Early Anglo-Chromatic Concertina Tutors and the Development of the Chorded Style of Accompaniment

Dan Worrall


Anglo playing styles of today have evolved for nearly a century and a half in several different locations around the world, and today they differ profoundly from country to country, and from player to player within individual countries. For instance, the highly ornamented style championed by West Clare player Noel Hill is quite distinct from North Clare player Chris Droney’s relatively unornamented approach. Shropshire player John Kirkpatrick’s vamped and chorded playing is quite distinct from the octave playing of the former Sussex player, Scan Tester. South African player Faan Harris employs a heavily chorded style that is yet very distinct from the many British players who, like Kirkpatrick, employ a chorded style of accompaniment. Australian player Dooley Chapman approached octave playing and fingering of the simple G scale in a manner different than Englishman and octave player Tester, and different as well from Irish player Seamus Droney (father of Chris Droney). In each case, those differences involve much more than just the choice of notes and the personal musical preferences of the performer, and are based upon very different approaches to fingering the three-row keyboard, where a note may be either pushed or pulled and may have as many as three or four separate locations on the keyboard. Whereas Chris Droney will play in the keys of G and D largely along the G row, Noel Hill will play in those same keys extensively utilizing all three rows. Where John Kirkpatrick plays chordal accompaniment largely on the left side with oom-pahs (rhythmic bass note and chord combinations), Faan Harris will play chordal harmonies on both sides of the instrument, most often without oom-pahs.

Such varied approaches to playing the unique keyboard of this instrument did not spring up overnight, as evidenced by the German and Anglo-German tutors of the 1860s and 1870s, which were produced during the salad years of the Anglo concertina. Most of these early tutors simply explained the elements of the keyboard, showed how to play a scale in C on the C row and in G on the G row, and demonstrated how to play a basic chromatic scale. They also included music for popular tunes of the day, usually written as single note melodies. Three American tutors for the German concertina of that era, originally posted in the “Concertina Library: A Digital Reference for Concertinas,” provide a good idea of these simple approaches to playing melody along the row (rarely with some basic harmony notes also added); they are included here as PDF links:

Few of these early tutors demanded much of their pupils besides basic along-the-row melodic playing. However, professional and semi-professional popular musicians of the time were taking their German and Anglo-German concertinas into new territory as street performers, music hall entertainers, and Salvation Army accompanists for singing and for band music. In these settings, chording was called for, and in keys other than the C and G home rows of the instrument. Two late nineteenth-century musicians, Charles Roylance and Herbert Booth, published tutors that finally addressed this growing market – one that would require the chorded, vamped manner of playing in which many if not most English players approach the Anglo today. None of the tutors published by Roylance or by Booth would be recommended for players of today, as the approaches employed are outdated, and were probably not fully up to date even as they were written. Nonetheless, they are worth a glance not only as a rare window into the playing styles of Anglo concertinists in the music halls, streets, and Salvation Army rallies of the late nineteenth century, but as a milepost against which to gauge the development of Anglo concertina techniques of today.


Charles G. Roylance was born in London ca. 1841. He lived and worked in the Fitzrovia District of central London, an area lying between Marylebone and Saint Pancras, and due southeast of Regent’s Park. In Victorian and Edwardian times, it was known for its tradesmen and craft workshops – people like Charles Roylance.1 He sold English and German concertinas, harmoniums, banjos, and other musical instruments, and provided private lessons on the English concertina. In his own words, from a letter to the editor of a trade journal in 1894:

I think as a teacher of the English concertina since 1865, I may be allowed to say a few words on the above subject. I formed English concertina classes and my concertina band in 1869, and gave my first band concert on March 29th, 1870, at the Benjamin Franklin Hall in Castle Street, and my last band concert in Store Street Hall, Tottenham Court Road, on October 30th, 1890. … I have worked very hard in the interest of the concertina, and published selections for concertina and piano, as also a concertina band journal, arranged for treble, alto, tenor and bass, with pianoforte accompaniment. 2

He also held contests for players of the English Concertina, many of whom were his pupils. A trophy from one of these events has survived and is displayed in Neil Wayne’s digital “Concertina Museum” (www.concertinamuseum.com). It is engraved:

Presented to Mr W J Corton, by the Umpires, for the best-played Concertina solo at Mr. C Roylance’s Concertina Contest at the Cambridge Hall, Newman Street, Oxford Street, July 5th 1870.

