Frequently Asked Questions
What is the best technique for learning how to play the accordion?
There are many good ways; what is good for you depends on your unique set of skills, knowledge, and interests.
In no particular order: get a teacher for at least a few lessons after you’ve gotten your feet wet playing with the instrument. This will help you develop some strong habits.
If you can play by ear, do it. Every time you play.
Listen to or watch or youtube some accordionists you like. Even better, watch accordionists in live performance.
If you sing, or if you can learn to sing, sing with your instrument. Or hum.
Keep your instrument and chair and music stand handy or all set up to help maximize your playing time.
Do not make assumptions about how quickly you should learn. We all have our own paces. You do not need the pressure of artificial goals.
What is the best way to learn music theory on your own?
One of the best ways to learn music theory on your own is to learn it in the context of learning to play a musical instrument. The theory that you will learn is the most useful of all of it, and you will learn it concretely and by doing. Enjoy!
What instrument do you think is harder to learn to a proficient level between piano and the accordion and why?
As a teacher of accordion beginners, I can say that it’s harder to begin playing accordion than piano or keyboard because you must do three different things at the same time to play accordion: play right-hand piano type keys, play left hand buttons with a unique configuration, and pull, push, and control the bellows. Additionally, it is physically more challenging to play a right hand vertical keyboard like the accordion’s than to play piano keys that sit directly in front of you. Finally for this partial answer, you’ve gotta lift and carry and hold the accordion. Hopefully you don’t do that often with a piano.
What qualities make people good at learning to play an instrument?
Love of music and the instrument; inspiration; willingness to improvise and play by ear; willingness to memorize; persistence; discipine. Maybe in that order
Why are accordions so expensive?
If you’re lucky, you can get one from a relative’s closet that doesn’t have moisture or corrosion, but this is rare for the old ones from the 1960s etc. Used accordions that have been refurbished are relatively expensive because there are many moving parts and stationary parts that must be serviced. It’s a complicated machine. The new ones can be even more expensive for similar reasons. And even though digital or electronic or virtual accordions have fewer moving parts, they are still expensive compared to digital pianos and keyboards because there are so many more of the latter being produced. Hope this helps.
Does learning music theory take the joy out of music?
Big question. If theory diverts you from playing, composing, or improvising music, then yes. Yet most folks, accordionists at least, inform their improvisation and accompaniment by understanding the cycle of fifths, and I believe all musicians should know the structure, in half and whole steps, that underlies every major scale identically.
What's the most basic music theory someone needs to know to play the accordion for their whole life?
Two pieces: One, cycle or circle of fifths, as set out on the bass (Stradella) side, which tells you, as you learn it, about root tones, fourths, fifths, and all the others.
Two: a major scale, the most important building block of western music, is built from 7 tones: root, whole step, whole step, half step, whole step, whole step, whole step, then half step back to the root an octave higher. You can build any major scale with this piece of structural knowledge.
And a bonus #three: especially if you do not play a keyboard, if you choose to play an accordion with a right-hand chromatic button keyboard instead of a piano style keyboard, then if you learn a song in one key, you can play it in many keys. I am sorry nobody told me or showed me this when I was nine. I would have learned both piano and chromatic accordion then.
When starting to learn to play music, is it important to start off with a semi decent instrument or will a cheaper instrument do at first?
Start out with the best instrument you can borrow, use, rent, or buy. Try not to buy before you play some, because your musical possession could become a source of guilt like a gym membership.
The easier it is to play, the better it sounds, the more it helps you build love for music and musical process. Best luck!
If you teach yourself to play an instrument, would it be difficult to try to take lessons and learn differently after having taught yourself?
It could depend on your teacher. I do not have my self-taught or previously taught accordion students unlearn anything unless their particular habit will be extremely detrimental to their ongoing music. If you get a teacher bent on having you unlearn a number of things to do them his or her way, this may be counterproductive mechanically and definitely could kill your enthusiasm, which is key to moving forward.
Also, if you have been learning by ear, which is fabulous, find a teacher who will incorporate this skill and help you strengthen it, and not just try to convert you to note reading, which in some ways is a bunch of steps backwards. Best luck!
What keeps you motivated to practice the guitar when you’re not very good?
Everyone is very good, Luis. Find the simplest song or chord set or short note set you can play well, and perfect it. Then on to the next. There is infinite beauty in the music, from the simplest forward.
Which accordion tips do beginners mostly ignore?
