Concertina / Guitar

How playing the guitar will help me play the concertina

Hello everyone! Here’s another long rambling post from me – so grab a cup of coffee or tea and find your comfy chair! This post is full of music geekery, just to warn you.

I’ve had a very intense but also enjoyable week. It was the first week of March, which, like last year, meant Noel Hill’s Irish concertina school. I received the very good news a while ago that he would go on with it in an online setting, with a very limited number of places, and I managed to get a spot in the intermediate group.

I hadn’t practiced the concertina with any regularity for a long time, for the simple reason that I’ve almost exclusively played the guitar since last summer. Also, the less I’ve felt that normal life will return soon, the less I’ve been inspired to practice concertina, because it is very much a trad session instrument. This is true especially now when my husband is totally focused on bluegrass mandolin, his accordion and fiddle are both collecting dust, and we mainly play bluegrass at home. But I really want to also play Irish music, there WILL come a time when we can play music with local people again and then I’ll want to be able to be somewhat competent with the concertina. Also, it’s a lovely instrument, and the people in our weekly online session group keep asking for concertina tunes.

With the lack of practice I worried about whether I would be good enough to be in the intermediate group, but the organiser didn’t doubt that, and it was also my only chance to do the workshop. After all, the worst thing that could happen would be that I couldn’t follow everything in detail but that I would still learn a lot, so.. nothing bad. 🙂

I practiced a lot the week before and came back to my skills of last spring (and a bit further, actually) and the workshop went way over my expectations. Like last year, I’m fascinated with how much I can learn in a short time if I just focus and dedicate my time to practice. Since we had only one class every day this time, there was also more time to practice, and I learned even the advanced tune quite ok. Of course I have a long way to go with these tunes, but I’m still very happy with what I achieved this week!


Online it can never be as good as a “real” workshop, but I’m so thankful that I could participate. It was lovely to meet the people again, even if it was only through screens. Seeing Noel and studying Irish music again gave me the feeling of being back to some kind of normality and real life. Time passes so fast and sometimes I forget how much I miss real trad sessions, hanging out with people in the pub, having good chats, playing tunes, getting to know new people, learning more about Irish tunes and musicians, all those social things that contributed to our decision to come to live in Ireland.

Since around Christmas, I don’t go anywhere. The only people I see (other than my husband) are the postman, the local vegetable farmer and random couriers, and doing this concertina workshop online sort of gave me a reconnection to real life – the life we want to come back to. It was very inspiring and uplifting, and this was exactly what I needed to kick off my concertina playing again. Now I’ve made the commitment to play the concertina every week in our Wednesday session so I’d better go on with it!

The guitar, practice habits and the concertina

I have an advantage now that I didn’t have after last year’s workshop, and that is a better mindset around practice. You see, I’ve played music for many years but in recent times, say the last 10 years or so, I’ve been very lazy with practice. I wanted to and meant to practice, but the job I had made it difficult to make time for it and I didn’t know where to start, what to focus on and how to organise it, so real practice didn’t happen. After we moved to Ireland I fiddled around with different instruments and I still didn’t get anywhere, because I wanted to do everything.

This changed last year. I first started working on my guitar playing with a local teacher, and then during the concertina workshop I made the decision to stop fiddling around between instruments and instead focus on what brings me most enjoyment – guitar and concertina.

Since we started our mandolin-and-guitar project last summer, we are both much more serious about practice than we’ve been. We’re determined to finally become good at playing our instruments, and to achieve that you need to look at the details and overcome whatever stops you from playing better or from learning more advanced skills.

Music practice is problem solving. Why can’t I play up the neck? Why does my F chord sound bad? I’ve stopped being lazy and I now look into it to find the problem and solve it so that I can get further with my playing. But it’s also about other details – what IS good playing? What does it mean to me and what does it sound like? I look at details such as learning how to get a nice tone, get the best sound out of the guitar, getting the right groove, working on clean playing, clean notes. It’s also about your posture and hand/arm position, because if that’s not good you can’t play relaxed. Good playing is more than hitting the correct notes!

Guitar picks

This is perfectionism of sorts, but in a good way. Perfectionism in music practice means to always strive for development, to learn more and to get further with your playing. The better you play, the more fun it is, and if it’s fun you’ll play more. And so on.

My improved practice habits are now applied to the concertina too. After many months of not practicing at all, obviously any concertina practice is good practice. But I also want to dig into tricky bits and work on what gives me problems in tunes. Obviously I did this earlier too – how else would I have learned to play the rolls and grace notes in the previous workshop tunes? But I now analyse a tune lots more, to find the parts where I don’t perform well and try to find out exactly why so that I can fix it. This should be obvious for everyone learning an instrument, but previously I tended to simplify difficult parts to be able to play the tune, and instead worked on broadening my repertoire so that I could join in with other people in a session. This is a good thing, but I’ve come to a point when I want to develop the quality of my playing, improve my skills, and the only way to get there is to work on the difficult things and overcome them.

Likely, if I hadn’t started with bluegrass guitar last summer, I would probably still be on the lazy side with technique, but the last 8 months have helped me get a better attitude, mindset and patience around music. So playing the guitar instead of the concertina during this time has been a good thing! Now I want to make time for both instruments.

If I can keep doing this, I have high hopes for my future concertina playing. Now I just need to convince the cat that it is a good idea…

Join the Weekend Coffee Share with Natalie the explorer.


  • Astrid
    7th March 2021 at 8:14 pm

    I’m so glad you were able to get a glimpse into normality again through the concertina class. I honestly had never heard of this musical instrument, but then again I’m totally clueless about music. I love Irish traditionals though.

