Accordion Articles - Accordion and General Music Education


Written by: Dr. Herbert Scheibenreif
Publication: General
Date written: 1998

As you know the artistic playing of the accordion has developed immensely during the last years. In various countries and at universities the accordion has been acknowledged as fully equivalent to other instruments, famous composers such as Sofia Gubaidulina have written parts for the accordion, and - last but not least - the quality of the instrument has been improved to a large extent.

People celebrated this development euphorically, but very often they forgot the basic problems of the education of beginners : Which instruments are apt for children? What about the repertoire - only original music or transcriptions as well? Is it better to begin with the stradella bass or the baritone bass manuals? Before dealing with these specific questions I would like to comment on some pedagogical and psychological questions concerning general music education, as the formation of many accordion teachers can be said to be rather unsatisfactory with regard to these questions.
Music education is part of general education. Singing and playing an instrument, listening and watching offer creative attractions, raise the fantasy and the capability of concentrating. This experience, to create something together, to feel joy and to gain the others' confidence, means a decisive experience in a young person's life.

Music also influences the child in his emotional feelings. Music helps the developing personality, strengthens one's power of judgment and has even an important social function : it connects people - even where communication through language is hardly possible.

What would life be like without the movements of music, the breath of melodies, without rhythm and harmony? That's why music education has been one of the most important tasks of all music cultures. Music education begins with babies and in nursery homes, it's one of the most important aspects of teenager-education as well as the education of adults. Music education begins with the most simple game, with a simple song and it ends in the most difficult thinking processes. The whole music education, however, aims at happiness and joy. If a child can't be made happy with music there is no music education. If this education does not begin with music and lead to music in the end, if it does not create massive joy and life, it stays without aim and is therefore senseless. Music and music education, when they are in the hands of good musicians and teachers, cannot be parted, they must form a unit, like for example man and life. Thus the musician is a teacher and the teacher a musician.

The music schools represent an important fact in music life. The individual basic requirements and conditions of pupils demand a flexible and varied pedagogical and psychological approach of their educational process to gain the optimal results concerning the development, and encouraging their musical abilities and skills. The latter very often need a long time to develop, in an active study of the respective contents and the specific work of the pupil. They are basic requirements as well as results of this work.

The development of capabilities is different for everybody, but there are, for example, certain age groups showing particularly apt requirements for developing certain abilities. The pupil's abilities and will to achieve something play an important part and can be different from person to person. Movements which are already present in the child's motor skills should be developed very early. Experience shows that the growth of sensory-motor abilities (sense and feeling for equilibrium, balance and mobility) are important for playing an instrument and can only be learnt very hard later. Sensory-motor abilities are - above all - acquired and firmly established through practice of playing an instrument. Research work shows that the manual or better said the sensory-motor abilities of a child are much higher as expected so far. The musical imagination of a child (singing, listening, rhythm) must not be ignored, either.

In addition to the pedagogical and cultural influence of our environment, especially by instructors and teachers, the pupil's own work is very important. To be successful he needs motivation, interest in learning and in the subject, as well as a lot of activity. The more he is motivated the better his achievements and results will be. Dealing with music must give the pupil joy, he must earn it, must identify himself with this joy, because this art only shows results if you work with it practically and emotionally. We must refuse a teaching that reduces the playing of an instrument to reproduction of correct sounds, to useful fingerings, movements or technical exercises. A vast general music education as well as the development of understanding of music on an aesthetical basis is essential. This esthetical education can be reached by working on the oeuvre emotionally, understanding and reproducing it. This holds true for the forming of a simple tone, a melody, a folk song as well as high-brow oeuvres.

The development of abilities is part of the development of a person's personality, and that is also true for everyone's specific musical capabilities. General talent can be defined as the respective development of personality. The level of such a talent is determined by concentration, perseverance, availability, speed of psychic issues, fantasy, ideas and abilities to analyse facts. Talent can only be developed through hard work, that happens - above everything else - in a systematic and purposeful educational process. In its entirety musical talent appears as dominating quality of one's personality and influences the latter's behavior and interests to a great extent. Talent also shows itself in a pupil's productivity, in the numerous forms of sensuous and logical experience of music, of emotional, aesthetical and intellectual comprehension of contents.

