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Author Topic: Notes from my new non-button box teacher  (Read 736 times)

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Angienever

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Notes from my new non-button box teacher
« on: May 28, 2018, 02:29:39 AM »

After two years of trying to find a button box teacher in my area, I decided to take a few lessons from a well-known, well-rounded musician in my area who has experience with lots of instruments, PA included, but no experience with button box.  I was thinking I had lots of holes in my understanding of musical theory and hoped he could help me round them out.  He listened to me play for about a minute and told me my bass notes are consistently late.  (This was hard to hear.)

He gave me a few practice points for trying to fix this, with awareness that he wasn't familiar with the playing of the instrument, but based on what I was doing that seemed funny to him.  Can I bounce them off you and see what you think?

- He suggested I play standing up so I could keep my wrists straighter.
- He suggested I keep my bass fingers resting on the four buttons nearest the edge and reach when I need to hit the farther ones, instead of hovering above them all.
- He suggested I keep my right hand thumb completely off the instrument and just let it float, because he felt it was limiting my reach to the highest buttons.

This week he is going to watch some videos to see what other players are doing, but I have been trying to practice these points in the meantime.  I sent him Stephane Milleret, Andy Cutting, and Patricia Pereira to watch, and after a review it doesn't look like they're following those points.  What do you think?  What tips come to mind to correct a late bass hand?
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Jesse Smith

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Re: Notes from my new non-button box teacher
« Reply #1 on: May 28, 2018, 03:10:54 AM »

I've only been playing for about six months so I can't pretend to any real knowledge. I would say that the button accordion is a folk instrument and different people will find different ways of playing it that work best for them. The best advice I could suggest is to try different approaches with some conscious awareness of what's working and what's not. Watch players you admire and give what they are doing a try and see if it works for you (though it might not!).

I've never really heard of anyone floating their thumb. I think that's more of a piano accordion thing. Button box players usually either rest it on the edge or have it behind the keyboard.
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Steve_freereeder

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Re: Notes from my new non-button box teacher
« Reply #2 on: May 28, 2018, 08:35:59 AM »

...He gave me a few practice points for trying to fix this, with awareness that he wasn't familiar with the playing of the instrument, but based on what I was doing that seemed funny to him.  Can I bounce them off you and see what you think?

I teach melodeon and previously I was taught myself by Brian Peters (of this parish). Here's my take on the specific points you raise.
First of all, I often say 'Rule 1 - there are no rules. It's OK to find out what works for you personally.' However, there are also some basic guidelines which are relevant to your queries.

Quote
- He suggested I play standing up so I could keep my wrists straighter.
If your previous playing position resulted in significantly bent wrists, these would tend to limit the power/control that you apply to the bellows, particularly the right-hand wrist. Straighter wrists tend to give you more control but rigid, rod-straight wrists would almost certainly lead to poor control and possible muscle or tendon strains. Slightly bent or curved wrists are probably best, but see 'Rule 1' above. Find out what works best for you. An optimum wrist position could be achieved whether standing or sitting.

Quote
- He suggested I keep my bass fingers resting on the four buttons nearest the edge and reach when I need to hit the farther ones, instead of hovering above them all.
Mostly good advice. I would modify it slightly and say that your fingers should rest either on, or hovering close, to the bass buttons. If your fingers are a long way from the buttons, the extra travel time needed to press the buttons could be contributing to your reported late playing of the bass or chord notes. It is useful to think of your fingers as part of the lever mechanism of the bass end action rather than hammers hitting the buttons. Over time, hammering the buttons contributes to increased wear ( = extra noise and even eventual failure) of the linkages of the internal action mechanism.

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- He suggested I keep my right hand thumb completely off the instrument and just let it float, because he felt it was limiting my reach to the highest buttons.
This is more contentious and possibly demonstrates your teacher's unfamiliarity with the push-pull dynamic nature and rhythmic drive of the melodeon. The key point here whether you play standing or sitting, is that the treble end of the instrument should not wobble around. Wobbling means that energy from your bellows hand is being diverted to moving the treble end around rather than pushing or pulling air through the reeds. It is wasteful and inefficient!

