When Should a Beginner Upgrade to a “Nice” Accordion?

When you’re first learning to play the accordion, it makes sense to play what might be charitably called a “starter” instrument. Maybe you found it on eBay, or at an estate sale, or in some relative’s attic. It seemed like a pretty good price. And despite that slight musty smell, those few reeds that don’t work anymore, and a couple of leaks in the bellows, it gets the job done well enough. Like a first car, those quirks are all part of its charm, right?

At some point though, you’ll eventually toy with the idea of upgrading. If you’re like a lot of my students, the logic goes something like this:

“But I’m not good enough yet! Maybe after [fill in the arbitrary number of lessons] I’ll deserve a nice accordion.”

Here’s the flaw in that logic: You didn’t buy a starter accordion because it’s the best instrument to use for improving your playing. Heck, they sometimes get in the way of improvement.

No, the purpose of a starter instrument is twofold:

  1. It lets you “test the waters” relatively inexpensively. Who knew back then if accordion is even something that you’d wind up liking? Shame to drop a lot of money on an activity that you don’t wind up sticking with.
  2. It gives you a way to learn about accordions in general–the kinds of music you enjoy playing (or don’t), the sorts of features your accordion has that you use (or don’t), and the features you find that you wish it had. Accordions come in a bewildering array of shapes/sizes/options, and there’s a bit of a Catch-22 involved:¬† You basically have to get some experience with an accordion–any accordion–before you can know enough to make an informed decision about buying one!

It follows, then, that the decision to upgrade can be made by simply asking yourself if those two things have been accomplished:

  1. Have I discovered that I have a passion for playing and learning the accordion? It’s not so much a question of “am I good enough right now?” as it is “do I have the desire to continue to improve, no matter how long that takes?” A demonstrated willingness to do the work is the real indicator that you “deserve” an upgrade.
  1. Do I know what sort of accordion I want? What features are must-haves and what limitations are you okay with? What size and reed configuration best suits you and the music you want to play? If you’re still not reasonably sure, then keep on truckin’ with that starter squeezebox until you are.

Well, I hate to get all Suze Orman here, but I guess there is a third question that you should definitely also ask yourself:

  1. Can I afford it?¬†Nice accordions don’t come cheap. And despite what the salespeople at the music store might say, unless you’re regularly gigging, an accordion is not an “investment”. Are you sure that buying one is the best use of your money right now? (And by the way, if you have to borrow money, the answer to this question is an automatic “no”.)

If you can answer “yes” to all of these, then as far as I’m concerned, you’re ready to roll!