Accordion Tips

How to master your instrument     The purpose of this page is to encourage the accordion player of medium ability to quickly improve their playing and explore avenues of expertise that will produce results that will be apparent in whatever style of music they want to excel in There’s no magic solution to becoming a better player, but careful use of practice time, and above all discipline, will quickly bring results one never thought possible I will assume that you are at a stage where you are able to play both bass and treble, either from music or by ear, and produce recognisable melodies more or less in time. If you have reached this stage in your musicianship, then this is definitely for you. If you love your instrument, you will not only be doing yourself a favour by adopting these tips, but when you perform publicly, you will be improving the perception of the general public of our instrument. In the past, people have performed publicly when the have not mastered the bass side of the instrument, just playing the C bass and chord throughout a melody. With this the “accord” part of word “accordion” becomes discord and has alienated many who have been subjected to this.You should realise that an accordion is one of the only instruments that can simultaneously produce bass,chord and melody, with the addition of dynamic expression, without the aid of anything else but the players skill. This ranks it surely as second only to the king of all instruments, the church organ. In order to facilitate finding your favourite tips, I am going to start numbering them as each one is added starting at 1001. Accordion Hints and Tips

  • 1001       Divide practice into three. Music you know, New pieces and spend time to repair skaggy bits you know aren’t quite right

 

  • 1002      Accordion practice.If you have a passage that is wrong, try new fingering. It may take a while to find a better way to correct it , then play it 100 times at least then again the following day till it becomes automatic

 

  • 1003       The fingering you might use on an identical passage you have already played in a piece, might not be the best second time around. Much depends on the structure of the passage you are leading into which may catch you running out of fingers.

 

  • 1004        The thumb is the most useful digit you possess  with its ability to move in the transverse direction of the fingers and is the pivot to enable the fingers to be free to ascend or descend the keyboard smoothly. The thumb can easily pass under the fingers on ascending and the fingers can pass over the thumb on the descent

 

  • 1005       The bellows are the heart of the instrument and all the dynamics of the music are produced by their action. No amount of hammering the keyboard will produce any difference in the volume of the instrument and is not desirable if you are recording with a close microphone or even worse if you have internal mics fitted.

 

  • 1006        If you are stuck into a habit of playing a bass followed by its chord and the same bass again try to improve your technique by introducing an alternating bass if  the same chord is being used. In 3/4 time in the key of  C  introduce a G bass on the 2nd bar to produce the following sequence which is reminiscent of a basic Strauss intro. C bass C chord C chord G bass C chord C chord. Repeat until the demand for a chord change occurs. The chord could be major,minor 7th or diminished and when you move to another chord use the same technique. The alternating bass you will use will always be the major 5th which on Stradella bass is one up from the one in question. eg. In a passage where a D chord is the mode the alternating bass is A. In 4/4 time the alternating bass occurs in the same bar on the 3rd beat of the bar. More complex rhythms will see the alternating bass taking up different positions.

 

  • 1007         When faced with some impossible looking passage break it down into smaller bits. There’s a limit to what you can do ,but there’s also a limit to what you can’t do.

 

  • 1008          If you give public performances of your playing you need to keep all your best material well rehearsed. Just choosing at random what to practice can sometimes leave some pieces you haven’t played for a while in need of attention. If you work through the titles A – Z starting always at “A” and you have more than a couple of hours material you wish to keep fresh, “Zorba the Greek” will end up under rehearsed. To avoid this write the titles of your programme on small record cards, one on each card, which you could initially have A -Z, and run through as far as your rehearsal time will allow. You can continue through the pack next time you have a practice until you’ve gone through all the pieces. To avoid imprinting a running order using this method shuffle the cards next time and go through your repertoire in the new order. 

