Learning to Play Accordion

We’ve been seeing a lot of encouraging signs that the accordion is gaining popularity — one of which is a sharp increase in emails from people who want to learn how to play the accordion. Even better, we keep finding new resources to help them get started. Here are a few we’ve uncovered recently…

Accordion lesson books have always been a popular topic on our site and recently I’ve had a couple accordion teachers recommend a relatively new series from Santorella Publications. Written by Jay Latulippe, Santorella’s three book series isn’t as deep as the venerable Palmer-Hughes series (which has ten), but it includes more contemporary styles and each book comes with a companion CD. Santorella also publishes two diatonic button accordion lesson books (also with CDs) by Henry Doktorski.

Books are great, but working directly with an accordion teacher is even better. For those who can’t find a local teacher, Duane Schnur’s online accordion lessons may be the next best thing. Recently retired, Duane taught accordion for nearly forty years and has decided to “give something back” in the form of these free downloadable lessons. There are forty-six lessons available so far; each includes a PDF with sheet music and an MP3 of Duane leading the lesson.

For visual learners, the rise of YouTube has made it incredibly easy to find and share lesson videos online. For instance, I’ve always struggled with the bellows shake, but thanks to this video from Australian accordionist Dave Evans, I’m well on my way to becoming the next Dick Contino.

Finally, readers may have noticed the link to Debra Peters’ The ABC’s of Accordion Basics lesson DVDs on our site. We’ll do a full review of her DVDs in a future post, but if you’re looking for an introduction to rock and blues accordion, there’s no better place to start.

Have you come across a particularly good accordion lesson book, video, or other learning aid recently? Leave a comment and let us know.

Fact: Accordionists Make Money

Soprani Ad: Accordionists Make Money

It’s easy to forget the accordion was once one of the country’s most popular instruments and accordion players were in high demand. But this Soprani accordion ad pitching the accordion’s money-making potential actually appeared in the August 1931 issue of The Etude Music Magazine. I wonder how many out-of-work musicans — keep in mind, this was during the Great Depression — embraced the get-rich-quick pitch: “Big demand in orchestras, radio work and for teachers… You master it quickly. Then watch your earnings grow.” Sounds great! Where do I sign up?

(Found via Lenny Feldmann, the Cordeen Man.)

MP3 Monday: Bowerbirds

BowerbirdsYou would expect a band living and writing music off the grid in an Airstream trailer in the woods outside of Raleigh, NC, to play some lo-fi acoustic folk. But that’s just a tiny part of what Bowerbirds are all about. The duo of Phil Moore (guitar) and Beth Tacular (accordion) won over critics with their beautiful 2007 debut, Hymns for a Dark Horse and have just released their follow-up, Upper Air. Sparse, subtle arrangements incorporating violin, percussion, and more set the stage for beguiling harmonies and unabashedly pastoral lyrics. Currently touring the US, you can find most of their upcoming shows on our accordion events calendar.

Quick Links: Accordion Potpourri

You know how on Jeopardy they occasionally have a category called “Potpourri,” which is just a random collection of answers that don’t fit together at all? Every now and again, I’ll end up with a similar smorgasbord of interesting accordion links that don’t really fit together, but I still want to share. Well, today, I’m Alex Trebek and this is my “Potpourri”…

  • Concert Review: Main Squeeze Accordion Festival
    If you missed the 4th annual Main Squeeze festival in New York earlier this month, this detailed review is the next best thing. Includes recaps of performances by Musette Explosion, Eternal Tango, Liony Parra y la Mega Mafia Tipica, and more.
  • WNYU Radio: Angry Accordion Shout Alongs
    The title is a little misleading — a few tracks are fairly mellow, and others don’t actually have an accordion — but this recent radio show from WNYU features some great gypsy punk, gypsy electronica, and Eastern European rock. You can listen to the full two-hour program online (click “Play Now”).
  • Lady Accordion
    Here’s a fun website premise: Heidi is learning to play the accordion and, along the way, she’s holding “Name That Tune”-style contests using videos of herself playing. Great inspiration for anyone who’s been thinking of picking up the accordion.
  • The “No Accordions” Sign
    From Toronto’s Accordion Guy comes this bone-chilling sign, apparently posted by a Dutch cafe owner to keep accordion-playing gypsies away.

