Very often I am asked questions along the line of "How can I get started?" or "What sort instrument should a beginner buy?" These are questions that don't have pat answers, but they can start great conversations. David Maust, a piano accordion player who is considering the intensity of diatonicity, began such a conversation via e-mail a few months ago. Enjoy.
Jan. 21, 2014
|Accordion Temptation is Well Documented|
I began reading your blog a couple
months ago and have really enjoyed it. Thank you so much for taking the time to
write your thoughtful interviews, posts and put up videos of yourself. I also
love the resources as well like the tunebooks. Your site has helped both French
folk music and the diatonic accordion become much more accessible for me and I
was very excited to find it.
I have a question for you, and I
understand if you are busy and may not have a lot of time. If so, no worries,
but still, I just have to ask. What is the experience of playing the diatonic
accordion compared to a piano accordion? How does the instrument affect the
music, especially for playing French folk dance tunes?
I'm aware the answer to this question
may be obvious to most diatonic accordion players, but I ask because I am
trying to decide whether this is an instrument I want to buy; I'm just not sure
yet if this is an investment that is the right one for me. I'll give a little
background so you know where I'm coming from.
Right now I have a nice 60 bass
piano accordion that I have been playing for about 10 years (it's a German made
Castiglione that has a nice musette setting and also a low set of reeds that I
like the sound of too, especially when played dry with an upper register reed -
in all it has 5 switches but I usually play the musette switch). It is a nice
size compared to a full size accordion, but it is still much heavier than a
diatonic accordion. I have played piano all my life and also enjoy playing the
Hammond organ, so about 10 years ago when I wanted to start playing the
accordion, this was a good choice for me. I was able to learn fairly quickly
and have had much enjoyment from playing it. I use it to play French and
Italian folk tunes and dances (and American folk tunes too - I also really like
American folk music).
I got interested in French folk
music about 12 years ago by accident. A friend and I decided to try our hands
at building a hurdy gurdy after I had successfully built a mountain dulcimer in
my dad's wood shop. After we built two symphonie hurdy gurdies (those are the
box shaped, diatonic Medieval types), we attended a hurdy gurdy festival put on
my Alden and Cali Hackmann in Washington State. There we were introduced to a
lot of people who loved French folk music (although there weren't any diatonic
accordion players when we went). I also purchased a tunebook of Ad Vielle Que
Pourra at one of their concerts and it has been one of my favorite songbooks
since for playing accordion. My friend too ended up being deeply impacted as a
result of this as well because he ended up spending a couple years as an
apprentice with the Hackmann's, and built a beautiful chromatic hurdy gurdy in
their shop for himself over that time.
For me though, since that time,
the accordion has been much more of a favorite instrument than the hurdy gurdy.
And I suppose I'll be happy enough continuing to play my piano accordion, but
there is just something about diatonic accordion that I feel I will love in a
whole different way. I also feel I would have a good feel for it since I have
played harmonica for many years and successfully messed around on my friend's
OK, I'll stop there; that's more
than I intended to write, but I wanted you to have an idea of where I was
coming from. Purchasing an expensive instrument is a big deal for me, and the
time commitment of learning a new instrument is too (I'm a teacher and have two
kids of 6 and 4 with another on the way, so there isn't lots of "down-time" for practicing
around my house), so thinking about getting a diatonic accordion is something
I've been reading and thinking about for a while.
Thanks again for taking the time
to share your experiences on your blog, and for sharing your love of this
instrument and music!
Wherein I Urge Him to Succumb
Jan. 24, 2014
Thank you for your kind words!
The blog is a joy of mine, along with the music. Of course you
should buy a diatonic accordion.
You ask about my experience with
button accordions and piano accordions. I haven't played piano accordion
but I think you can do a perfectly fine job of playing this repertoire on the
piano accordion or (more commonly) the chromatic button accordion. Auvergne,
especially, has a substantial CBA tradition. I generally think of CBA and
PA in the same category, since they both are fully chromatic, have the
stradella bass, and don't have the diatonic push/pull thing.
So, now that I've established that
I'm not anti-piano accordion … the diatonic box is just very very fun. It's a different way of approaching music and the physical activity of it
is very satisfying. If you check out this blog post. You can hear the same tune played on a number of instruments, including a CBA. You can hear that CBA/PA tends towards fleetness and smoothness. It
doesn't HAVE to lead to more complex harmonies, but I would say it tends to.