    • Susanne
      7th March 2021 at 8:48 pm

      Hi Astrid, if you want to hear some fabulous concertina playing, go to my previous post about Noel Hill’s workshop (see the related post section), there is a video there.
      Irish traditional music is lovely, isn’t it!

  • Gary Wilson
    7th March 2021 at 8:35 pm

    Hi Susanne. This was a great read. I did not even know there was a more professional side of the concertina. My only experience with it was with toy ones from which I thought the only next step up was a full accordion. Of course, all the rigor you’re applying has to help and I applaud your discipline and hard work, but to make such fun music. . . I can only imagine how satisfying that must be as I’ve seen my son, also a guitar player, do his thing. He’s the one who’s wanted to master the guitar since he was 2 years old and we had to drill him that it was not a “tar” but a “guitar”. These days each week he is playing music for at least one of two churches he’s involved with.

    Thanks for prying my eyes open a bit more.
    Great visit.

    • Susanne
      7th March 2021 at 8:46 pm

      Hi Gary! How fabulous that your son wanted to play the guitar since he was 2! That’s amazing. As for the concertina, it’s very much a “real” instrument and very, very different from the accordion (although the English concertina and the chromatic accordion probably have some similarities. Likewise, the diatonic accordion has some similarities to the anglo concertina but it’s still quite a step from the accordion to the concertina, where the concertina is the more difficult instrument – at least if we talk about the diatonic accordion.(I have no experience of the chromatic accordion)
      Anyway, I’m glad you learned something from this post, and thanks for visiting!

  • Natalie
    7th March 2021 at 10:44 pm

    Susanne, This is a great post as your passion for music shines throughout. I understand what you wrote about the practice, the focus, the ongoing fine tuning and improving. I’m glad you had an enjoyable first week of March. Thank you for linking with #WeekendCoffeeShare. Have a wonderful coming week!

    • Susanne
      10th March 2021 at 11:21 am

      Thanks, Natalie! I wish you a good week too and thanks for visiting!

  • Laurie
    10th March 2021 at 12:35 am

    I love how you describe music practice – problem-solving! You and your husband are both so talented! I wish I played a musical instrument. I don’t think I have the discipline to do it anymore. Good luck with your concertina playing!

    • Susanne
      10th March 2021 at 11:22 am

      Thanks Laurie! Yes, learning to play an instrument requires some dedication in order to take the time to practice so that you can improve. That’s why I haven’t really improved on anything until now, I haven’t been able to make time for it.

  • Syari
    20th March 2021 at 9:47 pm

    Hi Susanne, came over to check out your blog. I love bluegrass guitar and I really would love to learn to play some bluegrass tune. One of my favorite bluegrass guitar player is Doc Watson. Though to me bluegrass is way too advance. Perhaps after a few more years and once I get out of the ‘beginner’ level ranking. 😀
    I agree that learning to play an instrument truly requires dedication. I started to learn to play the guitar about 2 years ago. I have to admit that learning by myself can be a bit tough on the motivation side. Hence a rather slow progress. But I try to play everyday some days some minutes, some days an hour or two. I am hoping that even with slow progress but with everyday playing, in 10 years I’d be somewhere with it.
    Enjoy the process of learning the concertina! 🙂

    • Susanne
      21st March 2021 at 5:44 pm

      Oh, Syari, Doc Watson was so brilliant and he remains a major inspiration to me!!
      Bluegrass doesn’t have to be so complicated though. You don’t need to play like Tony Rice right away. Learn the C and G scales, then a whole world will open up to you. Then you can learn a good number of fiddle tunes and that’s a very good start.
      It IS hard to stay motivated. To me it helps knowing that after the pandemic, hopefully there will be music sessions again and then I’ll be happy to show off my improvements! (before the pandemic I only played chords) To me it is of course a great help that my husband is learning the mandolin and I want to improve to keep up with him. In addition, the workshop I follow on Artistworks is very inspiring – not only because I’ve paid for it but the workshop in itself is inspiring. If you send videos regularly, it’s more like IRL lessons than an online workshop.
      Check out Brandon Johnson, he has a good website with lessons and tablature, not very pricey, and he has some free lessons too, some are available on YouTube.
      Thanks for visiting!

  • Anne
    26th March 2021 at 12:25 pm

    Susanne, your dedication to – and passion for – creating music is so evident in these posts.

    As I was reading, I thought, ‘well, this doesn’t really apply to me, as I’m not a musician”. But the more I read about how you have to focus on what you are doing *wrong*, the more I realized that this approach is really applicable to all areas of life in which we want to excel.

    One of the hardest things about putting in grant applications (and then getting rejected), or submitting manuscripts (and then getting rejected :>) is that you receive reviewer comments. Yet, looking at those, and more importantly, LEARNING from those, is what will ultimately lead to success.

    This really hit me when I read this sentence in your post: “But I now analyse a tune lots more, to find the parts where I don’t perform well and try to find out exactly why so that I can fix it.”

    I think we can all learn from this approach… what am I missing, and how can I fix it? Thank you for making it so crystal clear!

    Hope all is well there (despite slow vaccine roll out and [presumably] continuing lockdown). I also hope that you can get together with your friends sooner rather than later.

    Take care.

    • Susanne
      31st March 2021 at 12:37 pm

      I’m glad that I could inspire you somehow, Anne!
      However when you talk about reviewer comments, I cringe!! I’m such a hard judge on my own work so it would be very disheartening for me to have someone else put it down. Having said that, maybe it isn’t as bad as it sounds – maybe not worse than in photography contests (I’ve entered a few in the club) and hearing the judge talk about what could have improved the image.


Leave a comment