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Life Lessons from Accordion Playing.

These are lessons I got from my accordion teacher Stanislav Anguelov many years ago, as applicable to good playing as they are to life:

1. Prepare, practise properly and do your exercises. Adopt a gradual and very incremental approach, not a system that surprises with quantum leaps in technical demand. Proceed teaspoonful by teaspoonful.

2. Pay attention to detail. For example, the first two pieces I was given are little recreational studies designed to successively combine legato and staccato playing. I did not pay attention to this, and played legato as staccato interchangeably and at random in my second lesson. He told me to pay attention to the detail of the music score. An important lesson, also in life.

3. The secret to fast playing is to practise slowly. One makes more progress by doing something slowly and correctly, also in life in general. One must have patience. The more I want to play an exhilarating tango, the more I realize that I have to wait and get the basics right.

4. It is better to play something simple and well, than to try something difficult and make a hash of it. Rather stick to the simple and do it well, than to attempt to dazzle and fail miserably. After practising two simple pieces properly after my second lesson, I played them for Mirko and Anna-Marie, both who are good musicians. They applauded wildly and appreciated it immensely. Why? Because I played them well and with passion. No-one said it was not complicated enough or of a high enough standard or whatever – they appreciated it.

5. There is no substitute for orthodoxy. One can be self-taught, one can study at the university of life, one can graduate from the school of hard knocks, but at the end of the day there is no substitute for formal, disciplined and correct training. One has to repeat the instructions. The way you hold the accordion, the way you open and close the bellows, the way you play at the change of bellows, the balance in volume between the treble and base – there is a correct and efficient way of doing all these things. Orthodoxy is nothing more than the combined wisdom of a body of practitioners who have come to a general idea of what constitutes the right way of doing things. And whereas the odd iconoclast or genius can astound with a bout of unorthodoxy, by-and-large, for the average plodder, it is better to stick to the orthodox. Self-taught people can get reasonably far, but many things will remain opaque to them. My accordion teacher likened self-taught accordionists to motorists who drive a car with five gears only ever up to second gear. A pity, really.

To life