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Re: How would I apply music theory to the accordion?

Music theory is just the way music is organized according to western culture (basically “white” culture or maybe Anglo Saxon might be a better reference 🤷🏻‍♀️). That’s why people here might take a bit of offense when you say you want to learn the “correct” way, and that in itself takes away from Cajun/creole tradition of music making.

That mindset in our culture is wrong and dangerous. French is such a HUGE part of our culture and look how that way of thinking has damaged our identity of who we are and robbed younger generations of learning our families language... all because we don’t “speak correctly.” That mindset of being “correct” basically implies that we need to follow the white mans rules and be Americanized or we don’t belong, or we’re “stupid”. Go figure...

Because of our culture being suppressed, many Cajun and Creole people have accepted this American identity, but it’s not who we are.
We were forced to accept the English language and American culture, and there hasn’t been much kick back because people accept this idea of being a “patriot” and worshipping all things American. I call it “white-washing”.


In my opinion all the “rules” of music theory in western culture puts you in a box and makes you follow the white mans rules. Sometimes it can help, but it can also hurt if our music is forced to conform like English was forced. It can evolve naturally which I think is what Louisiana music is doing, especially with Zydeco. And I think as long as its evolving naturally and not by force then it’s okay. But let’s not call it “correct” or “incorrect” based on American views.

But this little Cajun knows music theory so If that’s what you’re looking for, here’s what you get.
C accordion:
It’s a “C” scale. C,D,E,F,G,A,B,C.
You can play in A minor.
Can play in G without the F#.
Yes you can play chords.
You can play in 3/4 or 4/4 time... 6/8, whatever you want.

Knowing music theory Doesn’t always help You play 😂
And this is why if you don’t let go of that mind set, you’ll never learn to play traditional Cajun/Creole/zydeco music.

To end, I am guilty of adapting our music to western culture because I am a music teacher who teaches band... and that’s what is taught in my band class. It’s the only thing my kids know. So for my masters degree I actually wrote an accordion method book with the purpose of using it in a school setting where students are typically classically trained. But I think it’s important to know that there’s many correct ways to play different songs and if we use music theory as a resource and not force our music to conform to the rules of western music, then it’s okay. My book starts off with basic children’s songs using music notation and then slowly progresses into Cajun songs... but I only put the skeleton of the song and left out all the musical decorations that can be added. Some people might even use alternative notes here and there, and that’s okay.

I think as long as you know and understand that our music is not bound by the same rules as western music then it’s okay to explore. We just need to be careful and aware of how we view our music.

Re: How would I apply music theory to the accordion?

Kylie - oh really, it's all about 'white man rules'. What utter tosh. Learn music however you want, try not to blame somebody. You a music teacher as well. Quel embarrasment.

Re: How would I apply music theory to the accordion?

Do you study music theory?
This topic is discussed at the collegiate level often about how we not only learn western music theory and tend to make cultural music conform to those rules, but also music history, generally leaving our people of color, minorities, and women!! This is why lately the area of ethnomusicology has exploded.

I’m not embarrassed at all. I would be more embarrassed if I was ignorant to the topic.

Re: How would I apply music theory to the accordion?

Yes, let's blame the dead music composers for their being white. In fact why stop there. What about those pesky scientists. Terrible members of the judiciary. Governments. Crikey, world history seems to outrageously favor the ethnic majority. This has to be wrong. Let's rewrite it. As Mr. George said, "Who controls the past controls the future: who controls the present controls the past."

Re: How would I apply music theory to the accordion?

If you want to learn the correct way then go sit with a bunch of old musicians and fail until you start to learn something.

When I learned I had to let go of the idea that everything had to fit into the rules of western music theory because it was hurting me. If you need help, go take lessons with Chad Huval!! Please don’t consult a music theory book.

Re: How would I apply music theory to the accordion?

I take lessons with Blake Miller every week.

Re: How would I apply music theory to the accordion?

Sounds good to me!!

Re: How would I apply music theory to the accordion?

This is the same issue I have had with banjo music, guitar music, polka band music, Irish penny whistle music, Cajun music etc.

Let just say that you can write the correct notation but you cannot notate the "pulse". Those are the subtle pauses, sustains, emphasis, thrills and a host of subtle variations inherent in almost every music style.

Basically you learn to play the music as written, then you listen to the masters and what you are missing becomes obvious.

Or, some folks find it easier to just go straight to copying the masters. It is a personal approach thing, whichever is easiest for the individual.

Re: How would I apply music theory to the accordion?

Spot on.

Re: How would I apply music theory to the accordion?

Interesting discussion! I've had a few workshops with Blake Miller and thought he was a good teacher. If you stick with him you will learn tunes and how to ornament the melodies and make them sound "authentically" Cajun. I never have had the chance to sturdy with Chad Huval although I have sat in a session with him. A good friend of mine, and great Cajun fiddler, told me that if you want to really understand the "theory" of Cajun accordion playing then Mr. Huval is the man with whom you should study. It would not hurt at all for you to take one or two lessons with him to see if his teaching approach and style might be a better fit for you than the approach of Blake Miller. If that is not possible then not a problem. You will learn with Blake.

Along with all the lessons and theory, you just have to listen to Cajun accordion players as much and as often as possible every day. You have to get to know the music, to internalize it. If possible you have to go to Louisiana to experience the culture, the food, the humidity (!), to talk with the people.

For what this is worth, I am a very big fan of the playing of Ambrose Thibodeaux and Jimmy Breaux. Not sure if either of them has or had much of an inkling about theory. I'm guessing that Steve Riley might understand theory. If not from books then intuitively.

Listen Listen Listen

Re: How would I apply music theory to the accordion?

Dancing on Cajun music can help you too to feel the rhythm :blush:
Ambrose Thibodeaux is one of the old masters.
Octa Clark is one of my favorites too.
Here's an interview with him from youtube,
Video isn't very good, but you can here what he's saying about the music he played.
Old school traditional French music and not much theory, just play the music.

I don't want to say that theory isn't good.
I use notation/tabs to remember the songs I want to play, because of bad memory :upside_down_face:
Because I play piano accordion as a child I can read music for that, but I can't for the cajun accordion even if it's a C, D, Bb or what key.
I also use the LP from Allie Young when I start, with notes and tabs.
When you're young, it's good to play songs in a different way on your accordion in the so called different positions/key/push or pull.
If you can do that, your accordion is becoming your friend which you know very well :blush:
Unfortunately I'm to old to learn that, but I'm still trying.

In the video below with Walter Mouton, Wilson and Joel Savoy, Christine Balfa and others
At 2.09 Mr Walter Mouton says C and the change the key of the song.
If I'm busy with playing I'm not capable to say C :relaxed:

Watch the feet, also not unimportant

Re: How would I apply music theory to the accordion?

A Cajun accordion needs no more theory than an ordinary harmonica/bluesharp.
A bluesharp has ten holes, and a Cajun accordion has ten buttons.
So you might just as well forget about the theory, listen, and try to play what you hear.
You're better off with one of the instruction videos of Dirk Powell or Big Nick.
Like Ron says, it's dance music, so the main thing is the rhythm and the groove.

Success! :smile_cat:

Jamey Hall's most excellent Cajun Accordion Music Theory

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

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