. The C and the E each move down a minor third while the G moves down one step to the F. At the same time, the ear also picks up the fact that the progression is from C to F or up a fourth. This is much more complicated and interesting for the ear, a great benefit considering that it also made things easier for the fingers. These sorts of interesting voicings are a natural byproduct of holding the chords on one place on the keyboard.

Using this little bit of theory, we can make the following rules suitable for chord production when faking on duets.

When faking, generally play left hand chords as high up the keyboard as possible and play them in closed position. Playing chords high prevents them from being too heavy. Closed means that no notes of the chord are skipped. Playing chords closed also brings out the dissonance (jazzy quality) to the 7th and 6th (four note) chords. Doubling notes adds unneeded complication, so play only the three notes of triads, but play all four notes of 7th chords. In summary:

  1. Play chords as high as possible on the left side
  2. Play chords closed without regard to inversion
  3. Do not double any notes

One may allow these rules to overtake all other voicing decisions and thereby reduce the amount of thinking so one can concentrate on style and other musical matters. This strategy, by ignoring inversions, also reduces the number of chords your left hand needs to learn. Let's see how that works.

The 31 chord trick

Much has been made of the 3 chord trick. For moving past 3 chord songs there is also what could be called the 31 chord trick. These 31 chords will cover any song you will find a fake sheet for and in any key. For all practical purposes, the entire universe of chords can be reduced to a mere 31 patterns on the left hand.

Again, forget that there are all these inversions (root on the bottom, third on the bottom, etc.) because in faking on a concertina as described above, they are not a consideration.

There are
       12 Major chords (triads or three note chords)
and 12 Minor chords (triads)
and 12 Major chords with flat 7th added (V7 chords)
and 12 Minor chords with flat 7th added
and 12 Sixth chords
and 12 Augment chords
and 12 Diminished 7 chords

This gives a total of 84 chords. Inversions are ignored. The 12 sixth chords can be subtracted because they are the same as the minor chords with a flat 7 added chord. For example Cm7 ( C, Eb, G, Bb) equals Eb6 (Eb, G, Bb, C). After subtraction there are 72 chords left.

Again, ignoring inversions, there are only thee Diminished 7 chords. C, Eb, Gb, A are the notes for Cdim7, Ebdim7, Gbdim7, and Adim7 chords. The other two diminished chords are C#, E, G, A# and D, F, G#, B. Diminished chords are lovable because they are so simple and yet so many people think they are really sophisticated and difficult. So instead of 12 Diminished chords there are only 3. That is 9 we don’t have to learn. Now we are down to 63 chords.

Similarly, there are only four augmented chords (C,E,G# for C5+, E5+, Ab5+ or G#5+; C#, F, A for C#5+ or Db5+, F5+, A5+ and so on for D, F#, A# and the set of Eb, G and B. That is 8 we don’t have to learn. (63-8=55)

There are 55 chords left. The V7 chord is a major triad with a flat 7 added. So, when you learn the V7 chords you only have to subtract the 7th to get all of the triads. Another 12 chords gone and we are down to 43 chords.

What goes for the V7 chords also goes for the Minor triads with the added flat 7. That is, drop the 7th and you have all the minor chords. That brings you down to 31 chords. If you learn 31 chords you will be able to play virtually any chord in all 12 keys. If you decide that you will never be playing in the key of Db or B, you can drop a few more chords from your to learn list.

What about 9th, 11th and 13th chords? Play the corresponding 7th chord and move on. That is what faking is all about.

So, by learning 31 chords you can fake the world into thinking that you know all chords including 6th chords, diminished chords, augmented chords, the 9ths the 11ths and the 13th chords and that you can do this in any key.

One need not learn all 31 chords all at once. Most players will start out by playing in just a few keys. This is so often the case that it goes a considerable way to explaining the popularity of Anglos over Duets; that is, the capacity of a Duet to play in any keys is not needed and is an unnecessary burden for many or most concertina players who are going to play in just a few keys anyway. But for those who take up the duet, the ability to play in a large variety of keys can come gradually and players will find that if a new key is not too distant from keys already known, only one or two new chords need be learned to be able to fake in the new key.