Around 1875, Roylance published a tutor for the English Concertina, clearly his chosen instrument, entitled Roylance’s Complete English Concertina School.3 In it, he described the ease with which one could learn to play that instrument: “The fingering of the Concertina is extremely easy, so with ordinary attention to the following instructions, any person with the least musical talent, may in a very short time perform any favourite melody.” He published several other works for English concertina: Harmonized Scales and Studies for the English Concertina, 1877; How to Learn the English Concertina Without a Master, also 1877; Studies for the English Concertina, 1880; and The English Concertina Player’s Companion, 1886.4

During the 1870s, Roylance’s storefront was at 38 Charlotte Street in Fitzrovia; an advertisement of 1871 lists that address and describes him as a “Professor of the English Concertina, Harmonium, and Singing,’ adding that “Mr. Roylance is a brilliant and assured performer upon the English Concertina, whose difficulties he has quite conquered.”5 A description has survived of one of his student-concerts, of 1873:

The thirteenth concert by the pupils of Mr. Roylance’s singing and concertina classes took place at the Store Street concert-room on Wednesday week, and gave general satisfaction. The programme comprised something like twenty-five items. The concertina performances were creditable to master and pupils, and in a selection of English airs Mr. Roylance gave evidence of the mastery he has over the instrument. The “concertina band,” which numbered about a dozen instruments, was worthy of the encomiums bestowed.6

Although his personal taste in music was clearly classical, as evidenced by some of the material in his English Concertina tutors, his shop sales were more ecumenical, and included music for the very popular German Concertina but other instruments useful in the pop music of the day. That included large doses of American minstrel music, as evidenced by this advertisement of 1876:

Within the Reach of Everybody: Roylance’s musical instruments can be had at once at 2s. 3d. per week until paid for. Harmoniums, Concertinas, Violins, Banjos, Musical Boxes, Melodian-Organs, Cornets, Drums, Organ-Accordions, Flutes, Piccolos, Guitars, Triangles, Tambourines, Accordions, Bird-Organs, Violin Bows, Nigger Bones, Nigger Wigs, Zithers, etc. etc. 38, Charlotte-Street, Fitzroy-Square.7

Indeed, his first tutor appears to have been written for the humble two-row German Concertina: How to Learn the German Concertina, published in 1870. Humble though it may have been, the cheap German Concertina was outselling the English Concertina by more than fifty instruments to one, and so he would issue more tutors for the German concertina – especially for working class people without the means for private lessons.8 He also published tutors for banjo, violin, hammer dulcimer, harmonium, flute, and other instruments.9

In 1879, Roylance’s business address changed to 184 Tottenham Court Road, only a few blocks away from his previous Charlotte Street address, and at the corner of the more substantial Oxford Street. Here he remained until at least 1893. By 1904 he was still active with lessons and repairs, but at 122a Drummond Street, just north of Fitzrovia. By 1914 he was in business with a relative, the firm called “C&S Roylance,” at 88 Seymour Street, in Paddington near Marble Arch.10


In the 1840s and 1850s, cheap two-row German-made concertinas were flooding into Great Britain. By the 1850s, the term ‘concertina,’ previously applied solely to the English concertina made by the Wheatstone and Lachenal companies, began to be applied to these “German concertinas” as well. The keyboard arrangement and the lower price, as well as the ease in learning how to play it, made them an instant success. Starting in the early 1850s, makers like George Jones, John Nichols, John Crabb, and Rock Chidley began making concertinas with German-style keyboards but with higher quality English-made reeds and actions. These were soon named Anglo-German concertinas, and had two rows of buttons, soon to be enhanced by adding a third row with two to ten and even more additional buttons. The 30-button model, fully chromatic, soon became the dominant form, and was used by many professional British players and street musicians.11 In the 1870s, tutors began to be produced for these 30-button Anglo-German concertinas, as demand increased for that version of the instrument, which was called the “30 key Anglo-German concertina” or the “chromatic Anglo-German concertina.” (The shortened name in use for the Anglo-German concertina today, “Anglo,” became a popular contraction after World War I, when anti-German feelings ran deep in Great Britain).12 Charles Roylance’s tutor of 1878, How to Learn the Anglo-German Concertina of 30 Keys, (posted here in its entirety) is a better-than-average example of the tutors being produced for this 30-keyed instrument.

