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.

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.

Korpiklaani’s Heavy Metal Accordion

Are you ready to rock? Hold on… ARE YOU READY TO ROCK???

One of our favorite Finnish metal bands — and yes, there’s more than one — Korpiklaani is back with a brand-new album. Korpiklaani plays metal, but with a folk twist; electric guitars and drums fight it out with violin, accordion, and woodwinds. The result is a happier, more upbeat metal than you might be used to. Check out the video for “Vodka” (sample lyric: “Drinking is good for you / And you will feel awesome”), the first single from their new album, Karkelo.

Billie Jean on Accordion

Like many other children of the 1980s, I spent last night listening to my old Michael Jackson albums and reminiscing about my childhood — the trip to the mall to buy Bad on cassette… borrowing one of grandma’s fancy gloves while practicing the moonwalk… okay, maybe that last one was just me.

Nestled among the classic Michael Jackson videos on YouTube, I found this clip of Montreal busker Scott Dunbar doing a fanastically funky one-man accordion band rendition of “Billie Jean.” All that’s missing is the glove.

Crocodile Gena’s Birthday Song

Unless you grew up in the former Soviet Union, chances are you probably haven’t heard of the accordion-playing Crocodile Gena. A character from the Cheburashka childrens books written by Eduard Uspenskiy, Crocodile Gena works as a crocodile in a zoo (naturally) and enjoys playing the garmon (a Russian accordion) and singing with his friends. This video comes from one of the Cheburashka animated films created in the 1970s and captures Crocodile Gena singing his most famous tune.

Here are the translated lyrics:

“Let the pedestrians walk clumsily through the puddles
And let the water run over the asphalt in a river.
It’s unclear to the passersby,
On this rainy day,
Why I’m so happy.

But I’m playing the concertina
For all the passersby to see.
Only come once a year.

I wish that a wizard
Would fly in, in a light blue helicopter,
And show a movie for free.
He would wish me a happy birthday
And probably, leave as a present
500 ice cream sandwiches.

But I’m playing the concertina
For all the passersby to see.
Only come once a year.”

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Remembering Clyde Forsman (1915-2009)

Clyde ForsmanIn the spring of 1995, I was an eager college freshman doing what all young men dream of when they leave home: learning to play the accordion. I didn’t have a teacher or any lesson books, but I did have Those Darn Accordions’ album Squeeze This on cassette.

On the cover was Clyde Forsman, his octogenarian back covered with tattoos, smiling broadly and showing off his biceps while lifting an accordion. When people kidded me about playing the accordion, I showed them that album and made them listen to Clyde’s rendition of Jimi Hendrix’s “Fire” — a stunning version that rendered all other covers futile. Clyde Forsman helped me prove that the accordion could be cool.

Clyde passed away Friday night at his home in San Francisco; he was 94. One of the founding members of Those Darn Accordions, he played with the band from 1989 to 2000 and was easily its most beloved member. He won over crowds with his charm, humor, and the way he would take off his shirt to reveal his fantastic tattoos before launching into “Da Ya Think I’m Sexy?” or the aforementioned “Fire.” An amazing entertainer and an incomparable accordion ambassador, he will be sorely missed.

Macedonian Dream: A Girl and Her Accordion

The guys at Accordion Noir hipped us to Die Akkordeonspielerin (The Accordion Player), a 2006 documentary about a promising young Macedonian accordionist. 17-year-old Emilija Obradova practices diligently and longs to be a professional musician, but her family is poor and cannot afford the new accordion she needs to compete in a national competition. This 30-minute film chronicles the lengths Emilija and her family will go to help her achieve her dream. I haven’t been able to track down a full copy (with English subtitles) so, in the meantime, this short clip will have to do:

Timbre Russian Accordion Group

The United States may have won the Cold War, but Russia continues to set the pace when it comes to accordion technology. Just witness the strange and fantastic custom accordions used here by the Timbre Russian Accordion Group. Founded in Moscow in 1982, this quintet plays unique “timbre accordions” designed to sound like symphonic wind instruments — specifically, an oboe, clarinet, French horn, and tuba. (The fifth member plays a more traditional bayan.) One of Russia’s most popular accordion ensembles, the group plays classical, folk and contemporary music from Russia and beyond. I couldn’t find much information about their accordions beyond the description included with the video; if you have more, leave a comment and let us know.

Quick Links: The Lighter Side

The Next Accordion Kings

Forget Guitar Hero. In Valledupar, Colombia — the birthplace of vallenato music — children dream of becoming accordion stars. And for many of those children, Andres “Turco” Gil’s accordion school is the perfect place to start their journey.

Gil has about 1,000 students, some as young as 3 years old, but most between the ages of 6 and 15. They attend his school for free, with tuition supported by donations, proceeds from concerts, and tuition from other students who come from around the world to study with Gil. Many have the opportunity to win prizes at Valledupar’s annual accordion festival, but according to Gil, the accordion plays a more important role to his students, most of whom live in poverty:

“A child who plays accordion or other instrument doesn’t pick up a gun… The music makes them noble, it changes their heart. They start to sing, they forget about their problems and they feel happy.”

This audio slideshow shows Gil’s school in action, including one of his star pupils, a 9 year old blind boy named Juan David Atencia.

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