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Beginner resources on harmony when rearranging for stradella

Morne

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Im posting this in The Pub, since its not strictly accordion specific.

I have recently started looking at rearranging some local folk songs for the accordion. The source Im working from is primarily for piano, or a melody instrument plus piano.

I know that harmony is a big topic in music education (which I dont have) so I am not expecting a miracle here. I am also aware that there are many resources available, both online and printed. However, I would like to know if there are any specific resources that anyone here can recommend that were useful when rearranging for stradella bass.

Heres what Ive been doing so far (some terminology might be wrong):
  • Keep in mind these are folk songs, so the bass side is usually just chordal accompaniment
  • I prefer to keep the melody in tact and not use it to fill out weird chords on the bass side (and for now only a single voice)
  • Keep in mind the chords for the diatonic key, e.g.: https://www.basicmusictheory.com/g-major-triad-chords
  • Write out all the notes from both the melody and bass for each beat
  • When the written out notes match a diatonic chord, I pick that chord
  • When the notes do not match, I use this: http://www.scales-chords.com
  • Then sometimes it will be an exact match for a non-diatonic chord (I might be wrong, and its actually just not a triad chord in the key)
  • Other times it will only match a very, very rare chord, thats when I try to work out the non-chord tone (e.g. passing or neighbour)
  • When I remove that tone it sometimes matches a known common chord, then I pick that
  • When it is played bass-chord bass-chord, if I have a note repeating, I can change it into alternating bass (e.g. G GM G GM -> G GM D GM)
  • I am not sure when to pick a counterbass note (maybe if I find a strange note together with a know chord and that note matches the surrounding counterbass?)
  • At the end of a phrase where a note is sustained for a few beats I can try to add a little bass run (like the 3 notes in the corresponding chord)

However, sometimes the available notes are too open (only 2 distinct notes that can match 2 or more chords), or I simply cannot figure out from 4+ notes what the actual chord is. In those cases I am not sure how to resolve the chord. Sometimes I will try it on the accordion to hear how it sounds and eventually pick one that sounds okay, but I would like to approach this with some more logic instead of just poking at the bass buttons.

Any suggestions or advice?
 

donn

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Interesting challenge! I take it, when you say local, its South African choral music. Tough match for an accordion.

Traditional sub-Saharan African harmony starts with a little note admonishing the authors for being a little too technical for the average reader, and its sure beyond me. Dont how relevant it even is to your local songs. But you might find some of it interesting, like pedal notes way down towards the bottom.

Another interesting thing I got from something I read is that some of the languages are apparently tonal - meaning depends on pitch - and tunes with words of course have to go along. I assume thats already worked out in your source, though, so just a side note.

Your process may be about as good as its going to get. There are some things that Id worry would cost you what little remaining flavor of the music, but your ear is there and mine isnt!
 

Morne

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To be honest, I have no idea what that article is going on about. I cannot place any of that locally, or at least relate to that. Sub-Saharan Africa covers a huge part of Africa.

Perhaps this is less interesting as a challenge, but I am actually referring to the Afrikaans language traditional music which would be European in origin. So whatever typically goes for that would apply here.

Maybe it'll be useful if I take one of the pieces where I have some of those problems and write out my thought process here. But what I am really looking for is a recommendation for beginner resources in the process or topic I explained above so that I can study this in a slightly less haphazard way

For example, one simple piece sticks to the common I-IV-V in major. The original score uses inversions or partial chords as accompaniment, but they're all clearly one of those three chords. Then there are more complex pieces that use I-ii-iii-IV-V-vi, with both majors and sevenths of the same chord number. And sometimes it looks like the combination of notes end up being a chord that isn't part of the key, but that might be my misunderstanding of what exactly is considered to be part of it, or it might be due to non-chord tones which I didn't exclude correctly. Basically, when I'm done guessing all the chords, I don't necessarily feel that I know why it moves the way it does (especially beyond I-IV-V). I can sense some things that make the progression feel like it's getting "tense" and then "releasing", but I cannot really formalise this.
 

donn

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It seems to me quite common, that a tune has a few chords that aren't in the tune's nominal key. Particularly, in English and Norwegian tunes, "ii" may briefly switch to major, or dominant 7. The latter case, I think of as the anthem effect, because it's a consistent feature of national anthems (and The Internationale.) In French, Spanish and Portuguese tunes, "vi" may go to a dominant 7. I think in any of the examples that come to mind, the chord in question belongs to an "adjacent" key (in the circle of fifths or Stradella sense), and really is a sort of minimal key change.

Do you have any reason to think your piano score source might have extra notes that aren't really legitimate, like jazzed up or something? Otherwise it seems like throwing out harmony notes would be really a last resort, in that it might possibly be those very notes that give the music its distinctive character.

Sorry about the African music thing! I had the same reaction, must be many thousands of very different musical traditions in that geographic area. More a triumph of scholarship than useful information. And then how much would apply anyway, in areas where there's a long and extensive exposure to Western music. I was really looking for something one of my neighbors told me about harmony where notes of a chord (?) where expressed in terms of familial relations, like daughter ... or something, anyway couldn't dig it up.
 
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maugein96

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Morne,

Seems like you are on a difficult mission.

I assume we're not talking about "boerenmuziek" here? Can you make any connection with the Afrikaner tunes involved to any similar Dutch language tunes? You may know this already, but there are various Dutch folk music styles which will probably have been transcribed into format suitable for accordion. I know Afrikaner isn't Dutch, but it's probably as close as I can compare it with.