 

  • 1009           Sight reading above and below the treble stave can sometimes be a stumbling block. Just remember that if a note is in a space on the stave ie  F. A. C.& E. then the same note an octave higher or an octave lower will be on the line. Conversely those on the line E. G. B. D.& F. will be in spaces between ledger lines

 

  • 1010            If you are playing solo and you feel like altering the chord structure  of a piece of music and giving it your own style, then all credit to you. If we all stuck rigidly to the music as written the result would be quite boring. However if you are playing in a group your fancy chords and arpeggios will not go down well with your fellow musicians. Nor will it produce a very nice result to the members of your audience. The mixture of a C.major chord played at the same time as a C.aug 5th  is an assault on the ears.

 

  • 1011             When playing for dancing the two most important things are to play at the recognised tempo for the dance and, once established, not to vary the speed or mask the bass beat with syncopated embellishments.

 

  • 1012             When you think you’ve mastered a piece of music just check your timing with a metronome or drum machine. You could be in for a shock, and accept that they are going to be right and correct your timing.

 

  • 1013              When bass solos appear in accordion music some notes will have a line underneath them. This denotes that the note should be played on the counter bass row (assuming you are using a stradella  layout.) The note could of course be played on the second row but with more difficulty.

 

  • 1014               The counter bass note adjacent to the bass on the second row will always be a major 3rd above that note. eg. C bass on 2nd row is adjacent to E on the counter bass row.  Bb bass on 2nd row is adjacent to D on the counter bass row. But D on the second row is adjacent to F# on the counter bass row.

 

  • 1015               Unlike the treble side of the instrument, playing scales on the bass side is made easy by the fact that the same fingering  is used on all twelve major ascending scales. This applies to any progression of notes, minor scales, ascending or descending, riffs or bass solos etc. Once you have learnt a sequence of notes you can  therefore play it in any key with the same fingering.

 

  • 1016               The Stradella bass layout, invented by Mariano Dallape is a work of genius, and although at first sight it looks impossible to memorize, all you need know to visualize the buttons is to remember that starting at C bass on the second row in on a 120 bass instrument(usually dimpled) is that each successive row up towards your chin is a major 5th above the last row  ie from C the progression is G D A E etc which is also 1#,2#3#4# and so on. From C down to your lap the progression is  major 4ths  F Bb Eb Ab etc. which is also  1b, 2b 3b 4b etc. With this knowledge firmly in your head you can now visualize (using tip 1015 as well) every button on your bass side providing you also remember the six lines of buttons are from the bellows 1. Counter Bass 2.Bass 3 Major Chord 4.Minor Chord 5,Seventh & 6.Diminished.

 

  • 1017                  Don’t try to learn your bass side whilst looking at it through a mirror. When you are ready for public performance you won’t look very good carrying a full length mirror on stage, and besides your audience won’t be able to see you.

 

  • 1018                 If you think it’s great  to play your accordion through midi plus a high powered amplifier  at full blast, just be aware that the mistakes will be as loud and obvious as the the notes you should have played

 

  • 1019                 Learning the bass is essential to good accordion technique. For a close up view of bass in action have a look at my performance of “March des Accordeonists Lyonnaise” on youtube.    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=trZO8Jjph   

 

  • 1020                If you can play without music and you need  to sharpen up your performance material put the TV on and watch something with sub-titles on whilst you practice. Only if you make a mistake will you be distracted. You may surprise yourself how easy it is to do this

 

  •  1021                Does the effort of  bringing your accordion from the spare bedroom, down the stairs and onto a table to get it out for a quick practice make you change your mind and you end up doing something else. That’s another practice that will be lost. Why not put the accordion itself on a small table with a cloth over it so you can easily whisk it off any time you have a spare half hour? That way you could improve every day instead of now and then.

 

  • 1022                 To overcome weakness in the fingers especially the ring and little finger, buy a stress ball or a sports hand and finger exerciser which you can use to strengthen the fingers. As with any exercise, don’t overdo it at first but steadily improve with time.

