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TEACHING THE ACCORDION

Pedagogical report of beginner and intermediate level


students

Alessandro Ambrosi, MA2


Copenhagen, 25.11.2016

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CONTENT

1. Introduction

2. About me

2.1 My background

2.2 As a teacher

2.2.1 Early experiences


2.2.2 General thoughts about accordion pedagogy
2.2.3 Used material

3. About my students

3.1 Flavia Huarachi

3.1.1 Flavia’s background


3.1.2 Lessons
3.1.3 Notes
3.2 Katerina Anagnostidou

3.2.1 Katerina’s background


3.2.2 Lessons
3.2.3 Notes

4. General conclusions

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1. Introduction

In this report I will write about my experience as a teacher to a beginner and an intermediate level
students.
After a short presentation of myself and a reflection on my pedagogical approach, I will show and
analyse the work we have done, always taking into consideration the different backgrounds and
skills of my students. In the end I will make my conclusions having a look backwards, from where
we started to where we got, trying to figure out with a critic approach what this experience taught
me and my students as musicians, and how it enriched our journey into music.

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2. About me

In this section I will introduce myself as a musician and write about my experience as a student first,
then as a teacher. I will particularly focus on my thoughts about pedagogy in general, since I have
always been interested in searching for the best and most effective strategy to communicate the
love for music.

My background

I started music education at the age of five. I did not start directly by playing the accordion, I was
attenging some introduction courses for kids under primary-school age. The lessons were for groups
of about ten people and basically we were playing games with music, and sometimes the teacher
showed us the different instruments and their characteristics. I do not remember much of those
times, but I have a clear memory of the moment when my mother asked me which instrument I
would have liked to play. I never thought about that before, I was just sure that I did not want to
play the guitar, because my brother was already playing it. So, after a moment, I replied with
enthusiasm: «I want to play the drums!». My mother’s reaction was something between scared and
laughing, then she told me it was just not possible because of the neighbours. «Well, then the
accordion».

I started with the accordion at the age of seven, with a teacher that played a piano keyboard
instrument. Even though now I realize he was from a very old-fashion school, I will always be grateful
to him to have taught me the most important thing: the love for seeking curiosity and in things.
I knew that music was bringing me good energy, and the importance of having a good environment
around me was relevant in my decision of becoming a professional musician. I was already sure
about it when I was thirteen – that is the moment when I switched to a button-keyboard accordion.
I had to improvise completely the approach of the fingers to the new keyboard, and I made really
bad mistakes that I kept for many years. From then on, I always challenged myself (and my teacher!)
in learning harder and harder pieces.

I entered the Conservatory for the bachelor’s course at nineteen, and for the first time in twelve
years I tried a different teacher. The impact was very weird: even though I was liking a lot the new
musical ideas, the communication with my new teacher was pretty bad at the beginning, and my
results were affected by that. Once I even cried during the lesson, and in that moment I realised

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that something was going wrong and I understood as never before the importance of a healthy
teacher-student relationship. I managed to fix the problems with him and we ended up becoming
friends. Two years after I graduated with the maximum grade and honors: how could a change in
the relationship between student and teacher affect so much the results?

After my bachelor I had still two elements of insatisfaction: I was tired of staying in the same
environment for too long time and I was not satisfied enough with my level of playing. That is the
moment when I decided to apply to the Italian Accordion Academy, by Claudio Jacomucci. Meeting
him has been a drastic change in my life. First, because for the first time I had a teacher that I chose
on my own and I had the feeling he was really “my” teacher; second, because of his innovative
pedagogy and Alexander technique, which changed completely my approach to the instrument.
Finally, after one year and a half with him, I decided to move to Copenhagen to get a master degree.
The approach to teaching that I found with my actual teacher Geir Draugsvoll left me speechless:
the deep understanding of the instrument techniques and the awareness and the control of them
let me finally get the sound I always wanted, and finally I can recognize myself in the music I am
making.

