If you aren’t at all interested in melodeon fingering layouts then look away now. You have been warned.
My last blog post of 2012 is on an interesting idea. Regular readers may remember that I wrote a little-understood post on classifying accordions a little while ago and mentioned in that post the possibility of Chromatic, Bisonoric, Button Accordions. This I defined as an accordion which uses buttons, having different notes on push and pull and based around a chromatic scale. There haven’t been any such accordions built, but the subject of this blog post is one possible idea.
The Loomes Chromatic, invented by the noted folk musician and melodeon expert Jon Loomes, is a hexatonic accordion. This means that rather than being based around the diatonic scale (which has seven notes to the octave), it is based around the whole tone scale, which has six notes to the octave. Regular readers may recall that the Hayden-Wikki Layout that I have on my Impiliput is based on the whole tone scale, as is the Janko Layout, which I have talked about before. The Loomes layout is an attempt to fit the whole tone scale into a bisonoric instrument.
There are several advantages to this approach. The first is that with more than one row, a bisonoric layout based on the whole tone scale would have every note of the chromatic scale, more than most diatonic accordions. The second is that because it has six notes to the octave rather than seven, the fingering remains constant across octaves. On the standard diatonic accordion, the push sequence along a row repeats on every fourth button, but the pull sequence repeats on every fifth buttons. This means that the fingering on each octave gets progressively different, which catches the beginner out very easily. It also limits the range of the instrument, since there are only really two and a bit usable octaves before the offset becomes awkward. Of course, if you have a standard two row diatonic accordion then the fingering on a particular direction is constant across octaves, since the relationship between rows is the same. A whole tone instrument does not suffer from this problem however, as both the push and pull sequence would repeat on the fourth button. This means no range limitation bar that imposed by the reeds themselves.
Jon, in his original idea, envisaged a two row instrument, with each row separated by a semitone. If you want, you can think of this as the equivalent in the whole tone scale of a D/D# melodeon, as the relationship between D and D# on the principal octave is the same as on that (rare but interesting) system. He has paired it with 24 melodeon basses, without thirds.
Below is my interpretation of his idea. Mine is the equivalent of an A/D/G, as A, D and G are on a single diagonal in the same direction. My original idea when designing it was to make it easier for a quint player to pick up, as some of the note relationships are the same. In reality though, it is an ‘outside in’ system (starting on the outside row and switching in), whereas Jon’s version is an ‘inside out’ system. A C#/D/D# equivalent can be found here. I leave it to the interested reader to work through the patterns. I’ve paired it with a fifteen free bass Hayden-Wikki system, just as an example, although I’ve got other ideas about what would be the best bass layout for it. Thanks to Lester Bailey for the google docs templates (click here for more).
The main competition to this system, in terms of bisonoric instruments that play in any key, is the B/C/C# or British Chromatic Accordion. This was played by the great Sir Jimmy Shand and is today played by John Kirkpatrick, amongst others. I also play it, albeit not terribly well compared to that august company. I think that the Loomes offers a few advantages over the B/C/C#. In particular, the three rows mean that major and minor chords for every scale can be played on the right hand (which is not possible on the B/C/C#). This is a substantial advantage for those interested in harmony. There are six reversals (notes which can be played in either direction), down from the B/C/C#’s eight, but both G and A have reversals, which is not the case in the B/C/C#. Learning two different fingerings (one for tonic pull and one for tonic push) will get you all twelve major scales, whereas on the B/C/C# you need to learn five. Of course, there are alternate fingerings which will make certain passages or intervals easier on both systems, but crucially, there isn’t the scale of difficulty of different keys on the Loomes that there is on the British Chromatic.
I believe that the Loomes Chromatic has a lot of potential. It can play with equal facility in every key, with huge potential for harmonic exploration. The fingering is regular and almost isomorphic (a truly isomorphic keyboard would need four rows, at which point the weight and bulk would be uncomfortable). It is similar enough to existing systems that it wouldn’t be too difficult to learn. The fingering does not limit the range, giving greater flexibility over the number of buttons. It uses one less reed set per octave than a diatonic box. I want one.
If you are interested in making, converting or commissioning a box of this system and want to chat about it then I’d love to hear from you. And if you have any queries about the system or disagree with any of my conclusions then please do comment and I’ll do my best to answer.
Happy New Year!