Playing the Steirische with standard notation
"Griffschrift" or standard notation?
The “Steirische Harmonika” (diatonic accordion with 3 (or 4) rows and “Gleichton” on row 2 and row 3), is often played with the use of „Griffschrift“ today. Particularly the beginner learns with the use of „Griffschrift“ system more easily than with the use of normal notes, first success comes faster. However, once one is beyond the early beginner stage, one should also learn to play by ear, especially well known pieces, and he also should learn to play with the use of normal notes. In the case of a musician already trained on other Instruments, he may even do better with normal notes, the „Griffschrift“ may not really be necessary. But for the beginner the „Griffschrift“ is a substantial assistance when learning to play the instrument.
I recommend for the beginner to learn with Griffschrift. Additional details are found on the web page "Griffschrift" explained and "Training works". However some time in the future one should be able to master the instrument so well that different methods becomes possible, performing music freely, or using normal standard notation. I would like to explain this here. For this explanation however, I presuppose dotted note knowledge, you should be able to read standard notation in the desired kinds of scales already. If you want to learn dotted note reading, there are a lot of pages on the Internet, for example on Musica.at or on the web page musicians-place.
Playing the Steirische with standard notation
There are several Systems, which are more or less complex. But I actually don’t know one, which really trains the ability to play with any arbitrary standard notation. Usually specially prepared standard notation are necessary, which are already optimised for Steirische, or which are in certain kinds of scale. For instance it may be said, "the Gleichton of the second row is the G". That is correct unfortunately only for the C major scale. What can I do, if my instrument is in a different key or the standard notation belong to other kinds of scale, this usually is hidden elegantly.
In addition to this, I know of a system that transposes all standard notation first to the key of C major (or G major). That is surely good and promising, but unfortunately somewhat work intensive, one must type the standard notation into the computer, in order to be able to transpose them with a note writing program, or one must copy all by hand. The result is not really playing with standard notation.
And naturally there is still the actually completely simple possibility of singing the melody with the standard notation, at least in your mind, and then trying to convert the singing to the Instrument. This corresponds to playing by ear with the memory. You can play exactly the same melody on other instruments (or someone else can play it in front of you, if possible in a kind of scale existing on the Instrument) and then transfer to the instrument. You play simply in your head (or belly?) and at the same time you forget about the scale it was in, in the first place, which is anyway missing in your head.
I explain here only my system, which I developed myself, that is proven by me again and again. The advantage is, one can read the standard notation in any kind of scale, transpose it then in your head into one of the scales existing on your own instrument. A further advantage is, you can select the desired number of voices as desired, it is not limited for you, if it is perhaps too difficult for you or your instrument does not support the needed keys. But, without exercise you will not succeed. You should exercise this system too, it will take a few days exercise until you see some results, but it is easier than it looks.
For children this system is only suitable, if it is arranged for them by an experienced teacher. However I have seen several adults, who thought of this system themselves.
By the way, the chord background (music theory) is also used by several to me well-known players of other instruments (violin, clarinet, etc..) to transpose standard notation into another key while playing.
First a little bit of music theory, as the minimum necessary for this topic
Please do complete the chapter chord teachings on this web page "simple more voices". There I explained the basics. Then return here again.
Special notes are not necessary, for the beginning it is however better if only a few kinds of scale are used, like D-G-C, I started with C major. My published standard notation are therefore useful for this purpose, all are in the key of A-D-G-C. Easier notes are naturally more suitable, I don’t differentiate tunes as to the degree of difficulty for the beginner, since this is very individual. You can find simple standard notation for the beginner published by me (Folk dances).
If I play on the Steirische with standard notation, I look at the standard notation to determine the key in which the standard notation are set. It is completely unimportant to me whether I have these scales on the Instrument or not. In any case, I can play only in the kind of scales, which are present on my Instrument. Then I decide, on which rows I will play the tune. Beginning on a middle row is often recommended. Indicated bass numbering in the standard notation is helpful too, as I use them in the tunes published by me.
Now I assign the numbers 1 to 7 (scale steps) to the specific notes of the diatonic scale, in the way explained in the sample chord teachings. This can be learned or done in short time automatically.
The numbers correspond to the names: do, re, mi, fa, so, la, ti
If you are not fast in the beginning, you can write the numbers on to the standard notation. I recommend this only for the beginning. Actually you should know the steps at the first attempt when looking at the standard notation. I added nevertheless a note sheet, with which I demonstrate this, even with two voices. Here you can see the Example.