Keeping the treble end wobble to a minimum depends on your shoulder straps and posture set-up. Experiment with your straps to find the best playing position. Most people find that the treble-end keyboard needs to be somewhere across the centreline of the upper body and use the RH thumb either braced against the edge of the keyboard or else gripping behind (the 'morris grip of death'). When sitting down, many people also brace the treble end on their thigh or tucked into the inside of the thigh of crossed legs.

Small, lightweight instruments are sometimes played with just a thumb strap and one end resting on the thigh (many Cajun or Quebecois players do this). But generally, most people use one or two shoulder straps. See 'Rule 1' and find out what works best for you. Lightweight instruments are actually more prone to treble end wobble, whereas the larger heavier instruments have more inertia in the treble end and hence resist wobble better.

Whether you use your RH thumb to play notes is a matter of choice and style. Most people do not, but occasionally it is useful and can give additional flexibility in playing RH harmonies. The late Stephane Delicq was a master at this. But you need to have your RH end well stabilised by straps or thighs.

I suspect one reason your accordionist teacher advised you to keep your thumb 'floating' is because of his unfamiliarity with the inherent compactness of the melodeon treble keyboard. On the push, octaves are just four buttons apart and five buttons apart on the pull. With four fingers well spread, most people can easily stretch 6 buttons or more, so you don't need your thumb to give you a relatively large range in any one hand position. This contrasts with the much larger stretch required for an octave on a piano accordion keyboard, where the use of the thumb becomes almost indispensable. 

-----

Hope this all makes sense. Sorry it's a bit long-winded. Just remember Rule 1.  ;)
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Dick Rees

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Re: Notes from my new non-button box teacher
« Reply #3 on: May 28, 2018, 12:57:38 PM »

I think it's a matter of your having focused on the melody first and then adding the chords.  I suggest the other way 'round:  establish a good rhythm and play the melody over the chording.  One possible aid might be to work with a metronome, keeping both hands on the beat.  You can even work on "hands together" without the instrument by patting out the steady meter (2/4, 3/4, 6/8...) with your left hand and patting the melodic rhythm with your right hand.

In the end it should be "both hands to the middle" rather than one following the other.  Good luck.
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Stiamh

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Re: Notes from my new non-button box teacher
« Reply #4 on: May 28, 2018, 01:28:36 PM »

I look forward to this thread developing into '3 fingers' or '4 fingers'

Noooooo..... St. Theo and St. Clive preserve us!!!  :-X

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Re: Notes from my new non-button box teacher
« Reply #5 on: May 28, 2018, 01:45:49 PM »

I look forward to this thread developing into '3 fingers' or '4 fingers'

Noooooo..... St. Theo and St. Clive preserve us!!!  :-X
No from me too! It's been done to death on here and has led to heated discussions. Search through the forum old posts if you really want to know.
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Tone Dumb Greg

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Re: Notes from my new non-button box teacher
« Reply #6 on: May 28, 2018, 02:39:27 PM »

My twop penceworth on teacher's advice:

- He suggested I play standing up so I could keep my wrists straighter.
To be able to play standing up, or sitting down,  is a useful skill in it's own right. Both have elements that will surprise if you've only done the other

- He suggested I keep my bass fingers resting on the four buttons nearest the edge and reach when I need to hit the farther ones, instead of hovering above them all.
Keeping your fingers closer to the keys makes sense. Less travel time and less clatter. Don't see that it matters where on the bass keys you rest them, though. It makes sense to have them close to the keys you are going to hit next.

- He suggested I keep my right hand thumb completely off the instrument and just let it float, because he felt it was limiting my reach to the highest buttons.
This seems completely off target. It's certainly  not normal practice. If you're having problems with hand mobility I don't think a floating thumb will actually help and it will introduce other problems especially when you're playing up and down,  rather than across, the rows. A thumb on the  edge approach allows access to all the treble keyboard, although the thumb can be useful as an extra digit on occasion, so it's nice if it's not totally glued there.
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george garside

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Re: Notes from my new non-button box teacher
« Reply #7 on: May 28, 2018, 05:00:07 PM »

Learning something about musical theory and musicality , whatever that is is quite different to learning to play a particular instrument. 

