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June 2, 2009 11:25 PM   Subscribe

If I wanted to learn how to play an accordion, what advice would you have, with respect to: which type of accordion, buying or renting (new or used), lessons, the best music to play, etc.?
posted by Blazecock Pileon to Media & Arts (12 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
This sounds like a good question to ask Accordian Guy.
posted by blueberry at 11:59 PM on June 2, 2009

Depends on what type of music you're interested in. Mexican "tex-mex"-type music tends to use the button accordion (buttons on both sides, different notes on the same button depending on whether you push or pull), whereas classical, ragtime, and klezmer tend to use the piano accordion (buttons on bass side, piano-like keyboard on the other side for melody). The bass buttons also come in different arrangements (stradella vs chromatic, etc).

Accordions are pretty expensive, so I'd try renting for a month or two to see how you like it. If you find yourself enjoying it, then start looking for one to buy. I've heard of people refurbishing old (usually busted) accordions they got cheaply at yard sales, but the amount of work involved is considerable.

Do you play any other instruments? Competence on the piano would be immensely helpful.
posted by Maximian at 12:29 AM on June 3, 2009

Yeah I think you need to figure out what you want to play. I play irish fiddle. Irish accordions are usually 2 row button accordions, b/c or c#d. And some people play melodion in D. And also there's the wonderful concertina, which is a great instrument (hard to find good ones but that's another story).

I'd probably buy 10 cds from a variety of traditions and see what you liked the best. Better to find one tradition that you like and learn that than to try to play everything. I know this through tough experience.

The Button Box in Amherst is a good supplier of irish and english accordion stuff. They also make boxes.
posted by sully75 at 5:10 AM on June 3, 2009

Agreeing with the suggestions to decide what you'd like to learn, first. I wanted to play the music of my two heritages, Newfoundland & Klezmer, and they're completely different, forcing me to choose. If you play piano, it's probably worth getting a piano accordion either way, especially for learning.

I'm not sure about the expense issue - I bought my learner's accordion, which was a full 120/41 piano, for $300 used. Not perfect condition, but definitely workable. Call around to the shops, and maybe even put up a notice on bulletin boards and such - a lot of people have them gathering dust in their basement. Get a used one first, though.

Lessons are good. A professional should be able to tell you what fingering you're better at for the bass (the root note is either played by the third finger or the 4th), make sure you've got the correct form, the usual reasons. You may not need lessons forever like kids end up with, but just enough so that you don't have any bad habits.

I would say you want an accordion with a Stradella system, unless you intend to play classical.
posted by Lemurrhea at 5:54 AM on June 3, 2009

It is worth your time, money, and mental health to start with an accordion that is in good condition: one that can play all of the notes when you push/pull and doesn't have any missing or broken buttons or reeds. I started off by borrowing one for a few months and decided that I liked it enough to keep going. I'm self taught, but I don't necessarily recommend doing it that way, as the learning curve at the beginning was pretty slow, and I have had to go back and correct bad habits. Committing to a teacher will probably help to keep you practicing on a regular basis.

You will probably want to go to Petosa Accordions to find a rental and a teacher, and to talk to someone in person.

The first few months on accordion can be a little bit daunting. It takes some time to physically get used to playing it, it's a small feat of multitasking to coordinate both hands and keep the bellows going. Just hang in there during the initial awkward period, it gets easier with time and repetition.

Planet Squeezebox is a 3-disc compilation with a book, and gives a great overview of accordions worldwide. It is really interesting to see how different cultures have taken this instrument and incorporated it into their music. Additionally, there is a ton of material on youtube, both performance and lessons.

If you intend to play music with other people, you should consider playing an accordion with piano keys on the right hand and Stradela (bass notes and chords) buttons on the left. It is probably the most versatile option. Accordions that have buttons on the right hand are geared towards specific styles of music, and might be limiting outside of that style.

Upon preview, I would add that $300 is a good estimate of what you can expect to spend on a starting accordion.

Good luck and feel free to contact me if you have any further questions.
posted by Benjamin Nushmutt at 6:29 AM on June 3, 2009

I bought a 100 year old Hohner at a flea market and then started searching on 'accordion lessons' on youtube. That gave me an immediate understanding of what in hell are the buttons are and what the basic concepts were. That allowed me to at least mess around first and use my existing musical knowledge to get comfortable with it. My next step is lessons with a teacher. So I'd say start with youtube as just an informal introduction and then follow all the advice above.
posted by spicynuts at 7:08 AM on June 3, 2009

Get a rent (or rent-to-own) deal that will let you spend a smaller amount and then back out when you realize just how insane this accordion idea was.

As for the best music to play (assuming you stick to it): try listening to Mogens Ellegaard or Renata Przemyk or Kimmo Pohjonen or ... and then choosing a direction or two.
posted by pracowity at 7:12 AM on June 3, 2009

I used to play accordian; it was my first instrument, actually. I no longer play it, but if I were to take it up today I think I'd really like to learn zydeco.
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 7:48 AM on June 3, 2009

You really need to get your hands on a copy of Geoff Berner's "How to be an Accordion Player".

It won't teach you how to, you know, *play the accordion*, but it will teach you the other things you must know to be an accordion player. In the form of helpful anecdotes and seemingly unrelated stories.

and lies.
posted by Acari at 8:35 AM on June 3, 2009

I think it depends on how serious you want to get. All serious players will tell you to buy a new or second hand accordion from a dealer and take lessons. It is the proper way but also very expensive.

Myself I got a second hand accordion that been laying around in someones storage room the last twenty years for free. All other will tell you these instruments are unplayable but it has worked fine for me so far. A few buttons sounds off tune but it is ok for learning and also gives it a certain charm.

Button accordion is actually a smarter design than piano, otherwise there is no diffrence. However if you have no clue of music theory i think the piano version is better, also it makes it easier to transition to piano playing. It is also a lot more common for books to be written for piano accordion.

Next I recommend searching google for "how to play accordion" or something similar to get started. There are some very basic tutorials online but you will probably want to buy some kind of learning material.

Books are good but useless if you don't get the tunes in the book on CD since you have to know how they should sound. Video is probably even better since proper bellows movement and fingering is a bit hard to understand from a book.
posted by ilike at 2:14 AM on June 4, 2009

I don't know anything about playing accordion. But. You should totally go check out the Monsters of Accordion when they're in your neck of the woods.

And you should play stuff like this.
posted by mollymayhem at 11:15 PM on June 4, 2009

My father plays the accordion and the concertina.

His style is mostly Irish folk and polka. I'm not a fan.

I do, however, LOVE the accordion when used in tango. Libertango. Violentango. Adios Nonino. All by Astor Piazzolla.

For learning, it also depends on what musical experience you have previously. Many music stories will offer in-store lessons pretty reasonably. Also, places like Craigslist are a great place to get started if you are a total music noob. You might be able to find some pretty reasonable rates there.

I'd suggest picking up a book of music theory if you're just getting started, also. A lot of the into books are geared toward small children, but don't let that deter you. (Theory Time is a good series. A little hokey. But good.) That will be what teaches you some of the "nuts and bolts" of music. And as an adult learner, you can progress significantly farther if you are doing concurrent practical and theory studies.
posted by greekphilosophy at 11:00 PM on June 13, 2009

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