As a teacher

Early experiences

I first started to teach when I was twenty, as an assistant of my first teacher. He was calling me
sometimes, when he could not teach because he was away for concerts. I had to teach kids I never
saw before, without knowing anything of them and without really knowing which was their learning
process. Even though I was liking very much to teach, I could understand that it was not the best
way to deal with it.
During my bachelor I had many different subjects, much more than what is used to have on the
danish academies. Three of them really changed my view on teaching, which were general
pedagogy, instrument pedagogy and techniques of communication. The first one was more about
the philosophy of pedagogy and the general principles that rules it independently from the field of
application. The second one was about how to put the general thoughts on pedagogy into a concrete
plan for teaching the instrument. The third one was about how to be more effective with the speech,
which register of language is more appropriate for the target of my communication and so on. Then,
the fourth subject that influenced really much my view on pedagogy is Alexander Technique. Going
back to my students after discovering these subjects, teaching was not the same anymore.

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General thoughts about accordion pedagogy

Accordion pedagogy, as pedagogy in general, is a very delicate and complex subject. If we add the
fact that accordion is also one of the most complex instruments – in terms of activities to do and
physical effort – the situation can easily create further problems if we do not have a concrete and
structured plan before.

a) Communication
First of all, pedagogy is a form of communication, and proceeds with a continuous exchange of
feedbacks between teacher and student. I strongly believe that, in teaching, the learning process is
going in both ways: the teacher teaches to and learn from the student at the same time. In order to
be effective, the communication has to be clear as much as possible and in the same register
between the two people – f. ex., the language used when teaching an eight-year-old student cannot
be the same as the one used when teaching an eighteen-year-old student, even if the pieces are the
same.
Pedagogy needs to be personal, which means that a teacher has to be able to plan a specific learning
process for every student, or at least different categories. I always admired teachers that can always
say the right words at the right time, and this can happen only when the teacher knows exactly what
is happening in the student’s mind.
Pedagogic communication includes also emotional understanding, knowing how the brain can work
differently and in a more effective way according to different moods or thoughts; moreover, music
is a very emotional art, so when we are working with that, emotional understanting and awareness
are crucial to achieve the best results.

b) Knowledge / Technique
There is no doubt that the first requirement in order to teach a subject, is to know very well the
subject itself. Music is a language, therefore its learning process starts from the listening. I think it
is mandatory for a good teacher to play during the lesson, to show examples – always trying to
trigger the curiosity of the student, making hear and notice as clearly as possible those small details
that he/she could not think about otherwise.
The other point of the teacher’s required knowledge is the awareness and control of technique. But
what is technique? After changing lots of teachers between courses and masterclasses, I realised
that there is no universally recognised concept of technique, but every school has more or less a
different opinion and in many cases the result of this is just terrible. I think we should mean, with
the word “technique”, the set of tools that we need to know and control in order to achieve a precise
sonic result. The use of the fingers, hands, arms, sholders and back, the use of the bellows and the

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infinite combinations between these elements, in my opinion form the background that a teacher
should know, and too often is neglected. Pulse, articulation, dynamics and so on are just all
dependent on this.

c) Make things easy


The more we go deep into exploring details, the more we risk to forget about that feeling of
semplicity and immediate fruition which is proper of the highest level performances. If a player
would think on how hard is to play a piece, how many elements the brain is processing while playing,
he would probably fail on the stage, or in the best case, he would play with a lot of tension.
As we already said, accordion playing requires lot of effort, both for the body and the mind. For
what concerns the body, the main point is to know the difference between physical effort and
muscolar tension. Both of them require energy from the muscles, but what is different is the
direction of this energy. With the first of the two, we mean that the muscles work 100% for the
action required by the body. Tension, instead, is unnecessary work, which brings to a dissipation of
energies and a less free and natural movement; it usually happens when the mind is too busy and
and working on too many elements at the same time.
Therefore, is very important that we spend some time looking on the pieces before playing them,
finding the logical scheme behind them and simplifying them into smaller elements. Once the
student has clear in mind the structure and can play the different parts, the focus will be just on the
connections between these. When the playing is natural and free from tensions and difficulties,
there happens the magic - music discloses its beauty and the player will focus just on enjoying.

