All instruments are the same, to learn it takes practice. There is no easy way around that. But, to say it only takes practice is a misnomer.
It doesn’t take practice, it takes good practice. There is a big difference. Bad practice will make you worse. Practice doesn’t make perfect. Good practice makes perfect.
All Instruments Are Different
Some have a ‘user-friendly’ look to them. Others look rather daunting. The Accordion falls in that latter category. It can look incredibly daunting, but that is not a reason to think you won’t be able to play it. On the other hand, it’s also why many people ask, “How hard is it to learn accordion?”
Types of the Accordion
We will look at them in more depth a little later, but there are several types of the accordion. However, we will concern ourselves with just two of them. The Piano Accordion and the Button Accordion.
While they both have their plus points and negatives, the Button Accordion can appear to be harder to master. If only because the Piano Accordion just looks more familiar.
One of the biggest obstacles to learning the accordion is some of the unnatural movements you need to make. Your hands have to learn to work independently. Now, that is true of many instruments. But it is different with the accordion.
Teaching your left hand to do a different job to your right is something that happens with most instruments. So, the left hand is doing one thing, and the right hand another. And at the same time, you are squeezing the bellows with both. Now that is something else.
However, it can be done. But before you go rushing off to the shop to buy your instrument, there are some things we should probably consider first.
The Two Main Accordion Types
As I mentioned earlier, and as you are probably aware, there are two main types of accordion.
This will be familiar to you as the accordion with keys that work as a piano. If you know how to play the piano, then this will be easier to come to terms with. With the piano accordion, the keys generate the same sound when pumping the bellows out or in.
Many players prefer the Piano Accordion because the keys resemble and play the same as a piano. And the keyboard is easily visible when standing and playing. However, the buttons to the left are not so easily seen. They will need to be memorized.
These are sometimes called Irish Accordions. And, there are some differences between a Button Accordion and a Piano Accordion. On the Button Accordion, when using the buttons, you can get different notes depending on whether you squeeze the bellows out or in.
But, the real issue with Button Accordions is memorizing all the buttons. That can be a problem. On the other hand, some people prefer them because with the buttons closer together, transitions from low to high are easier to play.
The buttons to the left are set up with the first two rows as bass notes. The rest of the rows are set up for playing chords. These are C, F, B-flat, E-flat, and A-flat, which are situated on the left. To the right, they are C, G, D, A, and E.
How Can You Start To Learn the Accordion?
The answer to that question is one of the reasons you are here. That said, the answer will not necessarily be a happy one depending on your circumstances. But, that is not a reason to give up before you have even started.
Getting A Tutor
Most people, when they are starting at an instrument, might have a tutor once or even twice a week. It depends on your circumstances. Some mix the tutor up with online lessons and see the tutor maybe once a month. This is the same for most instruments, not just the accordion.
Finding an instructor for the accordion is a big advantage. And I am not talking here about someone that can just play it. Being able to play it doesn’t automatically mean they can teach it. I am talking about a proper tutor who has some experience not only of playing but also of teaching.
Hard To Find Despite Its Popularity
The accordion is a very popular instrument all over Europe and America. Despite this, finding an accordion tutor is not the easiest thing to do. There are plenty of people that play the instrument but not so many that teach it.
This, to me, is the biggest negative point about the instrument. As with all instruments, certain important techniques need to be learned. Sometimes a tutor is important to make sure you manage these basic accordions playing techniques correctly. These might be:
- How to hold it correctly.
- The correct position of both the wrists and arms as you play.
- Achieving the proper coordination with left and right hands.
If you can’t find a suitable tutor, there are some basic guidelines to help. You can, of course, get help online. So, if you can identify a creditable online learning site, that is going to be an advantage. But let’s look at a few basics first.
Getting The Right Accordion
When you are starting on any instrument, you must enjoy the practice and learning aspects. If you don’t, then that is a sure way to quit very early. That applies very much to the accordion because there are so many technical aspects to consider.
Therefore, making sure you get the right instrument to start with is very important. Otherwise, the question, “How hard is it to learn accordion” will be moot.
We have looked briefly at both Piano and Button Accordions. You will likely be choosing from one of those two. You need to be considering the following:
- Are you familiar with or can play the piano? If so, then the Piano Accordion is probably the best choice.
- If you already play guitar, then the Button accordion with its chromatic buttons might be best.
- If you are a young starter, then the weight of the accordion will be important to look at.
- Your budget and how much you can allocate to the purchase of the instrument.
There are accordions in both styles that have fewer buttons and keys that are built especially for the beginner. These are going to be easier to learn with. However, when you become proficient, you are going to want to upgrade. That is going to cost more money to do so.
A good beginner accordion has its advantages, but as I say, you will need to upgrade at some point. It may therefore be better to go for the full instrument to start with and avoid the extra cost.
