November 15

Hand-Ear Coordination Exercises For The Accordion

12  comments

The Problem With Sheet Music...

Students tend to rely on sheet music.
Now, sheet music is a good learning tool, but not a tool for performing a song.

Remember that scene in Anchorman when Ron Burgundy reads exactly what's written on the teleprompter?

I'm Ron Burgundy?

That's what performing with sheet music is like.
Robotic, as written, with little room for variation or emotion.

You can get really good at playing sheet music, but do you find that:

  • You can't take your eyes off the sheet music for more than a moment?
  • Your playing sounds a little robotic?
  • The piece doesn't  feel like it's your own?
  • If someone asks you to play a song by memory, you freeze up?

If you said yes to any of these, then I have a solution for you. It begins with training your ear.

Training Your Ear

Ear training exercises familiarize your body to common musical phrases through short playback exercises. I say “body” because your ears, as well as your fingers, become familiar with your instrument.

When I hear a musical phrase going up a few tones, what do my fingers do? They go up the keyboard a few times. When I hear three notes being played quickly, what must my fingers do? They play three notes quickly.

Ear training is a process that improves the more you do it.
It’s a skill, and like other skills, it takes time to become proficient at it.

The lucky thing is, you can do ear training exercises on your own. They’re easy, fun, and fast.

You perform ear training exercises along with your traditional exercises in your 15 minutes of practice: Scales, triads, and arpeggios.

Once you are able to play back simple musical phrases, you’ll play back more difficult ones.

After doing these exercises for a period of time, you’ll find yourself being able to play longer musical phrases correctly, without having to rely on sheet music. Hear a song on the radio? You’ll be able to play it on your instrument.

Couple that with song forms, and you can play back songs whenever you hear them.

Are you saying we don’t need sheet music?

Sheet music is written for classical music and complex pieces. 

It’s written for learning exact notes with others, or passages that have to be played exactly like this.

The popular music we hear today, and for the last 100 years, are not classical pieces. They are predictable and repetitive and you can most likely sing them in your head if you heard them enough.

What does that mean?

“It means you don't have to rely on sheet music to play popular songs.”

In fact, I’ll argue that learning these songs through sheet music will slow your learning process down. 

Learning the songs by understanding the principles behind them will make the song your own. You’ll play it with more emotion. You’ll play it with your eyes up, instead of down. Even better, your song recall - being able to remember the song months from now - will improve.

There is still room for sheet music, for particularly difficult pieces, or to be used as a guide. But not for performance.

I’m in! How do I train my ear?

Below you’ll find simple ear training exercises. Listen to each one - I play the same phrase twice - then play back what you heard. 

File No.

Playback Exercise

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Were those too easy?

I’ve recorded some ear training exercises - 14 of them! There are some tough ones in there, too. Click the button below to access them.

What did you think? What was easy about these exercises? What did you find difficult? Leave a comment below and let me know.

And what about the Christmas concert?
Ken and I figured it out. He plays off the sheet music, and I'll play along to him. Less improv on his part, while I get to play around with harmonies and ornaments. It  works! I'll post a video of our next practice.

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The single most asked question I hear from my students is how do I coordinate both of my hands together on the accordion? This also comes across as "My left hand is doing what my right hand is doing. How do I make them independent?" and "Help! How do I separate my hands!!!"This is a big topic. Don't worry. You're not alone.I've answered this question a number of times and led hundreds of students through it, both in real life and online.

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  1. Hi Ronen,
    Thanks for the exercises and the post. Good stuff. I’m still a beginner, have been playing since February, but I have a decent ear. These were fairly easy for me. Usually got it within two tries. The last one was a bit tougher

      1. I played trombone in HS and college, and have been a singer for most of my life. I did musical theater for years, and learn most of my vocal music with a combination of basic music reading skills, and using my ear.

  2. Just tried the first of those practice tunes .. sounded familiar, an old gospel jingle: it’s me it’s me it’s me o Lord, standing in the need of prayer. Thanks for all your help .

    1. Oh, that’s interesting. Which tune is that, Bill? Glad you recognized the tune. How are you finding the exercises? Too easy? Too hard? Just right?

  3. I have NO EAR for music so can only read from when I took organ lessons 60 years ago. I just want to learn and memorize a few tunes on my little 8 chord accordion. I was hoping to get from you some sheet music to play Hallelujah (Leonard Cohen) and Ode to Joy so I can play along in a family musical. Can you provide me with this sheet music? Thank you?

  4. Hi Ronen,
    Bruce here from St Louis.
    I’ve never logged on to AL on my iPhone before. Either I haven’t found all this stuff on my desktop or it isn’t there, but what you have here looks like the mother lode.
    After a hiatus from accordion for several months, I was (willingly) drawn back thanks to Sunday live streams.
    So spent yesterday on listening and Anniversary Waltz. Wished there were more listening exercises. Voila! Thanks for all!

  5. Your stuff is so interesting! It opens my eyes ( I’m a 74 year old granny!). My brother and I are both considered ‘musical’. I envy him and he envies me. This is because I am classically trained and he plays by ‘ear’ ( although he has had a few lessons).

    We laugh and say that if we could combine the two talents we would be awesome! Although we did get together for my mums funeral .He played a soulful harmonica and guitar and I played keyboard.

    I play church organ ( which is fabulous for pulling all the stops out and letting rip) Iam an associate of the London College of Music, play Mediocre flute and guitar. Mum was the accordion player ( by ear) so I just messed around with it. My brother can just pick it up and play …….I need music!!!! So there, you can see how your thinking resonates with me. I also picked up the wrong fingering!………but……..now I have your lessons and advice it’s going to be an interesting adventure to see if I can improve……so hard to change bad habits of a lifetime……but I’ll have a go!!!😂

  6. I’m so glad to have found you! I am a recently retired gramma wanting to improve on years of playing accordion. I am that person you describe on your site. The one who freezes up when asked to play something without the music. I draw a complete blank. I am lost if I glance away from my music for even a second! I like to try and play in jam sessions but find that difficult because after all the years of just reading dots, I never really learned chords well. I am going to try to free myself from sheet music with your help. Thank you for teaching us to be free!

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