Bellows and Fingering

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Bellows Technique

We considered discussing the bellows and fingering separately but they are inseparable. The bellows is to the bellows free reed instrument as the bow is to the violin. Bellows technique is at least half of learning the accordion. This is especially true of diatonic accordion, unlike chromatic button accordion or piano accordion, since diatonic accordion systems such as Accordion Conjunto Norteño requires the player to reverse bellows direction to obtain certain notes. An additional complexity is the instrument allows for many choices since many individual notes are found three times on the instrument. Generally speaking, while rapid and frequent bellows reversals provide some of the flavor of the smaller one-row and two-row instruments, the three-row instrument reduces the number of bellows reversals in favor of long runs in one bellows direction. They are designed for that purpose, and furthermore, the weight introduced by such design militates againts rapid and frequent bellows reversals.

On the other hand, the power of the (relatively) huge bellows of the three-row instrument allows it to drive the right side. The right side rocks as the bellows punctuates; it is this motion of the bellows, operated by the left hand, driving the right hand side that gives the characteristic punch to the sound of the instrument. Each note is enunciated by the bellows , even to the point of imparting some of the motion which results in the fingers of the right hand depressing the buttons.

Holding the Instrument

Generally, the instrument is held suspended either by one strap from the player's right shoulder, or by two straps, one on each shoulder.
The player is aiming for the compromise between stability and flexibility which allows him or her to enunciate each note with the bellows without losing control of the right hand button board.

Hand position

Left hand

The left hand curls about the bellows as if to play the bass buttons, but rarely does play them in modern practice. However, feel free to do so if you can work out a style! Music of the sea sounds very nice with the bass buttons. There's no law against using the bass buttons; it's only that the combo/conjunto styles of music which most employ the Tex-Mex accordion have drifted away from use of the bass buttons, as their sound tends to be honkily obtrusive when other baritone and bass instruments such as the guitar/bass/bajo are present.

Right hand

The right hand is arched over the button board and pivots on the right thumb (sometimes right down to the base of the thumb). The right hand takes some quick runs and long reaches as it glides over the buttons, sometimes arching elegantly and pressing the buttons rather deliberately, sometimes sliding across the buttons like a runner sliding for home plate (with the side of the sliding finger hitting the next button). The button tops are curved to allow sliding from one button to the adjacent button.

Right Hand Technique Unlike piano accordion fingering, it is quite common to depress two and even three buttons with different parts of one finger, somewhat like a bar chord on a guitar. (A draw V7 cord in the middle octave offers scope to this technique.)

The difference in right hand fingering between button accordion and piano accordion is that:

Right thumb

The player's right thumb is applied to the side of the keyboard. There the thumb offers a pivot both to the elevated right wrist and to the right side of the instrument during bellows reversal. Most of the damping of right-side motion is supplied by the player's chest resting against the right side; the tip of the thumb is a pivot point where the remainder of the energy is converted into a rocking between the hand and the instrument.

The thumb strap, which is disappearing from many models, is there to help prevent the player's thumb from slipping along the side of the keyboard. The thumb strap is not a yoke under which the thumb support the weight of the instrument. You'll injure your hand if you are in the habit of suspending much of the weight of the instrument from the thumb strap.

On models without a thumb strap, the keyboard is curved in a fashion to support the use of the thumb as a pivot as it traverses a short range of that curve. Even with the thumb strap, the player constantly is adjusting the thumb position up and down the right side somewhat.

Try arpeggiating a four-note chord back and forth on the home row, not by pistoning down the fingers as on a piano accordion, but by flexing the fingers as the wrist rotates on its thumb pivot.

Thumb around back of the fingerboard is not best as it imparts stability but is an inferior thumb position as regards pivot. You will have to hunt for the best position for your style. You may adjust, move, or remove the thumb strap.