Know Your Accordion
Becoming familiar with the instrument seems like an obvious thing to do. But with the accordion, there are things you need to be aware of to get the most from it.
In the absence of a tutor, there are plenty of resources that can help you. Online videos and books about technique and instruction manuals will all help.
The Stradella Chart
This chart is an important aid in the early days to help you understand and memorize the keys and the chords that are on the left side of your accordion.
Let’s now take a look at some of the important parts to get you started…
The lungs, or as some call them, the ‘soul’ of the instrument. The bellows are what make the sound possible. The folds are made up of a combination of paper and cloth, or sometimes cardboard. They are reinforced with either metal or leather to give them added strength.
You play the music by either playing the keys on a Piano Accordion or pressing buttons on the Button Accordion. These are located on the right side of your accordion.
Register Switches or Couplers
You will normally find a switch on each side of your accordion. When you press them, you will find there is a tonal change when you use a key or button.
Any air escaping from the bellows could give you an unwanted sound. Air Valves are fitted to allow the air to escape with no sound.
These are located on the left side of your accordion. They are the keys that add other music to the melody keys on the right, which could be a bass line or harmonies.
How To Hold The Accordion
You can either play the accordion standing or seated. Standing is the usual form, but it will depend on how heavy the instrument is for the player.
Getting The Position Right
You will be familiar with what it looks like to hold an accordion. Place it in front of your chest. The straps that are fitted to it will help you maintain the position without holding it too tightly.
You will have enough flexibility with the straps to get the accordion in a comfortable position. The rule is, does it feel comfortable whilst also allowing you full access to both keys and buttons on both sides.
Sitting or standing is fine, but if you sit, make sure you don’t slouch. This will not help your playing technique. And makes sure when sitting, both feet can reach the ground. This will ensure you have control over the instrument.
Don’t make them too tight, or you will feel uncomfortable. Just loose enough so that the instrument feels secure. An extra you can buy, especially if you play standing, is a back strap.
This adds a little more security by connecting the shoulder straps around your back. It also helps if you play a heavy accordion, preventing the shoulder straps from slipping off your shoulders.
Some Basic Tips For Playing Position of Your Fingers
- Position your wrist in a comfortable position with fingers touching the keys at a comfortable distance.
- Don’t have too much bend on your right wrist.
- Place your left hand between the bass buttons and the strap.
- Make sure the fingers can curl comfortably.
- Practice pushing a left-hand button while pulling the bellows.
- Practice pushing buttons while playing a very basic tune with the right hand.
Don’t forget to push the air valve, which will produce a hissing sound. That is the sound of the air entering the bellows.
These should be regular and quite brief to start with. If you practice for too long, you will get tired, and frustration will creep in.
If you are using a Piano Accordion and have a piano or keyboard, here is a great tip. Practice exercises on those instruments that are transferable to the right hand of the accordion. And as you practice them on a keyboard, try doing something else with your left hand. This helps to train your hands to perform different functions at the same time.
Keeping your accordion in good condition is important if you want to get the best from it. Try and prevent it from experiencing extremes of temperature. It should be kept in a warm, dry room. Also, clean the keys and the buttons regularly and check for any damage to the bellows. Finally, if you have a case, always keep it locked up.
If you are wondering about costs and types of accordions that are currently available, here is a small selection:
- Hohner Accordions 1303-RED 12 Bass- Entry Level Piano Accordion
- Hohner 3100GB Panther GCF 3-Row, Button Diatonic Accordion
- Hohner Accordions 1305-RED 72 Bass Piano Accordion Bundle
So, How Hard Is It to Learn Accordion?
Like learning any new instrument, it will have its challenges. I have read that you will learn if you practice enough. But that is not correct; you will learn only if you do good practice, as I have already mentioned. Furthermore, there are a couple of areas that will feel unnatural and confusing at first.
Using The Bellows
This is often the area that causes most problems to new players. You have to learn how to push and pull the bellows while at the same time playing keys and buttons. This, to any new player, is an unnatural experience.
It is an important element to playing the accordion, of course. Without the air from the bellows, it won’t produce a sound.
Using Both Hands Independently
Another difficult area is mastering the buttons on the left hand. What makes that more difficult is that when you are correctly holding the instrument, you can’t see the buttons.
That is where the Stradella chart will be very useful. Memorization is important, and you will have to train yourself to learn them.
Interested in Learning the Accordion or Other Instruments?
We can help with that. Have a look at our handy articles on How Do Accordions Work, How to Play Ukulele, How to Play The Mandolin for Beginners, How to Play 12-String Guitar, How Hard Is It to Play Bagpipes, and How to Become a Better Piano Player for more useful information.
How Hard Is It to Learn Accordion – Conclusion
I have given you some things to work on while you get started and find your tutor. If you can’t, there are plenty of online learning resources. Good luck with it.
Until next time, let your music play.