MP3 Monday: Bellowhead

BellowheadIn 2004, English folk duo Spiers and Boden set out to gather a collection of musicians well-versed in many styles — big band, soul, jazz, classical — but who would still play traditional English dance tunes and songs. The result was Bellowhead, an 11-piece English-folk-meets-brass-band ensemble that has racked up an impressive collection of awards and rave reviews in its first five years. Their live performances in particular — which are designed to get the entire crowd up and dancing — have earned them a reputation as one of Britain’s best live acts, regardless of genre. Trombone, saxophone and trumpet slug it out with melodeon (button accordion), fiddle, and bouzouki in a bold, high-energy mix that often sounds more like New Orleans than London. The track below comes from their first album, Burlesque, and features the accordion playing of band founder John Spiers.

Need more accordion? Follow us on Twitter, Facebook, or email.

Maestros del Joropo Oriental

Y Que Viva Venezuela by Maestros del Joropo OrientalOver the years, Smithsonian Folkways — the Smithsonian Institution’s non-profit record label — has done an amazing job documenting and sharing the musical heritage of cultures around the world. The latest example is ¡Y Que Viva Venezuela! featuring an all-star group of Venezuelan musicians performing joropo oriental.

Joropo is a popular folk style found across Venezuela and Colombia; it’s a fast, string-driven music resembling the waltz, with both African and European influences. Joropo oriental is a flavor of joropo rooted in Venezuela’s eastern coast around the city of Cumaná. The bandola and bandolín are key instruments, often joined by cuatro, maracas, and caja. The button accordion isn’t always found in joropo oriental, but accordionist Mónico Márquez makes the most of its appearances in this collection.

Name That Accordion: Sonova?

Time to put on your Sherlock Holmes hat and settle in for another edition of “Name That Accordion.” Today’s accordion comes from reader Alper K., who believes this accordion is originally from Romania, but has been unable to identify the brand. The nameplate isn’t clear to me — is that “Sonova”? “Sonora”? “Fonova”? Click here for more photos and leave a comment if you have any ideas.

AOL Launches Polka Radio

After last month’s announcement heralding the end of the polka Grammy, polka lovers have been waiting for some good news. Last week, AOL Radio answered the call by launching an all-polka station, broadcasting happy polka beats around the clock. The mix is actually pretty good so far — in addition to the usual suspects (Yankovic, Sturr, etc.), I’ve heard Brave Combo, Those Darn Accordions, and even conjunto pioneer Narciso Martinez.

If you’re simply looking for a jukebox, AOL’s polka station does a fine job. But if you prefer hearing the occasional human voice, I recommend checking out 247PolkaHeaven.com — the Internet’s first around-the-clock polka radio channel. Their programming schedule features shows hosted by polka personalities from across the country, including Tony Petkovsek, Wild Wilson, and more.

MP3 Monday: Wendy McNeill

We have our Canadian friends at Accordion Noir to thank for turning us on to today’s artist — Edmonton-born singer/accordionist Wendy McNeill. Now based in Sweden, McNeill blends intimate, narrative folk with dreamy, melancholy cabaret. Her latest album, A Dreamer’s Guide to Hardcore Living, keeps her accordion and voice at the center, but adds swelling, orchestral arrangements to the mix. Above all, though, McNeill is a natural storyteller, sharing strange and expressive tales of faith, temptation, shape-shifting coyotes, and more. Take a listen and I think you’ll see why she’s rapidly becoming one of our favorite accordion-toting artists.

And as an added bonus, here’s the clever video for Wendy’s “Ask Me No Questions”, shot in one continuous take:

I also highly recommend a pair of videos filmed by Pocket Music during Wendy’s trip to São Paolo, Brazil. The one where she strolls through the open-air market while people stop and dance along to her music is fantastic.

Quick Links: One-of-a-Kind Accordions

  • Coin-Operated Accordion Arcade Jukebox
    Wow. I’m not sure where to start with this — it’s basically a jukebox/player accordion that sits on top of a barrel. Load music rolls in the barrel, drop a quarter in the slot and marvel as the automated accordion squeezes out classic tunes. Watch this video for a demonstration, but be warned — bidding starts at just under $4,000.
  • Topaz-1: Cold War Electro-Accordion
    Your fancy MIDI accordion is nothing new; Russian accordionists were squeezing electronic accordions (or bayans) back in the 1950s. This model had a built-in loudspeaker and amplifier, tremolo and vibrato frequency control, and more. Look ma, no bellows!
  • The Flaco Jimenez Signature Accordion
    Hohner has a new limited-edition version of its Corona II accordion, developed in collaboration with the legendary Flaco Jimenez. The accordion is tuned to match Flaco’s unique sound, has a noise reduction fingerboard, and sports a shiny gold finish complete with Flaco’s signature.

Older posts »