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Necessary Cliche Alert: Slow Down to Make Fast Strides on Accordion

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It’s not very often when slow is a desired state. Most people want to do things as quickly as possible and want things done for them as quickly as possible.

Even with recent developments in the slow food movement and those who advocate a slower pace of life or a less hectic work/life balance, the need for speed is indeed still in the lead.

But for all those lightning-quick processes and oft-overlooked steps in processes that happen too fast for us to notice when we’re getting our speedy meals, service or results, there are many links in the production chain that come about slowly and with great care. Humans discover, learn and master tasks and often make great gains in efficiency and speed. Even machines need to warm up.

So let’s apply this to learning the accordion. That’s right, we’re talkin’ about practice. It’s the most important thing newcomers to the instrument must understand and put into (slow) motion.

I’m often a speed-seeker. If there’s a shortcut I’ll try it. When it comes to music, I mostly like it to the quick beat, especially when I’m playing it. That’s just what happens naturally and I’m certain I inherited this trait from my grandfather, with whom it was almost impossible to keep up musically (even in his 90s). Turns out many of us share this quality.

Slow practice is cited by many musicians as one of the most important traits of successful players. And it’s not just the speed that counts, but a focus on precise movement from note to note through release and balance. With the accordion, it’s even more important because you’re doing three things at once (right hand, left hand, and drawing bellows).

It was the first thing I heard during my second session with my instructor six years ago as he listened to eight years of bad habits unfold during my first crack at a study piece. “SLOOOOOW DOOOOOWWWWN,” he said to me, calmly, for reinforcement.

And for me, merely SLOWING DOWN took a lot of practice. Like months.

But once you isolate each hand (especially important for beginners), practicing each measure super slowly, then put them together in super slow-mo, you ACCELERATE your learning of the piece and your ability to be precise and improvisational with it.

If you can play something PERFECT at a slow speed, I guarantee you will be able to play that same something PERFECT at a faster-than-normal speed with enough repetition. What’s more, your increased command of the number will enable you to improvise or embellish more easily.

Conversely you will make more mistakes when you play something you’re learning too fast. The WORST thing you can do when practicing is repeat mistakes. It’s not hard to see how a vicious cycle can develop, with correction nearly impossible.

When you reach a certain level, you’ll want to try and get the most out of your slow practice, and this general musician’s guide works well for more experienced players.

So don’t feed the speed beast. Make yourself this deal with your own dashing devil: Only play the song(s) you know BEST fast. We all need to indulge our inner speed freak, so go for it. Only do it with something you’ve already mastered, even if it’s just a scale (for newbies). Then you can improvise or embellish (remember, easier to do because you’ve mastered the piece) to spice up what otherwise might be a simple warmup song.

Before long, you’ll have more songs mastered that you can play at fast tempos than you know what to do with. Ardmore Accordion Academy’s first student is coming to grips with this as we speak, as he approaches his second lesson. We’ll see how slow Jeff can go, and how quickly he gets up to speed.