Welcome to the Discussion Page about Holding the Meldeon!
Click here for a French translation of this page courtesy of Jean-Marc Henry.
If you ask most players how they hold the instrument, you'd probably get a quizzical look from them and they'd say something like "Well, I put the strap(s) on my shoulder and my left hand in the bass strap". Good enough answer I suppose, but if its really so cut and dried, how do you explain the fact that in any group of melodeon players you will see just about as many differant ways of holding the instrument as there are players? One strap or two, thumb strap or none, high on the chest, low on the belly, keyboard to the right of the chin or to the left....the possibilities go on and on.
To begin with, what is the goal when we hold the instrument? Well, yes, to keep it off the floor, thats right. In addition to that, we want to be able to squeeze it and pull it fairly vigorously without loosing control of it and without causing our fingers to slip off the buttons. In fact, we want our hand to stay in pretty much the same place relative to the keyboard at all times so that we know where to find the buttons we need for the tune without looking. In order to do this, we need the instrument to stay securely in place in spite of all our pushing and pulling on it. There are a variety of methods to do this.
Lets look at shoulder straps first of all. On very small, light boxes e.g. one row melodeons, it is possible to play with no shoulder straps at all....yes thats right, no shoulder straps. The instrument is held by the right thumb in the thumbstrap and the left hand in the bass strap. Some additional support can be gained by sitting and perching the melodeon on your knee (careful to perch only the box, not the bellows). The thumbstrap prevents the treble side from moving when the bellows pull. The thumb is braced against the side of the keyboard to keep the instrument steady when the bellows are pushed. Voila! Proponents of this method say that they like the freedom it affords them to move the instrument and toss it about a bit as they play energetic pieces. One downside to this method is that the thumbstrap can be a hinderance if you need to reach those buttons down near your knee.
The next step up is one shoulder strap. This is a suitable method for smallish instruments. The strap serves two functions: it holds the instrument up and it prevents it from moving when the bellows are pulled. Most people who play with one strap have that strap over the right shoulder. I have also seen good sucess with one long strap which is passed from the top of the box over the left shoulder, crosses the back, comes around under the right arm and attaches to the bottom of the box. This method seems fairly secure even for mid-sized boxes as it controls movement both during push and pull to some extent. I can't personally vouch for its comfort, having never tried it. In either case, the strap need not be supplemented by the thumbstrap, but the thumb should still be braced against the edge of the keyboard. The one strap system seems to be a very popular method. It does have a certain degree of panache to it...sort of a carefree, rough and ready look.
More secure still is the two strap method. One strap over each shoulder. I consider this a must for all large boxes and even most medium sized boxes. It offers quite a bit of control and long-term playing comfort. If you have two straps, I would advise you to dispense with the thumbstrap altogether. You don't need it, and it just restricts your hand from moving up and down the keyboard. However, you should still brace your thumb against the side of the keyboard. While the straps prevent most side to side movement, they certainly don't stop it all, and the thumb can certainly steady the instrument even more. One problem with the two strap method is that on lighter boxes, the left shoulder strap will have a tendency to slip off. This is very annoying....one of my pet peeves actually....because it never happens until you are halfway through a tune and have no spare hands to set it right. Slowly the strap works its way down around your left elbow where it begins to prevent you from fully extending the bellows. Asking a bystander to fix your strap is more likely to get you slapped than anything else, unless you are very lucky, in which case it may become very hard to continue concentrating on your music anyway.....think about it.
What's more secure than two straps? Why, three straps of course! In this case the third strap is referred to as a back strap. It is positioned right between your shoulder blades, where it pulls the two shoulder straps together. This has two advantages in that it keeps the straps up near your neck where your shoulders won't fatigue as quickly and it keeps that dratted left strap from slipping off the shoulder. Unless you have a really big and heavy box, or you have back problems, or narrow shoulders, the back strap is probably overkill for a button box. They do offer the epitome of support and control though. Be aware that they can be a challenge to put on without help from a friend.
Variations on the shoulder strap bit:There are players who don't use the shoulder strap over the shoulders. They shorten up the straps and wedge their elbows in them. Its really not too bad, try it. It certainly solves the problem of the left strap slipping off. It makes the instrument more mobile relative to the body, and it gets the instrument off your chest. But all the weight is supported by the arms, and I feel like it limits the mobility of the hands a bit.
Normally, the straps are connected to the box on the treble side. There is at least one French player who has his straps attached on the bass side. He operates the bellows with the right hand. Works for him, I wouldn't want to try it.
When sitting down, the tendency for the left hand strap to slip off greatly increases. A lot of players overcome this by simply putting both straps over the right shoulder.
Should you wear your accordion high or low? I find that I wear mine quite high on the chest. I find that the instrument feels more secure there. In addition, your belt buckle is not as likely to wear holes in the back of your bellows. Some people complain that wearing the accordion high interferes with singing, but I have never found that to be the case. Most importantly, you should strive, wherever you wear the accordion, to make sure that you can keep your wrist relatively straight while playing and try to keep your muscles relaxed. This will decrease the risk of suffering RSI (repetetive stress injury). A large number of players wear their instruments fairly low, so I'm in the minority I know.
The general advice for the accordion is to keep the keyboard slightly to the right of the center of your body. You do this by shortening the right hand strap. The left hand strap should be longer than the right hand strap. As a rule, it is better to hold the instrument so that the edge of the keyboard is straight up and down. Some musicians tilt their accordions at wacky angles while playing and there are reported cases of some English musicians playing with the keyboard horizontal rather than vertical (bellows below). If thats what trips your trigger, nothing I say will likely change your mind, but its not the recommended way to do it.
When seated, a very handy position is to drape your right leg over your left. Put both straps over the right shoulder. Now you can brace the bottom of the keyboard against the inside of your right thigh. This is probably the most secure and comfortable of all positions.
What of the thumb? I would recommend avoiding the thumbstrap if at all possible. I find it overly restrictive. Always keep it braced against the side of the keyboard. If you find that you come away from a session of playing with a sore thumb, you are probably working it too hard. Try snugging up the right shoulder strap to take more of the stress away from the thumb. On a well secured accordion, you should be able to use your thumb every now and again to press a button. Some players, John Kirkpatrick for example, don't brace the keyboard with their thumb at all. They prefer to use the heel of the hand instead. This gives fine stability to the instrument, but I find that my fingers are at an odd angle to the buttons this way. Still, if it works for JK, it can't be all bad....maybe its for you.
Whenever playing, you will find that you fatigue less easily, and you will present a better picture if you maintain good overall posture and try to stay as relaxed as possible in all muscles that you aren't actively using. Don't slouch. Don't droop your head forward in an attempt to watch your fingers. Don't hunch your shoulders. All those things your mother was forever correcting.
In the end, you will use whatever works for you. If what you are doing doesn't work, don't be afraid to try something differant. Most important is to hold the accordion so that you are comfortable, can easily play, and won't risk injuring yourself in the process.
I'd love to hear what you think of this page,
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