Putting Chords to Use

Straightforward chord production as described here will do much for faking arrangements on a duet. This is especially true for tunes where the harmony marked on the fake sheet is rich and when the changes come quickly. For pieces where the harmony holds for the entire measure or longer, just playing the chords will get boring. The first thing to try is to add bass notes to alternate with the chords. In common time that would be note, chord, note chord. In three-quarter time it would be note, chord, chord. One of the advantages of producing chords high up on the left keyboard is to increase the distance between the chord and the bass notes played as low as possible so that it more closely emulates stride piano playing. This last technique is particularly effective on larger instruments. Earlier, the 9th, 11th and 13ths were dropped in the interest of simplifying things.

However, once the song has been learned, the player can consider adding some of these back into his or her faked arrangements. This can be done with relative ease by using the right hand when the melody movement (or lack of movement) allows the freedom to add a note or two or even three. Frequently this can enhance a final cadence of a piece, section or even a phrase.

Once one's fingers know these chords, they can be played as arpeggios. They may also be played as arpeggios with bass notes. Playing around with these sort of harmonic presentations can do much to add variety to ones playing. If you are partial to traditional pieces these techniques and others will be helpful in adding interest to songs with many verses. Other things to try could include playing the melody in the bass with chords on the right, or nothing on the right or doubled in the right. If you can sing the tune without the crutch of the melody doubled on the concertina, you can play bass notes on the left with chords on the right. The idea here is to make maximum use of these variations to keep things interesting for the listener.

Putting Faking to Use

A benefit of learning to fake arrangements is that once done, it makes short work of adding pieces to one's repertoire. This is particularly true if you do not object to playing from the fake sheets. Simple tunes, some of which are very entertaining, can be learned with just a few repetitions. Even tunes from say, the Cole Porter Song Book, can be made presentable relatively quickly. That isn't to say that the faked arrangements do not improve over time. Some of the mixing of different faked techniques can be practiced when playing for oneself and then included in performances later on.

Another point is that with modern computer and photocopying equipment, there is no reason not to make a copy of each tune as you learn it. (You can usually fit an entire tune on a single sheet if you copy the tune, cut out and discard the piano part and tape the remainder on blank paper and recopy.) Nothing adds more to the interest of a performance than a very large repertoire. This is especially true of the player that often works with small intimate audiences where it is easy to see what sort of song people like and customize the program on the fly. A large fake book with tunes you have already played through and are familiar with is a great tool if you can fake your way.

Kurt Braun

Print Blank Charts

blank chord chart Blank Anglo Chords Chart
by Roger Digby
A single page with blank diagrams to note up to ten chords, containing spaces for each chord name, buttons to use on push, and buttons to use on pull.
Posted 15 August 2005
» view or print chords chart in pdf
blank chord chart Blank Anglo Buttons-to-Staff Chart
by Roger Digby
A single page with a blank diagram to relate buttons to notes on the musical staff.
Posted 15 August 2005
» view or print buttons-to-staff chart in pdf

Musical Examples to Accompany “Faking It”

digby-faking-examples “Faking It”: a dozen examples
by Roger Digby
Musical examples to accompany the web publication of “Faking It”. Twelve tunes that are common in sessions and include most of the dance rhythms, six tunes in C and six in G as the most common Anglo keys. Each tune is represented by the music (printed without chords), and also by a sound file of Roger Digby playing the Anglo concertina as you might hear at a casual session. Originally presented at a workshop for the East Anglian Traditional Music Trust, 2004. Tunes include: Blaydon Races, Dannish Waltz, Dorset Four Hand Reel, Family Jig, Galopede, Greensleeves, Harry Cox’s Schottisch, Keel Row, Shepton Mallet Hornpipe, The Man in the Moon, Three Around Three, and Winster Galop.
Posted 15 August 2005
» read full article


