Rod Stradling

The Accordion Pages


Bellows Shake

Bellows shake provides a rhythmical, sometimes surging sound which is used to accompany someone else playing the tune.

I know that some people think that bellows shake is something that you should never attempt. I stick with the opinion that the accordion can do lots of things and each has its place.

Bellows shake takes practice and strength. There are several very sophisticated ways to accompany different types of music using bellows shake but I will stick with basic, simple, even time signatures (for example, 4/4, 2/4/, 2/2, etc.). Using emphasis (described below), you can easily extend the method to compound time signatures (for example, 6/8).

The secret to maintaining a shake for an extended period (unless you have fantastic strength) is to start with the bottom of the bellows essentially together (and, if possible, pressed on to your leg for stability) and the top of the bellows only slightly apart. The shake then becomes a rocking motion, almost more up-and-down than in-and-out. With a 4/4 time signature you could try 4 cycles of the bellows (an out and an in action) per bar. In the basic form, where a chord is made in the right hand and a bass button and appropriate chord are held down in the left hand, the sound should almost become a constant drone.

The next stage of complexity is to add emphasis to produce the drone-plus-surge sound. For me, the out action is where I can make the strongest effect so, if I want the emphasis on the down beat, I arrange to start the shake with an out action almost as a jerk, followed by a reduced emphasis set of cycles until the next down beat occurs when the process re-starts. I use a similar effect if I want the emphasis on the off beat but start the shake on the emphasised off beat part of the cycle. Note that the emphasised sound is still an out motion where I can achieve the best effect.

At the early stages, you could try to work on the stability of the sound rather than the volume. Despite the fact that many reeds may be sounding, the minimal air movement of the bellows makes the volume quiet. Only when a stable shake develops should you dare to increase volume.

Earlier I mentioned the benefit of pressing the bellows on to your leg for stability. I have even seen musicians pressing down the keyboard side of the accordion with their chin to help.

Needless to say, while amplifying the sound with microphones can be fine, using MIDI with bellows shake is not normally to be recommended. The fact that notes are held down during the shake simply makes the sound too muddy in my view.

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