How to practice the accordion? It's a combination of a physical skill and a mental skill. Your fingers need to physically move over the keys, pump the bellows, and switch between chords, while your brain has to understand - or better yet, to know - how to bring out the melody in a musical way, which chords to switch between, and how to transfer what you hear in your head to your fingers.
It's a lot to handle!!
But like any skill, there is a method to becoming proficient in both the physical aspect and the mental aspect of playing the accordion. Whether you are a visual, auditory, or kinesthetic learner, the accordion practice method I've outlined below works.
In the short term (for beginner accordion players) it teaches you the foundation of the Stradella bass system, how to switch between major and minor chords, and between chords. For your right hand, it teaches you hand positioning, how to use the correct fingering for scales, triads, and arpeggios. It also introduces ear-training exercises, which builds the connection between what you hear and what you are able to play.
In the longer term, this practice method allows you to continue building your accordion skills. This same methodology - just 15 minutes several times a week - can be used to train intermediate and advanced accordion skills.
What does accordion practice look like?
As with any foundational lesson, make sure you are going through this practice slowly, with the correct fingering and posture. Aim for consistent tempo (speed) and volume in your scales, triads, arpeggios, and chord jumps.
Split your 15 minute accordion practice into:
Right Hand Techniques (6 minutes)Scales
Ear training exercises
Left Hand Techniques (4 minutes)Incremental chord jumps
Chord jumps for a specific song you are working on
Song Practice (5 minutes)Play through a passage of a song
Memorize a line or passage of a song
How to practice the accordion for beginners
If you are beginner accordion player, do this practice in the key of C major. Use the suggested fingering options before venturing out on your own fingering options. When you feel comfortable, switch to a different key – G Major, for example, or a minor key like A Minor. The same fingering will apply.
Virtual Accordion Practice Lessons
It's hard to start something new
That's why I ran a series of virtual workshops concentrating on how to practice the accordion. Having a group with which to practice makes a huge difference. So, bring your accordion, get comfortable, and practice along with me and others! You can view the recordings of the workshops below. Each day we concentrate on a different part of the '15 minutes of practice' described above.
Make sure to have your accordion with you to play along
Click the "1/15" button at the top-right corner of the video to access the rest of the videos.
Why this accordion practice method works
This accordion practice method accomplishes several things at once:
- It allows you to pinpoint a trouble spot in your playing and then dissect it into its most basic structures - individual notes & chords.
- It offers an immediate practice method that removes the need for *thinking*. Meaning, if you're unsure of what to practice, or you don't want to practice, this method tells you exactly what to do, and for how long.
- It's short. 15 minutes several times a week.
- It allows you to see progress. This method lets you work on speed and accuracy, and works just as well for beginner players and more advanced players.
- This accordion practice method lets you work on the chords you are working on, not arbitrary chords. Meaning, if you are playing the song Silent Night (in the key of C major, with chord changes to F and G major) your 15 minutes of practice will involve those chords. C major, F major, and G major. Your practice is applied to the songs you are playing.
The power of triads and chord voicings
I'll let you in on a secret
Figuring out songs "by ear" - in other words, being able to play along to songs as soon as you hear them - is really quite simple. The secret is that the melody of the song is almost always revealed in the song's chords. Meaning, if the song is written in the key of C major, the melody will contain the C major scale. But more than that, if the chord after a C major is A minor (like in Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah), then the notes of the melody will be the three notes of the A minor chord. When the song goes to the E major chord, the notes in the melody will likely be the notes making up the E major chord - E, G#, or B.
What this means is that being able to play chords with your right hand is fundamental to being able to play music well. And the point of the 15 minutes of practice - those triads & arpeggios - is to get your hand into common chord "shapes", so that when you see that E major chord in the sheet music, your fingers automatically fall into that position, and the melody naturally comes out. Your fingers are already positioned on the notes - you just have to decide which notes to press, and how to make them musical.
The best part is that you don't have to learn all the chords and notes at once. If the song you are playing contains three or four chords (G, C, D, and E minor), then those are the chords you will practice. And what you'll start to see is that as you practice, you'll find the same chord "shapes" appearing over and over again. Your hand begins to assume "the position" of that chord and its voicing. Just check out my 15 minutes of practice video, above, and see what I mean.
If you'd like to learn more about this topic, I have an entire course on applied chord voicings in practice. Check it out!