Learning to Play the Basses on Irish B/C Button Accordion
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When I started learning to play the basses on my B/C box, I found it hard to find such information anywhere, so I hope these transcriptions will be useful to other B/C players who are taking on the challenge of learning the basses.
In these transcriptions, I am not attempting to teach how to backup traditional Irish music. That is an entirely different skill than the physical challenge of dealing with the basses themselves.
My assumption is that you already are playing the tune melodies on the treble side of your instrument and are looking to learn to include the bass and chord buttons in your playing. I also assume that to extend these skills to other tunes not in this collection, you either already know how to determine the appropriate backup chords from the melody or are willing to learn bass/chord arrangements by rote as a starting point.
My particular chord selections may be a reasonable starting point for learning the skill of backing Irish traditional music, but that is not the primary goal of these transcriptions. To learn how to backup tunes, I suggest checking out Dr. Chris Smith's fantastic book "Celtic Backup for All Instrumentalists", available on Amazon from Mel Bay.
While there are multiple possible approaches to playing the bass and chords, my preferred pattern for reels, hornpipes, and barndances is to play the bass buttons only on a chord change, and the chord buttons only on the offbeats.
For jigs, I play the bass buttons only on a chord change, and the chord buttons on the 3 and 6 (assuming counting jigs with 6 beats per measure).
For slides, I play the bass buttons only on a chord change, and the chord buttons on the 3, 6, 9, and 12 (assuming counting slides with 12 beats per measure).
Some players, I believe influenced by older style players they learned from originally, also play the bass buttons on the every downbeat as well, not just on chord changes as in my preferred patterns. Having the flexibility and skill to vary your bass and chord patterns is a useful skill to practice, nothing is set in stone, so play around with all the possibilities!
For waltzes, I'm using a conventional bass-chord-chord pattern.
In these transcriptions, I indicate pressing the bass button with an uppercase letter above the staff and the chord button with a lowercase letter above the staff.
Additionally, I also assume you have the thirds removed from the chords either with a stop on the bass side or by taping off the thirds on the reed block.
As of July 2023, the book now includes tablature for all the tunes.
The tablature assumes a 21-button B/C tuned diatonic accordion.
Notes on the C-row are indicated by numbers.
Notes on the B-row are indicated by numbers in circles.
Push is indicated with a down arrow.
Draw is indicated with an up arrow.
If you are playing a 23-button instrument, you will need to shift your start position one button higher when playing.
Note: The tablature solution is not aware of the basses and assumes that the "magic" notes (E and B on a B/C) that are available on both rows, will be played on the C-row on a B/C box.
You may find the occasional case when playing the basses along with the melody that you may have to use the alternative B or E.
This is a limitation of the tablature generation system.
To help you get started, I've also color-coded the bellows direction for a couple of the tunes:
(Click the image to download the PDF)
In the first measure of this example, the first G bass and G chord on would be played on the push along with the push G on the treble side. The second G chord played would be on the draw G chord button along with the draw B on the C row of the treble side. On many instruments, those two G chords would be played on different buttons on the bass side.
Here's another color-coded example, this one the O'Carolan waltz "Fanny Power" (3rds out of chords):
Going through these transcriptions will provide a starting point exercise for finding the combination of treble button and bass button for either the push or draw. In particular they should be helpful in those cases where there may be some ambiguity because of the "magic" notes such as B and E as well as the G and D bass/chords that are available in both directions on the most common 8-button bass layouts.
In general, the arrangements should work on most common 8-button B/C bass layouts that include both push and draw G and D, only push C and E, and only draw A and F bass and chords.