Tap to Squeeze: Accordions on the iPad

With the iPad 2 coming out this week, it seemed like the perfect time to check out the latest iPad accordion apps. Believe it or not, this is actually a pretty active category — we found more than 25 apps for the iPad alone, and even more for the iPhone and iPod Touch.

While tapping your iPad is no substitute for playing a real accordion, it can be a handy learning tool. Imagine practicing a few scales while watching TV on the couch, or plugging in headphones and mastering a tune after the family has gone to bed. Plus, all of these apps are around $5 so (even after you factor in the cost of the iPad itself) they’re significantly cheaper than a real accordion. Here are a few we’ve tried:

Hohner Squeezebox

Wait, that Hohner? Yes, the world’s largest accordion maker now has a line of iPad apps that mimic their Corona Classic diatonic accordions. You can show or hide the names of the notes on the keyboard, tap on the bellows to alternate between “push” and “pull” mode, and even switch between wet and dry tuning. The app is treble only — no bass/chord buttons (although this isn’t a big loss for most diatonic players I know). The app comes in five key combinations — GCF, FB♭E♭, EAD, ADG, and B♭E♭A♭ — and there’s also a “mini” version for iPhone/iPod touch.

Michael Eskin, who developed the app for Hohner, has a number of other accordion-related apps available, including one-row Cajun/Zydeco accordion, two-row Melodeon, and Anglo Concertina.

Hohner Squeezebox


We reviewed the first version of Accordéon last year when it was one of the only accordion apps available. It offers a piano accordion interface and even includes a handful of bass/chord buttons so you can get a fairly full sound going. My favorite feature, though, is the “Learning Center,” which helps you learn popular songs by following along with highlighted keys. “Jingle Bells” comes for free with the app and you can buy other tunes for 99 cents each.

Accordio Pro

The chromatic accordion has always intimidated me with its vast, imposing array of buttons. Accordio Pro has helped conquer that fear by simulating a full-featured chromatic accordion, complete with six-row Stradella bass. You can switch between C, G, and B-layouts, scroll and zoom along the keyboard, and even play along to songs in your music library. The developer also makes a version for piano accordion.

Have you played “pocket squeezebox” on your iPad or iPhone and have an app to recommend? Leave a comment and let us know!

Accordion Gift Guide 2009

Maybe you braved the crowds on Black Friday. Or maybe you stayed home and ate Thanksgiving leftovers. Either way, Christmas is less than a month away and you still need a gift for that accordion lover in your life. Don’t worry, we’re here to help with our annual Accordion Gift Guide — a roundup of books, music, videos, and other goodies that will look great in any accordion player’s Christmas stocking.

The new Roland FR-7x V-Accordion has had tech-savvy accordionists drooling since its introduction a few months ago. Improving on its predecessor, the already-popular FR-7, the new model features more sounds, faster response and higher sensitivity, and a USB port for playback and recording.

Tedrow ConcertinaPrefer the feel and sound of a classic, acoustic instrument? Check out the handmade concertinas built by Bob Tedrow of Homewood Music. More than just instruments, Bob’s concertinas are practically works of art, proudly billed as “150 years behind the times.” The waiting list for his concertinas is currently several months long, so act now if you want one by next Christmas.

There’s a good chance, though, you’re shopping for someone who already has an accordion and what they really need is a lesson or two. (Not that you’d ever say that out loud…) A pair of Texas accordion teachers have great accordion lesson DVDs: for piano accordionists, try Debra Peters’ blues/rock accordion DVDs, while button accordionists will enjoy Sheila Lee’s DVD for beginners playing the GCF button accordion. I haven’t seen the full video yet, but I’ve also been impressed by clips of British accordionist Murray Grainger’s new DVD, Accordion: Mastering the Art.

Brave Combo: Christmas PresentFor holiday music, accordion-style, Brave Combo has just released a live holiday album called Christmas Present, a nice companion to their earlier releases Holiday! and It’s Christmas, Man. Their polka arrangement of “Must Be Santa” was borrowed by Bob Dylan for his new Christmas album, Christmas Heart, which features the accordion playing of Los Lobos’ David Hidalgo.

