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How to Play a Cajun Accordion

Cajun accordions are otherwise known as diatonic accordions.
an old accordion image by Tomo Jesenicnik from Fotolia.com

Learning to play the Cajun accordion can seem like an unachievable feat. Not only do talented players hold two different rhythms with their hands, they can also make a seemingly endless array of songs with the simple, 10-button melody and two-button bass accordion. Cajun accordions are otherwise called diatonic accordions, and diatonic accordions can come in a variety of sizes. The Cajun accordion is specifically the 10-button version of the diatonic accordion. Learning how to play the instrument is a great undertaking, and is actually simpler than it seems at first.

Learn to hold the accordion correctly. Sit down with the accordion on your lap. Ensure that the melody side of the accordion is on your right-hand side. The melody side is easily identified by the fact that it has 10 buttons, and the bass side has a large hand strap on it. On the bass side of the accordion, note the two buttons, and on the reverse of these, there is a single large button that lets air flow through the bellows.

Place your left hand through the strap on the bass side. Your pinky and index fingers should rest gently on the two bass buttons and you should be able to press the air button with your palm. Ensure that the thumb on your right hand is in the small thumb strap. This is generally in the center of the 10 keys, attached to the button edge of the accordion. Place your thumb through the strap, but don’t rest your thumb on the back side of the accordion, as this limits your movements.

Practice playing a simple bass line. This is very easy to do: press the note under your pinky finger and then the note under your index finger alternately (in rhythm) as you work the bellows. The note under your pinky finger is the root note and the note under your index finger is the chord. Working the bellows produces the note that is pushed down. Keep the melody side of the Cajun accordion on your knee, fixed in position, and move the bass side with your left hand. When you are pushing the accordion inwards, the bass buttons will play a C note and C chord, and when you are pulling the bellows, the buttons will play a G note and G chord.

Learn the positions of the melody notes. After learning how to play bass notes, the melody side will make more sense. It works in essentially the same way, it just has more buttons and produces higher notes. The buttons are numbered one to 10 (from the closest to your face to the closest to your knee) and they also operate different notes depending on whether you push or pull the bellows. When pushing, the notes from one to 10 are E, G, C, E, G, C, E, G, C and E. The repeated notes are in different octaves. These are all part of the C-major triad, and all sound nice together when played. When you pull the bellows, the notes are G, B, D, F, A, B, D, F, A and B. Use combinations of these notes to play the Cajun accordion.

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