Welcome to old and new friends who are interested in discussing Cajun and other diatonic accordions, along with some occasional lagniappe....



General Forum
Start a New Topic 
View Entire Thread
Re: FINALLY! A Way To Master The 4th Position

Hey Mel and Jeff, I can't speak for Greezy, LOL, but I may be able to help.

Mello, the base side of the "C" accordion doesn't play well with the 3rd-F or 4th-D positions. There was a player that got with Jr Martin on this problem. The player's name was John Trahan. He had an extra "F" matching set of base reeds installed into the base block of his Martin "C" accordion. To use them when he played in the 3rd position key of "F". On his base block there was the normal set of two buttons and then an alternate set of two base buttons below the normal ones. So (4) base block buttons. All he had to do was shift his fingers down, lock in his middle and ring fingers and Play The "F" Out of That Accordion! Haha. At the time, it went right over my head seeing and hearing this done, but now, it all makes sense.

Jeff, as for me personally, like Greezy, I arrived at the 2nd Position key of "G" on my "C" accordion long before I started recognizing and then actually playing in the 1st position key of "C". It seems like the most natural position for self taught beginners in our area of the planet is the 2nd Position key of "G". While the most natural position for say, Eunice players that study under Marc Savoy would be the 1st Position key of "C". The songs we grew up hearing played by the old men and wanting to play ourselves were mostly in "G" 2nd Position. They were some "Fun" two steps that the old Cats loved to show off their skills with. And NO! They didn't play the Perrodin Two Step to my knowledge.

To explain the calculations, locations, and how to determine where each of the 4 playing positions are realized on an accordion is a very long written or typed explanation. I do believe "Grandmaster Greezy" was trying to do just that, but over a long period of time, and by using a very elaborate and concocted way of explaining it. I think he even broke it down for everybody in one post just recently.

All 4 playing positions can be self taught, but my god it takes a lot of doing and a whole lot more realizing than one can imagine! It's best to have a teacher right there with you to show them to you or at least make you aware of them by presenting them in song and then explaining what just happened. Or a teacher that challenges you to be able to play as many songs in your repertoire as is possible in at least 3 of the 4 positions all on the same accordion.

Re: FINALLY! A Way To Master The 4th Position

Thanks but that does not explain the numbering and choice of the positions.

1 is C
2 is G
3 is D
4 is A
5 is E

Re: FINALLY! A Way To Master The 4th Position

Please understand that I am not being critical, just trying to understand why the positions that have been suggested are what and why they are since I can find no logic to it.

Re: FINALLY! A Way To Master The 4th Position

Jeff -

Just hazarding a guess here (personally, this whole "position" stuff has always seemed like some weird made-up Cajun thing), I think the order of positions is perhaps based on the "deviation" from the core C position (on a C accordion).

- In C (1st position), you can play all the notes of the scale + both bass chords are part of the basic 1-4-5 chord set for C.

- In G (2nd position), you lose 1 note of the scale (F#), but again both bass chords are part of the 1-4-5 set for the key of G (plus the flatted 7th -- which is not part of the G major scale -- does give you a nice bluesy sound not available in C).

- In F (3rd position), you again lose 1 note of the scale (Bb), and now only 1 bass chord {C) is part of the 1-4-5 set.

As far as 4th position, I'd say D (or better, Dm) makes most sense -- you lose 2 notes (F# and C#) of the D major scale (but not of D minor), and you only have 1 chord (G) of the 1-4-5 set. But you can simulate (in D) or play (in Dm) the 1-chord with the right hand, and the C chord can be useful in Dm tunes (you hear this DM-C stuff in a lot of Irish tunes [e.g., the Kilavil Jig], though the Irish stuff is usually played in Em on a D box).

Beyond this (theoretical) 4th position, the whole position deal I think becomes pretty meaningless -- you're now into keys missing at least 3 notes of the scale and in which the left hand is pretty much useless. So why anyone would want to even try to play in another key besides these 4 is beyond me.

As noted, this is just my own way of understanding these so-called positions.

