(Note: This section will be extended and updated in the near future.)
In this section we explore some advanced techniques which result in the
characteristic sound of the instrument. Our cursory examination is by
no means exhaustive. The best source for new techniques is to listen
to and watch good players!
Button Accordion versus Piano Accordion
- Piano accordion technique is based upon the right side of the instrument
resting still and stable, whereas button accordion technique allows
motion of the right side. The piano accordion exerts the greater requirement
for stability because the fingers must line up with the keys, whereas
the button accordion player's hand may skew with regard to the keyboard
without prejudice in view of the rounded and arched buttons.
- For instance, you can play two-row with the left side resting on the
left knee and the bellows arcing to the moving right side.
- The greater flexibility of the button accordion in this respect allows
greater scope for bellows accents than does the piano accordion.
- This is part of why button accordion sounds "bouncier" even though
internally the instruments are quite similar nowadays.
- The button action is more direct than the piano key lever.
- This offers the possibility of a sharper, puffier attack to each note
in comparison with the piano accordion.
- Piano accordion is the more general instrument, one intended to play
all styles within the mainstream of Euro-American music.
- The button accordion evolved as an ethnic particularist instrument
and was not concerned with being able to play all styles.
- However, modern Club System right hand is very flexible and can
play all popular styles, from pop to ethnic to jazz.
- Descant Voicing
- The piano accordion plays up to five voices on the right side.
- The button accordion generally plays two voices, occasionally four,
on the right side. The tradeoff is
- broader harmonic possibilities for the piano accordion;
- greater freedom of accent for the button accordion;
- Piano accordions tend to be tuned more conservatively than button
- Bass Voicing
- Part of the embodiment of the piano accordion's drive to generality
is the Stradella bass and concern for the left hand.
- The simplistic left hand of the typical Club System box is inadequate
for modern music.
- But not completely! Some players use the bass and chord buttons
to produce a quaint, nostalgic sound evocative of the 19th century.
- Use of the left side buttons detracts from the delicacy of bellows
touch one can apply to the right side.
Ascending and Descending Bellows Reversal
While long draw runs are a large
part of playing, there is a lot to be said for simply playing
the instrument like a melodeon, that is, walking up and down
one row reversing the bellows when necessary.
The thing to remember in melodeon-style playing is that the bellows hand
is imparting the impelling motion. The fingers don't exactly
piston down on the buttons; to a large extent they respond as
the bellows movement makes the right side rock, kind of like a surfer
paddling about on his or her board responding to the wave motion underneath
Double stops are two notes played at once
in a passage. There are two ways to play passages consisting
of double stops:
- Indulging in bellows reversals.
- Avoiding bellows reversals where possible.
More complex chords can be handled likewise. In a simple
pop song, melody-led triads, that is, placing the melody note
at the top of the appropriate inversion of the triad of the harmonizing
chord, can be very effective.
Trills, Flutters, and Staccato
The characteristic trills, flutters and
staccato are produced, again, primarily by the bellows motion.
The left hand is shaking the bellows to impart the pressure and
also some of the motion of the right side resulting in button presses.
- Trills are performed by pairs of fingers with the bellows accenting
- Flutters are performed by rapidly press-and-partial-release of the
button(s) with the fingers catching the motion of the fingerboard as
the bellows rocks same.
- Staccato accent is heavily bellows dependent. Basically, you are
rocketing the valve closed against pressure.
The player's technique for executing all three ornaments
can be enhanced by considering the possibility of swapping fingers
on one button. That is, if you are going to trill back and forth
between two notes which sound on the same button, switching between
two fingers as you rock the bellows back and forth takes advantage
of the fact that it's more rythmic to switch between fingers than
to try to flutter one finger. The same applies in general to playing
melody using bellows reversal instead of long draw runs.
There is a nearly infinite variety of other figures
which suggest themselves to the player. For instance:
- Alternate thirds press and draw on a single row: If your fingers
are on three consecutive buttons starting from a root note, e.g.,
your first, second and third fingers resting on press, you can play
the first two press, then draw the first two, then press the second pair,
and back again, all without moving the second finger.
- Boogie-Woogie walkup shifting rows for the flatted seventh
: A boogie-woogie / blueslike walk up to the flat seventh can be
achieved from the same position on the I row, resting on , with
press on all three, then a draw on the second two F - A,
then take the second two up to the IV row draw for the G - Bb
, then back.
- Arpeggiating by bellows reversal: Rendering a chord a single
note in one bellows direction followed by a pair of notes in the
opposite direction (or variations of this technique) can be very
- playing a draw D on the I row followed by the press pair
F - A on the IV row.
- playing draw F - A on the I row followed by press hi
C on the same row.
- Sixths and tenths: Tenth interval and sixth interval
ascents and descents, possibly trilled, can be very pretty and are easily
achieved on the instrument.
- Ascending and descending turnarounds: You can ascend and descend
within a range of notes reversing the bellows at the turnaround point.
- In all figures which involve bellows reversal: The correct
technique is to shape the figure by the rythmic (possibly asymmetric,
e.g., 2-and-1 or 3-and-2) bellows motion, hitting the key(s) at the
Rules to Play By
- A little goes a long way. The accordion sounds best when played
lightly. In any event, the rich warble of the
of these instruments (e.g., 440/444, 4 Hz offset between paired
reeds) favors arpeggiated chords and renders thick chording rather
mushy. Despite this consideration, many sytlists sprinkle their arrangments
lightly with thick chords, especially at the close of a piece.
- Accompanying singing is mostly a matter of laying back a bit
(dimenuendo along with simplification of the part being played) as
the singer enunciates and swelling (crescendo) and filling out the part
as the singer finishes a line. Accordion easily drowns out vocals. Tasteless
or careless play can quickly make the player extremely unpopular with
the vocalist (and other instrumentalists). Be sensitive in your application
of accordion which in conjunto playing is as more a color instrument
then a virtuoso instrument.
- The key to good arranging is keeping in mind how simply a tune
might be played if simplicity were the only consideration. While
the instrument allows long draw passages, you should always try a new melody
on a single row (or as few rows as possible), bellows reverses and all.
This gives the player broad insight into the many choices for phrasing
even the long press and draw passages.
- Smooth fingering is about 45% of playing. Bellows technique
(including your physical posture) is everything else.
- Listen to ethnic music on various radio stations!
- Listen to players of other button accordion systems. There are
many, many variants of button accordion, on the average about two
variants per Central and Eastern European ethnic group! All these
instruments are based on similar principles, yet there is an amazing
variety of styles and creativity.
- Listen to concertina music, especially the Anglo-Irish (Anglo-German)
variant ("Irish concertina") and the bandoneon/chemnitzer variant.
- Listen to other color instruments (saxophone, vibraphone, mandolin,
banjo, steel guitar).
- Listen to the other musicians in your band and complement their
playing with your playing.
- Borrow techniques.
In summary: Discover! Invent! Improvise!
Copyright © 2003