Playing in the middle row
Now I only need to know, where the respective numbers are on my keyboard. I can look for individual notes, many people do this, this naturally works at first too, but somewhat slowly. How it can it be done faster? I want to show this, in the next key layout pictures. First a picture of the key layout with numbering for push direction, scale of the middle row. If you have several middle rows on your instrument, this applies to each of these rows. The most important notes of all diatonic scale specific notes are printed bold. One sees that all seven notes of the scale are present in all three positions (octaves), on the middle row, the triad notes 1, 3 and 5 are located, the remaining notes 2, 4, 6 and 7 you find in the other rows next to the middle. Similar for all three octaves. The Gleichton is underlined.
There are Instruments in different sizes, different designs. For this explanation, I use a simple 3-row Instrument with a key layout common in east Austria. If your instrument is a little bit different in key layout, you would have to adapt the pattern. But usually very few keys are different. Maybe on the lower end you have some more auxiliary keys or some keys are changed.
Now the same picture of the key layout with numbering for pull direction, scale of the middle row. All notes of all diatonic scale specific notes are printed bold, since the are needed depending on the fingering. One sees that all seven notes of the scale are present in all three positions (octaves).
If you look at the picture more care fully, you will notice that in the low position the third step and in the high position the upper basic scale (1) notes are missing. If these notes occur in the tune, one must change to the push direction and also change with the bass keys into the next internal row. On pull there are some chromatic notes too, which do not participate in the diatonic scale on this row. Indicated as a “#” in front, this increases the scale by a semitone, a b in front lowers the scale note by a semitone.
All key layout pictures
On the following links, you will find the key layouts seen above and some others, with all kind of scales, also for minor scales, possible on the Steirischen, separately for 3-row major, 3-row minor, 4-row major and 4-row minor, in each case with the associated key layout for the bass keys.
You can print the layouts and use them when practicing. I don’t think you will need this aid for a long time, after a sort time of exercise you will be able to play without these pictures. If you do have problems printing these pictures, there is a page that explains how to print web pages, I explained this on a different page: Printing this pages.
The bass, the foundation of the melody
The bass is the foundation of the melody. If the bass is wrong, the whole tune does not sound correct. Therefore I must think about the chords of each measure, before I play this measure. Is the measure in Tonic 1st step progression or in dominant 5th step progression or even in the 4th step progression? Other progressions occur in alpine folk music extremely rarely, and it would be difficult in the beginning on the Steirische.
Simple additional rules:
For every row on the treble side, or for every scale, there is a corresponding bass key pair (Fundamental and accompanying chord) on the bass side. The two (or three) top keys in the outer bass row belong to the first row on the treble side. The next lower two keys to the middle row of the treble side. And the lower two keys to the 3rd row on the treble side. On push you get the tonic 1st step progression, the chord triad 1,3,5. On pull you get the 5th step progression also a chord triad 5,7,2,(4) it is not an actual 4 note dominant 7th chord. As noted. 4 is missing.
Some more about the use of bass and to the use of alternating bass on the Steirschen, can be found on an extra web page: Bass play and alternating bass.
First playing exercises
For the start it is best to memorise the key layouts for pull and push direction. Starting with the middle row and in middle position. Then one should practice a tune that is very easy to finger. With one finger or key at a time it is also easier in the first place. For this you should use the primary melody of the tune. With some exercise you will be able to proceed to more complex tunes.
The melody (first voice) is often the highest note. But always it is the voice which ends with the first note in the scale (1). So in C major with the C. if a tune finishes with the chord G-C-E (5-1-3) then the middle voice is the main voice.
You should exercise mainly on the middle row and middle position. After everything works very well in this position you should try to play the tune on different rows and positions as well. You will notice that playing is a bit different if you change the row or the position. But only through this will you get to know your instrument as you should. And this while playing.
Playing multiple keys at the same time
If you manage to play the main voice of the tune in such a way that you are satisfied, you should add the second voice. The second voice ( sometimes the 3rd voice as well) comes with some exercise nearly automatically. The system in which the keys are arranged leads one to the use of more keys at the same time. You also can look at the standard notation to see what distance (interval) the second voice has to the main voice. This can be 3rd, 4th, 6th ... 2 or 3 notes for one chord, you can arrange these notes in combination with the main voice or below the main voice ( this would be preferable with respect to harmony).
If the notes in the dotted sheet are too difficult to finger for you or you don’t like the sound you can look for a different chord. Or better yet, you can play difficult parts of the tune with one key only, even if in the notes it is written differently. It is only important that the first main voice is played. Also important is that the interpretation and the sound of the tune is liked by you and mainly by you in the first place.
If you manage all of the above very well, you can then try to use normal notes without extra added bass chord letters. With some more exercise this will be possible too.
Remain for you still special questions to this topic - please ask me, I will strive to answer your questions and are pleased particularly about feedbacks. Some these questions I answered on the side "Musizieren nach Noten".