Free Sheet Music: De Colores

One of the cool things about the accordion is that it spans so many cultures and languages. You can hear the instrument in Polish polkas, French bal musette, Irish jigs… the list goes on. (Literally:  There’s an actual list.) I’d guess that probably only the violin/fiddle is more ubiquitous in the traditional music of so many people.

Graphic of my Spanish progress so far on Duolingo

My Spanish progress so far on Duolingo. You gotta start somewhere…

When you play such a multicultural instrument, it can be handy to learn some of these spoken languages too. Knowing a few words of Italian, for example, makes playing all those Italian accordion standards that much more interesting.*

So far I’ve managed to learn a bit of what I call the “opera languages” (Italian, German, and French). Nothing fancy… mostly just enough to order something in a restaurant or bar while traveling. My German is even passable enough by now to have a rudimentary conversation, provided a few charades-style hand gestures are allowed.

But now I’ve decided to learn some Spanish. I really don’t know why I’ve put it off so long since, in this country, it’s so widely spoken and there are so many convenient opportunities to learn and practice it. Plus it has so much great accordion-based music!

With all that in mind, here’s a good Spanish-language song to know: De Colores. The exact origins of the song are a bit cloudy, but it’s a fun tune with a wonderful sentiment about different colors (both literal and figurative) adding up to so much beauty in our world.

I’ve arranged two versions–one easy (Palmer Hughes Book 1 level) and one a bit more advanced (maybe late Book 3 level?). Choose whichever you like below, or combine ideas from both. Buena suerte!

decoloreseasy_thumb        decoloresintermediate_thumb

* Technically, the lyrics of many Italian standards, such as ‘O Sole Mio, are actually written in Neapolitan dialect. Knowing standard Italian only gets you so far! Same thing happens with German music–a good portion of it is sung in a Bavarian dialect that is significantly different from standard Hochdeutsch German.

What Accordionists Can Learn From a Ballpark Organist

Why am I posting about a recent interview with Josh Kantor, the organ player for the Boston Red Sox, on an accordion blog?

Well for one, back in my music school days, the Red Sox and I were neighbors. My apartment was right next to Fenway Park, and on game nights you could open the windows to let in the sounds of that historic stadium:  The echo of the announcer, the cheering of the crowd, and yes, the music of that organ. So there’s a personal nostalgia factor here right off the bat (so to speak).

That row of brownstones in the foreground was once home to Chez Jeff. (Source: Melikamp/Wikicommons)

Somewhere in that row of brownstones in the foreground is my old apartment. Wonder if Carlos is still the Super there? (Photo Source: Melikamp, Wikimedia Commons)

Secondly, how can anyone not post about something baseball-related after that amazing World Series that wrapped up last night? (Go Cubbies!)

Third, it’s interesting to note how baseball organists face many of the same challenges we accordionists do as players of perhaps old-fashioned-seeming instruments in a modern world. Kantor’s solution? Honor the old, but mix in plenty of the new:

 I’ve done a lot of study and research about the history of ballpark organ music in Boston and in other cities. [I] have tried to borrow from and preserve the best and most beloved traditions of that, as well as updating it and having it evolve and be this thing that’s relevant in the modern age, whether it’s through playing newer songs or taking requests or whatever the thing is.

Then there’s this quote, which really jumped out at me:

I play pretty much entirely by memory and by ear. There was a time in my life as a child when I was pretty good at reading sheet music, but I just haven’t kept up with it, and those skills have kind of deteriorated. But I have a lot of ear training, so I’m usually able to hear a song and play it back, which is just something that comes from a lot of practice.

Yet more proof that having a “good ear” isn’t something you either have or don’t have. It’s not a magical gift. It’s a skill, like any other, and can be developed and improved by anyone willing to put in the work. (And it’s very useful for the working musician!)

Anyway, the whole interview is a great read. Check it out!

Stanley Dural Jr., 1947-2016

News this weekend of a big loss to the accordion world:  Stanley “Buckwheat” Dural Jr., founder/leader of Buckwheat Zydeco, has died at the age of 68.