It was the CBA and its 120 basses that bridged the gap between Bal Folk
and Bal Musette. (At the same time, I have to say I just did a concert
with a singer doing Edith Piaf, and I did not do the quick jazz musette
filigrees … it sounded different., but still good.)
I can tell from your note that you
have the fascination. Building hurdy gurdies? This is more than you
wanting to play the repertoire … this is having a relationship with the
I understand the concern about
money. I was a teacher for 12 years and have five kids, and that's a
legitimate concern. I would not be concerned about the time spent to
learn, because I get the sense that you enjoy every step of the learning curve
-- you aren't practicing so that one day you can play. You're playing
right from the beginning. I guess if you want to be utilitarian about it,
you could ask yourself what it is you get out of music, and what you would like
to get out of it. If getting a diatonic fits with your goals, then it's
worth it. In my own case, my goals have led me to divest myself of other
instruments, and concentrate on the diatonic box. But it's also led me to
stretch out into non-trad keys (F/Bb/Eb) because I've started playing with a
I hope that helps. I'm happy
to continue the conversation,
Jan. 26, 2014
Thank you for the thoughtful
reply! You have given me a lot to think about and I appreciate the invitation
to continue the conversation.
I especially liked listening to the various
renditions of "On d'onderon garda" that you posted. I agree that the various instruments give the music a very
different feel, and think what you say about the CBA and PA tending toward
fluidity and complexity is true. I didn't realize the CBA had such a strong
presence in the Auvergne music, but I can see how this would have bridged the
Bal Folk to the Bal Musette. I love the sound of the CBA recording, but I also
really like the one on the [Castagnari] Giordy. And really, for some reason the less adorned
Giordy version seems to fit more what I feel is my own personality as a
musician. I really love simplicity and maybe that is why I feel drawn to a
diatonic box. I think I have always felt musically more at home in playing in a
diatonic mode, even on chromatic instruments. Maybe this also comes in part
from playing different diatonic instruments like the mountain dulcimer and
harmonica. I feel that I put the love of those instruments into my playing of
chromatic instruments like the piano, organ and piano accordion.
I mentioned in my last email that I have liked
playing from an Ad Vielle Que Pourra songbook on my PA. There is something so
different about how the tunes feel on my PA and the sound of the recordings of
the band with the diatonic accordion. Of course the musicians are so well
accomplished, but the instrument itself too is just different and that keeps my
interest in looking at the diatonic accordion. Also the lighter weight of the
diatonic is something I know I would like. When I bought my 60 bass PA I
downsized from an extremely heavy Titano 120 bass and that made a great
improvement in my comfort with the accordion (and my 60 bass still weighs about
I appreciate what you say about enjoying the
process of learning the instrument. This is true for me. I'm not really
concerned with reaching a goal of ability, although it is always nice to
improve, but the satisfaction from playing is of much more value to me. I've
always felt I'm a bit of a slower learner, but I really enjoy, and deeply
remember the process. I have so many memories over my life of playing music in
different places, situations and with different people, and there in lies the
richness of music for me. I sense you approach music in the same way and I
appreciate your causing me to reflect on this.
As far as monetary investment goes - is there a
particular box you would recommend for someone on a budget?
I noticed The Button Box's most economical
diatonic accordion is the Hohner Panther, and I've read a lot of favorable
reviews, but I'm not yet sold. I really would like to try and save for a higher
quality instrument. I've always felt that one should get the best instrument
one can afford, and that has certainly proved true for me in playing the
accordion I have. I just love hearing it every time I play it; it always seems
worth the money I spent on it. Have you ever played a Panther?
I also remember reading that you started with a
Hohner Corso. Do you like the Hohners? They seem a little more affordable than
some of the other brands the Button Box carries. I wish I had a place like the
Button Box close by where I live and I could try out different boxes. Watching
different videos is helpful, but it's nothing like actually playing the
Thanks again for the conversation,
I've really enjoyed it! -David
NEXT POST: David takes the plunge! What will he choose?
Labels: accordion purchase, corruption, Hohner, Piano Accordion, three-row