You can try playing using the thumb as a playing finger on the keys themselves, resting the instrument more firmly against the torso instead of using the thumb as a pivot. This works but is an inferior playing position. When the thumb is a pivot, the periodic motion of the right side in response to the bellows is channelled into finger-to-button impact. When the thumb is a playing finger much of the energy imparted by the bellows is dissipated and damped by the chest. Thumb-playing tends to change the attack of all the notes, making it difficult to drive the instrument between the bellows and the right hand, reducing the characteristic crispness of the instrument.


You may be compelled to make some long stretches in fingering. If you are descending on a G/C/F from D' above high C' in the key of D, it's a long reach back to the draw C#' on the helper accidental on the F row. And the C major chord inversion C-E-G-C' , while an easy consecutive four buttons on the press, is another long stretch on the draw. Arch your hand over the fingerboard, slide the pivot somewhat if necessary and you can make it. Gently, don't strain your wrist in your zeal for playing! This instrument requires of the player a certain amount of agility.

Draw versus Press

Note the difference between the press and the draw note arrangements of the International fingering system employed by the instrument. The following statements about the availability of notes on the press and draw only apply to the main notes of the system, exclusive of the helper accidentals:
E.g., on a C row the press notes are:
and the draw notes are:
E.g., on a G/C/F instrument the press reeds do not contain F# or Bb. For more information on fingering of specific passages, see the sections:
Since, as we have noted, the instrument is designed in contrast to the one-row melodeon to allow long runs in one bellows direction, it becomes quickly apparent that the draw direction is somewhat more important than the press direction. Draw technique is perhaps too important in some schools; it is good to remember the press direction is also important. But generally speaking, when the instrument is marking time with the chords, it is often going in the press direction, or predominately in the press direction, in order to prepare for a melodic run on the draw without necessitating the use of the bellows release .

It is best to anticipate your needs and plan out and practice up your performance in terms of the bellows position at the start of each phrase and range during the execution of each phrase. Nonetheless, you will often find yourself using the bellows release, since not all musical phrases will express themselves in a manner convenient to the bisonoric instrument in your hands. You can still anticipate your needs by using the bellows release not as a pause in your playing, but as a means of accellerating the progress of the bellows as you play . The goal is to reach an appropriate reversal position prior to starting the next phrase in the opposite direction.

In other words, if you are anticipating a long draw run, while you are on the press, you may partly open the bellows release while still playing in order to make the press phrase end nearer to full bellows compression. Thus, you will have plenty of room to draw and not need to open the bellows release in the middle of your draw run and press silently to recover more draw room.

In a "performance emergency" when you have miscalculated, you may sometimes toss in a few notes in the opposite bellows direction to "sneak back" to the position you need to finish a run, rather than be silent for a beat while using the bellows release. Probably a lot of nice licks heard on the instrument are discovered in this fashion, with the player improvising extemporaneously when compelled to regain bellows position.

Advanced players will note the different physical quality of draw and press strokes. Draw strokes are more smooth and powerful than press strokes, while press strokes can be more punchy and puffy. Piano accordion construction and playing technique go a long way to minimize this difference, but button players instead take advantage of the difference. See, for example the section on finger swapping in the chapter on advanced technique . It is true however that advanced piano accordion players also take advantage of the different quality of draw and press. It's merely easier and more obvious how to do so with a bisonoric, diatonic button instrument.

The Zen of ...

If there is a "Zen of" playing the instrument, it is that bellows and keying are one. Bellows and keying are one because the instrument is played between the palm and fingertips of the bellows hand and the keyboard hand. The bounce is being provided by the left hand. When you feel this unity between bellows and button, you have become a button player and can acheive the characterstic sound of the instrument that distinguishes it from the squarer sound of the piano accordion.

The pressing or drawing of the bellows is tightly coupled with the fingering of the buttons for the accenting of the notes. Fluttering, double-stops, and ascending and descending bellows reversals are achieved by a combination of bellows motion and some motion of the fingers. It can't be emphasized too much that the heart of the instrument resides in the bellows!

Tips for practice


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Jacques Delaguerre