Accordion/Left hand/Lesson 2
Now that you know all the available "C" chords, now it's time to learn to play in other keys. The basses are arranged in a circle of fifths. From the pedal "C" button, move up one button. This one plays a "G". If you try the corresponding chord buttons on this row, you'll notice they're the same, but play in the key of G, not C. Move up another row and the bass note is "D", then "A", etc. Going "upwards" from the C, the circle of fifths goes C, G, D, A, E, B, F#, C#/Db, Ab, Eb, Bb, F, and then back to C. Similarly, if you go downwards from middle "C", you will play an "F", then a "B flat", etc. The circle of fifths downward (technically this is a circle of fourths, which is the inversion of a fifth) is C, F, Bb, Eb, Ab, Db, Gb, B, E, A, D, G, then back to C. You may recognize the pattern from folk songs which have chords in this order (e.g., E, A, D, G).
The key here is to remember where each button is and the distance between buttons. Because you can't see your left hand, it can be challenging to play smoothly. To help guide your left hand, most accordions have one or more buttons with depressions, raised jewels or other tactile markers. Typically, the C bass button, the E bass button above the C, and the Ab bass button below the C have some type of engraving or marking.
You can study a diagram of the Stradella bass button system to see how the buttons' musical keys are laid out. When you are starting iut, you can also look at your left hand in a mirror. Just as important as learning about diagrams and layouts, though, is ear training, which is learning to hear and identify common intervals and chords just by hearing them. While there are countless possible chord movements to eventally learn by ear, the most important ones are I (the tonic or "home chord"), IV (the sub-dominant) and V7 (the dominant), which in C Major are the chords C Major, F Major, and G7. Many of the complex chords you will learn about later are substitutes for or chromatic alterations of these three basic chord functions.
- I, IV, V Exercise: Play the middle "C" and "C major" chord buttons. In this book, the instruction to "play a C Major chord" typically means to play the bass button and a chord from the same row (advanced players will often play a bass button from one row and a chord button from a different row, but that is for later on in your studies). Then, move upward and play a "G bass note" and "G major" chord. Assuming you are in the key of C Major, the C chord is the tonic or "home chord", and the G Major (or G7) is the dominant chord. Alternate between these two positions until you are comfortable with the distance. Now try going from C Major to the row below, an F Major chord. Now play a C Major chord, an F Major chord, a G7 chord, and then the C major chord. You can loop it and play it many times. This is the I-IV-V7-I sequence which is the foundation of many popular music songs.
Try this blues progression (each slash means play one beat of the chord, so four slashes in the first bar means to play C, C, C, C for that first bar, and so on):
Now go from the "C" position and jump to a "D" and "D major" chord. You would do this if your bandleader told you the group would play in the key of D. Now you are in the key of D Major, the D chord is the tonic or "home chord", and the A Major (or A7) is the dominant chord. Now try going from D Major to the row below, a G Major chord, the IV chord in D. Now play a D Major chord, a G Major chord, an A7 chord, and then the D major chord. Do this until the transition becomes reasonably smooth and you land right in the middle of the buttons.
Now that you can play the I, IV, V progression, you have the tools to play the 12 bar blues progression and play many simple folk and pop songs.
- I, VI, ii, V7 Exercise:
Go back to the key if C. To get a key "in your ear", play the tonic, then the dominant seventh several times; in this case, play C Major, G7, C Major, G7 a couple of times.
Now we are going to learn the second most important chords in a key, The essential chords are I, IV, and V (or V7). You can do a lot with I, IV, V, but if you go to jam sessions, eventually you will hear people talking about "ii chords" ("two chords") and "vi chords" ("six chords"). In the key of C, the ii chord is d minor. The d minor chord is, like the F major, a subdominant chord (meaning thst its function is to lead you to the dominant). The d minor chord and the F major are so similar that they can often be substituted for each other. In the key of C, the vi chord is "a minor" (in quotes to make clear that it is the minor chord built on the note "a"). The "a minor" chord is so similar to the C major chord that "a minor" is considered a tonic subsitute.
The chord progression I, vi, ii, V7 in the key of C is: C Major , a minor, d minor, G7. This is used in many pop and jazz songs. You play the C chord, then you need to learn to shift up to the A bass button, hopping over the G and D rows, while moving your finger to the "a minor" chord once your hand in position. The next two chords are easy, as you just move down row by row from d minor to G Major (or G7).
Here us how you might see it written in a jam session (the minus signs mean "minor"):
Eventually, you should be able to go all the way from C to distant buttons above and below quickly and smoothly. Try to "remember" each distance. This takes a lot of time to do well, so don't despair if it doesn't come easily! Just keep at it.
You can mix it up by playing a seventh chord instead of the usual chord. This is a jazzy variant of I, vi, ii, V in which the vi and ii are both dominant seventh chords:
Many rock and blues songs use another variant chord, the bVI chord (said " flat sixth"). In the key of C Major, the bVI chord is Ab. A popular chord to use along with the bVI is bVII, which is Bb. The resulting progression is I-bVII-bVI-V7, which is the chords C Major, Bb Major, Ab Major, and G7. On accordion, the first three are relatively easy, as you just skip a bass row for the C to Bb and the Bb to Ab. Getting the G7 quickly after Ab Major is more challenging, because you have to jump multiple rows. One way to make it easier is to leave a rest on the fourth beat of the third bar, to give time to move your hand.
- Minor key i, iv, V Exercise: Play the middle "C" and "C minor" chord buttons. You are in the key of C minor, the C chord is the tonic or "home chord", and the G Major (or G7) is the dominant chord. Alternate between these two positions until you are comfortable with the distance. Now try going from C minor to the row below, an F minor chord. Now play a C minor chord, an F minor chord, a G7 chord, and then the C minor chord. You can loop it and play it many times. This is the i-iv-V7-i sequence which is the foundation of many minor key songs.
Try this minor blues progression:
Now go from the "C" position and jump to a "D" and "D minor" chord. You would do this if your bandleader told you the group would play in the key of D. Now you are in the key of D minor, the D chord is the tonic or "home chord", and the A Major (or A7) is the dominant chord. Now try going from D minor to the row below, a "g minor" chord, the iv chord in D. Now play a D minor chord, a g minor chord, an A7 chord, and then the D minor chord. Do this until the transition becomes reasonably smooth and you land right in the middle of the buttons.
Flat six chord variant (the 9th and the 10th bar are changed from V7-iv to bVI7-V7):
Now that you can play the i, iv, V progression, you have the tools to play the 12 bar minor blues progression and play many simple minor key songs.
- Oom-pah Exercise:
The classic accordion accompaniment pattern is "oom-pah", which is a bass note followed by a chord. Both are usually played staccato (short). To play the "oom-pah" pattern in C Major, play the middle "C" bass note and then play the "C major" chord button. Then, play a G bass note folowed by the "C major" chord again.
Some important chord progressions to practice the "oom-pah" pattern on are:
- I to V7 (C Major to G7 and back to C; G Major to D7 and back to G; D Major to A7 and back to D; etc.)
- i to V7 (C minor to G7 and back to C minor; G minor to D7 and back to G minor; D minor to A7 and back to D minor; etc.)
- I IV V7 I (C Major, F Major, G7, C Major)
- I ii V7 I (C Major, d minor, G7, C Major)
- I VI7 ii V7 I (C Major, A7, d minor, G7, C Major)
You should also try these progressions with the bass note and chord together.