Re: FINALLY! A Way To Master The 4th Position

Maybe just sort of informal numbering based on familiarity/frequency of use? In which case different people could reasonably end up meaning different things by 3rd vs. 4th etc. Unfortunately the International Organization for Standardization is really dragging its feet on releasing those draft Uniform Button Accordion Nomenclature Guidelines ...

Honestly the tradition of calling them "positions" seems pretty opaque to me in the first place, since it's not about the physical position of the hand. Contrast this to "2nd position" on a fiddle, where the whole hand is really scootched up to up to a different place.

Re: FINALLY! A Way To Master The 4th Position

Thanks to you both..
However, this does not explain why the 2nd, 3rd and 4th, 5th positions are named as such since there is absolutely no logic.

It is arbitrary. Perhaps 2nd position is correct, but beyond that it must only be because of frequency of play, and not named "rationally".

Re: FINALLY! A Way To Master The 4th Position

Ok, for those of you still with me on this "Theoretical" 4th Position. It aint got dam theoretical! If you can play a song with it, it exists.

I'd like to twist it up even more. Below is a song by Bonsoir Catin in the key of "E". Now, I can't tell if she's playing on a "Bb" in the 3rd, or an "A" accordion in the 2nd, or maybe she's playing a "D" accordion in the Dirty 4th and the Backside 3rd!

For those that still need proof or they have the balls to try, and you have a "D" accordion.....Get your "D" accordion and play along with the song below in the 4th Position key of "E". The confirmation buttons are buttons 3 and 7 pulling.

I'm starting to want to call the "4th Position" something else...."The Gypsy Key" for the way it sounds. Haunting.

If you had gone and "dry erase" labeled your accordions like I told you to, you'd be right on top of what I'm talking about. It wouldn't be flabberghasting you at all. Go and label your "C" and "D" accordion fingers and stop being hard headed got dammit! LOL

Re: FINALLY! A Way To Master The 4th Position

Which does not explain any logic to the naming of the positions , either by physical position or by key or interval

As to the Nashville system, that appears to have zip all to do with the naming and cho
ice of a position or key on the accordeon.

Re: FINALLY! A Way To Master The 4th Position

on a C box or harmonica;

C Ionic
G Mixolydian
F Lydian
D Dorian
A Aoelian
E Phrygian

Ancient Greek modes which do exist.
Probably easier to remember by just giving them "position" numbers.
Diatonic instruments lend themselves to playing these scales and the limitations as you lose notes are often what gives the soulful character.
Why else would Chenier play his chromatic piano accordion in a diatonic fashion?

Re: FINALLY! A Way To Master The 4th Position

Why is the F there.. it is not considered a 3rd position and does not fall in the ranges of 5ths ?

Re: FINALLY! A Way To Master The 4th Position

Hey Jeff, I was thinking about you this morning and wondering myself how exactly "someone" arrived at the different accordion positions and why did they name them (seemingly out of order)????

I had a stroke of thought come to me and it has to do with the fiddle. Now, it may have been a thought sent by God itself, because I don't normally come up with ideas like this.

Below are the orders of tuning for a standard tuned fiddle, and a Cajun down tuned fiddle going from the biggest string to the smallest. (Now keep in mind that different people call the orders from the smallest string to the biggest. I personally like to go from big string to smallest because it is left to right as you're holding the fiddle. Left to right as in the way we write English and French.

Standard Fiddle Tuning
compare this to the 4 positions of a "D" accordion below in their order of difficulty easiest to hardest according to the common consensus of Eunice accordion players:

Cajun Down Tuned Fiddle
compare this to the 4 positions of a "C" accordion below in their order of difficulty easiest to hardest according to the common consensus of Eunice accordion players:

That's as far as I got with the thought sent to me by God. Maybe you can figure out some sort of pattern here according to the influence of the fiddle on the accordion players of old times.

I'll be putting more thought into this on my own with or without God, because I actually play the fiddle! Woo Hoo! We may have an answer soon.

Re: FINALLY! A Way To Master The 4th Position

Also, AJ. That chart with all the Greek names you just posted. That's pretty cool to see it put like that! Did God send you that information too? LOL I knew that you knew about these position names from a post you posted a long time ago. You been holding out on us with the information Bro? LOL

Re: FINALLY! A Way To Master The 4th Position

Everyone needs to keep in mind that there are different regions in south Louisiana and different styles and thought about Cajun accordion playing in those regions or so called "factions" and or "families".