 

  • 1023                 With music written for the accordion, the internationally method of writing the bass line progression has a couple of important rules. On the bass clef all notes on or below the middle line (D) are played on a bass button. Those above the middle line are played on a chord button. The chord is only shown as one note and variations from the major chord are indicated above by letter eg  min, 7th, dim
  • 1024                 Bellows action is the key to good playing. By the slightest increase of bellows pressure on the first beat of every bar , a much improved sense of rhythm is achieved.

 

  • 1025                 To improve the dynamics control of your instrument select a single reed in concert pitch on the treble side and play one  note in the middle of the keyboard. Start as softly as possible and holding the note, go from pianissimo to as loud as possible  without changing bellows direction, and back to as quietly as possible. At 120 beats a minute this exercise should be about 3.1/2 bars long. The aim is to increase and decrease the volume smoothly without loosing the note.

 

  • 1026               If you are holding a note in a piece of music use your ring or little finger to hold that note and  use your thumb and other two fingers  to  make a chord or run always making sure it agrees or compliments the bass chord being used in the passage.    

 

  •  1027              Avoid practising in town centres with a collection box on the floor. It’s not good for you, and it certainly is not good for the image of the instrument. Practice should be carried out in private, or with understanding relatives who know your going to become a star some day.

 

  • 1028               If, a while ago, you bought a piece of music you were keen to learn but  found it too difficult, why not try it again now with a new approach. If you bought the music a long time ago, you will have more experience, and may now be able to sail past the difficulty that made you give up on it. If your attempt at it was recent, try to think of the following analogy. If a train comes off the rails at the same point every time it will never reach its desired destination. The only remedy is to examine the cause in detail. With music, it may be a knuckle twisting progression, that trips you up every time you reach it. Maybe you are misreading a note which makes the sound so obviously wrong. Whatever the cause break the problem area down in the following order. The phrase, then bar by bar, and finally note by note, of  the bar that causes the problem. Once solved, build up the phrase,  first by starting at the bar before the disaster area, to the bar after it. Then play the whole phrase. Further daily practice will bring your piece out of obscurity, and you will soon be able to perform the piece you always wanted to, without a problem.

 

  • 1029                 When playing a piece of music in public that has a difficult passage coming up, don’t think about it. If you do, you’ll most certainly get it wrong. By doing that, you’re using a different area of the brain. If you have practised the piece sufficiently your brains “auto pilot” should ensure that you will be note perfect.

 

  • 1030                  Don’t expect to be able to perform a new piece at speed if it is peppered with quavers. It needs to be a reasonable tempo to make sense of the melody, but here’s the ideal time to use your metronome. (not the little man on the Paris underground!) Set the beat to roughly 20 beats per minute less than the finished target, and increase the beat by a few BPM’s as you progressively get the hang of the tune. 

 

  • 1031                    Every technique you master is a building brick to better accordion playing  and when you run through your repertoire you will  probably find suitable passages to utilise them to improve pieces you have already learnt.

 

  • 1032                   When music is published it is the composers communication to other musicians to be able to perform the melody and chord structure as he or she would perform it. However it is not written in stone and musicians are at liberty to adapt the music to their own style if they are performers. This is not true in the case of examinations or when they are part of a band, where the aim is to perform the piece exactly as written 

 

  • 1033                   Stylish accordion technique is what makes it worth travelling to hear a good player.  Computers can perform written music to perfection but it takes a human to give it soul.
  • 1034                  If you sit  a group of artists and ask them to paint the same scene you will no doubt recognise that they are indeed of the same view, but each painting will be different. This should be true of accordion performance.  

 

  • 1035                  If you feel like putting in some finger gymnastics into your playing, be sure that they actually fit in both  timing wise and do not disagree with the chord that accompanies them.

 

  • 1036                 When a melody comprises four or five beats on the same high note before descending on the keyboard think about playing those notes with the thumb or first finger followed by 3,4, & 5 which frees up the fingers for the lower passage and doesn’t leave you running out of fingers or having to make an awkward jump.