Used material

For what concerns my pedagogic approach, it has been inspired by the following writings:
- Holst, Finn, The “Teaching and Learning” of music, slides from Learning Theory course,
2016
- Holst, Finn, Motivation, transformative learning and identity, slides from Learning Theory
course, 2016
- Jacomucci, Claudio, Mastering Accordion Technique, 2013
- Jorgensen, Estelle, The art of teaching music, 2008
- Visalberghi, Aldo, Pedagogia e scienze dell’educazione, 1978
- Visalberghi, Aldo, Insegnare ad apprendere, un approccio evolutivo, 1988

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While for the lessons I have been inspired by or used these methods:

- Holm, Lars, Spela accordeon, 1990


- Holm, Lars/Ellegaard, Mogens, Nils Eric’s Melodibok, 1969
- Agnas, Anita, Accordeonskolan, 1995
- Hansen, Marie, Accordion teaching notes
- Jacomucci, Claudio, Tecnica I

And many other small pieces, original and transcriptions, f.ex.:

- Bach, Johann Sebastian, Notebooks for Anna Magdalena Bach


- Bach, Johann Sebastian, extemporary reading of (parts of) random choice chorals
- Händel, Georg Friedrich, Andante from Orgelkoncert in G
- Satie, Eric, Gymnopedie n.1
- Piazzolla, Astor, Ave Maria
- Piazzolla, Astor, Milonga sin palabras
- Tiersen, Yann, La noyèe
- Solotarjov, Vladislav, extracts from Kindersuites

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3. About my students

In this section I will show and analyse the work with my students. Since I did not manage to find any
kid who could be interested here in Copenhagen, I started to ask my friends and collegues in the
academy who could have wanted to try this project. It ended up that two of them, Flavia and
Katerina, showed a broad interest in the subject and so we started. Since both of them are already
very good musicians on their instrument, I had to plan the work a little bit differently than usual, in
order to make the work interesting for them. I started to work with both from the same point, which
means the very start, and the difference between beginner and intermediate students has been
made partly because of the different background, partly because of the time that they managed to
find to practice the accordion in the over-busy schedule that we all have as students here.

Flavia Huarachi

Flavia’s background

Flavia is a 24-year-old half bolivian and half danish former flute player. At the moment she is
attending the bachelor’s programme at the Royal Danish Academy of Music but at the same time
she is following many other different projects, from chamber music to organization of concerts. She
is very open minded and this quality reflects also on her playing and sound, which always appear
pure and authentic.

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Lessons

1) Lesson scheme and content


Welcome and Homework Theory and New piece(s)
warm up technique
Welcome and 7’ - How accordion 15’ Exploration of the 8’
introduction about works, parts of the keyboard, free
the course. Taking instrument and improvisation first
the instrument, basic principles of with random notes
regulating straps sound production. on the right, then
and finding a Opening and guided on the
comfortable closing the pentatonic scale
position to sustain bellows. Playing
the weight without with the air button.
tension. Discovering the
marked keys
through the
keyboard

2) Lesson scheme and content


Welcome and Homework Theory and New piece(s)
warm up technique
Welcome and 5’ Playing some 5’ Relaxing fingers, 10’ Similar 10’
getting ready to pentatonic how to obtain improvisation, but
play. Feeling improvisation, different sounds adding left hand as
comfortable with finding notes on with different well. Stereophonic
the instrument. the keyboard more movements. How approach to very
Breathing with the easily to project the small melodic cells
bellows, allowing a sound. Left hand
natural flow of the positioning
air

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3) Lesson scheme and content
Welcome and Homework Theory and New piece(s)
warm up technique
Welcome and 5’ Showing hand 5’ Introduction to 7’ Exercises from 13’
taking time to be positions on both dynamic Spelaccordeon.
comfortable. hands quite intonation. How to Extemporary
Breathing with the quickly. Small look for a beautiful reading of melodic
bellows. Trying improvisation sound. Accordion lines of choral by
some notes melody+bass notation: bellow J.S. Bach – Erbarme
hearing the marks on the Dich, o Herre Gott
different sustain of pieces
the air

4) Lesson scheme and content


Welcome and Homework Theory and New piece(s)
warm up technique
Welcome and 4’ Playing last 6’ How to lead a 6’ Taking the same 14’
taking time to be lesson’s pieces. melody and phrase choral by Bach.
comfortable. it with the bellows. Playing only the
Breathing with the Introduction of bass line now.
bellows. Trying registers. Trying to play
some notes together the very
hearing the first bars.
different sustain of Introducing a
the air chamber piece,
Ave Maria by
Piazzolla, just
beginning bars

5) Lesson scheme and content


Welcome and Homework Theory and New piece(s)
warm up technique
Welcome and 3’ Playing last 7’ Dynamic range 7’ Continuing the 13’
breathing with the lesson’s pieces, extension. More work on Bach and
instrument. Trying correcting some colors and more Piazzolla. Going
to be one with the details. detailed further through the
instrument. articulation pieces and getting
a clearer overview
on the build-ups