The first section of the tutor contains the pre-requisite instruction on how to read music – necessary because most aspiring German-concertina players of the era could not read music, nor could many afford private instruction. In a nod to practices established in many earlier tutors for German concertinas, Roylance uses tablature throughout his tutor, including button numbers and push/pull marks, but exhibits his background in English concertina and classical music when he instructs his pupils to try to do without them:

Although the signs generally used for German concertina music are used in this tutor, the student is advised (after having thoroughly mastered the names of the notes and their duration) to do away with them, and play the notes as written, and not to depend too much upon their aid….no one wishing to perform well, ought to be fettered by them any longer than he can help. (p. 2)

In my experience, few Anglo players of today are fully adept at reading music notation for their instrument in all principal keys, and most depend upon memory at least to some extent. In my own case, I can sight-read music reasonably well in the keys of C and G, and somewhat haltingly in D and F, but to read sheet music in Bb or Eb or E major – all keys attempted in Roylance’s tutor – is a bit beyond my pay grade, and I suspect that as well of the vast number of my peers. The Anglo-German 30-button does not lend itself well to reading music in any but the most basic home keys, and never has.

The main section of exercises (pages 8-26) take the pupil through the basics of playing in the keys of C, G, D, A, and E Major, as well as F, Bb, and Eb, along with their relative minor keys. In each case, the suggested fingering for the scale (in other words, choices for the specific buttons to be used) is given, along with some exercises as well as a tune or two in that key, usually with some sort of harmonized accompaniment added. At first glance, this looks like an exercise in proving that the instrument can play in any key, just like its English cousin. This is, however, a long way from playing it well in any key, as a closer look at Roylance’s instructions shows. For example, the scale of D, on page 14, starts off well enough, but the last three notes, B-C#-D, are played on keys pull 1 right, push 1a right, and pull 2 right, which creates a traffic jam for the right hand. That traffic jam is easily and usually avoided by playing all the notes on the G row except for the C#, which is of course played on the push-1a-right side button on a standard Wheatstone layout, which Roylance uses. Another good fingering for the D scale would be essentially the same as this but with its first two notes played on the C row. Either way, the traffic jam at the end of the scale is avoided. One senses that Roylance did not have deep knowledge of the Anglo’s keyboard puzzles, and that he was only going through the motions of showing that it could be played in any key, as would any salesman.

In a way, gaining much depth in keyboard knowledge for some of the more exotic keys for a C/G Anglo still lay in the future. For example, Roylance’s scale of Bb – not a typical key for most players –seems easy enough, and occupies keys in the top two rows of the left hand, with about equal numbers of alternating push and pull notes. In the early twentieth century, however, the South African concertinist Faan Harris played a variant of that scale on those two same rows on the left hand, but with all but one note (the middle C) on the pull. Working with simple harmonies (mostly thirds), he produced a very melancholy Hartseer Wals (Heartache Waltz) that took advantage of the pull D scale (or rather, its relative minor of B minor) to make a legato sound, with no bellows changes, that perfectly fit the tune’s sense of melancholy. Such a degree of refinement in a key like Bb – typical of South African players – was beyond the ken of Roylance and, perhaps, that of most players of his time. Regardless of country, Anglo players have developed such finesse only slowly over the years, be it the fluidity (and rapidity) of Noel Hill’s reels or the walking bass lines and chords tied to right hand melodies of a first-rate morris Anglo player like John Watcham. The Anglo lends itself to quiet reflection on its myriad keyboard possibilities.