Like many accordion-players, Dural started out as keyboardist. His first group was Buckwheat & the Hitchhikers, a funk group that managed to attain some success and a hit record in the Louisiana area. But, as NPR reports, it was a later gig playing organ for zydeco pioneer Clifton Chenier that ignited Dural’s love for the rollicking, accordion-driven musical style:

“We played for four hours nonstop… And I thought we had just got onstage; that’s how much energy he had projected. I wound up staying with Clifton over two years. I said, ‘Next band I get, I’ll be playing accordion.’

That “next band”, Buckwheat Zydeco, led to major-label record deals, Grammy and Emmy awards, worldwide tours, TV appearances, and collaborations with Eric Clapton, U2, Willie Nelson, and many others. Dural’s contribution to the popularity of zydeco cannot be overestimated.

After a struggle with lung cancer over the past several years, “Buckwheat” passed away at 1:32 Saturday morning–”keeping musician’s hours right to the bitter end,” as his manager put it.

His daughter has set up a GoFundMe page to help with medical and other expenses.

Your Annual Serving of Free Oktoberfest Sheet Music for Accordion!

Munich MaypoleThe 183rd Oktoberfest starts in Munich today, and, as in years past, I’m posting one of my arrangements for you to play on your accordion for the occasion. So I guess it’s officially a jeffjetton.com tradition!

This time, I picked an Oktoberfest song that I’ve seen referred to by several names:

  • Esel Leid
  • The Donkey Song (which is what Esel Leid means)
  • Hey Babariba
  • Iha Iha Iha Oh

Whatever you call it, it’s a fun, goofy song that’s easy for everyone to sing along to. Not to mention easy to memorize–it’s basically just a couple of riffs repeated over and over again. The only challenge is keeping your key signatures straight.

It’s also fairly easy to play, although you can make adjustments as you wish:

  • If you haven’t learned alternating bass yes, just play whatever 4/4 pattern you do know. Use the chord names written along the top as a guide.
  • If you haven’t learned 7th chords yet, just play the chords marked with a “7″ as regular major chords.
  • If you’re struggling with the harmony notes in the right note, just leave them out and play only the top note.

So give it a download, grab your accordion, and enjoy!

Esel Leid Thumbnail

Prost!

Remembering Toots Thielemans

Toots Thielemans

Photo credit: Ron van der Kolk via Wikimedia Commons


I’ve written here before about Toots Thielemans, the trailblazing jazz harmonica player. His passing last week at the age of 94 spurred many tributes, including one from NPR that mentions his accordionist roots:

Thielemans’ first instrument was actually the accordion; he was a child entertainer in the Brussels sidewalk cafe run by his parents. As a teenager, he took up harmonica and guitar, but he still didn’t dream of music as a career.

“But Louis Armstrong changed all that.”

He had heard jazz, and it became his passion [...] However, the harmonica was and is still best-known as a blues or folk instrument—or a toy—and he faced an uphill battle for acceptance.

It’s a battle that he won, hands down, as the Washington Post reported:

It was Mr. Thielemans’s inimitable technique and distinctive sound on the chromatic harmonica, an instrument that he single-handedly proved could hold its own in the jazz repertory, for which he will be remembered.

“He has a level of virtuosity that you don’t have to make excuses for, you don’t have to put an asterisk on Toots. . . . You don’t have to say, ‘He’s great — for a harmonica player,’ ” said jazz critic Gary Giddins, who spoke as part of a 2006 New York University jazz master class with Mr. Thielemans. “He can sit up there with Dizzy and doesn’t have to take an apology because of the instrument. That’s the genius of the whole thing.”

Any musician who plays jazz on a “non-standard” instrument, whether it’s harmonica, violin, ukulele, or (of course) accordion, owes some debt of gratitude to Toots, who showed us that the most unlikely of instruments can still swing.

Paris Musette

Photo credit: Shawn Lipowski via Wikimedia Commons

If I were to close my eyes right now and imagine myself at an outdoor cafe in Paris, there would, I’m sure, be a certain sort of music playing in the background. I bet you know the kind I’m talking about: Charming, romantic, maybe a little jazzy, and heavy on the accordion. Music that sounds like fresh croissants smell.

