Bulgarian Accordion Tutorial - Gaida Inspired Technique

This lesson describes various accordion techniques I use that were inspired by traditional Bulgarian gaida (bagpipe) playing. I've never heard another accordionist use these techniques, so they are not part of traditional Bulgarian accordion playing. On the other hand, the general musical ideas behind the techniques are clearly part of the Bulgarian gaida tradition. Thus, they may be thought of as an extension of accordion technique grounded in the tradition.

Quick Overview of the Gaida

Here's a very simplied overview of traditional gaida playing, so as to give some background for the accordion techniques. For more detailed information, consult the bibliography. For Rhodope gaida, Levy(1985) is the authoritative work. I'm not aware of a work of comparable merit describing other Bulgarian gaida styles.

Bulgarian gaidas are bagpipes whose single chanter has a range of a major 9th - a 5th above and a 5th below the tonic. While there is great variation in playing style and temperment, I will simplify here and consider only 3 canonical representatives:

Thracian and Shope gaidas play chromatically in their upper 5th, but are missing the augmented 4th above the tonic. In their lower 5th, they are mostly diatonic, although advanced players occasionally a few chromatics. Rhodope gaidas play diatonically throughout their range, with the exception of the 3rd above the tonic, which may be either major or minor.

Gaidas required continuous air pressure and can't be tongued like most reed instruments, so ornamentation is used to articulate notes and shape melodies. Along with the pralls, trills, mordents and Turkish graces described previously, several other ornaments are used, some of which can be well applied to the accordion.

The Limitations of Adaptation

Let's be clear. An accordion is not a gaida. Playing a gaida arrangement note-for-note on the accordion (even if that were technically possible, which it isn't) would not result in a good sound. It's worth pausing for a moment to consider why that is:

Thumb Hole Ornamentation

Pralls, mordents and trills articulate notes by using a step-wise neighbor. Gaida players often articulate using more distant notes. The two most common distant articulations are the top of the range (thumb hole open) and the bottom of the range (all holes covered). The first is bright and lively due to the loudness of the top note, and adaptable to the accordion. The second, is very understated due to the softness of the bottom note, is simply a gaidar's way of repeating a note, and is less adaptable.

Gaida passages often make repeated use of the 5th degree (thumb hole open) and the constant presence of high-note chirps imparts a great deal of excitement. Use of the thumb hole can take several forms:

  • A 'bip': a 5th degree articulation at the start of a melody note;
  • A Turkish grace can use the 5th degree instead of a lower note;
  • An antemordent on the 5th degree;
  • A prall on the 4th degree uses the 5th degree as a neighbor because the flat 5th is not playable (see above).
  • All these techniques are used in the following adaptation from Kostadin Varimezov (bip in bar 5, Turkish graces in bars 6-12, antemordents in bars 1 & 3, pralls in bars 6 & 10):

    "Thumb hole" ornamentation on the accordion doesn't have quite the same power it does on the gaida, but the pleasant interplay of the 5th and the melody can be joyful none the less.

    Note the thumb white-to-white key glides in bars 7, 9 & 11. "Thumb hole" ornamentation requires this more because of all the ornamental action at the top of the hand leaves less room more maneuvering at the bottom. To execute an upward white-to-white thumb glide simply place the thumb astride the two keys and draw the pad of the thumb to the right. (This technique can be awkward if your keyboard does not have a shallow draft.)

    Also note that finger 5 must be used much more often in this style.

    Since the accordionist doesn't use an actual physical thumb hole for "thumb hole" ornamentation, he is free to choose the thumb hole note based on the melody at hand. I have always found the appropriate note to be the 5th of the current scale.

    Modified Pralls

    Shope gaidar Iliya Dimitrov uses a lovely technique of using the major third as a prall auxillary. It is most noticable in passages in minor, where the auxillary sets up a nice contrast with the prevailing mode. In the following passage from Dimitrov's "Pravo Shopkso horo" the "C#" annotation below the A prall indicates it uses the major third auxillary:

    Another nice example from Dimitrov:

    Rhodope Ornamentation

    I am still in the formative stages of figuring out how to make Rhodope gaida ornamentation work on the accordion. Here's a representative fragment, adapted from Petar Yanev:

    Several characteristic of this fragment are notable.

    Copyright 2015 Erik Butterworth. All rights reserved.