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Free Concertina Tutorial

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Niall Vallely

Niall VallelyNiall Vallely was born in Armagh in 1970, and began learning the concertina at the age of seven, taught by his parents Brian and Eithne Vallely, founders of the Armagh Pipers' Club. Over the years he has developed a unique approach to playing the instrument that was initially influenced by his fiddle- and uilleann pipe-playing parents, and indeed spent several years learning the pipes himself. When he went to secondary school he also began learning Classical music on trumpet and piano.

A resident of Cork since 1988, Niall completed a degree in music at University College Cork in 1992 and subsequently spent a few years working on an MA in Ethnomusicology at UCC and the University of Limerick. As a student he was involved in various musical projects with composer/pianist Mícheál Ó Súilleabháin including Eklego (a project mixing traditional and electro-acoustic music) and Hiberno-Jazz. In 1992 Niall was featured on the highly acclaimed BBC/RTÉ television series 'A River of Sound', and had a track included on the Virgin album and BBC video that accompanied the series.

In 1990 Niall formed NOMOS who went on to become internationally recognised as one of the most important Irish bands of recent times. Their debut album ‘I Won’t Be Afraid Any More’ was released in 1995 to widespread critical acclaim – it was included as one of Folk Roots magazines' albums of the year and topped the Hot Press Roots Charts. The 1997 release of ‘Set You Free’ confirmed the band’s position as one of Ireland’s most forward-looking traditional acts. After touring full-time throughout Europe, North America, Australia and Hong Kong for seven years, the band broke up in 2000.

Since 2000 Niall has been touring and recording as part of the Karan Casey Band as well as being in involved in projects with the likes of Bluegrass Grammy-winner Tim O’Brien, former Bothy Band piper Paddy Keenan, percussionist and composer Mel Mercier and jazz musicians Lewis Nash, Regina Carter and David O’Rourke.

In 1999 Niall released his debut solo album, ‘Beyond Words’ which featured a mixture of new compositions and traditional tunes. In 2002 Niall recorded a duet album with his brother Cillian on pipes entitled, ‘Callan Bridge’. His most recent project is the band Buille, which released their debut album on the Vertical label in 2005 and a follow-up in May 2009.

Over the past number of years Niall has also established himself as an accomplished record producer. Credits include Cork traditional band North Cregg’s first two albums, singer-songwriter Barry Kerr’s “The World Looks Away”, Karan Casey’s “Chasing the Sun” and “The Seal Maiden” and Caoimhín Vallely’s “Strayaway”.

Since the early 1990s Niall has been working at composing traditional-style tunes. As well as recording these on his own albums, his tunes have been performed by leading acts such as Lúnasa, Sharon Shannon, KAN, Michael McGoldrick, John McCusker, Liz Carroll and Scottish acts the Poozies, Daimh, Gabe McVarish and Duncan Chisholm, while some of them have become ‘standards’ in sessions throughout the world. In more recent years he has been expanding the scope of his compositions to embrace larger scale forms and instrumentation. “The Singing Stream” written for four sets of Uilleann Pipes was commissioned by the William Kennedy Piping Festival and had performances in 2002 and 2003. “40” was written for the 40th Anniversary of the Armagh Pipers’ Club and performed by over 100 members of the Club in Armagh’s Marketplace Theatre in 2006. In 2007 Niall composed an original score for the BBC TV documentary “The Flight of the Earls”. Some of this music formed the basis for “Flight-Imeacht” – a 20-minute piece for traditional instruments (pipes, concertina, flute, percussion), chamber orchestra and piano. This was premiered in Belfast’s Grand Opera House at the Belfast Festival in 2007, and was performed again at the Irish Institute for Europe in Leuven, Belgium in February 2008. “Rakish” a multi-media piece based on the music of piper Johnny Doran and poet Gearóid Mac Lochlainn, was premiered in November 2008.

In 2009 Niall was commissioned by RTE Lyric FM and the Cork Folk Festival to write a major work for concertina and strings – “The Red Tree” was premiered at the Cork Folk Festival and subsequently performed at Glasgow’s Celtic Connections.

In 2011 Niall premiered a new work for concertina and String Quartet. Commissioned by University College Cork, “Ó Riada Room” was premiered by Niall and the RTÉ Vanbrugh Quartet at the Glucksmann Gallery. “Sondas” a piece for cello and tape was premiered and has subsequently been widely performed by Kate Ellis. He completed a commission in 2012 for fiddle-player Zoe Conway..

Niall is currently working on new commissions for the Kronos Quartet and the Crash Ensemble, and is arranging a programme of music to be performed by Lúnasa and the RTÉ Concert Orchestra at the National Concert Hall in June.

“Niall Vallely’s technical mastery and genius for improvisation are matched by apparently inexhaustible creative reserves.”
Nuala O’Connor, The Irish Times

“Niall is one of the most original and virtuosic concertina players in the history of Irish music.”
Don Meade, Irish America Magazine

“It's seldom that instruments are reinvented by individual musicians. Larry Adler did it with a harmonica; so did Pierre Bensusan with his acoustic fingerstyle guitar. And now Niall Vallely has done it again with the humble concertina.”
Siobhán Long, The Irish Times

      The Press

How to Hold the Concertina

ConcertinaThe concertina is generally held with the left-hand side of the instrument resting on the left leg. The right-hand side needs to be free to move in and out. It may be useful to raise the left leg in order to provide some room for movement.

It is important, for two reasons, to try to keep the bellows off your leg: firstly, the movement of the bellows would be hampered, and secondly, because the leather in the bellows would eventually be worn down and this would eventually lead to air leaking. While this is the most usual way of holding the concertina, some players may alternatively rest the left-hand side of the instrument on their right leg; I occasionally do this if I get tired from sitting in the one position. It also wouldn't be totally out of the question to rest the right-hand side on your leg with the left-hand side free.

As with any instrument, it is a good idea to try to develop a comfortable posture at the very beginning. The many musicians who are suffering from tendonitis and related injuries would probably like to be able to turn back the clock to correct bad habits that went unnoticed in their formative years. It is important to try not to tense up all the muscles in your arms and shoulders, as this will only hinder their movement. Bear in mind at all times that moving the bellows in and out doesn't actually require very much movement at all: in fact, the less the better. Neither the bellows nor your fingers ever need to move very far.

The hand straps should be tight enough that you don't need to tense up your hand to hold up the instrument, but they shouldn't be so tight as to restrict the movement of your fingers or cut off your circulation.

Beginners - My Singing Bird

This is another song. At this stage your main aim should be just to familiarize yourself with the layout of the notes and the way in which they move in and out. You can concentrate on making it sound more musical later on.

My Singing Bird

Play Video ⬇

Advanced - The Monaghan Twig

This is another tune in the key of A, although it is not strictly speaking in A Major, as there are G NATURALS rather than G#s. I have played a lot of this tune on the inside row so that it remains playable regardless of the various different layouts of the C# buttons.

The Monaghan Twig

Play A Part ⬇

Play B Part ⬇

Play Full Tune ⬇