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6) Lesson scheme and content
Welcome and Homework Theory and New piece(s)
warm up technique
Welcome and 3’ Playing both hands 10’ Introduction of the 7’ Introduction of 10’
breathing with the melody and bass of standard basses. Gymonpedie by
instrument. Trying Bach choral. Trying How the system Eric Satie. Finding
to be one with the to play in duo the works and how the fingering for
instrument. first part of Ave notes and chords the theme and
Maria are placed in the trying to play the
keyboard maj7 chords at the
base of the piece

7) Lesson scheme and content


Welcome and Homework Theory and New piece(s)
warm up technique
Welcome and 3’ Gymnopedie by 8’ How to think the 6’ Going on with 13’
breathing with the Satie, beginning bellows in order to Gymnopedie.
instrument. Trying part. Fixing get a phrase with Discovering new
to be one with the problems with left beautiful sound chords positions.
instrument. hand and bellows. and perspective. Introduction of
Continuing slowly Bagatelle by
on Ave Maria, Vladislav Solotarjov
looking for more
details

8 ) Lesson scheme and content


Welcome and Homework Theory and New piece(s)
warm up technique
Welcome and 3’ Trying to play the 12’ - Going further on 15’
breathing with the new pieces until the already started
instrument. Trying the end. Guiding pieces. Looking for
to be one with the the work and being more
instrument. finding strategies expressive and
for organizing the concrete in the
material. playing

Notes
Flavia showed a very fast learning process, developing her level quickly. It can be easily noticed that
she starting from a flutist background: she faced some problems on the polyphonic approach and
on the “vertical” aspect of music, but on the other hand the use of the bellows and the sustain of
the air flow is on a very high level. I could see during the lessons that she prefers a more musical

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and emotional approach than following the one of the proposed methods, so I decided to change a
little bit my original plan. I understood that I was focusing too much on the theory and too less on
the playing, so I tried to find another solution. I preferred to find small pieces outside of the
mainstream teaching way that could solve my pedagogic goals, in short and long term. In this way
Flavia continued to be curious in learning.

Katerina Anagnostidou

Katerina’s background
Katerina is a 27-year-old greek percussion player and she is finishing her master at the Royal Danish
Academy of Music. I first met her by playing chamber music together, and that was the first time
she started to pay a particular attention to the accordion. She really liked the instrument and started
also to follow the study concerts organized by our class. She is very ambitious and she likes to
challenge herself all the time – it is very interesting and motivating as a teacher to work with her.

Lessons

1) Lesson scheme and content


Welcome and Homework Theory and New piece(s)
warm up technique
Welcome and 7’ - How accordion 12’ Exploration of the 11’
introduction about works, parts of the keyboard, free
the course. Taking instrument and improvisation on
the instrument, basic principles of the right, on the
regulating straps sound production. pentatonic scale.
and finding a Opening and Playing by ear
comfortable closing the some already
position to sustain bellows. Playing known melodies
the weight without with the air after finding the
tension. button. notes
Discovering the
marked keys
through the
keyboard
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2) Lesson scheme and content
Welcome and Homework Theory and New piece(s)
warm up technique
Welcome and 5’ Playing some 5’ Relaxing fingers, 10’ Similar 10’
getting ready to pentatonic how to obtain improvisation, but
play. Feeling improvisation, different sounds adding left hand as
comfortable with finding notes on with different well. Stereophonic
the instrument. the keyboard more movements. How approach to very
Breathing with the easily to project the small melodic cells
bellows, allowing a sound. Left hand
natural flow of the positioning
air

3) Lesson scheme and content


Welcome and Homework Theory and New piece(s)
warm up technique
Welcome and 5’ Showing hand 4’ Introduction to 7’ Exercises from 14’
taking time to be positions on both dynamic Spelaccordeon.
comfortable. hands quite intonation. How to Starting to read
Breathing with the quickly. Small look for a beautiful Menuet in G by J.S.
bellows. Trying improvisation sound. Accordion Bach from
some notes melody+bass notation: bellow Notebooks for
hearing the marks on the Anna Magdalena
different sustain of pieces
the air