If you were to visit the Vermilion Parish or HWY 14 region consisting of Delcambre, Erath, Abbeville,Kaplan, Gueydan, and some of Crowley and Lake Arthur back in the older times and even still today, the accordion players would look at you sideways if you mentioned the word "position" to them. LOL, Most accordion players around my area call the "Key" they're going to play in. They don't know much about a "Position". Many of them don't even know about the "Key" until they've played accordion for a while or with a band or other musicians that tell them about it.

I myself had to travel and play in Eunice to get just a small hint of what a "Position" was. This discussion forum gave me more hints about it as time went by. I'm past my 25th year of playing Cajun accordion, and I've just recently come to master these got dam "Positions" and what they mean to accordion playing, the singing and the music itself. I'm still hashing out how they effect the fiddle vs accordion and vice versa. It won't be long before I got that part down pat too. That's how long it takes when there's no one there to help you or tell you about these advanced Cajun music subjects.

And that's why I am very grateful for the Cajun Accordion Discussion Group. It has made me one very educated accordion playing Coonass! Don't even ask me what a Coonass is. If you don't know, you're probably not a Cajun.

Re: FINALLY! A Way To Master The 4th Position

Wow, just figured out that Marais Bouleur by Bonsoir Catin is being played on a "C" accordion. And it seems that its being done in "crossover" keys or positions.

Yet I can play the song on my "D" accordion just as pretty and efficiently as can be and hang with Kristi Guillory note for note while she plays her "C accordion on this video! But I'm not playing that "D" accordion in the 3rd position key of "G". I'm playing in what seems to be the 2nd "A" and 4th "E" positions. WTF?

You might think then that the song is in the key of "G" on the "C" accordion. Maybe partly played in the key of "G", but there's a whole lot of "E" in there. Now what got dam position would that be on a "C" accordion. I don't think the "C" accordion has an "E" position.

This could be the keystone song! Or it's the work of the Devil!

Or it's the result of a player that knows how to play the accordion too good and knows too much about positions?

Another observation is that my base side on my "C" isn't matching up for this song. Only part time.

Jerry, you on top of all this man?! If I can count on anyone to be following this to the letter, it would be you.....wait for it....... and LOL.....aaaaahahahahahaha!

Jerry, notice the "Theme" of the CD cover......"Light The Stars". Told you I'd bring us to the stars and back. Didn't I?.....Didn't I? Gotcha again....Good Night Doll. Go ahead and put on them pink panties and try to embarrass me on the Bravenet again. I dare you! Remember Now?? My exact words to you back then were, "Do You Realize What You Have Done?!" Is it starting to come back to you now?

Re: FINALLY! A Way To Master The 4th Position

The solution/answer to the confusion of numbering positions on an Accordeon is:

Don't number them.

Let's take a Key of C box, It can be played in G, D, A, E, etc...
and the relative minors if you are a genius.

No need to number the positions. Just name the key and play away.
Of course some sharps and flats are missing.. so the mode comes in but forget all that.. just play the key.

According to standard music theory and applied to a diatonic Harmonica (same as a one row box)
the positions are:





5................ E


All in fifths..
Here, again, just forget the position number and state the key.

Problem solved.

Irish Trad music:

ON a D box the relative minor is B minor not E minor

E Minor is the relative minor for the key of G.

Re: FINALLY! A Way To Master The 4th Position

So, All we have to do as accordion players is know each key produced by each button press for both when pushing and pulling on the bellows. What better way than to label the got dam "valve hole fingers"!!!!! And then, we learn how to "Play our Feet" and "Feel The Music" and "Play By Ear" while we listen to Cajun music as often as possible.

That's it Jeff, I think we've got it!

Now all we have to do is get over the embarrassment of having musical letters in bold print dry erase marker all over our accordion fingers. LOL, that's not "Cajun Cool" like Steve Riley says.

