Adventures in Accordion

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Despite having had a least one accordion in my possession for the last several years, I’ve only recently been dedicated to practicing it. For years I’ve loved Brazilian forró and had thought it would be cool to really learn to play it. Why now? My friend Karen asked me if I would play on a few tunes on an upcoming gig of her band Samba Meu (check it out on Oct. 14 in you're in Minneapolis), and this summer I agreed to do something in the fall. I’ll be honest: I’m very motivated by deadlines.

I’ve historically been a pretty terrible procrastinator, but I’ve been toning it down over the years (too much stress!) So, deadlines are not the only things that motivate me - since getting back from California Brazil Camp at the end of August, I’ve had a really dedicated practice habit on both piano and accordion. I have been motivated by the very act of keeping a habit (graphing my hours), by the positive feedback I get from previously difficult things feeling a little bit easier, not to mention the most important: I’m addicted to the sounds of this awesome music!

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The process of learning a new instrument is so valuable for me as a teacher, too. When a student is struggling with a difficult passage, I say, “I feel your pain”, and I mean it! Just this morning I was working on a difficult left hand shift that had seemed easy earlier this week, and today it just wasn’t working, and I wasn’t sure why. I spent a few minutes drilling that spot, and I’ll just have to have faith that my neural pathways were strengthened - we’ll see how it feels tomorrow. Learning and developing skills is not linear - some days don’t feel productive but are, few days actually have memorable breakthroughs, and progress is not always evident.

Continuing to learn more complex techniques on the piano also helps me stay truly empathetic. A student struggling to change left hand notes at the same time as a changing right hand note feels (I imagine) the same level of coordination difficulty as when I try to play 3 different samba rhythms at the same time with 2 hands. As a piano teacher who regularly advises students on the process of forming a good practice habit, and as a learner myself, I’m always fascinated by the psychology of habits and by the human brain. (I'll save that for another post.)

One of the songs I've been working on: Roseira do Norte.

I’m taking this seriously - I’ve already had one accordion lesson and just invested in new straps (the old ones were in bad shape and forced me to upgrade when one snapped last week) With the number of unfinished projects I’ve racked up by always being so busy, it’s also a really good feeling to know I’m following through with something, and I can add accordion performance to the list of scary stuff that I’m doing this year. (I don’t really have a list, but maybe I should start one!)

Check out my Instagram for occasional videos (both accordion and piano) - I’ll be sharing some snippets in the Stories feature.

Rebecca Hass

Pianist and composer