By Marcia Lydiksen
Featured in the 2016 Spring Issue of Accordion Life Today.
You are probably asking yourself what learning to play golf and learning to play the accordion could possibly have in common. Well, I have been attempting both for many years and, in my humble opinion, there are many similarities. Actually, I see parallels between the accordion and many sports (both individual and team). So, continue reading even if you have never played golf. For the sake of this article, that is the sport I have chosen to use as a comparison to playing the accordion. The premise behind this article is that you want to learn or improve your level of play, whether it be the accordion and/or golf.
When I first started learning golf, I was struck by the fact that the smallest of adjustments in holding a club or swinging translates to big changes in the end result. The same goes for the accordion. How you touch the buttons or keys and how you pull the bellows have huge influences on the sound produced. The obvious similarity is that you need a golf bag to hold your clubs and a case or bag to hold and transport your accordion. But, the similarities do not stop there. Both require dedication, discipline, practice, honesty and patience.
Let’s face it, to learn anything requires dedication. If you are serious about wanting to learn any musical instrument or sport, you must be devoted to that effort. The pros make golf look so easy, but golf is very difficult. Pros spend hours practicing one type of shot, and they are always consulting their instructors so they can continue to improve. The accordion is not easy either. I think of it as patting my head and rubbing my stomach at the same time. You need to dedicate yourself to the time and effort. The process never stops; because you can always get better. It is a lifelong process, if you are dedicated enough and continue to want to improve.
This leads me to discipline. Both of these activities require discipline. You need to carve out the time to practice. And you have to develop the focus necessary to practice in some of the most tedious and unexciting ways. Freeing your mind of extraneous intrusions, so you can concentrate, is an art by itself. Disciplined practice develops muscle memory (yes, your fingers have muscles) so that your body responds automatically. What you are doing becomes a reflex. Whether it is a particular golf swing or jumping from one note to another requires repetition of the movement involved. When you need to employ that swing or jump, you will perform it smoothly. A golfer’s swing needs to be fluid. When that swing becomes jerky, the ball does something you really had not intended. The same happens when playing the accordion. Whether changing bellow direction or making difficult jumps from notes to chords or from notes to notes, it needs to be seamless.
“When you play a song truly to your satisfaction, it makes all the effort worth it.”
When learning a piece of music, practice the right and left hands separately. Master each before playing both hands together. And only do two or four measures at a time. There are practice techniques for mastering particularly difficult sections, but those techniques are worthy of their own article. Dissect the music into small bits before putting measures together. The same applies to golf. An instructor will dissect your swing, posture, etc. Mastery of each component is necessary before you put it all together into a rhythmic swing. I know this sounds tedious, but it is worth it. You save yourself time in the long run.
When preparing to play a piece of music, take the time to visualize the music, your target notes, phrases and dynamics. Play the piece in your mind. Golfers do the same when they approach a tee box or shot. First, they envision how they want to play the hole, and then visualize each shot as they play that hole. Different strategies can be used when playing music or golf. No two musicians play a piece identically, and no two golfers play a hole exactly the same. You play according to rules, but there is room for interpretation. This is what makes music so interesting.
The accordion and golf require honesty. Shaving a stroke or two off the score you write on the scorecard accomplishes nothing in the long run. You are only kidding yourself. Honestly critiquing how you have played a song is key to improving. Some golfers video their swing, and likewise recording a song you are learning reveals everything. The video and the recording do not lie; they allow you to review the process while not participating in it. There can be a painful honesty in reviewing your efforts this way.When your instructor offers constructive criticism, he or she is honestly appraising your effort. Repeatedly playing the same mistakes repeatedly only ingrains the errors more.
Be patient with yourself. Unless you are a golf or accordion savant, becoming a pro does not happen overnight. You can be serious about wanting to learn, but you can take yourself too seriously. Progress is not always linear. Sometimes you reach plateaus. But then comes another breakthrough. This leads to another point I want to make. As you devote time to practicing diligently and honestly, you develop another “sense.” Golfers develop the skill to hear and feel how they hit a ball. Without watching the flight of the ball, they can tell if they have hit a ball “thin” or “fat” or nailed the “sweet spot” on the club. A musician develops the ability to really hear and feel how he or she played a piece. But this ability only develops after dedicated, disciplined, honest practice and play.
“Gee,” you say to yourself. “All this time and effort do not sound fun.” Well, the reward is worth it. There is nothing like hitting a golf ball true and sweet. The feel, sound and result are so rewarding. When you play a song truly to your satisfaction, it makes all the effort worth it. It is much more fun to play decently than to bumble your way through.
Music and sports are to be enjoyed. So, go have fun!