That’s a style of music called “musette”, and many accordion players (myself included) love it in the same way–and for many of the same reasons–that banjo players love bluegrass and harmonica players love the blues. It’s tailor-made for our instrument, fun to play, and sounds great!

For a deeper look–and listen–into musette, here’s Jean-Pierre Beaurenaut’s 1993 documentary Paris Musette, which traces the genre from its start in the folk traditions of 19th-century rural France, through the influences of Italian immigrants, two world wars, and American jazz.

At least I think that’s what’s going on in the film. It’s in French, and mon français n’est pas très bon. But regardless of your own language skills, it’s still worth checking out if only for the great performances (both “live” and from archival recordings) and the vintage scenes:

 

Free Sheet Music for Accordion: The Irish Washerwoman

St. Patrick’s Day is coming soon, and if you’re an accordion player, you’re going to want to know an appropriate song or two. Well here’s arguably the single most famous Irish jig for you:

The Irish Washerwoman (pdf)

Granted, in certain “serious” Irish Traditional Music circles this tune is considered quite daggy and overplayed. (You wouldn’t want to start this one off in a session, for example.)

Elsewhere though, it’s an instantly-recognizable crowd-pleaser that’s perfect for setting the St. Patrick’s Day mood. It can be a lot of fun to play too!

In my arrangement, notice how the bass note usually doesn’t play in the second part of the measure unless you’re changing to a new chord there. That’s a good way to give the melody a bit of space while still providing a solid rhythm. And in this sort of music, the melody is king! (In fact you might want to omit the left hand entirely the first time through and only bring it in the second time around.)

Irish Underground

Looking for a unique way to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day weekend? Why not come and spend a Saturday afternoon 333 feet below ground in a cave?

Bluegrass Underground Cave Photo

Yup, a freakin’ cave! How cool is that?

My friends the Nashville Celts will be putting on their trademark rousing show of Irish music and dance in the “volcano room” at Cumberland Caverns, as part of the Bluegrass Underground concert series.

They’ve once again invited me to join them on accordion. It should be a blast!

Tickets are apparently going fast, so grab ‘em while you can.

Why We Call Notating Music “Engraving”

Whenever I need to whip up a musical example to use in one of my accordion student’s lessons, or a string arrangement for my wife’s quartet, or the free accordion music I post here now and then, I sit down at the computer and knock it out using notation software. I started out with Finale, then switched to Sibelius, and eventually became a huge fan of MuseScore, which has been my current go-to for the past several years.

MuseScoreScreenshotBut long ago, when I first learned to write notation back at Berklee, none of the above programs existed yet, so we did it by hand, with a pencil or pen, a straight-edge, and a pad of pre-lined notation paper.

I thought that was pretty old-school until I watched the video below. I always knew that notating music was sometimes called “engraving” (The notation options screen in Sibelius is called “engraving rules”, for example), but I never gave much thought as to how it got that name. Behold:

 

 

Free Accordion Sheet Music: The “Original” Auld Lang Syne

This time last year I posted a few free arrangements of Auld Lang Syne, for any accordion player out there who happened to find themselves in need of playing along on New Year’s Eve.

But did you know that the familiar song we all know may not actually be the original version? There’s evidence that Robert Burns initially set his lyrics for Auld Lang Syne to a slightly different melody, only later having it changed to the one most of us know today.

And while Burns himself was reportedly not too fond of that first version, I think it’s by far the superior of the two. Some traditional folk singers, such as Mairi Campbell and Jim Malcolm, have recorded wonderful versions of the original melody. Give them a listen and see what you think…

And if you want to play it yourself, here’s the sheet music for an accordion arrangement of it I put together (inspired largely by the Jim Malcolm version):

Auld Lang Syne (Original Version) for Accordion

(I’m using a lot of left-hand minor-seventh chords in it. If you’re not used to playing them, it may take a bit of practice. The basic idea is that you play the root of the chord on the counterbass row, then add a major chord button from one row higher–that is, closer to your chin. So a Bm7 chord would be the counterbass of G, which is a B bass note, played along with the D major chord button.)

Enjoy! And have a great new year!