The basic knowledge needed to play a button accordion is relatively simple to grasp. Once you understand the basics you will be surprised how quickly you can play basic tunes and simple melodies. However, becoming proficient on the instrument is another matter. Although button accordions are uncomplicated instruments, in the hands of a skilled player, button accordions are impressive musical instruments. Button accordions are diatonic instruments. They are actually very similar to harmonicas. Diatonic means that they are based on a major scale. You produce one note by holding a button and pushing the bellows in. Holding the same note and pulling the bellows out produces another note.
Learn the difference between the left and right side of the accordion. The left side of the accordion is the bass side. There are usually two buttons. There are10 buttons on the right side, which is the treble side. Your accordion is tuned to a specific key such as C major. All diatonic accordions are played in the same way despite what key they are tuned to. The bass side allows you to play the fundamental bass note and the tonic chord. If your accordion is tuned to C, then this will be a C bass note and C major chord. When you are pulling the bellows out you can play the dominant chord and bass note, which is G in the key of C major.
Practice playing the major scale. Once you learn how to play a major scale, you will be ready to play songs on the accordion. There are 10 buttons on the treble side, which allow you to play two octaves of the C major scale. Each button produces two notes, one note when you are pushing the bellows in and a second note pulling the bellows out. The notes are aligned in the following order going from the bottom to the top of the buttons; E-G, G-B, C-D, E-F, G-A, C-B, E-D, G-F, C-A. and E-B. To play a C major scale, push in the third button and push the bellows in, hold the same button and pull the bellows out and this will be D. Move up a button and repeat the process. Slightly half way up you will have to change the pattern. Practice the major scale playing quarter notes and eight notes.
Combine the left and right hand. The next step is to incorporate the treble and bass sides of the accordion. Supplement your scale exercises with bass notes and chords.
Start learning songs. Once you have learned to play the left and right sides of the accordion together you are ready to begin building a song repertoire. The best way to learn is to have another accordion player show you some tunes. This is the traditional way that Cajun and Creole accordion players learn their songs. Another option is to buy songbooks or a DVD. Concentrate on a few songs at a time and practice them until you play them efficiently.
Play with other musicians. The best way to learn how to play well is to play with other musicians. This will help to develop your timing, your ear, and overall musical sensibility.
Robert Russell began writing online professionally in 2010. He holds a Ph.D. in philosophy and is currently working on a book project exploring the relationship between art, entertainment and culture. He is the guitar player for the nationally touring cajun/zydeco band Creole Stomp. Russell travels with his laptop and writes many of his articles on the road between gigs.