Lighting a menorah instead of a Christmas tree? Woody Guthrie’s Happy Joyous Hanukkah, an album of Guthrie’s lyrics put to music by the Klezmatics, is a couple years old but still a great choice for a boisterous Hanukkah celebration.

The holidays are fun, but they can be stressful, too; after weeks of shopping, traveling, and dealing with family, who hasn’t felt like locking themselves in the bedroom with a good book? We’ve got options there, too. Blair Kilpatrick’s Accordion Dreams, is a heartwarming tale of her transformative obsession with Cajun and Creole music. For a more historical perspective, Ryan Brasseaux’s Cajun Breakdown is one of the most thoroughly researched histories of Cajun music ever published.

Mi Música shirtNeed something to wear when you aren’t carrying an accordion? In addition to producing fantastic collections of folk music from around the world, Smithsonian Folkways has neat t-shirts, too, including this accordion-themed design. There are some great shirts on Etsy, too — this stenciled accordion shirt and the cheeky “Instruments of War”, which shows an accordion amidst a sea of weapons (club, axe, banjo).

One of our favorite products of the past year is Elena Erber’s nifty accordion backstraps. Anna and I have been using them for a few months now and they’re comfortable, easy to adjust and great for your back. We’re also big fans of the annual Bay Area Accordion Babes Pin-Up calendar. It’s accompanied by a CD of folk, jazz, gypsy, goth, and pop accordion, just in case the eye candy isn’t enough for you.

Want more ideas? Check out our 2008 Accordion Gift Guide or browse our other shopping-related posts. And if you find other great accordion-related gifts out there, leave a comment and let us know!

Shawn Feeney’s Musical Anatomy

What if we didn’t need musical instruments? What if they were a part of us, natural extensions of our bodies that allowed us to extend and transform our voices into something altogether different? That’s the idea behind artist Shawn Feeney’s Musical Anatomy series. He imagines bodies with musical anatomies, referencing musicians from a variety of genres and traditions — a bluesman with a harmonica mouth, a jazz musician with saxophones where his nose and mouth would normally be, and so on.

Astor & Pollux

The drawing above, “Astor & Pollux,” depicts a pair of Siamese twins joined at the bandoneon, with faces modeled after Argentine tango legend Astor Piazzolla. Check Shawn’s site for more strange and wonderful imaginings; you can also pick up a poster of “Astor & Pollux” for $10.

Accordion Babes Return for 2010

West Coast Accordion Babes Pin-Up Calendar 2010Forget puppies or creepy babies dressed in animal costumes. Instead, treat yourself to a calendar with some class — the 2010 West Coast Accordion Babes Pin-Up calendar. We picked up our copy at Cotati last weekend and, like last year’s calendar, it features a year’s worth of artsy photos of professional accordion babes showing off their bellows. And if that wasn’t enough, each contributed a track to the calendar’s companion CD, resulting in a fun mix of folk, jazz, gypsy, pop, and more.

Artists in this year’s edition include Big Lou, Jessica Fichot, Tara Linda, and the ladies of Those Darn Accordions. The calendar is just $20 and can be ordered here or directly from many of the accordion babes themselves. I recommend acting fast — last year’s calendar sold out in just three weeks!

The annual Accordion Babes calendar is put together by San Francisco accordionst Renée de la Prade of the band Culann’s Hounds. Renée’s become a fixture as a street performer in San Francisco, belting out tunes on her Irish button accordion; check out her recent feature and audio slideshow on the SF Chronicle website.

Introducing the Let’s Polka Directory

Every day, we receive emails from people looking for an accordion teacher, a repair shop, or an accordion club in their area. We try to answer these questions as best we can — usually with information cobbled together from abandoned pages across the web — but it’d be much easier if there was a thorough, up-to-date, searchable list we could point people towards.

So today, we’re launching the Let’s Polka accordion directory, a catalog of accordion teachers, repair shops, and clubs across North America. Just visit the directory, type in your city, hit “Go!”, and you’ll see a list of accordion resources in your immediate area. You can also browse each category — teachers, shops, and clubs — individually.