 

  •  1037                   When playing any passage of music always take care not to change bellows direction in mid phrase. It should be imperceptible   and akin to the breathing techniques singers use.

 

  •    1038                   Syncopated passages on an accordion can only be produced with correct bellows action. No amount of bashing the treble keyboard, where the required emphasis is demanded, will produce the slightest result. You must accent the required notes by producing just that little extra bellows pressure on those notes alone to make them stand out.

 

  •   1039                   It is essential to adjust the bass strap so that you can comfortably slide your hand up or down the stradella bass buttons from the B row down to Gb row whilst keeping the hand at 90 degrees to the buttons avoiding awkward twisting of the wrist  to reach  7th’s and diminished chords. The strap still needs to be tight enough to respond to the slighted pressure of bellows manipulation in either direction, but slack enough to  avoid wrist strain.   

 

  •   1040                   Treble couplers  are often marked by a system of dots lying above, between, or below two horizontal lines.  The number of dots on the tab with the most dots will correspond to the number of  reeds allotted to each of the piano keys. A top quality pro instrument will probably have 5 sets of reeds and a student model with couplers will only have 2 sets of reeds.  To make sense of the dots you need to know that any dots between the lines denote reeds tuned to concert pitch ie 8 ‘ in organ parlance,whilst those above and below the lines are an octave higher 4′ and an octave lower 16’ respectively.

 

  • 1041                       If you don’t happen to have 20-20 vision, reading music, is not very easy for accordionists whilst seated.  With the bulk of a 120 bass instrument on your chest, you are forced to have your music just beyond normal reading distances. If you rely on reading glasses, these are usually a shorter focal length. You end up pitching forward, shifting the weight of the instrument  into an uncomfortable playing position. The solution, with music you have purchased of course, is to split each portrait page in half. Photo copy each half, scaled up to double the size. Print the results in landscape mode. Sellotape the resultant A4 sheets together and you now can sit at a greater distance from your music stand  without distorting your normal playing posture.

 

  • 1042                     When playing a tune through three times it can be a good move to play it a full tone higher on the last run through. This provides added interest to the listener and brightens the melody. A move from C open key to D (two sharps) & from F (one flat) to G (one sharp) gives extra impact. Singers often use this ploy to give the final verse a dynamic finish. The effect is heightened by providing slightly more volume.

 

  •    1043                       If it’s a long time since you tried to learn a new piece of music, why not make a determined effort to learn a piece that you’ve always wanted to be able to play, which you perhaps gave up on a long time ago. Now you’ve had  more playing experience the stumbling block that caused you to give up before, may no longer defeat your efforts to add something new to your repertoire. Ideally it will be a piece which challenges your ability which has lasting benefits.

 

  • 1044                      The only way to make an obvious distinction between a 2/4 march and a 4/4 march is by correct bellows action. In a 2/4 march the rhythm is dealt with almost naturally because the bass is followed by the chord, it needs only slight extra pull on the first beat to produce.  However a 4/4 march rhythm needs bellows control to produce, on each bar, bass-chord-bass-chord, with the following emphasis. The first beat is heavy, the second beat is light, the third beat is medium and the fourth beat is light. In visual terms think of the weight of something to represent the stress in each bar as 3-1-2-1 Using this technique you should easily now distinguish between the two

 

  • 1045                          When playing French music the bass line is sometimes indicated using a system based on the tonic solfa (solfege) Instead of G major 7th for instance you will see “sol 7”. The system is a follows :- C D E F G A & B become doh re mi fa sol la & si. Key signatures  E flat and B flat are known as “mi bemol” and “si bemol”  Individual sharps like C sharp and F sharp  are referred to as “doh diese” and “fa diese”. Minor keys or chords are indicated with “min” and a piece we would title as a work in F sharp minor would be “fa diese mineur”

 

  •   1046                     Are you stuck in the habit as an ear player of playing only white notes      The scale you are playing is C major.     All major scales will follow the same pattern. the3rd and 4th notes of the scale and the 7th and 8th notes are always next to each other. This is true  whether the notes are black or white. Using this simple rule you should be able to play a scale starting on any  note on the keyboard. Try it out by starting on the white note to the left of a group of 3 black notes (F).Having played F,G & A the fourth note has to be the next one up which is Bb. followed by C,D,E and F.  Note that the & 7th & 8th notes E & F follow the rule of lying next to each other termed as a semi-tone apart, as are the 3rd & 4th notes. All the other intervals are a tone apart. If you successfully follow this example really test yourself starting on any of the black notes.

