April 2000 - Feature Article
Accordion Music Training Principles.

by Craig Slaton Funderburg, Ph.D.
3341 Spring Valley Court, Birmingham, AL 35223


With the accordion being such a physical instrument, we are delighted to include this article kindly submitted by Craig Funderburg. He outlines 10 Training Principles, which we know you will find extremely interesting.
Training Principles

1. Never get hurt.
2. Technique: Form is Everything.
3. Details Determine the Difference.
4. Consistency Precedes Intensity.
5. Tension Trains: Resistance and Repetitions are Secondary.
6. Muscle not Momentum makes the Movement.
7. Movement is toward Alignment.
8. Synergism Maximizes Results: Preexhaust then Target.
9. Order: Center to Extremes; Lower before Upper.
10. Balanced Development: Muscle Balance not Muscle Bound.

Almost universally, the question is asked, "Can I afford a personal trainer?" or "Do I really need to have individual instruction?" In typical fashion for a psychologist, I return the question so the individual will answer his/her own question. "Can you afford not to learn how to perform the exercises correctly?" "How much would a single doctor's visit cost including time off from work for the visit, time off to recover, plus the discomfort associated with any injury sustained?" "How much more progress and how much faster could you progress under the watchful eye of an instructor?" A classic example was a plastic surgeon who had attended medical school for 4 years, completed a 6 year surgery residence and a 5 year plastic surgery residence and was suffering from carpel tunnel syndrome. Here was an individual with extensive education about the body but he did not understand the bio-mechanics of the exercises being performed, and because of this, his exercise form was precipitating an ailment that was interfering with his livelihood. Five minutes worth of instruction would have prevented this condition. Without instruction to explain the proper orthopedics of the movement, you are just copying how you think the exercise was performed by the individual you saw at the gym.

The same holds true for knowing how to perform the bellows shake, glissandos, or any other dynamics. I pay for accordion lessons because after practicing a piece for several days and thinking I am performing it correctly, my teacher will point out to me the musical dynamics I am missing. An irony of life is how the principles I now teach incorporate so much of what I was supposed to be learning when I was studying accordion back in the 60's.

With this preface, I'll apply the training principles as 'Accordion Music Training Principles.'

Accordion Music Training Principles

1. Never get hurt. The essence of this first principle addresses the philosophy of engaging in a lifetime activity with an understanding of how to avoid sustaining an injury. Frequently, I observe someone using proper form while performing the exercise but then breaking form when racking the weight. The injury is not sustained during the exercise proper, but before or after completing the exercise. One lady came to me concerned that she might have scoliosis. On examination, she was right handed and habitually carried her briefcase in her left hand. The imbalance between her right and left trapezious was pulling her body out of alignment. Whenever the body is out of alignment, there is greater possibility for injury. By application to the accordionist, alternate which hand carries the accordion. Whenever lifting the accordion, use a flat back and lift with the legs. While an accordion may only weigh 20-30 lbs., that amount of weight is sufficient to cause back or neck injury if performed when the body is out of alignment. During self-examination in front of a mirror, if you observe a difference in symmetry between your trapezious, adjust your exercises to regain symmetry for proper alignment.

2. Technique: Form is Everything. In fitness training, as long as you maintain proper form, you cannot get hurt. You may miss the lift, but you can't get hurt. It is when you break form and continue to attempt the activity that you are vulnerable to becoming injured. For the accordion, technique begins with strap adjustment so the accordion is properly adjusted for the individual and includes proper posture, leg and arm positions, wrist and fingering positions, and proper box balance. Here is where continued elaboration of this principle would occur during subsequent lessons. Playing with the wrist dorsiflexed will precipitate carpel tunnel syndrome.

3. Details Determine the Difference. My playing is flat. My teacher has shown me how to accent the first note, how to tap the chords, and how to use the bellows, etc., but I have not been successful in applying what I cognitively understand. When learning a new exercise, I explain that each repetition is performed exactly the same. The bar moves in the same groove during each repetition, during each set, and during each workout. Similarly, after learning a selection, each time the piece is played, it incorporates correct fingering and bellows control. The same finger plays the same notes, the timing is exactly the same, and the bellows is in the same position.

4. Consistency Precedes Intensity. Whether it is fitness training, academic studies, or practicing music, practicing regularly will produce better results than missing sessions then trying to cram the missed sessions into a single extended session. Psychologically, consistent practice sessions are more enjoyable and because of the positive effects of incubation, greater progress is realized. Whenever a student enjoys the activity and realizes greater progress, continuation with the activity is more probable. As in fitness training, musical proficiency is a matter of longevity. As my teacher reminds me, I did not stay with the accordion long enough to acquire the level of proficiency to truly enjoy what the accordion could do.

