Wednesday, November 22, 2006
If I understand it correctly, you just need to leave your comment as usual, it will come to me as an email and I will then okay it being posted. 99% of the comments that are left here are great. Please keep them coming!
If you experience any problems with this new system, contact me at my email address.
Tuesday, November 14, 2006
I took up the accordion and getting on pretty good. I am a violinist and used to busking the jigs and reels etc. Is there a way I can be more confident on the feel of the left hand on the buttons to be able to move from one chord to the next when the chords are quite distant from each other. I suppose it is a firm placement of the left hand on the instrument. Other than that I would be grateful for any help
Further to left hand technique, once you have found the position described in the above article, I suggest you try the following couple of exercises:
(1) Numbering the fingers as thumb = 1 and pinkie = 5, place your 3rd finger on the Bb fundamental bass, and your 2nd finger on Bb Major. Your arm should be positioned as in the bellows article, low enough that you are reaching up very slightly for the Bb, with arched fingers. Now slide your fingers over the F row and onto C Major, then slide on up to the D row, this time move your 2nd finger over to the D minor. Work your way up and down between these three chords. You can play any rhythmic pattern on each row that you wish. I have chosen these 3 chords because you have a marked button (C) in the centre of the pattern. However, it would be good to pick some other places on the bass keyboard to practise the same pattern, once you are confident.
The key is to slide your fingers over the rows, not to hop. Register both mentally and physically each row that you slide over. The best thing is to think of it by name, as opposed to simply thinking "up two rows" or whatever. (Think of it like going up a tall building in an elavator. You don't necessarily stop at every floor, but there is always a sign that registers each floor as you pass it.) Also move on to sliding from the Bb to the Dm without playing the C, just registering it. Then move on to playing this exercise with your 4th and 3rd fingers instead of your 3rd and 2nd. I very strongly suggest spending several weeks/months getting confident with this method before moving on to the next exercise. Although using the same finger on all the fundamentals is a rather basic technique, I am convinced that it is tremendously important to the brains process of spatial mapping of the bass keyboard. If you are bored in the meantime, try increasing the distance by playing Eb - C - Am. Not very logical harmonically, but good exercise!
(2) Now go back to the original three chords (Bb - C - Dm). I want you to change the fingering so that you are playing the Bb and C with you 4th and 3rd fingers, but the Dm with the 3rd and 2nd. As soon as you can do this, move on to using your 5th and 4th on the Bb. So now it's 5th finger on the Bb bass, 4th on the C and 3rd on the D. Again, move on to shifting from the Bb to the Dm, only registering the C. However, now you should not be sliding up and down, just touching the C with 3 as you reach up. Work toward being able to do the whole sequence while keeping your 5th finger lightly anchored on the Bb bass.
A word about position. If you have not been using your 5th finger, when you begin to do so you will probably need to alter your hand and arm position somewhat, especially if you have a 5th finger that is a good deal shorter than the others. I have been asking you to start the chord sequence with the Bb, as that will help position your hand at the start of the exercise. However, in real music (such as an Irish tune in Dm - probably really in Dorian or Aeolian mode) you would more likely be starting with the Dm. In that case, I would suggest that you take your hand position from where the pinkie will need to be before you start to play! That is always a good plan. Notice the lowest bass button you will be playing before you start, and position your hand so that your pinkie will be able to reach that button. You should be reaching up for everything else.
To continue developing this technique, have a look at some of the pieces you are playing which involve a wide range of chords. In most Major or modal type minor tunes, the minor chords will be placed highest on the keyboard, moving downward onto major chords. This is only a general guideline, but start by playing all the minor chords with fingers 3 and 2. Use 5 and 4 for the lowest row (at least if it is a Major chord) and for any situations where the preceding or following chord is up several rows. Use 4 and 3 for whatever chords are left.
Alternating bass lines and 7th chords (not to mention diminished ones) will create their own challenges. I don't believe it is wise to create too many rules for bass fingering. It's good to have some clever strategies for getting the most out of the 4 fingers we use, and it's good to be flexible enough in your thinking to "find a finger" when you run out of fingers! This is another reason I advocate starting by moving one finger up and down the fundamental row before graduation to the 4 finger approach.
Thursday, November 09, 2006
Ye banks and braes of Bonny Doon
How can ye bloom sae fresh and fair
How can ye chant ye little birds
And I sae weary full o
banks and braes of Bonny Doon How (pause)
can ye bloom sae fresh and fair How (wheeze)
can ye chant ye little birds And (gulp)
I sae weary full o care
Tuesday, October 17, 2006
Just a few thoughts...It's been a bit quiet here lately, but it's nice to see new people adding to the comments, and I have now added another article, below.
Perhaps you would also consider sending me an email at email@example.com , so that I have your email address. I PROMISE that I will not pass it on to anyone else, or use it to endlessly harrass you to buy things from me, etc. What I might do is send you an update very occasionally (not more than once a month) to let you know about developments here. If you want to get off my mailing list - you only have to ask once. And that's a promise, too!
Sunday, October 01, 2006
Saturday, September 30, 2006
- dynamics (loud and quiet)
and much more.
In the meantime, please feel free to ask questions about this topic if you are feeling stuck or unsure. You will probably be doing ten other people who have the same question a huge favour!!
