Accordion Articles - Making it while Faking it


Written by: Grant "Yogi" Martin, Jazz Accordionist
Publication: New Zealand Accordion Association Newsletter
Date written: April 1994

I had been playing for about six years when I made a conscious decision to NOT sound like any other accordionist and so I started to experiment with the possibilities the instrument offered. The first thing I discovered was "IT BREATHES!!"… which also meant it could whisper or scream, cough or stutter, chuckle or howl and it could sustain a note longer than any human, or wind instrument…(so why are we treated as second class musicians?) Let's look at a few other advantages our beloved instrument has:

- Keyboard speed; try your fastest passage on a piano or organ or guitar…doesn't it bring to mind tap dancing in gumboots?
- Ready made stradella bass chords; all set out in a logical pattern and self contained as far as rhythm and sound depth go.
- Portability; hey! I stroll for a living at a restaurant…I replaced a duo on Friday a string quartet on Saturday and other musical options the rest of the week and it's not because I'm better than them, or cheaper - nope - I get amongst the diners, tease and entertain them, keep them eating and drinking longer than they expected, ask them for requests (y'know…you hum it….I'll play it) and all the while I'm not taking up revenue earning table space!!!
- Volume…just about the loudest fully self contained instrument around…
- So, we play an instrument with enormous potential, maybe it's our own potential and mind sets we need to develop.


Remember, when we are playing in front of the great unwashed public they are "Accordion Simpletons" and have a media inspired ignorance and attitude to the "SQUEEZEBOX". Try playing something they know. Play it well and they will applaud 60% you and 40% them for recognising the tune…then dazzle them with your "techo" stuff!


Take a melody- simplify it- reduce it to it's essence- play it listening for similarities to other tunes- maybe try flowing from one tune to the next. Here's an example… "What a wonderful world" when simplified, becomes "Baa-baa black sheep" or "Twinkle-twinkle little star".


Get hold of some music with guitar chords and make those chords by splitting the elements the left hand can't do to the right hand… at the same time try to keep your pinky and/or 4th finger free to carry the melody line. You'll find a new and exciting depth to the colour of sound especially if the fingers/thumb you allocate to assist the bass chords are in synch with the bass rhythm.


You probably call these "mistakes" right now… but consider this: Of the twelve notes available to you only two will sound wrong and then only if you linger on them… three others may sound strange, only if you don't immediately compensate by:

1. playing them again in the same sequence
2. playing them like grace notes
3. turning them into a jazz chord
4. glaring at a child in the audienc


This is something we can't really do… except sometimes on a low Coupler when pushing bellows in HARD… it's pretty hard to control the amount of bend so I prefer to fake it by playing grace notes before the note I want to actually end up on. Try increasing bellows pressure during the preceding notes and then "ummph" into the main note…say if you're bending up to C.. go Bflat (soft)- B (louder) hang on to B as you hit C and swell the bellows simultaneously…If you have a practice area with a good "reverb" effect (like a large empty room) you will hear the difference quicker and you'll be encouraged to experiment further.


Everywhere you perform has it's own unique ambience… the smaller the room or the more carpet or clothing in it the more immediate the sound…use your double reed sounds on treble and try angling the sound above the audience. In a big room with reverb or an echo, aim for the back wall in the slow bits and the sides in the faster bits…try some "stops" and let the walls bring them back to you…loud cascading arpeggios sound awesome off the back wall.


Try using different techniques whilst holding a note or chord;

Rocking your wrist in a thumb/pinky wiggle….
Tense your whole arm until it starts to vibrate.
Rest your chin on the top of the accordion and vibrate your head.
While pulling the bellows out twist your body and right arm in a rocking or sawing motion.
Stand flat-footed on your left foot, elevate your right heel and put most of your weight onto your toes - then wobble your leg using the knee as a pendulum.

Did I say this stuff was gonna be easy??.


Here's some things an accordion can emulate or fake so effectively that people say "Wow, I never knew an accordion could sound like that!"

Train, Blues Harp, Siren, Lead Guitar, Pan Pipes, Mandolin, Glenn Millers Band, Dixie Band, Bagpipes, Whistle, Any Of The Other Wind Instruments…And Probably Heaps More!!!!!!!!!!!!


If people think you're having a ball they get caught up in your enthusiasm and may even overcome any niggling little attitudes they may have developed 'cos of bad accordionists in their past. Hey, I have an uncle in his late 70's who is known in my family as "WINDY" because of loud'n'bad squeezebox playing… so now you'll know why I hassled my folks for a year before they got me an accordion.


Develop a professional attitude to your craft… remember to treat every practice as a performance and every performance as a concert. Know this; a Professional is one who does her/his best even when he/she doesn't feel like it.
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