The Favourite Hornpipe (p. 17), nowadays better known as the Cliff Hornpipe, is included as an example of a tune in the key of A. It is typically played today in either D or F, and for good reason. There seems from Roylance’s example to be no compelling reason to play the tune in A, as it makes the tune rather tangled on the keyboard. Silver Moonlight Winds (Are Blowing), the sample tune in the key of Bb (p. 23), was written by the Boston composer Paul Ordway in 1858, in the key of D, and its transposition to Bb seems to have added little. The music hall favorite Come Birdie Come was originally written and published by Charles Albert White in 1870 in the key of Bb, but is included here in the key of F (p. 21). I leave it to the reader to see how well these examples work, but I do not find any of them particularly compelling as a representative system for playing the Anglo.

The final section of this tutor is devoted to a series of duets for Anglo-German concertinas. Sensibly, the tunes are all in C and G; there is no more experimentation in “exotic” keys, which supports the notion that the previous exercise of playing in all keys was mainly a demonstration for demonstration’s sake. For most tutors that either preceded or followed Roylance, the keys of C and G were the preferred keys on the C/G Anglo, along with a lesser use of D and F.

In summary, Royland’s 1878 tutor was an experiment in utilizing the full chromatic range of the recently expanded 30-key instrument, and although it demonstrated some interesting possibilities, the full utilization of its chromatic range in producing handy ways of playing in keys like Bb, A, etc. – ways of making a tune more easy to play and/or more musical – was still a work in progress, and in many ways still is. Most otherwise proficient players today would rather buy a second instrument in Bb/F or Eb/Bb than learn to play large numbers of melodies in those keys on a C/G keyboard, the South Africans (with 40 button C/G instruments) excepted.


In 1889, Roylance published a much more insightful tutor, The Anglo-German Concertina Player’s Companion, Containing a Choice Selection of Favorite Marches, “Vamps” & Harmonized Scales in all the Principal Keys, Together with Effective Interludes and Cadenzas (posted here in its entirety). This tutor was produced during the all-time peak of the Anglo’s global popularity,13 and an examination of it gives one a sense of how the Anglo concertina was being used at the time by music hall performers and by musicians for dances. That this was a tutor for the music hall style of the day is clear from the 30-button keyboard diagram on page 1, which included extra keys for a bird whistle and a cock’s crowing!

The first major segment of the tutor is dedicated to the art of vamping, and a basic set of “omm-pahs” are given for all the principle keys. The vamps do not stray from the basic “three-chord trick” of the I, IV and V chords, which for the key of C (p. 2) includes the C, F, and G chords.14 Roylance gives only a push C, a pull F, and a push G chord. An alternate pull G chord, which is extremely useful in maintaining air in the bellows, is not shown, which is puzzling at best. That versions of C and F vamps in alternate bellows directions are left out seems fair enough, as those chords are weak at best on a 30-button Anglo. But a full discussion of chords in alternate directions appears to have been still in the future.

It would appear from the highlighting of vamping in this tutor that the Anglo was being used to accompany songs on the stage, which accounts for the vamps in keys of Bb, Eb, and the like; these vamps would arm the concertina player with the ability to play along with any vocalist performing popular songs. Vamping in such keys was also being taught in Salvation Army tutors, for use with hymn-playing brass bands that favored those keys. Vamps were also used to accompany instrumental tunes, since alternate vamp rhythms are given (p. 6) for waltz, polka, and quadrille times. These vamps are extremely basic, with no walking bass lines or similar such embellishments; it would seem very likely that skilled street players of the era were at least experimenting with such bass lines, although no proof can be offered. No vamps are given in minor keys, either because much more discussion would be required to show how chords are selected to accompany minor key tunes, or perhaps because tunes in minor key were less frequently encountered in the English music hall.

Roylance does not label his vamping chords (e.g., C, F, G, etc.). Moreover, he provides other chords – beyond those of the standard “three-chord trick” – only in the guise of harmonized scales in all principal keys (pp. 7-8). This comprises a very basic approach to harmony at best, although it does give a player with no other teaching resources the bare idea of how to search for chords using all three rows of the instrument.

The longest section of the tutor includes well-known dance tunes and songs of the day. Ten hornpipes appear in melody-only form, as well as in the form of vamped accompaniment (without melody). It would seem that vamping was a primary requirement for the Anglo concertina player. In typical minstrel groups of that era, the concertina and the banjo were the only instruments capable of chorded accompaniment, as the guitar had not yet hit its stride in popular music.