 

  •     1047                     If you feel like tackling a piece of music which you think looks to have a difficult passage in it, spend a little of your practice session to examine the passage in isolation. Ascertain that the portion you are examining is a musical phrase rather than just a bunch of notes. Pay attention to the time signature and give the first notes in each bar that little extra weight which will help make musical sense of the passage. Once this is practised you can learn the rest of the music and add another piece to you repertoire.

 

  •     1048                      Although Scottish & Irish dance music is often written in 6/8 rhythm it would    be impractical to play a bass or chord to each quaver beat in each bar. The bass is played on the first note and the chord on the fourth note of each bar.

 

  •     1049                      If you come across a tricky passage that prevents you from mastering a melody, use modern technology to help. You can record the tricky bit on your smart phone at a slower tempo, or using a music notation programme, input the notes. The latter has the added advantage that the computer programme will play it back at any tempo you wish, and you can transpose the melody at the touch of a button.

 

  •     1050                       Syncopation is the art of departing from the regular rhythm in a piece of music, which is following the normal stress beat on the first beat of each bar, and placing extra weight to any note, other than the first beat. Widely used in dance band music and jazz this toying with the emphasis usually only lasts for a few bars before moving imperceptibly into the original rhythm. The added emphasis of course can only be produced by correct control of the bellows.

 

  •     1051                        Hitting the right notes on music you have learned already, is only the starting point when it comes to performance. Your next stage is to think about dynamics. The music is like a dress pattern or a child’s colouring book insomuch that, as in most cases, there is very little guidance to pace attack and volume etc. The composer will have left it to you to put your personal touch to his or her work. The following tip will suggest how

 

  • 1052                          Instead of playing on one coupler setting, make full use of the various combinations you can use, on both the treble and bass. Use the bellows to give passages expression. When playing through several times, move up one octave. Modify tempo and volume to signal the finish. Sometimes the audience needs a clue or you might not get the applause you deserve.
  • 1053                        If you made a mistake when you were learning a piece of music and didn’t notice, it may stay with you for years.  To correct it will be difficult as you fingers will flatly refuse to now play the passage correctly at the normal tempo. The only solution is to isolate the passage, reduce the tempo, and rehearse the section repeatedly before attempting to play it within the piece. If it is still problematic, reduce the normal tempo of the whole piece until you finally eliminate your historic error. 
  • 1054                         Playing bars filled with triplets in French musette will never sound right unless you take care to get the stresses right. The first note in the bar will always need to be stressed in 3/4 giving it the feel of 9/8 time  or 12/8 in 4/4 time. The accompanying bass notes will of course will give the piece rhythm but the bellows technique should be used to emphasise the down beat.
  • 1055                           If you make a mistake in a passage of music there is no point in stopping playing and going back to the beginning. It is far better to plough on and not dwell on the error. Having said that if this is a stumbling block every time, then it is necessary to isolate the phrase and consider why this is happening.  Check that you haven’t adopted some knuckle breaking fingering which is causing you a problem
  • 1056                            Teach your right hand to play an arpeggio replacing swiftly the top note just played with the little finger, with the thumb, to play the arpeggio an octave higher. Starting on the bottom notes this can be done over 3 octaves on a full size keyboard.

This is only a start to this aid to better accordion playing. New material will be added weekly so share this with all your accordion contacts and help to promote a better opinion of  our instrument .