Accordions Gone Wild

Getting Creative
With Your Music

 

Workshop by Ken Kunec
presented at July 22, 2007, WMAS meeting

 

Introduction

This workshop was prepared in July 2007 for the monthly meeting of the Washington Metropolitan Accordion Society. Hints, assertions, comments and condemnations contained in this workshop are solely the opinions of the misguided author and are intended only to "get your juices flowing." The workshop is intended to stimulate the creativity of accordion players by suggesting concepts and ideas rather than defining techniques in detail. After all, if you are shown what to do, you aren't really being "creative."

Most of us because accordion players by strict adherence to a framework of music that we were taught. We learned to play somebody else's arrangement of music, usually with wondrous precision and we graduated through increasingly more difficult compositions. Some of us learned to improvise somewhat around the framework and that represents our "creativity." While that is commendable and often very entertaining, this workshop challenges you to get away from those frameworks and become your own arranger. Be a rebel!

The workshop, while not exhaustive, will range across five areas of concentration and will explore them in various levels of detail with occasional examples (presented as brief video clips). Your job, after the workshop, will be to come up with other areas of concentration, better levels of detail, and hopefully your own creative examples. We will address:

[Song Selection]

[Improvising]

[Using the Accordion's Capabilities]

[Artistic Techniques]

[Additional Accompaniment]

 

There is no priority or order to these sections. Skip to any one or back to the Introduction at any time.

 

Song Selection

"How come all you accordion players always play senior citizen songs?"
-- Anonymous Fan

"Every accordion player alive plays Beer Barrel Polka and Lady of Spain."
-- Federal Agent at a Christmas Party (name withheld because he is never unarmed)

You wouldn't play classical music on bagpipes, you wouldn't play polkas on a harp, and you wouldn't play jazz on an oboe. Because of its versatility, you would play any kind of music on an accordion (Caution: Not sure about Hip Hop). What kind of music do you play? Let's look at a short list of options:

Classical
Baroque
Jazz
Eastern European (Polka, Oberek, Czardas, Mazurka, etc.)
Greek (Rembetiko, Syrto, Kalamatiano, Tsifteteli, Hasaposerviko, Tsamiko, etc.)
Irish (Reel, Jig, Hornpipe, Slide, etc.)
Italian (Opera, Sacred, Neapolitan)
Latin Rhythms (Meringue, Tango, Salsa, Mariachi, Tejano, Bachata, Bandas, etc.)
Caribbean Rhythms and Reggae
African Rhythms (think Paul Simon's Graceland album)
American (Old standards, Folk, Rock, Blues, Cajun, Country, Hip Hop, Do Wop, Swing, Disco, Broadway, Gospel, etc.)

If you can now pigeon-hole yourself into only three or four categories, it is simple to be more creative - play other categories of music. You've just become more creative as an accordionist!

The second, more intriguing possibility is that you might pick up innovative ideas that you could then apply to songs in your old play list when improvising.

[Introduction]

[Improvising]

[Using the Accordion's Capabilities]

[Artistic Techniques]

[Additional Accompaniment]

 


Improvising

"Dress that song up a little, will ya?"
-- Father pleading to his son after listening to the same old song played the same old way from a sheet of music during daily practice sessions. TRUE STORY

Improvising is when a musician fabricates an arrangement of music using techniques such as scales, arpeggios or various other riffs. For example, playing a spontaneous solo, or weaving a counter-melody that adds color or helps frame the main melody.

There are instructors, books and web pages that can provide intelligent, step-by-step guidance to assist in developing this skill. This workshop suggests three keys that contribute to success:

- Practice Scales and Arpeggios (Major, Melodic Minor, Harmonic Minor, Pentatonic(s), Diminished, and Augmented).
- Learn some techniques (Passing Tones, Turnaround Chords, etc.)
- Play from "memory" - toss your music aside.

NOTE: Don't be overwhelmed by the "jargon." Some musicians learn it, some don't. With practice, the techniques become second nature and the jargon means little except to the purists.

[Introduction]

[Song Selection]

[Using the Accordion's Capabilities]

[Artistic Techniques]

[Additional Accompaniment]

 

 

Using the Accordion's Capabilities

"When the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem is a nail."
-- Old adage

With the exception of the new keyboard workstations, there is no musical instruction more robust than an accordion.

Are you taking advantage of all the physical capabilities?

Let's look at the right-hand keyboard.
- Be sure that you are fluid with scales all of the way up and all of the way down.
- Use glissando up and glissando down.
- Play melodies in one area of the keyboard (lower or higher) and play countermelodies at the opposite area.
- Use ALL of your registers. Experiment with each song by trying each register with lower position keys and with upper position keys.

With the left-hand keyboard:
- Again, the importance of scales is basic. As you use the keyboard more aggressively, the confidence that you will hit the keys you seek will improve. (I would recommend that you look at the left-hand fingers will you play, but I could get sued for the attendant medical expenses.)
- Depart from the um-pah-pah bass pattern. Base runs are the first step. Using single notes to augment chords or create chords is another step.
- Use ALL of your registers.

Creative use of the bellows can be enhancing to your song or an indication that your arms are not long enough.

 

[Introduction]

[Improvising]

[Artistic Techniques]

[Song Selection]

[Additional Accompaniment]

 

 

Artistic Techniques

"You're not a stripper, you're an entertainer!"
-- Gypsy Rose Lee's mother

"… the loftiest species of human life yet designed by God…"
-- a fictional Marine Force Recon officer (perhaps describing a creative accordionist)

Do you limit your progress as a musician to merely learning new songs? Don't allow yourself to stagnate as a musician. Take on a creative mindset. Don't be just an accordionist. Think of yourself as an entertainer with the accordion as one of your tools, along with things like the melody, rhythm, speed, and texture of the song you are presenting. Your purpose is not to display your technical skills; rather, your skills are presented as needed to "deliver the song." Here are a few concepts, with some examples that can be used to enhance the presentation of your songs. (Of course, you must come with strategies and examples of your own.)

Devise medleys.

Use introductions and endings.

Change keys.

Simulate Instrument Tones and Styles.

Use Formulas such as Simple/Hard/Simple.

Steal great licks.

 


[Introduction]

[Improvising]

[Song Selection]

[Artistic Techniques]

[Additional Accompaniment]

 

Additional Accompaniment

"It sounds good with the vocals and the acoustic guitar, but I think now we should add some drums!"
-- Ringo to Paul after the recording of the song "Yesterday"


Why let your accordion carry the load all by itself? One obvious add-on is your voice. Most people can sing somewhat. If you just can't, so be it. But, if you can, you should consider singing on some songs. But "I can't sing and play at the same time!"

Address this problem in the same fashion as playing a difficult passage - slow down, take a piece at a time, and practice repetitively. In addition, simplify the accordion part until you find that you can play and sing simultaneously - then you can increase the degree of difficulty of the accompaniment.

Next you practice using your voice (NOT the accordion) to carry the lead of the song. Then during pauses add countermelody with the accordion.

Adding electronics to your instrument can provide other options. An amplifier with a 15-inch speaker greatly enhances the bass sound and can add emphasis to the bass lines you use in your arrangements.

Use of added electronics such as a rhythm machine increases the robustness of your arrangements.


[Introduction]

[Improvising]

[Using the Accordion's Capabilities]

[Song Selection]

[Artistic Techniques]


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