Tuesday, September 19, 2006
We have all been brought up to believe that if you work hard you will succeed. If you work out you will get fit. And if you practise hard you will play better. Well, maybe not. Too often I get pupils coming to me feeling bad about themselves, angry at me, ready to give up - because they practise and practise and don't see much improvement. I am going to try to offer you some insight into why this happens.
When you find yourself in a hole - stop digging! By being in a hole I mean you are making the same mistake again and again. You know you are getting a rhythm wrong, missing a couple of notes in a passage, forgetting the B flats, running out of fingers - whatever. Well what do you want to practise? The mistake? Probably not. You want to practise NOT making the mistake. You are in a hole. Stop digging.
By digging I mean just going over and over the thing and wishing it would get better. Stop! Try to look at the thing from some new angles. How can you break it down? The most obvious solutions for accordionists would be play each hand seperately until it is correct, then put them back together or take the passage out of the piece and go over it slowly, then work it back in. This is a good start, and if you aren't doing this in your current approach you will be amazed at how much it helps. But it takes self discipline! Most of us think we are "having more fun" if we just play the whole piece through over and over. In the short term, maybe we are. But which is more fun - having a repertoire of five pieces that you can play okay as long as you don't make a mistake? Or having a repertoire of fifty pieces that you feel confident about, and feeling pretty confident that the next fifty are on their way?
I have lot's of techniques to help pupils stop digging. There are endless ways to think outside the box (no pun intended). I will try to give you some more here when describing people's lessons, or when you have video coaching with me. However, even more important is that you don't get in the hole in the first place. So how does that work?
There's a concept I call the rule of three. If you repeat an action three times it's on its way to becoming a habit. If you repeat it three times on several occasions it will become ingrained, entrenched and even once you have dug yourself out of the hole it will take a lot of effort to reverse things before the action you repeated will not be your "default position" when you get nervous or are inattentive.
So what does this mean? Well, when you are trying out a new piece or exercise - pay attention to your actions very carefully. As soon as you notice a problem or mistake stop and fix it. Okay, you might try it one more time, but if the mistake is still there - - - LOOK OUT! You are already very close to the magic number, and it isn't nice magic. Step away from the shovel. Now is the time to start thinking laterally, break it down, look for exercises that will help you with the technical problem, go slower. get help - or even walk away and try it another day when you have more patience or insight.
We are great at kidding oursleves. "I see what I am doing wrong, I will just keep going over it until I get it right." (So that's maybe 15 repititions with the mistake, then a victory lap or two without it. I don't like the maths.) "This piece isn't that hard, I will probably get it without breaking it down or slowing it down" (But will it be dependable, or is this just another version of the first rationale?) This kind of thinking is so hard to get out of. Heck - I've caught MYSELF thinking "I'm a professional teacher, I can get this by just running through it a few times more."
What? You mean even teachers and pros have to break every little thing down and practise it this way? That depends. If I can get it right on the first or second playing then no - it's within my capability and I can just play it for fun or whatever. If it's still got problems after twice through, then yes, absolutely. If I want it to improve and remain consistent I'd better not dig.
In fact, I see this happen to me sometimes when pupils bring music in that I'm not familiar with. We play it together, or I play it for them. Maybe there's a little passage somewhere that I misread, or I get caught out with the melody going up when I felt it was going down, etc. I can keep the piece going, sure, but there's a little rough spot, and maybe it happens again the next time. They take the music home and I forget all about it. But forever after I have a rough spot there when they produce that piece in their lesson. It occurs to me as I write this that I should probably just lead by example and stop and sort it out right there and then.
Now, where did I park that back hoe.....
Sunday, September 17, 2006
One person has contacted me requesting that I send them some Scottish ceilidh tunes. There are plenty of sources of these both in books and on the internet. I don't think I want to get into the business of providing these right now. The person who got in touch was asking for tunes in ABC format. This is a way of accurately writing melodies using the alphabet and a few other symbols. Some people really like it, and it is certainly handy on a computer keyboard. (However, I am not fluent in it at all!) However, there are a number of sources of traditional music on the internet which include ABC files and standard notation, so here's a couple of links:
I was also happy to hear from someone who found this page via a link from a site called Let's Polka. This was amazing, as I'd never heard of it and this blog was less than 2 days old at the time. It's a nifty place to go for accordion news, etc. Worth checking out at
Back to the question of me providing written music without tuition for a moment, here's part of my reply to that question in an email I received today. "If you want some help with your playing more generally, I would be happy to help you with that via some video coaching (or perhaps just audio) - and that could include teaching you some tunes by ear. Learning by ear is very rewarding, and although I read the dots very fluently I also encourage all my pupils to learn to play by ear. It really helps your style, and means you can learn things you like straight off CDs or from other players."
I notice that some music teachers seem to base their approach almost entirely on teaching piece after piece without teaching any pure technique. I think there is a belief that people will be too bored and they won't get enough business, etc. I have not found this to be the case in my own teaching. Rather, I think pupils feel enabled to tackle the music they want to play because they know they have the various skills they need in place. Of course I teach tunes as well!!
Thursday, September 14, 2006
I also hope to offer some instructional material soon, as I have always used lessons and exercises that I have developed myself anyway; but rather than jump in with what I think you should learn, I hope this blog will help me get a feel for what potential students are looking for.
I will try to write regularly, basing my entries on the day to day progress and challenges that arise as I teach my local pupils. I hope that this will encourage my readers here to comment and ask questions. If you have a question about accordion playing, or would like information about trying some distance learning with me, feel free to leave a comment here, or email me if you prefer.