Featured in the 2016 Summer Issue of Accordion Life Today.
Dear Readers, it is with great pleasure that I get back to the rhythm of pedagogical teaching. During the preceding months I helped my students discover some novelties to the repertoire of musette music composed by my friends Nathalie Bernat, Romain Dupuis and others. Following that, I traveled through the various regions of France and especially that of Termignon (Haute Maurienne) organized by our national Pollux. It will be a pleasure to share with you some small, new discoveries we made with the participants in the Senior (all adults) Master Class at Termignon.
The Musical Spine (The Left Hand)
At Termignon National Accordion Festival, the ambiance of the “Popular” music, in the most noble sense of the term, is essential. We like to party. We like to dance and enjoy all the sounds of the accordion. And for good reason … you have accordions on every street corner, in every bar, shop, restaurant, everywhere!
AND whoever says “dance” also says “tempo, rhythm, beat, movement.” And who’s the chief? Who is leading the dance? Who is it that allows you to be one with your partner? It is this left hand! The ugly duckling of the accordion. Ah we do not love this one! You can’t see it, it’s not the melody, the buttons are too small, they are never in the same place, and that’s only part of the list! So during the Termignon Senior Master Class, we spent a little time on the left hand that everybody had neglected — so, after some time, they were convinced of it’s importance.
The left hand, with typical characteristics in the world of the accordion, I could check again in Termignon and find: the closer you get highs, the more bass is long. The proof, they call it the bââââsse! (I think they need to write it this way, given how they pronounce it). “It’s to hear it better,” they say … and how right they are. Of course the bass must make itself heard because it is the one that sets a time for everyone to meet. This can change the way the shoulders move, the way we sit, the way we dance, and the right hand of the accordion — something we don’t neglect anyway.
Previously I introduced my students to the art of the bass using some compression, a stop of the arm and adding resonance to the bellows. Today I will offer something simpler and more condensed. We will manage the “Poum.”
The onomatopoeia “Poum” sums up the role of bass: a deep sound going through partitions for the world to hear. The method of attacking the bass creates the resonance. In general, the bass of the accordion is played by the bass of the orchestra which brings together all the features of the aforementioned onomatopoeia: long, thick strings produce a deep sound, slightly offset from the difficulty of moving the fingers, and have resonance once put in motion. They take a little time to fade, again because of their morphology.
The Dangers of the Heavy Bass
Most likely, you are in the large majority of accordionists who squash your bass deep into the left keyboard, which causes all the sounds to mush together into noise. Of course, if we have our fingers mimic the steps of the dancers to be very regular as they lift into the air after the bass, well … your fingers also like to lighten the overall sound and help the movements of the dancers (represented by the right hand). So, very often you do not even have time to play the chords in the left hand because your fingers are already deep into the bass keys.
To summarize: the first time you crush the bottom of the keyboard, you hurriedly take your finger off, producing a sharp blow to the outside of the keyboard from the arrival of the first impact, thus not having time to play SINCE the finger was carried away by the movement of dropping into the bass so deeply. Then you retrieve rapidly with your finger, with a quick movement away from the keyboard, immediately into the first chord, but now you don’t have enough time to play this chord because it was delayed by the movement of how you left the bass. (See Photos 1 and 2.)
Left-hand movements and Mimicry
We’ll do a little experiment to show the problems that such a practice leads to in your right hand.
Put your fingers as shown in Photo 3, index fingers stretched motionless in front of you.
With the right index finger, make a small circle in the air at moderate and regular speeds in a clockwise direction for a few seconds, then stop the movement. (See Photo 4.)
Wait a few seconds, and then with the left index finger make a small square in a clockwise direction, at about the same speed as your right hand’s previous circle, while still keeping your right finger pointing straight ahead. (See Photo 5.)
Wait a few seconds and try to make the two movements together with the same direction, same tempo, same size: a circle in the right, a square in the left.
Of course, it doesn’t work. The attempt to synchronize the movements fails as in Photo 6.
Now imagine that when you play your left hand as I noted earlier, there is a good chance that your right hand crashed into the keyboard in the same way as the bass did and was ejected in the same way.
There are many exercises to solve this problem, but for now the positive thing is that you become aware of it. You just realize that your rhythm problems can possibly be caused by improper length of the bass, or overly fast release because of the left hand (or both).
Then the solution is simple: watch yourself play before a mirror and focus your attention on the movements of the fingers of your left hand. Try to moderate them, and your tempo will be stabilized and your right hand lightened.
Until next time for new adventures,