Practice sometimes with separate hands; breathe before and while you play; be kind to yourself as you begin to learn, because coordinating left, right, and bellows is not easy; know that everything else after that is easier.
Is piano the best instrument to learn first?
To me the problem with piano like any piano-keyboard instrument, is that it pushes you into being key- of-C-centric, or unconsciously thinking that the white keys are more important than the black. As a piano accordionist I tend to play and think in the key of C. If I had it to do all over again from age 9, I would want to learn chromatic button accordion as well as piano accordion. On chromatic button, if you can play a song in one key, you can play it in any key. You can bypass c-centricity. (I would add in the year 2020: the best instrument to learn first is the one you WANT to learn first.)
What is the most important thing to keep in mind while learning to play accordion on my own?
Be prepared to breathe, go slow, and invest time right at the beginning, because early you must learn to coordinate right hand keyboard, left hand buttons, with left hand also pushing & pulling bellows.
Is music theory just an over-analysis of music?
Sometimes people mistake music theory for music, or get deflected from music by music theory, just as people get deflected from the English language by the study of diagramming sentences and naming the parts of speech. The name of a thing is not the thing.
Does the piano have more capabilities than a keyboard in the hands of a pro on both instruments?
The piano differs just as any acoustical instrument is different from its electronic counterpart. The acousticals have unique tones and overtones that no electronic quite has. On the other hand, not all of us can always hear the differences. Go figure.
Where can I find correct fingering exercises for a B system chromatic accordion with 5 rows? I’m teaching my self to play.
First thing I learned in trying to play B chromatic (Bayan) as well as C chromatic is that there is no such thing as uniquely correct or best fingerings. You have to feel it out for yourself even if somebody notates fingering for specific songs for you. I started to learn fingering with these two Russian books:
This should get you going well. Ask again if you have issues, and best luck. It’s a wonderful instrument.
Can you focus at all the different instruments at once when listening to music?
I think some people can just do this. Others develop the skill progressively while learning an instrument, singing more, or listening to music.
How did playing a musical instrument change your life?
I started accordion when I was nine, and, now retired from high school teaching, I get to teach accordion. Who would have thought that six free lessons at age nine would lead to fun and an income stream in retirement?
Thinking back on my acoustic guitar playing from age 16, I believe that I dealt with depression by singing and playing sad folk songs, especially till I was a young adult.
There’s more and more evidence that playing music engages more of the brain than any other activity. And I believe it’s as close as you get to a supreme being or the great spirit. What a gift!
What musical instrument do you like the most and why?
Gotta put accordion on this list. I’ve played since I was nine; also have played baritone horn and folk guitar. I’m privileged to give lessons now that I’m retired.
Where I live, accordion is much less common than piano or guitar. I’m sure that’s part of why I like it. Piano is absolutely fabulous, but plays much less of a role in world ethnic music. The ways different folks have adapted accordion to their music is astonishing, for example zydeco, Cajun, forro, Klezmer, tex- mex, tango, etc.
People who play full size chromatic button accordions with chromatic buttons both left hand and right hand can play just about any piano music with full range.
Those who play (the most common) piano accordion with piano keys on the right hand and bass buttons and chords organized in the circle of 5ths left hand cannot play all piano music, but that circle of fifths on the left hand, along with having single buttons that play three-note chords, opens a vast world of different ways to play and accompany.
As a professor how do you recognize that one student is wiser/smarter than others?
As a longtime alternative high school teacher, I think this is the wrong question. Wisdom and smartness are lateral, not hierarchical. If you’re alert and open to it, you can learn from all your students. We all bring different intellectual, experiential, and emotional strengths to the table. No one has a monopoly on this, and it’s not rankable.
How can I learn to accompany a soloist on an accordion?
Here are some ideas for accompanying yourself or others. You might be able to combine or extend or add to them:
Left hand alone: Only bass and chord oom pah 2/4 or 4/4 or oom pah pah 3/4 generally;
Bass and chord together 4 to a measure, generally 4/4 pop and jazz and blues;
Sustained left hand chords for a soft voiced singer, especially for organ style or church style music;
Bass runs and bass solos behind a blues vocal;
Right hand alone: 3 note chords on second and fourth beats (4/4) or on second and third beats (3/4) or in some more exotic rhythm;
Left & right hands together: Two hand intro to cue the singer;
Single harmony notes right hand along with one of the above left hand styles;
Play a verse, melody and accompaniment, while you or the singer rest your voice;
Improvise a verse as above.