In order to read accordion bass notes on a score, you need to know the bass clef. The accordion bass notation is quite simple, If you already know how to read the treble clef it will be much easier to learn how to read the bass clef.
In case you don’t know the treble clef yet, take a look at this lesson “How to read music notation” which will teach you how to read the treble clef.
How to read the bass clef
Knowing the treble clef, you can use some simple tricks to read the bass clef:
- read notes as if they were written in the treble clef and then add two notes, so for example if in the treble clef you have an E on the first line, in the bass clef you will have to read it as a G; an A in the treble clef is a C in the bass clef; a B in the treble clef is a D in the bass clef and so on.
Or instead of adding notes,
- you can simply read the bass clef notes as if they were positioned one step higher, so if you see a note on the first line, imagine it is positioned on the second line and read it as you would if you were reading the treble clef. Same thing for a note placed in a space on the staff: for example, you see a note on the second space, well, that note is the equivalent of a note placed on the third space of a treble clef staff.
There are 3 kinds of bass notes on the accordion:
Position on the staff
Bass and counter-bass are in a lower position on the staff than accordion bass-chords. On accordion scores, usually, in the lower position, you’ll find a D and in the highest, a C.
Take a look at the staff below.
Bass & Counter bass:
Accordion bass notation
The standard accordion bass notation is quite simple as basses, counter basses, and chords are all represented with a single note on the staff. Since there are 4 different kinds of chords on the accordion (major, minor, seventh, and diminished), you will find a letter, a number, or an abbreviation near a chord-note: it defines the nature of the chord (“M” for major, “m” for minor, “7” for dominant 7th and “dim” for diminished chords).
The lower note is a bass and the higher note is a chord. As you can see in the example below, the notation for major, minor, 7th, and diminished chords is always the same: there’re two C notes, an octave apart. The lower is a C bass and the higher is a C chord.
C Dominant 7th:
(Fingering for major chords is 4-3, for minor, 7th and diminished is 4-2 )
The Stradella bass system
The Stradella bass system was designed to play traditional and popular classical pieces, waltzes, mazurkas, polkas, marches, etc. The most common rhythmic patterns are in 4/4, in 3/4, and in 2/4 (which it can be written in 4/4 as well). There’re many other common time signatures but let’s focus just on 4/4 (marches, ballads, fox-trot, and polkas for example) and 3/4 (waltzes, mazurkas, minuets, and dances).
Here you can see the same melody written for accordion, for piano, and for any other instruments (“Just chords”).
A simple melody in 4/4:
and the same melody in 3/4:
Regardless of the time signature, you can see how bass notes follow the same pattern:
(C – G), (A – E), (D – A), (G – D)
These are all fifth intervals and in fact, accordion basses are arranged in a circle of fifths. This means that you can alternate roots and 5ths very easily on the accordion and therefore it is very easy to play all those rhythmic patterns in which there is this alternation of bass.
Accordion notation for the left hand is very simple since all chords are written as one single note. On a piano, you can choose to play different inversions of the same chord or you can play a bass note at a lower octave but on the accordion, there’s just one octave for basses, and chords can’t be changed, you can’t play chords inversions on a standard bass accordion. This is why accordion notation is so less detailed than piano notation.
Once you know how to arrange a rhythmic pattern, all you need in order to play an accompaniment for a melody is to know the chord progression. Jazz and pop music, for example, are usually written on a single staff with chords symbols so, in my opinion, it’s important to learn how to play as many different styles of accompaniments as possible because sometimes the score doesn’t give you any information about it.
Accordion counter bass notation
Accordion counter bass notes are often underlined with a little dash so you can distinguish them from bass notes.
Accordion bass chords combination
A combined accordion bass chord is a chord that combines a root note (bass or counter bass) and a bass chord (major, minor, 7th, or diminished) from a different root line. For example, D minor 7th (Dm7) combine a D bass note and an F major chord, let’s explain why:
Minor 7th chords are minor chords with a dominant 7th. On accordion, there’re “minor” and “7th” chords but no single button for “minor 7th” chords. To play a minor 7th chord on accordion you need to play the root and the other three notes which complete it.
- D minor (Dm) is a triad consisting of the pitches D (root), F (minor third), and A (fifth).
- D minor 7th (Dm7) is a quadriad consisting of the pitches D (root), F (minor third), A (fifth), and C (minor seventh).
Probably your first thought is to add a C to the D minor chord but this is not the solution since if you add a bass C note, it sounds as if C were the root of the chord created (something like C, D, F, A).
The right solution is to use D as root, then adding the notes that complete the Dm7 chord: D + F, A, C. Which chord plays these notes all together? The answer is: F major chord.
So, to play a Dm7 on accordion bass you need to push the D on the bass or on the counter bass row and the F major.
Combined bass chords notation
Notation for combined accordion bass chords follow the same rules explained before:
The lower note is a D, this means that D is the root and the higher note (F) is a chord. The letter “M” indicates that the F chord is major. Although this is a correct way of representing the Dm7 chord, you are more likely to find the chord name, as combined chords are used in musical genres that usually don’t use double staff.
For this reason, it’s important to learn chords as patterns in order to play complex chords on accordion bass.
Since the first two bass rows are single notes, it’s possible to play scales with the left hand. In the example below you can see the D major scale:
There’re many scales with different fingering but I’ll talk about other kinds of scales in another post. As you can see, bass and counter bass notes are combined in a specific sequence with a specific fingering. The dashes and fingering numbers help to find which button you need to play in sequence.
Author: Giovanni Lucifero