And Jerry Moody, before you get all up in a HUFF. With all that was said and done, I want to thank you greatly for inspiring me to reach higher and farther than I ever would have on my own. You have created a Phenomenon! You knew exactly which buttons to press, LOL. To all of you. Same goes. Thanks A Bunch! Jim Pettijon, if you're still "lurking" around dude, I didn't want to destroy your presence here. You should come back. You have a lot to offer to this discussion board even though you live way the hell far away from Louisiana. Bryan Lefleur, you were always fair to me. It kept me sane. But I'm still waiting to see one of them Blue Max Champion accordions. LOL. To everyone, mayhaps I'll run into you some day at a jam or festival, or some event. And I'll be looking for them skills of yern on that accordion. If you ever wish to identify me or my disciples....look for THE BLUE MAX.

Greezy McGill, THE BLUE MAX, 33rdDegreeMasterMusician,******, and ** ******

Re: FINALLY! A Way To Master The 4th Position

Again, Greezy, regarding Marais Bouleur, you can't play in the key of E on a Bb accordion. In fact, there is no E note anywhere on a Bb accordion. The 4th note of the Bb scale (or the "third position" if you will) is Eb.

As to your question of how I know this, remember to song "Do Re Mi" in "Sound of Music?" Every major scale (regardless of key) sounds like the scale in that song, because every major scale consists of an identical set of intervals between notes, as follows:

Do to Re = 1 full step (2 half steps)
Re to Mi = 1 full step (2 half steps)
Mi to Fa = 1 half step
Fa to So = 1 full step (2 half steps)
So to La = 1 full step (2 half steps)
La to Ti = 1 full step (2 half steps)
Ti to Do = 1 half step

It's easiest to see this on a piano keyboard, where each key is a half step up or down from its nearest neighbor. Where there is a black key between two white keys, that black key represents the half step, and the distance between the two white keys on either side of it is thus a full step. That black key can be "named" for the white key to the left of it (in which case it's called a sharp) or for the white key to the right of it (in which case it's called a flat). So the black key that sits between the white keys D and E can be called either D# or Eb. Where there is no black key between the white keys (specifically, between E and F and between B and C), then the distance between the white keys is a half step.

So looking at all the half steps, starting with C, you would have:

C - C#/Db - D - D#/Eb - E - F - F#/Gb - G - G#/Ab - A - A#/Bb - B - C

You can start on any key at all, black or white, and if you follow the Do-Re-Mi intervals above, you'll get the major scale for that key. In the case of Bb:

Do to Re = Bb to C (1 full step)
Re to Mi = C to D (1 full step)
Mi to Fa = D to Eb (1 half step)
Fa to So = Eb to F (1 full step)
So to La = F to G (1 full step)
La to Ti = G to A (1 full step)
Ti to Do = A to Bb (1 half step)

Hope that makes a little bit of sense. On a C accordion, you get all the 7 notes in the C scale -- and no notes that aren't in that scale. However, those 7 notes include all but 1 of the notes in the G major scale (the 7th, F#, is missing) and all but 1 of the notes in the F major scale (the 4th, Bb, is missing), so you can play tunes in those keys too as long you're able to work around the missing notes. For other keys, you'll be missing even more notes (not to mention bass chords), so workarounds get much trickier.

FYI, when I learned intervals as a kid, I was taught that the half step interval is the first 2 notes of "Oh Danny Boy" and the full step interval is the first 2 notes of "Silent Night."

Re: FINALLY! A Way To Master The 4th Position

For Marais Bouleur: it's in G major, just the usual I an V chords, except that an E minor chord intervenes often and prominently. Or if you feel like that dominates the song, you could say it's in the key of E minor, since that's the same thing: relative minor of G.

Nearly positive it's just a C box being played in the key of G in the the usual way, 2nd position, over the I and V chords (and thus the usual occasional chord clashes with the bass side if you play it). When the E minor chord comes up, she just plays an E note (with a few extra little things a couple times). That's a push note, so if you play the bass side there, you will have a C chord, which will sound very wrong.

The basic melody is just composed of the notes G-A-B-D-E, so theoretically you could play it in 1st position on a G box, or 3rd position of a D box.

Re: FINALLY! A Way To Master The 4th Position

Nathan, do you acknowledge the "4th Position" key of "D" on a "C" box?