Most of the more rapid dance tunes (schottisches, marches, and the like) are shown as simple melodies, but waltzes like the Blue Danube and White Wings are given as melodies with simple harmonic accompaniment. These are artfully done, and show that the skilled solo music hall performer of the day was combining both melody and harmony – something that came in handy when playing solo for house dances. Perhaps surprisingly, there is no reference in this music to playing of the type so prevalent among English players today, where the melody is rather rigidly kept on the right, and oom-pah vamps on the left. William Kimber and (perhaps) his father were actively playing in (and maybe developing) that style in Oxfordshire at the same general time period as the publication of this tutor in London, but they likely had no influence on these arrangements.

Finally, the tutor concludes with a set of hymns and chants, shown as simple harmonized melody lines, following the example of the harmonized scales earlier in the tutor.


Herbert H. Booth (1862-1926) was the son of the founder of the Salvation Army, William Booth, and was himself a significant force in that organization. He became a Salvation Army bandmaster in about 1884, and composed songs for the SA. He was an active player and proponent of the Anglo-German concertina and its use by Army cadres, seeing its utility for accompanying singers and marchers during noisy SA street rallies. In 1888, he took command of all SA operations in the British Isles, and became Commandant for Canada in 1892.

In 1888, he published the first of several concertina tutors for the Salvation Army, entitled Instructions for the Salvation Army Concertina, included in PDF form here.15 It was published in London for Salvation Army bookstores. At the time, the 26-button Anglo-German concertina pitched in Bb/F was the Army’s workhorse, as attested by the many of the old Jones and Jeffries concertinas of that pitch that still come to market today, from time to time. This tutor is unique amongst early tutors in containing no musical notation of any kind; rather it offered a tablature in the form of keyboard diagrams for the untutored, musically illiterate players who joined the Army. It showcased the vamping style of accompaniment preferred for SA rallies, which featured massed groups of singers that needed a large volume of accompaniment.

There are diagrams showing basic I-IV-V chords (the “three-chord trick”) for a number of keys, both major and minor; the chords are shown as played with two hands without the melody. With this instruction, a musician could accompany just about any song in all the principle keys by rhythmically pumping the bellows. It is to be assumed that further instruction in playing more musically, perhaps with basic rhythmic oom-pahs, for example, was given on the spot at rallies like the following one, from a description of 1885:

The ordinary service of the Salvation Army is familiar to many. . . . The strains of a brass band, which have been growing louder for some minutes, burst with deafening force upon the ear as the players, blowing with fearful energy, file up the aisle and drop on their knees upon the platform. A steeply rising orchestra is what the Army likes; the one before us is now filled with “Soldiers.” The first hymn begins, the drum leading off to give the time. The start is pretty loud, but the fortissimo is reserved for the chorus, where band and voices chime in together.

Several soldiers are armed with concertinas; nearly all the women have tambourines; those who have no instrument at all clap their hands to mark the rhythm of the music. . . . Each person beats time as if he or she were the conductor, and as if the utmost bodily exertion were necessary to prevent the music from breaking down. Each one, moreover, beats time in his or her own way. One man seems to be perpetually hailing an omnibus; another pounds away with his fists as if he were kneading dough; another rolls from side to side until one feels every moment that he will lose his balance. The concertina players sweep their instruments in wide circles; the girls lift their tambourines on high, or turn to their neighbors with raised finger as if imparting them some startling information. The spectators—this word is more expressive than “congregation”—stare at the performance, a fair proportion join in the chorus, their voices being faintly audible amid the blare of the cornets and bombardons.

Probably the next song will be a solo with concertina accompaniment, in every way more pleasant to the ear and the devotional sense, for there is no gesticulation, and the voices of many of these Salvationists, if untrained, are full of natural sweetness, while they are taught to make their words audible.16

Like Roylance, Booth does not give separate push and pull versions of the same chords, and instead shows only one version of each chord; the bellows air valve took up the slack.


The use of the Anglo for vamped chordal accompaniment appears to have come about in England in the late nineteenth century, following a time when (at least as evidenced by tutors) the German and Anglo-German concertinas were mainly melodic instruments with occasional additions of simple harmonies. Both Roylance and Booth demonstrate primitive methods with which to belt out simple chords in a variety of keys, without playing the melody itself. Roylance goes a bit farther in showing how to organize those chords into simple oom-pahs (rhythmic bass note and chord combinations that further support the music).