A lot of pupils and students do not know how to approach an oeuvre, how and what they should practice. Whoever wants to achieve new knowledge and abilities must learn to be able to practice and must practice to be able to learn more. That also means that you have to learn what and how to practice. Practice is a specific form of learning, it also is new acquisition and development of abilities as well as the stabilization of these abilities.

The better the results are the more one approaches one's aims, postponing them at the same time, that means that you have learnt through practice that you can learn even more and that you have to practice more. This circle - which leads to a higher level - is helped by constant learning. The success of practice and ability depends very much on the pupil's knowledge about aim and purpose, if he knows of his progress, that means in which way this practice is experienced by the learner. Practice must be more and more efficient concerning the time of practice and its results. Experience shows that success depends to a great extent on the pupil's willingness and it shows, as well,that willingness leads back to success.

Concerning the memory, the knowledge of a musical performance consists very often in the intensity of the first impression. We know that the practice of sensible contexts is much more successful and musical than practicing cut up knowledge. Small steps of learning should mark the success, first practice and repetitions are to be introduced soon after learning new parts. For the teacher it is important to change methods to increase the pupil's concentration, motivation and results, for practice does not simply mean a repetition of the same things. Mechanical repetition necessarily leads to monotony, it is boring and tiring.

The teacher must find studies in which technical problems can be overcome quite easily. It is also very important that the program contains parts of various musical eras. By and by the pupil must learn how to praxes an oeuvre even without the direct help of his teacher (e.g. manual abilities like fingering, changing of the bellow, articulation, on a higher level he must be able to complete analyses of oeuvre with their philosophical and music-esthetical background).

The pupil's willingness to praxes and to learn depends to a great extent on the teacher's pedagogical instinct, which shows that the teacher is highly responsible and a model for the pupil. We recognize, for example, the pupil's good will if the teacher - pupil relationship is based on frankness, honesty and willingness to work. Very important, too, is the right motivation, as it helps the pupil to estimate and form all his learning. Throughout this practice the teacher - pupil relationship changes, which means that the pupil's independence increases in proportion to learning and domination of a certain subject. Generally we can state a constant increase of self-education, as well as a decrease of the teacher's influence.

All in all we have to encourage the pupil's creative abilities. Particularly talented pupils must be challenged! We can activate a pupil's independence by demanding solutions of certain problems, and he comes to know that solving a problem can give him joy. At the same time he learns to estimate and to value his achievements and his conduct, as well as to increase his ability. Self-education and self-evaluation are necessary elements in the process of personal development - which is the target of all education, and therefore also of music education.

Another important aid for a pupil's artistic development are performances, for instance concerts or competitions. It is important to develop attitudes and engagement and the immensely valuable self-discipline. Competitions themselves are a certain means to increase achievements, however, we must fail to notice certain dangers : very often "music teachers" overstrain pupils by giving them too difficult oeuvres. This often destroys the development of musicality.

Every teacher is responsible for his teaching. The relationship between the teacher and the pupil should always be a basic concern, and this relationship must be dominated by the teacher's confidence in the abilities of his pupils. A teacher's optimism, his pedagogical ideas are important for a good atmosphere and therefore for the achievement of good results. That does not mean that we have to find excuses for difficulties or failures.

On the contrary, we must find out the reasons for problems or difficulties to be able to find pedagogical or psychological methods to change and solve certain problems. It depends on the teacher's pedagogical skills to find an effective middle course between criticism and approval. Education in its contents is very much determined by the aim to offer the pupil solid knowledge, artistic abilities and to firmly secure them. Many accordion teachers are content to teach their pupils certain techniques, they neglect, however, the development of their musicality. Techniques should only be a means to convey the musical contents. The pupil learns how to control his instrument to turn outwards his "inner self".

To reach this aim the lesson must be as interesting as possible, varied and exciting - simply a work of art! A music teacher is expected to teach his subject in an artistic way. A certain knowledge of basic physiological and psychological processes in learning and playing, an exact know-how of possible methods, and pedagogical well founded and individual application of these knowledges is required to attract the pupil also emotionally. Interest in and love of music, the basis of the pupil's motivation, which is so important for his professional development, are decisively formed after the model of the teacher. "Teaching must be his passion"! (As it is the pupil's passion to learn!) At the beginning sound patterns, musical memory and the wish to form something oneself can be aroused with simple means of improvisation.

