Bulgarian Accordion Tutorial - Good Practice Habits


Oft repeated advice for musicians is "relax!", but it's worth exploring just what this means a bit. There are two aspects to relaxation, physical and mental. In the physical realm, body posture and motion is achieved through contraction of opposing muscle groups, thus in state of perfect muscular relaxation you just flop around can't play at all. What is desired here is to minimize the the muscular tension in opposing groups so they are not working hard against each other, but cooperating toward a steady posture or a controlled exact motion.

The mental realm of relaxation is similar. You brain is constantly buzzing with various interconnected mental threads. For effective practice, you need to calm those that a irrelevant to your current task so important ones can assert themselves without becoming obsessive.

I find starting a practice session with body and finger stretches helps with both physical and mental relaxation. Stretching opposing muscle groups works to reduce residual tension, making your hands more receptive to new, unfamiliar motions such as those described in this tutorial. There are many sources of such stretches. One I use fairly one fairly regularly is aimed at gamers. Once you are familiar with a set of stretches, and can perform them without thinking too hard, they provide a period of calm before practice, and thus help to quiet the superfluous mental buzzing that detracts from contructive practice.

Practicing Basic Techniques

I recommend devoting the first 15 minutes of a day's practice session to slow practice of the basic techniques described in this tutorial. Use the example's I've provided, or create your own, but use each to practice a specific aspect of your execution that you feel needs work or reinforcement. Be aware that your understanding of what you are doing will change over time, and you'll need to adjust appropriately. After the more complex drills of the previous day's session, insights often come working on the simpler drills in the next session.

Be relaxed, but also poised and alert. Muscles work best when they are relaxed, but not floppy. Learning to use your body well takes time. Learn to listen to your body.

Practicing Pieces

It's good to get a piece in your ear before you start practicing it. When recordings are available, listen to them until you can easily hum the tune. Make yourself a mix tape or play list (or whatever you kids are calling it these days) of tunes you're working on and play it in the car or around the house until your partner threatens to leave you. (Added bonus: More practice time!)

In Bulgarian music, there is great flexibility in the number of times to repeat each melody. Take advantage of this during practice by repeating melodies more than you would during performance. For each melody, start by going through the whole melody to work out fingering. Once fingering is established, work on fragments of the melody to improve the fluidity and polish of each ornament. Taking it one bar at a time is often about right, but dense passages may do better with even smaller fragments. Once each fragment works on it's own, string two of them together and practice that. Eventually, build up the entire melody from the fragments, and the entire piece from the melodies.

Practice Tempos

"Take it slow!" is perhaps even more common advice to musicians than "relax!", but one must be careful how to interpret this advice in Bulgarian music. There are really three possible "slow" tempos involved here.

Ornament Slow: The slowest possible tempos is used working out the basic mechanics of a prall, trill or other ornament. Such practice starts with reheasing the necessary actions out of tempo, thinking about each one before doing it, and then gradually moving them into tempo in the context of a short motif such as the prall-triplet. This tempo is too slow to use when practicing complete melodies, and using it there will result in much frustration.

Smooth Melody slow: In practicing basic melodies, start smoothly and slowly, but not so slowly that the motion of the melody is obscured. This tempo is somewhat faster than "Ornament Slow" above. At this tempo you seek to shape the melody and polish the ornaments. If you find yourself wondering about the exact mechanics of the ornament, switch back to "Ornament Slow".

Sharp Melody slow: As mentioned in the "Adjustments for Fast Tempos" lesson, fast tempos require a slight adjustment in the timing and mechanics of pralls and trills. These motions require a bouncing of the hand that simply doesn't work at slow tempos. Finding the ideal tempo to practice these motions is, for me, an unsolved problem, but it's probably somewhat faster than the other "slow" tempos described above. Note that even if you want to use sharp pralls in performance, practice pralls smoothly sometimes to develop fluidity.

Vary Tempos

Whichever of the three slow tempos you're using, it's a good idea to vary your practice tempos back and forth between slightly faster and slightly slower. Gradually moving faster happens to most of us without thinking. Moving things slower takes concerted mental effort, however such practice will improve your control immensely.

Copyright 2015 Erik Butterworth. All rights reserved.