zondag 21 september 2008

Chords and Keys

Vamping with Stradella

The accordion is a great instrument for learning how music works. I played piano for 30 years but never really got to grips with chords and harmonies, it just wasn't clear which chords fitted with which key, and why.

A few years of playing accordion has taught me a lot, the reason is the cunningly simple Stradella Bass System. At first sight it looks anything but simple....

The reason this arrangement is so powerful is that it is a relative system. The buttons are arranged in rows, each one representing a key.

Take the row in the middle for "C". The first two rows play a single note, in this case the root note C. Below it are chords for C major, C minor and C7.

Move one row to the right and you find the chords for G. Move one row to the left and you find F.

G is the fifth note of the scale of C, and C is the fifth note of the scale of F. So each row is one fifth higher than the previous one.

The beauty of this system is that the chords you will need for a particular key are all close together. Typically for playing in C, the most common harmony will use C, G and F. These are the 1st, 5th and 4th notes of the scale. You'll see that these buttons are all next to each other.

Play the same tune in the key of G and you'll need chords G, D and C. These are also next to each other in the same pattern, just shifted to the right.

The chords are in harmonic order rather than ascending order as on a piano keyboard. So to transpose a tune into a different key, you use the same fingering but with a different starting position. Clever eh?

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