From that point, the printed record is unclear, but suffice it to say that with many talented performers in the British Isles and further abroad, a new style finally emerged where rhythmic chords were largely placed on the left hand, and a melody, separately, on the right. The most prominent (and indeed, the only recorded) proponent of this style from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries was William Kimber, Jr. (1872-1961), who played for morris dances and village social dances in Oxfordshire. He learned from his father, William Kimber, Sr. (1849-1931), and thus it is likely that the men of the Kimber family were already adding left hand chords to their melodies while Roylance and Booth were developing their tutors.17 In the early twentieth century, significantly before the so-termed “concertina revival” that began in the 1960s, players like Ellis Marshall, Bill Link, Eric Holland, and Fred Kilroy all used rhythmic chording to ornament their pieces, showing that the practice was widespread by that time.18

The English musical scene of that day was likely a creative soup in which influences rippled back and forth in both rural and urban settings. The larger-than-life rallies of the Salvation Army bands as well as the chorded accompaniment in small music halls likely had an oversized influence on the development of Anglo playing in Britain, which tends to more frequent use of chorded accompaniment than, say, Ireland or Australia. After the near-death of Anglo playing in England in the middle of the twentieth century, revival players like John Kirkpatrick, John Watcham, and Roger Digby continued to play in a markedly chorded manner, and the practice continues to the present day.

The Roylance and Booth tutors demonstrate how important vamping was in playing the popular music of Victorian and Edwardian times, both for singing – in multiple keys – and for accompanying melody instruments in vocal and instrumental groups of the era. And by comparing their prescriptions with the techniques in use today, we can see just how far Anglo technique has come in the intervening century.


  1. “Fitzrovia,” Wikipedia, accessed September 2017.
  2. From a letter by Charles Roylance to the Editor of The Evening News and Post, quoted in Musical Opinion & Music Trade Review April 1, 1894, p. 454. Quoted from a post by Stephen Chambers on 21 September 2006, www.concertina.net, forums.
  3. Randall C. Merris, 2003, “Instruction Manuals for the English, Anglo, and Duet Concertina: An Annotated Bibliography,” Concertina Library, http://www.concertina.com/merris/bibliography/english-tutors.htm. This article also appeared in The Free-Reed Journal, Vol. IV (2002).
  4. Merris, op. cit.
  5. Advertisement, The Musical Times and Singing-class Circular, (1871), p. 227.
  6. “Concerts Various,” The Musical World, May 10, 1873, p. 308.
  7. Advertisement, The Bazaar, The Exchange and Mart: August 16, 1876, p. vi.
  8. Dan M. Worrall, The Anglo-German Concertina, A Social History (Fulshear, Texas, Concertina Press, 2009), v. 1, p. 19.
  9. Advertisement, The Bazaar, The Exchange and Mart: London, August 16, 1876, p. vi.
  10. Arthur W. J. G. Ord-Hume, Harmonium: the history of the reed organ and its makers (David & Charles, 1986).
  11. Many others played still more expansive 36- and 38-key models, full of choices for alternate bellows directions for certain notes.
  12. Worrall, op. cit., pp. 19-41.
  13. Dan M. Worrall, op. cit., see discussion, Chapter 1.
  14. See Roger Digby, “Faking It: A guide to selecting appropriate chords on the Anglo and Duet concertinas” (2005) posted at “The Concertina Library,” www.concertina.com.
  15. The scan was provided by Stephen Chambers, and is posted on the “Concertina Library” site, www.concertina.com.
  16. John Curwen, “The Music of the Salvation Army,” in Studies in Worship Music, (London: J. Curwen and Sons, 1880), pp. 28-29.
  17. Dan M. Worrall, The Anglo Concertina Music of William Kimber (English Folk Dance and Song Society, London, 2005)
  18. Dan M. Worrall, House Dance: Dance music played on the Anglo-German concertina by musicians of the house dance era, CD Rom, Musical Traditions (Gloucestershire: Stroud, 2011), Chapter 9.