5. Tension Trains: Resistance and Repetitions are Secondary. In resistance training, lifters often focus on how much they are lifting or how many repetitions they complete. However, maximal progress is only attained when students are performing in their training zone (working above threshold). Actually more progress may be obtained with less resistance and fewer repetitions when proper technique is employed. By application to practicing the accordion, increasing resistance could be analogous to increasing how long you practice and increasing repetitions could be analogous to playing the same piece over and over. Unless the student is in the training zone, neither of these "secondary" characteristics will enhance performance. For the student to benefit from the practice sessions, the mind must be on the lesson. Practicing the same piece three times with the mind focused on the music is more beneficial than "playing" the same piece 10 times while the mind is elsewhere. Practicing longer when the mind is elsewhere produces the same diminished results.

6. Muscle not Momentum makes the Movement. During resistance training, whenever momentum is involved, the muscle is not being worked but is being allowed to rest. To maximize growth, the exercise set should initiate tension with the first repetition and continue by summating the tension from each previous repetition. During the set, the muscle is not allowed to rest. The first repetition builds 10 units of tension. The second repetition starts with the existing tension from the first repetition and builds upon it with the next set of 10 units of tension. By the eighth repetition, the individual is building 80 units of tension during the repetition. Compare this to the individual whose technique consists of a set of eight repetitions with each repetition only producing 10 units of tension with no summation. This is why more progress is obtained during the 30-45 minute workout than others obtain with longer workouts. Whenever there is momentum, the individual is not in control of the movement and the potential for injury increases. Refer to Principle Number 1. For the accordionist, whenever the bellows moves or the hand changes position, the movement must be under disciplined control. Whenever my right or left hand gets ahead of the other hand, I am playing with momentum rather than control. Professional musicians play with absolute control.

7. Movement is toward Alignment. In fitness training, every movement should be a normal natural movement. The concept, "No pain, no gain." is a misnomer that has contributed to needless self-injury. Psychologically, anything that is unpleasant, is not likely to be repeated. While playing, the wrist is in alignment with the metacarpels. Dorsiflexion will precipitate carpel tunnel syndrome and fatigue. Proper alignment reduces fatigue therefore allowing the practice session to continue longer with greater enjoyment.

8. Synergism Maximizes Results: Preexhaust then Target. Rarely do muscles act individually. Usually there is a primary mover and secondary muscles that assist the primary movers. By targeting the primary mover, the muscle can be maximally worked while preexhausting the secondary muscles. Subsequently, target the secondary muscles. Since the secondary muscles have already been preexhausted, it takes fewer repetitions to maximally work them. Are you understanding the efficiency of the workout? If the exercise order were reversed, the secondary muscles would not be available to assist the primary muscle and it would not be maximally exercised. Additionally, it would take longer to perform the workout since the principle of preexhaustion is not being used. Music readily lends itself to developing a hierarchical order for instruction such as learning major scales before minor before 7th augmented. My teacher emphasizes that the foundation is learning scales, chords, and arpeggios; that one can play anything by knowing these components.

9. Order: Center to Extremes; Lower before Upper. The most important muscles to develop are the abdominal and spinal erectors because they control posture which supports proper alignment. Movement from lower to upper refers to the fact that 70% of the body's muscle mass is located below the waist. Therefore before becoming exhausted from working the upper body, one should have worked the lower body. With regard to the accordion, the center can refer to learning the correct notes with proper fingering and timing. The extremes could refer to the dynamics of expression and bellows control. Lower before upper could translate into bass before treble. Since most accordions have more bass reeds than treble reeds and since the bass provides the timing or rhythm, learning the left hand should precede learning the right hand.

10. Balanced Development: Muscle Balance not Muscle Bound. The body is a unit, a chain. If it is not developed symmetrically, the imbalance tends to pull the body out of alignment therefore precipitating injury. Musically, a selection is balanced if played with equal proficiency throughout. Being music bound would be tantamount to being able to play portions of a piece with greater speed and proficiency than the rest of the selection. Only when the musician has musical balance is the piece played to its full beauty.

Craig S. Funderburg

As a frame of reference, I was a college athlete majoring in Physical Education and finished as a psychologist with a little medical school thrown in for good measure. The result is the development of a "lifestyle" philosophy that I teach as an "Executive Fitness Program". Since muscle maturity is not reached until about age 45, an individual can maintain his/her level of fitness throughout life by participating in a regular fitness program requiring only 30-45 minutes/day, 3-4 days/week. When I am giving a presentation, I jokingly comment that life begins in the weight room because if these training principles are applied to any of life's endeavors, you will reach greater success. Although the principles are a short list, I elaborate during the lessons to expand their applicability. The principles are presented hierarchically and the wording has been carefully chosen to be parsimonious.