And yes, you are right Kristi Guillory is playing a "C" box for Marais Bouleur. That's some break down you have there! Wow.

How is it that you are able to do this? Did you go over the song with a guitar, or do you have your accordion fingers dry erase marked?

But the 3rd position "did not" confirm itself when I played along with my "D" box in the key of "E". The 4th position "E" kept confirming itself.

Confirmation keys or the "double octaves" and "double chords" that usually start the song, and or finish the song, or even repeat prominently within the song. If your accordion fingers are musical note marked, you can visually see these confirmation keys happening as you play. Seeing these confirmations will help to teach you how to play in the 4 known position, and be able to recognize and or call the key of each.

Yes Yes?

Re: FINALLY! A Way To Master The 4th Position

Not sure what you mean by “acknowledge” … I personally have no particular stake in this numbering controversy :)

It’s definitely not a D box on that song because you can hear an occasional C (natural) note in the flourish she sometime does over the E minor chord. And it’s definitely not a G box, because during the D chord she plays D and A notes together (I feel like I hear that combo in like EVERY song played in 2nd position). So yeah, that was my thought process, and I have a C box anyway so I could reproduce it right away.

You should theoretically be able to play all the notes of the basic melody on that D box, but not necessarily reproduce all the details, like that little C note in the flourish.

Re: FINALLY! A Way To Master The 4th Position

Something for you B flatters. Would the 4th position on a Bb be the key of "C" (one letter forward)? According to the position pattern system, it is, then the Bb players would have a whole lotta Cajun songs that they could play along with on their Bb accordion in the 4th position which would be the key of "C". That would be something for the Bb players to try. Unless of course the 4th position on a Bb ends up being C flat or some crap like that.

And one other thing...why in the hell is the top button (on the pull) tuned out of pattern to the rest of the 10 buttons or in sinc to its sister octaves? I think its a got dam conspiracy! This has been done on both of my accordions. Why break pattern like that accordion builders?

Is it because players can't play the top button, so somebody just tuned it to "whatever" and every accordion builder just followed suit? I find it strange, but I'm sure there is some logical answer.

Re: FINALLY! A Way To Master The 4th Position

4th position on a Bb would be C *minor* (strictly: the C dorian scale, which has a minor 3rd), so you’re not gonna be able to play C major melodies that way.

With the other issue, I’m guessing you’re referring to the fact that 10th button pull note is LOWER than the 9th button push (and pull) note – I did a double take over that too when I first tried one of these things. But the pattern is totally consistent: push notes go do-mi-sol, and pull notes go re-fa-la-ti. Since there are three push notes but FOUR pull notes, the pushes and pulls are gonna get more and more out of sync with every higher octave; no way around that without changing the whole setup pretty drastically. There’s just no way to evenly divide 7 (# of notes) by 2 (# of bellows directions). If you kept adding higher buttons, image how unintuitive it would get by buttons 12, 13, and 14.

(The one exception to the pattern is the 1rst button pull, which ought to be a low fa – I think they change it to sol so you can play a useful chord using the bottom three buttons together. I know they break the pattern on the lowest holes of a harmonica for the same reason.)

Re: FINALLY! A Way To Master The 4th Position

Setting aside issues already discussed re the relevance of "positions" and the numbering thereof, the answer to your first question is yes -- C is the second note in the Bb scale, so assuming 4th position is built around the 2-note, 4th position on a Bb accordion would be key of C. Keep in mind that playing in C on a Bb box, you don't have access to either the 3rd note (E) or the 7th note (B) in the C scale.

As to your second question, builders or historians may be able to provide a "correct" answer. Practically speaking (and assuming by "top button" you mean the 1 button), it seems to me at least that continuing the "pattern" down to the 1 button doesn't provide much benefit (since not a lot of melody is going to be played at such a low pitch), whereas breaking the pattern provides some nice capabilities that wouldn't otherwise be available. Specifically (and speaking in terms of a C accordion):

1. The G note on the 1 pull allows you to end songs in the key of G (of which there are many) with a nice full G chord (1-2-3 pull) that actually contains a G note.