Roger Digby ( ) has an academic background in the Classics and Education and he has spent his entire adult life teaching in the tough Comprehensive schools of Inner-London Islington. This random move in the early 70s found him living 100 yards from Crabb’s Liverpool Rd. workshop, close to some pubs where the Irish music was the best in London and joining the company of friends who in 1975 became ‘Flowers and Frolics’, a band at the sharp end of what has become known as the English Country Music revival. They released two influential vinyl LPs before calling it a day in 1985. A reunion in 1999 created a CD ‘Reformed Characters’ (available at With ‘Flowers’ as resident band, Roger joined with singer Bob Davenport to run the music nights at the Empress of Russia, a legendary music club which was famously described by Melody Maker as the ‘most adventurous acoustic venue in the country’. Bob and Roger still work as a duo and have released two CDs ( Roger's most recent recordings are included in the three CD compilation ‘Anglo International’ (available at Roger has now moved ‘back home’ to his native North-East Essex where he reads, gardens, walks his dogs, brews beer and enjoys retirement. He is the Review Editor of Papers of the International Concertina Association (PICA).

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This original version of this document was printed in the music supplement to Concertina World and 'Faking it—The Workshop' was presented as part of the events surrounding the 2004 Annual General Meeting of The International Concertina Association (ICA).

© 2004–2005 Roger Digby
© 2004–2005 Kurt Braun

Links to related documents

digby-anglo-file Anglo File
by Roger Digby
There is insufficient evidence to address the question, ‘Is there a traditional English style of Anglo playing?’ The situation might have been different if Kilroy, Kimber and Tester had more in common, but they don’t. What these three do have in common is the way that their playing reflects their background and context. Originally published in English Dance and Song (magazine of EFDSS, the English Folk Dance and Song Society), vol. 64, no. 2 (Summer 2002), 6–7.
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anglo-homepage Anglo-German and German Concertinas
Concertina Library directory of all information on this website about Anglo-German and German Concertinas.
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merris-minasi-german-tutor-1846 Earliest Known English-Language German Concertina Tutor: Minasi’s “Instruction Book” 1846
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Carlo Minasi published the earliest known English-language tutor for the German ("Anglo-German") concertina by 1846 in London. This publication goes well beyond the basics; in it are instructions not only for the simple “along the row” melody line style, but also extensive discussions of octave playing, cross row fingering, and chord accompaniment. Numerous fully arranged musical selections are included, almost all in the “English” or “harmonic” style, where chords are played on the left and melody on the right, more or less as a duet concertina is played.
Posted 15 August 2005
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jones-tutor-1946 Tutor for the Chromatic Anglo Concertina
by George Jones
London: Wheatstone & Co., Reprinted 1946. (This is a very late reprint edition of George Jones, The Chromatic Anglo-German Concertina Tutor, London: G. Jones, 1876, entry A40 in Merris's bibliography.) This scan was made by Wes Williams.
Posted 15 January 2004
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ica-site International Concertina Association
by ICA
The ICA was founded fifty years ago as a club for Duet and English concertina players meeting in London. Over the years it has taken in members from throughout the UK including Anglo players, and more recently has used the internet to become at last as international as its name. The site includes lists of the ICA’s music library and document archive, from which copies are available to members only. New members are very welcome from any part of the world!

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Posted 01 April 2003
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worrall-anglo-in-united-states A Brief History of the Anglo Concertina in the United States
by Dan Worrall
In the United States the Anglo-German concertina was very popular during the middle and late nineteenth century, but by the early twentieth century it had all but vanished from American popular culture, becoming only a Hollywood symbol of “the old days”. After the revival of interest in traditional music and in concertinas from the 1960s the Anglo has once again had some popularity in the United States, but without connection to any tradition of its earlier widespread use in America. This paper attempts to reconstruct a basic history of the Anglo concertina in the U.S. by using nineteenth-century tutors, newspaper mentions, anecdotes from family histories, and archival photographs. Topics discussed include the early use of German concertinas in the Eastern U.S., the use of Anglo concertinas by Mormon and other western pioneers, use during the War Between the States, use by African-Americans, use in nautical contexts, use by immigrant and other ethnic groups, and use by the American branch of the Salvation Army. Some previously unpublished photographs are included.
Posted 15 April 2007
» read full article