4) Lesson scheme and content


Welcome and Homework Theory and New piece(s)
warm up technique
Welcome and 3’ Pieces from 7’ Articulation: legato 5’ New exercises from 15’
breathing with the previous lesson. and staccato. Basic Spelaccordeon.
instrument. Trying Bach looks too differences and Sight-reading on
to be one with the hard for now how to approach accordion in order
instrument. the keys to get more
confidence with
the notes

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5) Lesson scheme and content
Welcome and Homework Theory and New piece(s)
warm up technique
Welcome and 3’ Playing the last 8’ Articulation: 8’ New piece from 11’
breathing with the exercises and try to various shades of Spelaccordeon:
instrument. Trying make them even portato and Gusvig i Hollywood.
to be one with the better staccato, how to Finding different
instrument. acticulate with elements,
different parts of dynamics and
fingers, wrist and octave jumps
forearm

6) Lesson scheme and content


Welcome and Homework Theory and New piece(s)
warm up technique
Welcome and 3’ Gusvig i 7’ Different dynamics, 5’ New piece in duo: 15’
breathing with the Hollywood. how to relate them Gusvig i Paris.
instrument. Trying Working on pulse according to the Starting to work on
to be one with the and precision on bellows position melodic lines with
instrument. articulation and to the music Milonga sin
palabras by Astor
Piazzolla

7) Lesson scheme and content


Welcome and Homework Theory and New piece(s)
warm up technique
Welcome and 3’ Gusvig i Paris, both 7’ Dynamic 6’ Continuing with 14’
breathing with the parts. Milonga sin intonation: remind Piazzolla.
instrument. Trying Palabras is its importance and New piece: Gusvig i
to be one with the developing slowly how to lead a Argentina
instrument. theme. Working on
bellows control

8) Lesson scheme and content


Welcome and Homework Theory and New piece(s)
warm up technique
Welcome and 3’ Gusvig i Argentina. 12’ Some infos about 5’ Händel 10’
breathing with the Work on pulse and tango, how to use Orgelkoncert in G,
instrument. Trying relation between concrete andante. Work on
to be one with the fingers and technique tools to left hand, bass line
instrument. bellows. Different achieve the
solutions with wanted result
articulation

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9) Lesson scheme and content
Welcome and Homework Theory and New piece(s)
warm up technique
Welcome and 3’ Gusvig i Argentina, 9’ Use of registers 4’ Introducing right 14’
breathing with the playing separate hand on Handel.
instrument. Trying hands. Handel only Gusvig i Argentina
to be one with the left has been worked
instrument. still in separate
elements to get the
right character

10) Lesson scheme and content


Welcome and Homework Theory and New piece(s)
warm up technique
Welcome and 3’ Same pieces, 8’ Balance in sound 4’ Taking now again 15’
breathing with the working on between left and Bach Menuet in G.
instrument. Trying technical details right, seeking for Working two hands
to be one with the and music beauty of sound separately but
instrument. structure and already with
sense musical sense

Notes
Katerina showed immediately a fast learning process and a strong motivation. She has no problems
with the polyphonic approach, but I needed to work more on the bellows movements, because the
instrument feels pretty heavy and I had to be very careful of not creating tension on her playing.
Most of the times some passages come way before than usual, and in the beginning it was not
immediate to me to understand what could have been the right step to raise her level. After
proposing Bach’s Menuet in G from Notebooks for Anna Magdalena Bach, which was a little too
hard for her, I changed my plan and I decided to structure more the work on the different techniques
of playing. According also to her feedbacks, it looked like was a good choice and now she can
approach a piece on her own with many good ideas.

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4. General Conclusions

Where did I get after this work? What did I reach? “Conclusion” can be a misleading word, in a
way; I can just say that I moved other steps in the path of teaching.
I like to think that pedagogy is a neverending process of trying to make things better, trying to get
out of the comfort zone of what is already known. For what concerns my students, in this particular
case, of course I will not expect that a flutist and a percussionist – who already play their
instruments at a high level – will switch to accordion. I tried to show the characteristics and part of
the repertoire of a not-so-known instrument, and gave tome tools for understanding accordion
playing, which can be useful to Flavia and Katerina if they will play chamber music together with
accordion. What I wanted to reach the most, though, is to having shown how music appears through
the filter of a different instrument, how the same laws that rule the music language can be different
on other instruments and, more in general, what can be taken from something different than you
in order to enrich yourself as a musician and a person.

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