Lessons From My Accordion

Three years. Three teachers. I guess I should be embarrassed that it took this long for me to find an accordion teacher. I’m not. I’m thrilled! My search had nothing to do with the teachers. I knew my needs and was determined to find “the” teacher who was just right for me. Of course, I didn’t plan on it taking three years, but WOW, it was worth it!

Every teacher had a different expertise and passion. Teacher No. 1 filled a wipe board with scales and loved expounding music theory. I was lost; I was bored. Teacher No. 2 devoted a lot of time to practicing scales and reminding me to do so 30 minutes a day. I wanted to quit and sell my accordion. Teacher No. 3 said, “Quit worrying and let’s just play,” within a few minutes after I entered her studio and unpacked my accordion (and after I rambled off way too many questions). I laughed. She laughed. I relaxed. She said my fingers even began to relax on the keys.

I can’t explain why Teacher No. 3 is just right for me. Maybe it’s her hearty laugh or, her authenticity and pragmatic instruction; maybe it’s because time flies and I disappear during our lessons. I have fun and want to go home and practice – and learn more. And, she’s in love with playing the accordion. What could be better?

The day after my first lesson with No. 3, I had a revelation and shared it with a close writer friend: Everything that No. 3 said is exactly what we strive to do as writers. It’s what I want to do more of in my writing practice. My friend commented, “Sounds like an essay on lessons from an accordion.” Great idea!

It also gave me another idea. I committed to practicing my accordion every day for 30 days. My goal was to do what my teacher said, just play. I didn’t set a time for each practice session. After all, No. 3 never said how often or long she wanted me to practice. She just expected it.

Here’s what my accordion taught me about writing over the 30 days:

Quit worrying and just play.

Lesson: Just sit down and write. When I play a wrong note, I usually keep going and make up my own song and just let it rip. Then, I go back and learn the correct note. When I’m stuck on a scene, I go much deeper in my writing if I simply type “STUCK” and move on. Even if I get off track as I keep writing, I always discover something new about a character or what’s off or on in the scene. Yay!

Don’t think so hard when learning to simultaneously play the bellows, chords and keyboard. Take your time.

Lesson: Yes, it takes crazy concentration to play all three parts! But, when I relax my fingers and keep moving on after a mistake, it happens. Suddenly, I’m playing the ENTIRE accordion. When I’m trying to balance a zillion parts of a scene – voice, personalities of characters, tension – I eventually find “it”. Lately, I’m delighting in the tiny pieces that work and smooth out after long revising sessions. Perhaps, I’m finally learning patience with my writing process and finding the fun.

Practice every day.

Lesson: On busy days, I practiced accordion right before going to sleep, even if it was only 10 to 15 minutes. I also started carving out more writing time. For example, I printed pages and started carrying a chapter or entire picture book manuscript in my purse, so I could revise anytime anyplace.

Trust yourself. You’ll figure out how far to open the bellows.

Lesson: I assumed there was a golden rule on how far to open the bellows. Wrong! No. 3 told me that I’ll feel it and slowly find what works for me. Whether writing a first draft or revising, I find not only what works, but what doesn’t work. Lately, I’m finding entire chapters and characters that need to be cut. Oh, it’s painful to say goodbye to a character! But, nothing beats seeing the other characters rise, take off and move the story ahead.

Listen and you’ll hear when a note is off.

Lesson: No. 3 says, “It’s a good sign when you know a note is off; it means you’re listening and learning.” That’s exactly what happens when I read my work out loud! Lately, as I revise my young adult novel, I have to remind myself to stop and read an entire chapter out loud before moving on. Immediately, I hear what’s off. Magic!

After my 30 day commitment ended, I kept practicing every day, except when I had to travel by plane. I need to figure out how take my accordion with me. I miss it!

For now, no time to worry. I’m off to just play my accordion and write. Oompah!

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