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Slaying Two Prominent Bellows Dragons

November 5, 2016

After several decades of teaching and listening to amateur and professional players, I’ve observed many bellows techniques, some of which have been stellar and others which have been less so. This article seeks to elucidate teachers, students, and players about problematic bellows issues and how to correct them, as well as provide tools to generate dynamic control and expression for an optimum musical result.

 

The solutions and suggestions presented here are based on mentoring students for several decades and observing which exercises and techniques are most effective. The information is intended for instructors who want to instill proper playing form to their students, or perhaps instructors, students, and players who are either unaware of some of these issues or are uncertain about how to resolve them.

 

If these dragons could be accused of committing crimes, the first of these transgressions would be considered a felony, and the second would be a misdemeanor.

 

Egregious Air Changer (a.k.a. cutting air) 

When you hear world-class accordionists perform, in addition to those technically demanding, perfectly executed, and dynamically rich renditions, there’s something you won’t hear. If you weren’t looking at the performer, you most likely could not tell when he/she changed air directions, and the flow would sound seamless. Why is this so? One of the main reasons is because the performer is changing air directions exactly when going from one note to the next (typically on the treble side unless it’s a legato bass solo) at the air change, not while holding a note.

 

I’ve explained this concept fully in my article entitled "Avoiding Accordion Hiccups" in this blog, but let’s review the most salient point. If a singer is singing a whole note, or a trumpeter is playing a whole note, would he/she breathe in the middle of the note, thereby creating two half-notes? Of course not, yet all too many students and even performing accordionists do this with great abandon, even though they are performing with a wind instrument just as much as with the voice, reed, or brass instrument. The difference, of course is that we don’t have to physically breathe into our instruments to create sound. If we did, I think the situation would be considerably different.

 

So the bottom line is that if you’re holding a note, whether it be as long as or longer than a whole note or shorter like a quarter note, don’t change air direction while holding it. Either change before playing this note, or change after playing the note.

 

Trailing Note Value Air Belcher

Besides the insidious air changer described in the previous section, there’s also a less offensive, but equally annoying, bellows transgressor that arises when playing legato passages. It will not occur for detached or staccato passages, because there is space between notes to absorb the directional bellows change.

 

To synchronize air changes properly at the end of a note value for a legato passage (whether for treble, bass, or both), three things need to happen simultaneously. When you’re holding a note and ready to change to the new note, you need to simultaneously:

 

  • Press the bass button

  • Press the treble key

  • Change air direction

 

If you anticipate the air change ever so slightly before actually playing the next bass and/or treble notes, there will be an audible hiccup, and it’s the kind of hiccup that drinking a glass of water can’t cure. 

 

To  avoid or correct this problem, try changing air direction between two legato notes, and listen to whether you hear a hiccup from the first note when you go to the second note. For instance, for the notes C and D:

 

  1. Pull the bellows on the C.

  2. Connecting the C to D without lifting up on the C, change to the D while pushing at the same time.

 

If you hear a hiccup on the C immediately before the D, that means that you've anticipated the air change right before playing the D. Keep trying the exercise until the hiccups are gone and you've slayed this pesky bellows dragon! You can initially just alternate between any two adjacent notes until comfort and competency is achieved, and then progress to five adjacent notes, such as from C to G.

 

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