Without learning decent instrument technique(s) ,for which on the melodeon,. as  others have said, there is no absolute set of hard and fast rules all the musical theory  etc is pointless as it does not  the the absolutely vital  task of  developing the ability to make the machine (the melodeon)  dish up 'musicality'

I have taught melodeon and accordion for many years  and obviously play both.  I would consider myself to be totally incompetant  if asked to teach  guitar, fiddle, flute, trombone or whatever  as teaching so called 'musicality' would be a waste of time without first teaching instrumental technique to a reasonable level.

If a 'formal' melodeon teacher is not available locally  try to find experienced melodeon player(s) locally, in sessions, morris sides, folk clubs festivals etc etc  to provide some handy hints and tips.

george
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tirpous

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Re: Notes from my new non-button box teacher
« Reply #8 on: May 28, 2018, 05:30:40 PM »

Have you considered finding a good button box teacher who gives lessons using Skype ?

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Joan Kureczka

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Re: Notes from my new non-button box teacher
« Reply #9 on: May 28, 2018, 05:36:19 PM »

I was just going to suggest the same thing. Being far-removed from most of you, here on the left coast of the USA, where there are few other players Skype has been a huge benefit, and it works a charm.
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Dick Rees

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Re: Notes from my new non-button box teacher
« Reply #10 on: May 28, 2018, 05:48:45 PM »

Learning something about musical theory and musicality , whatever that is is quite different to learning to play a particular instrument. 

Theory without context is a load of baggage.  Theory as background for what you've learned to do may help tie things together...in the long run.

Quote
I have taught melodeon and accordion for many years  and obviously play both.  I would consider myself to be totally incompetant  if asked to teach  guitar, fiddle, flute, trombone or whatever  as teaching so called 'musicality' would be a waste of time without first teaching instrumental technique to a reasonable level.

George

My response when asked, "Do you teach?" is this:

No, but I can answer any questions you might have.  If you have no questions, I have no answers. 
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Re: Notes from my new non-button box teacher
« Reply #11 on: May 28, 2018, 06:13:39 PM »

We are somewhat in danger of thread drift about musicality/musicianship here. If you read back through Angie's posting history, you will see that she has a lot of musical experience on other instruments. What she asked in her original post on this particular thread were technical questions about specific melodeon technique, not about music theory or musicianship.
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Steve
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tirpous

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Re: Notes from my new non-button box teacher
« Reply #12 on: May 28, 2018, 07:28:11 PM »

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He listened to me play for about a minute and told me my bass notes are consistently late.  (This was hard to hear.)

Quote
What do you think?  What tips come to mind to correct a late bass hand?

Well, this may be you, or it could be your instrument.  If the bass reeds are slow to speak, they will come in late even if you hit the button right on time...  If it's hard to hear anyway, maybe it's nothing to worry about.

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Re: Notes from my new non-button box teacher
« Reply #13 on: May 28, 2018, 07:33:18 PM »

for the basic mechanics of box playing, you're your own best teacher.  Common sense underlies the most useful "rules".  Read/watch/listen to as much as you can about playing, try every variation, and dispense with what, after sustained experiment, doesn't work for you.  It's a deductive process, it's slow, but it works, and you'll end up with a technique that you can apply in the exploration of the box's potential.

as far as music goes, learn to trust your own ears. 

good luck
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playandteach

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Re: Notes from my new non-button box teacher
« Reply #14 on: May 28, 2018, 10:43:18 PM »

Quote
He listened to me play for about a minute and told me my bass notes are consistently late.  (This was hard to hear.)

Quote
What do you think?  What tips come to mind to correct a late bass hand?