Onomatopoeic presentations of children's themes, the "telling" of stories or legends creates a certain connection of life and music in the pupil's mind. At the same time a new basis for auditive teaching methods for beginners is created. The importance of sound patterns vis-a-vis instrumental techniques has already been stated. Unfortunately failures during early musical education, which are very important for a pupil's personality, can hardly be compensated at universities. Criteria for a teacher's authority are respect and appreciation, and they can to be constantly renewed. Authority is characterized by high professional knowledge and skill, firm ideological and moral attitudes, consequence, love of justice and the ability to offer the pupil an example for doing the right thing.

The search for optimal repertoires, instruments and playing systems represent basic problems in the teaching of beginners, and there are still no final solutions in sight.

Music literature used for beginners should in any case correspond with the mentality, the talent and the interests of the pupils, and it should never be chosen according to competitions. Music renews itself constantly. A lot of oeuvres the sound of which was unpleasant for people of earlier centuries, are popular works of art today. Accordionists often lack frankness of new and strange things, which - in the end - also helps traditional music.

For its further development the accordion needs the impulse of contemporary artists and composers, and that not only in the artistic field, but also for the teaching of beginners. Where are such oeuvres for the accordion like the one Schumann and Tchaikovsky wrote for beginners learning to play the piano? Studies and methods are numerous, but their profitable use depends very much on the pupil's qualification. ("The pupil is the method!") Good music for beginners is unfortunately very rare! If there were enough good original oeuvres for the accordion, there would not be the problem of having to use transcriptions.

For playing an instrument special anatomic and physiological conditions are very important. The anatomy of a musician, the structure of his hands (which can be measured) and their relation with the nervous system set natural limits. Today we can find out the possibilities of a player which are limited by his physiology, we can study his playing, we can show his mistakes and measure and bring out the ones which are not always to be heard. Thus there are bases for new teaching methods. Generally seen, a normal physical development is enough for the successful accordion player. No special body measurements, functions of muscles or processes concerning the nervous system are necessary.

On the contrary, we must find such measurements which interfere with playing the accordion to advise a pupil against choosing this instrument. Unfavorably anatomical or physiological conditions can, however, be compensated by high musicality, strong will and mental flexibility. Laxity in movement is certainly an essential qualification for successful playing. The necessary fingerings should be reached without bracing, the player should have developed a normal body size and a certain ability to open, move and stabilize his fingers. The absolute aim should be the often discussed standardization of instruments - correspondence of beginners' instruments, those of advanced learners, up to the concert instruments. The button accordion has gained its practical position in the artistic playing, but a similar development will certainly be necessary for the education of beginners. Today's participants in competitions will certainly influence their pupils towards this direction.

Similar to the problem of button or piano accordion there is also the question, if beginners should start with the stradella bass or baritone bass manuals. One of the mistakes of accordion teachers is to discuss systems instead of creating the basic requirements for a musically incontestable playing. Today the accordion is - concerning the quality of sound, the technical possibilities, as well as those of expression - an instrument which meets all technical, musical and artistic demands. Systems are only a means to an end, the music must absolutely be the dominating purpose : this holds true for the folklore and also for the artistic domain of all instruments, not only for the accordion. Modern accordion teachers have to face the difficult task of being ready for both directions. As an artist he aims at an artistic appreciation of his instrument in concert, but at the same time he makes propaganda to gain more prestige for the instrument and he educates a not too small part of the audience.

Finally, we need both, a great number of accordionists and top performances of some exceptional players. If compromises are out of the question for artistic playing, there are - however - different criteria for beginners : next to consequent work (forming of sound already starting with the first lesson!) the love of making music should be a central aspect!

Although time is high, a basic and solid development of the accordion will take its time (like any other instrument), and the realization of certain aims of today will be the task of oncoming generations of pupils and teachers. We must not be impatient! Even small steps towards a developing process are precious! If, however, we want to raise the ability of top players, we will first have to raise that of the education of beginners. Even the best teacher is good enough for that!


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