Accordion Finger Technique

by Crispin Trubiano

The accordion is a traditional instrument often used in tunes from folk genres, such as Cajun, zydeco and polka. The accordion is fun to play and has been gaining popularity lately in popular genres, as can be seen in the Edward Maya hit "Stereo Love," which features accordion melody over electronic dance music. Since the accordion is a two-handed instrument, its mastery involves developing multiple techniques -- bellows technique and finger technique. Finger technique is used to provide the pitches, which will be used for a given note or chord, and is important for mastery of the instrument.

Right-Hand Technique

In accordion playing, the right hand is typically responsible for operating the "manual," or the small keyboard on the side of the instrument. Sometimes, the keyboard's function will be replaced by a series of small buttons. In either form, this interface is used to articulate the melody of the accordion and is played in a manner very similar to the piano. Similar to piano playing, the right hand is often called upon to create treble-range melodies that tie in with the chords or bass notes being played by the other hand. Basic technique for the right hand should be the same as basic piano technique turned on its side: Keep the fingers arched and well spaced and make key presses firm and steady.

Left-Hand Technique

The left hand of the accordionist is used to provide harmonic accompaniment to the right hand's melody. The fingers of the left hand are used to press a series of buttons, which provide bass notes and chords based on the Stradella system. The two rows of buttons closest to the bellows are used to produce individual bass notes, which are arranged in order with the circle of fifths. The outside four rows of buttons create major chords, minor chords, dominant 7th chords and diminished 7th chords, respectively. Depending on the song and the accordion player's level of skill, the left hand may simply create the chord progression that supports the melody, or it may create a bass line that can be used to accent the treble notes of the melody. These two methods may also be combined.

Accentuation and Finger Timing

More advanced finger techniques on the accordion also involve the synchronization or desynchronization of button presses with the movement of the bellows. For example, the finger articulation technique is performed by pulling or pushing the bellows before depressing the key or button and then releasing the key before stopping the bellows motion. This can be combined with sudden but steady pressing and releasing motions by the fingers to create an effect in which sounds begin and end abruptly. To perform its opposite, bellows articulation, the keys or buttons are held down before the bellows is pushed or pulled and aren't released until the bellows has stopped moving; this creates more of a crescendo effect, as the sound is introduced more gradually and fades away more slowly.

Trills/Staccato and Finger Swapping

Some of the most difficult techniques to perform on the accordion are trills and staccato, which require rapid presses and releases, typically from the fingers of the right hand. This is done while the left hand shakes the bellows (for trills) or squeezes the bellows (for staccato). These techniques can even be further enhanced and articulated by the use of finger swapping, or alternating between two fingers to press and release the same key or button repeatedly. This technique is more rhythmic and allows for greater speed than repeatedly pressing and releasing with a single finger.

About the Author

Crispin Trubiano has been working as a freelance writer since 2010. His articles appear on various websites, where he specializes in areas such as technology, health, television, film, literature and music. Trubiano currently studies sociology at Roger Williams University.

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