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Teaching or not

I’ve been teaching a young fellow how to play the triple row button accordion for about a year and a half. He’s doing quite well. That is to say he has all the tools he needs to be a good player. Just add practice.  He’s planning to go to university next year and has taken a weekend job to save money for school, and for now  he’s stopped taking lessons. I hope he continues to play because it will enrich his life in all kinds of ways. He’s at a point where he doesn’t really need me, if he can build the discipline to practice without knowing he’s got to see a teacher each week who has expectations that he’s applied himself.  Video taping himself my be helpful for him. It’s a good way to see your own problems.

I had another student for a while who wanted to learn an instrument I didn’t play and who lived in another country. How strange is that? She would come see me every month or so when she was in town visiting her daughter and son-in-law (She lives in the US). She had learned a few songs from her father, who can no longer play. Her instrument is the C-griff chromatic button accordion.  It’s an instrument I know a good bit about, and I understand the fingering patterns but I can’t say I really play it. I play triple row diatonic button accordions.  To you maybe they both look like squeezeboxes with a lot of buttons but the differences are night and day.  The most fundamental difference is that on the instrument I play, each button produces a different sound when you close the bellows and when you open the bellows, kind of like a harmonica. As well, my  instrument is set up in 3 diatonic scales and I don’t have access to all the notes in the chromatic scale. In any case, she made really great progress (as I told her the more you practice the better a teacher I am).  Even though she had to develop some of her technical chops on her own, in some ways the situation worked out pretty well.  Along the way though, she sustained an injury related to her playing, or at least made worse by her playing, so she’s had to back away from all the practice she was doing and I haven’t seen her in some time.  I hope she’s able to continue playing.  She is more than capable of advancing on her own.

For a short while, I had yet another student. He wanted to learn to play diatonic button accordion on an instrument tuned to the Continental tuning system and he wanted to play the traditional music of the Minho region of Portugal where he is from. I know of a fellow who teaches this specifically and I attempted to send him to this guy, but he was determined that I be his teacher. I play some Portuguese tunes, but I’m no expert on the regional music this fellow wanted to learn. The different tuning was no big deal. I was able to diagram it out for him. The fingering is only a little different than the Hohner or Gabbanelli tunings I’m used to. He had this powerful 4-reed box, an Italian accordion tuned for Portuguese music. These guys tune their accordions to what we call a wide open musette, the wettest of the wet tunings. Let me try to explain what I’m talking about. Accordions have multiple reeds tuned octaves apart. If the reeds are exactly tuned an octave apart, the tones will sound like one rich tone. That is dry. If you tune the reeds for every note just a little off, say a couple hundredths of a half step, it still sounds in tune, but you get a little bit of a tremelo effect. That is wet or musette. The more off you tune, the greater the tremelo until at a certain point it just sounds out of tune. Many Portuguese players tune their boxes as wet as they can and still sound in tune.

Here’s an example of an accordion with wet tuning:

…and here is an example of much drier tuning…

Anyway, I digress. I explained to this fellow that the only way he was going to make progress was to practice practice practice, and each week, he would come to see me, explain why he had no time to practice, struggle through the lesson, and go off to not practice more. I guess he came to his senses and realized he just didn’t have the time or the discipline to learn this and he just stopped coming. Good thing because I was ready to tell him I couldn’t teach him any more.

All this is to say that I’m not teaching right now, and I’m not looking for a student. If someone tracks me down and really wants to learn, I’ll consider teaching again, but I’m happy to take a break from it too.


  1. I am very proud of myself for being able to pick out the differences between the wet and dry methods in those videos. Thank you for the lesson, it was really quite interesting! Now off I go to not practice…

  2. When students don’t practice, it gets to be a grind for the teacher. You know what could be accomplished if only they would.

    Like this second piece. Fun.

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