Well, this may be you, or it could be your instrument.  If the bass reeds are slow to speak, they will come in late even if you hit the button right on time...  If it's hard to hear anyway, maybe it's nothing to worry about.
Maybe shyness causes you to use less air than you need. I did once try an accordion teacher, but found that I really didn't show anything that I was capable of, and this made the lessons pointless. Courage!
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Angienever

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Re: Notes from my new non-button box teacher
« Reply #15 on: May 29, 2018, 06:27:00 AM »

I truly appreciate all the responses you've taken the time to make.  Your messages are helping me to both (1) take his ideas seriously, as many of you have supported the thinking behind them, and (2) find my own path through what feels comfortable and fun to me. 

I definitely considered hooking up with a button box player via Skype, and that's probably where I'll go if this doesn't work out for me.  What I'm really hoping for in the grand scheme of things is a feeling of freeness with the instrument, and I'm not sure what the best way to go about learning that is.  I am pretty good at learning songs exactly as they're written on the page, but I don't know what to do after that - I don't know how to make them sing.  If someone says, hey, there's a guitar player here, maybe you can jam with them, I have no idea what to do and freeze up completely.  I can hear that some notes sound good when played together and others don't, but I don't know why.  There are a lot of holes in my knowledge and I want to fill them - not all at once, but definitely bit by bit.

I will admit to feeling a bit stung when he said my bass was consistently late.  I was a double bass player for seven years, so that was like a knife in my side.
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Re: Notes from my new non-button box teacher
« Reply #16 on: May 29, 2018, 07:23:01 AM »

I definitely considered hooking up with a button box player via Skype, and that's probably where I'll go if this doesn't work out for me.
I would thoroughly recommend you get in touch with Mel Biggs (of this parish) who, as well as being a superb young melodeon player, gives lessons by Skype. Everyone I've met who has had Skype lessons with Mel speaks very highly of her and her methods.

Mel's Skype lessons here:
https://melbiggsmusic.co.uk/teaching/skype-lessons/
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playandteach

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Re: Notes from my new non-button box teacher
« Reply #17 on: May 29, 2018, 10:47:52 AM »

  I am pretty good at learning songs exactly as they're written on the page, but I don't know what to do after that - I don't know how to make them sing. 

 I can hear that some notes sound good when played together and others don't, but I don't know why.  There are a lot of holes in my knowledge and I want to fill them - not all at once, but definitely bit by bit.

I will admit to feeling a bit stung when he said my bass was consistently late.  I was a double bass player for seven years, so that was like a knife in my side.
Seems to me there are 3 different points here.
The last one is the easiest to fix - video your left hand - are the notes speaking as the button goes down? If yes, and they sound behind the right hand, then it is you playing them late. If they don't sound behind, then your teacher's advice isn't right. If they speak later than when the button moves, then it is either a set up issue, or you are playing with less air than your box needs.

Point 2 about why notes work together has two solutions, one is to trust your ears and gradually build up a set of finger shapes that work for what you want to achieve and the second is to get some help with unpicking why they'd work so that you can short-cut that process to build other combinations. If you know the notes that you are playing then feel free to ask why they work. Many of us here can help you with that journey.

Point 1 is the hardest. I suggest listening firstly to other performances of the pieces you have learnt - are they playing the same notes as you but with greater style, or are they adding / changing notes?
Trying to build a piece into a set of variations is a great way to work out how to extend your pieces (look at Le Revenant for an example of that in action).
The other thing I'd try is to thoroughly embed the left hand chords of a tune you've learnt so that you can talk over the top of your playing of left hand only. When you've got that freedom, then just add random right hand improvisations - the bellows direction changes required by the left hand will make a lot of the right hand stuff fit anyway.
Best tip I have for improvising in this way (as in experimenting on the fly rather than improvising in any other sense) is to have a strong rhythm in mind for the tune stuff - maybe even to the extent of playing the rhythm from a completely different tune you like.
So, you might play the left hand chords of Le Revenant with the rhythm of The Origin of the World tune.
If doing that don't try to play the tune, just the rhythm - so picking an entirely different melodic direction. The opening of The Origin is basically descending for two bars, so try rising for two bars instead. (Don't worry about any of this, just making up your own strong rhythm is fine / better for you).
We all have weaknesses in our skills, don't worry about what you can't do yet.
« Last Edit: May 29, 2018, 11:03:01 AM by playandteach »
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