We’ve gone ahead and added a bunch of listings already, but we know there are a lot more out there. That’s where you come in! If you want to add (or edit) a listing in our directory, just contact us and we’ll take care of the rest. (Listings are entirely free.) We know there are a lot of clubs and teachers that don’t have websites that we’ve probably missed, so hopefully we can work together to get them publicized online.

We have a lot of ideas for improving and expanding the directory, but we hope this is a useful first step towards making this information more readily available. If you have any questions or suggestions, drop us a line or leave a comment on this post. Happy searching!

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Building a Better (Accordion) Backstrap

Despite its many charms, the accordion can be a physically taxing instrument to play. Most accordion players I know have experienced some degree of back or shoulder pain during their playing careers. One simple, useful tip for alleviating back pain is to use a back strap — a small strap that connects the accordion’s two shoulder straps across your back. The back strap helps support your back, distribute and balance the accordion’s weight between your shoulders, and keep the accordion and shoulder straps in place.

Elena Erber had trouble finding an easy-to-use back strap that would fit on each of her four accordions. So, like any good entrepreneur, she scratched her own itch and started making accordion back straps, which she now sells online.

“I couldn’t find the same style strap again, only leather ones with buckles or hooks or other connection contraptions that didn’t look nearly as easy to operate as a nylon strap and a quick-release buckle, like on a back pack, that allows me to snug it up or loosen it with total ease while I’m wearing it. So I made a few — some for me and some for my friends… I enjoy the process of making them, sewing them, packing them up and sending them off, hoping someday to collect some stories about where they’ve been.”

Her back straps are $19.99 and you can buy them directly from her website or wherever fine accordion accessories are sold.

2008 Accordion Gift Guide

Still looking for that perfect holiday gift? Want to help our nation’s beleaguered retailers and stimulate the economy? Never fear: Let’s Polka’s 2008 Accordion Gift Guide is here! We’ve got music, books, DVDs, and more for the accordion aficionados on your list — and for those folks you’re looking to convert to the squeezin’ side.

How Much Is My Accordion Worth?

Far and away, the most common email we receive is from someone who’s found or inherited an old accordion — often stashed away in a closet or garage — who wants to know how much it’s worth. I’ve probably answered this question a hundred times, a hundred different ways. But now I save myself the trouble and refer them to this handy guide on Jeroen Nijhof’s excellent Accordion Links site. Jeroen’s guide covers the basics (condition, brand, size) along with two pieces of advice I often give: that “vintage” doesn’t mean much unless it’s playable (or festooned with diamonds) and it’s only worth what someone will pay for it.

With that in mind, I should really ask: “Why sell this accordion when you can learn to play it?” Instead of dumping it at a garage sale for a few bucks, you could have countless hours of enjoyment by playing cumbias or mazurkas on your porch. Maybe the next time someone inquires about their grandfather’s old accordion, I’ll just reply with a list of accordion teachers in their area…

Grandpa’s Magical Accordion

Grandpa's Magical AccordionFor some reason, we find ourselves reading an awful lot of children’s books these days. So we’ll have to pick up a copy of Grandpa’s Magical Accordion, written by Jessica Cherie Errico and illustrated by Brenda Star. It’s the story of two children who, as their grandfather plays his accordion, are magically transported to the countries mentioned in the songs he plays. This picture book aimed at ages 5 to 9 includes a CD with narration and renditions of such accordion classics as “Roll Out The Barrel” and “Cielito Lindo.” Sounds like the perfect holiday gift for the little squeezers in your life.

Henry Doktorski’s Historic Records on CD

Henry DoktorskiToday I was going through my record collection, wondering if any of my old accordion records were available on CD. Sadly, many of them have not been remastered to CD. However, in my search I discovered that accordionist Henry Doktorski has taken the time to remaster some of his historic accordion records to CD! He sells copies of the CDs from his website for $15 each plus extra for shipping, handling and (optional) insurance. He has several albums by Myron Floren and Charles Magnante, as well as others. Take a look! While the recordings are not perfect (there are unavoidable hisses and skips), this is definitely a great resource for fans of the accordion.

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