2. I've heard at least one player (Chris Miller) doing a traditional bass shuffle in G that relies on that low G note (1-3 pull / 2-4 push / 1-4 pull / 2-4 push, etc.). It's a cool sound that couldn't really be done without the low G on the pull.

Re: FINALLY! A Way To Master The 4th Position

Oh, "top button" meant 1st button? (In my mind that's the "bottom button".) In that case, ignore my 2nd paragraph, and my 3rd paragraph says the same thing as bassman.

Re: FINALLY! A Way To Master The 4th Position

Nathan - Yeah, anyone trained on pretty much any instrument except Cajun accordion thinks of "high" and "low" in terms of pitch. Despite that fact (and despite the conventional numbering of buttons on a Cajun accordion), the majority of Cajun accordionists I've played with tend to speak of "high" and "low" (or "top" and "bottom") buttons in terms of altitude / distance from the ground rather than pitch. Hence, I assumed Greazy's reference to the top button meant the 1 rather than the 10 (also because, as you point out, the 1 pull is the only real deviation from the "pattern"). Very confusing, but what can you do?

Re: FINALLY! A Way To Master The 4th Position

Here is another song to help you master your key of D on the C accordion. Now known as one of the secondary keys. The key of "D".
Key of "C" = Primary Key (base side buttons can be played.) Dominant
Key of "G" = Primary Key (base side buttons can be played.) Dominant
Key of "F" = Secondary Key (cannot play base side buttons.) Avoided yet Playable.
Key of "D" = Secondary Key (cannot play base side buttons.) Most Avoided and Rare.

Clifton's version may not help you very much to play in the key of "D" on your "C" accordion. But if you can't find the Secondary Key of "D" on your "C" accordion while playing with Horace's version, then you need to give up playing the Cajun accordion because there's no hope for you pauvre bette.

**As a note of interest. One Cajun song well known to be played in the Secondary key of "D" on the "C" accordion is Nathan Abshire's "Hey Negresse" AKA "The Pine Grove Blues". I often wonder if it wasn't Clifton Cheniere's accordion that helped Nathan Abshire to find the Blues Key, or the Gypsy Key, or the 4th Position, or the Secondary Key of "D" on his "C" accordion?

I believe that this key of play should forever more be either called "The Blues Key" or "The Secondary "D". Both of those names sound a whole lot cooler than the "4th Position" or "The Gypsy Key" in my humble opinion.....

Re: FINALLY! A Way To Master The 4th Position

GOOD NEWS FOLKS! I just figured out how to play "Hey Negresse" aka "The Pine Grove Blues" on the push in the key of "C" on a "C" accordion. Doing this showed me that "Hey Negresse" was being played and sung in 3 different got dam keys on that accordion. When you are finally able to play this song in the key of "C" you can easily identify how many keys it contains. It was originally played on a "C" accordion "secondary key of "D".

"C" accordion key of "C" on the push
"Hey Negresse" or "Pine Grove Blues"
Chord or Key progression is.........
"C" "G" "F" singing switches the song from "G" to "F" to "C" to "F" to "C" then "G".

"The Trash Man" Nathan Abshire sure as hell did have some trash wit em. Tricky and sneaky sum bit!

Man! I'm really getting good at this stuff! LOL

I hope that my superior knowledge about Cajun accordion and Cajun songs doesn't elevate me to a level where I don't want to interact with folks that still don't understand what I have come to know. If that happens, then I will have changed into something like a non helpful and pompous "Professional Accordion Player" who doesn't have time for little people. Or who hides information from them on purpose because it's just too hard to explain it. Right Michael Doucet??! You said the words "I don't Teach" once. And you said them with a bad attitude to boot. Did you mean something else besides just the words "I DON'T TEACH!"?? Well?? I'm waiting.

Re: FINALLY! A Way To Master The 4th Position

Oh, forgot to post the original. Get your "C" accordion! Its fun!

Jamey Hall's most excellent Cajun Accordion Music Theory

Brett's all new Cajun Accordion Music Theory for all keys!

LFR1.gif - 1092 Bytes The April 2011 Dewey Balfa Cajun & Creole Heritage Week

augusta.gif - 6841 Bytes

Listen to Some GREAT Music While You Surf the Net!!
The BEST Radio Station on the Planet!