If you can get your hands on any of those Dutch books (assuming they exist) you'll probably find that the bass parts merely give the key, and whether the chord is major, minor, or 7th. The French musette genre literally comprises thousands of tunes written specifically for the accordion, and I have never seen bass chords written in any format other than I have described above. Occasionally, bass runs are notated below the chord symbols, but these aren't really considered mandatory, unless you have the ability to play them.

I don't know much about folk music at all, but there shouldn't be anything too taxing like 6/9 chords etc in the repertoire concerned. If you want to throw in a counterbass note which you feel complements the tune, or add a run here and there, then I cannot see how anybody could challenge it as "wrong", if there is no written standard.

Hope I haven't gone way off track and confused you further, but it's the best I can do.
 

Morne

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Thanks for those tips, Donn. Of the pieces I had a bit of trouble with actually is an old national anthem, but I will get back to that later.

As for being jazzed up, no. Its more because I dont know the proper theory, so I end up saying that notes dont fit when I dont know how or why. Its possible that accompaniment in this book might be a bit more complex than just I-IV-V, but its not classical or jazz.

Let me illustrate my thought process with the first, most simple piece I did. I will write about the harder ones later. I didnt really have much trouble here, but it shows where I am going to have trouble with more complex pieces.

Heres the original score:
<ATTACHMENT filename=Original.jpg index=1>
It is written for 4 voices, marked S, A, T B. Begeleiding is accompaniment.

For reference, the only online recording of this piece is a MIDI file by the organisation that compiled the songbook. Look for Lank sal hy lewe on http://www.fak.org.za/fak-sangbundel/elektroniese-sangbundel/

My goal was to keep the bass to a simple Bass-Chord-Bass-Chord pattern fitting in with the 4/4 time. As you can see, the score has accompaniment on the 1/8 notes which feels a bit frantic on the accordion unless the tempo is slowed down. I maybe play it a bit too fast anyway.

Lets start. As I mentioned above, my process is to write down all the vertical notes to figure out the matching chord.

Bar 1 and 2 are simple. They are all just inversions of G major.

Bar 3 is the first interesting one. The first 2 beats (1/4 + 1/8 + 1/8) are still G major. The start of the third beat is a C major. But now the end of that beat shows a G major. It looks like that D in the accompaniment section is a non-chord passing tone, so maybe I can ignore that. Same story with the B in the (B) bass voice line. If I now disregard all the Ds and Bs, I am left with only G. Which is part of C major. Playing either of the chords sounds okay there, but the C sounds more interesting. How do I decide whether this beat is going to be C or G major then? My decision is based on ignoring the vertical with the passing tones, so I pick C major.
It is a similar process with the last beat. But now wait! It has E-G-G-A-C-G-E-C (top to bottom). That looks like a C major, but the A doesnt fit. Looking it up on the chord finder website I see that it could be an Am7 chord which I can do with counterbass A + C major chord. But I dont like mixing like that since its going to sound different to the other chords due to the addition of the lower A. So initially I just picked C major here (continuing with the previous one), since C major is partially correct anyway. Maybe this is a candidate for playing the counterbass A instead of the C? I never tried. But then looking at the available time in this bar, I have already played a C note on beat 3, so beat 4 has to be a chord. So never mind - just stick with C-CM.

Bar 4, for beat 1 and 3 I picked the D root and for beat 2 D major and beat 4 D7.
The G in beat 2 I disregarded as a non-chord neighbouring tone, otherwise I need to find a chord containing A-G-D. According to the chord site this might be a Dsus2 or D7sus2. But it looks like too much effort to find a bass key combination for that. So Ill just continue with the original plan of D major.
Beat 4 contains two different chords. The first vertical, D-D-A-E-D-A-D-E-E looks like Dsus2, but again that looks like too much effort to figure out on the bass. The second vertical for the last beat has C-D-A-F#-C-F#-F# which turns out to be D7. So lets rather go with that.

Bar 5 is simple. Its a G major then a C major.

Bar 6 has a clear GM on the first two beats. The third beat works out to a C major. However, the 4th beat is: C-G-E-A-C-G-E-A-A. That is similar to the question I had in bar 3. Do I just ignore the As influence, or is there a way to incorporate it? I just ended up picking C major.

Bar 7. The first two beats are G major. The third beat is D major, but the forth beat is D7. Lets pick the D7 because were nearing the end and it wants to resolve to a G (hey, Im starting to sound smart here :D).

Bar 8. Just Gs.

After all that rambling I end up with:
<ATTACHMENT filename=Lank_sal_hy_lewe-1.jpg index=0>
(Its a bit messy, but the result should be clear)

Which ends up sounding a bit like this:


Like I said, this is a relatively simple example and I think my decisions turned out okay. But those sames problems here become harder in some other pieces because I either end up with more non-Stradella chords, or I cannot decide which tones to consider as non-chordal in order to just pick a simple Stradella chord. I will post more on those pieces later.
 

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maugein96

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Morne,

That was pretty good playing, and whatever you are doing you seem to have it all nailed down. You've lost me with the technical stuff, but it sounds great. After all that heavy music speak I think I'll take up tambourine!

Long shall you live, Morne!
 

Morne

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maugein96 said:
I assume were not talking about boerenmuziek here?

Aside: I still owe you a write-up about that, but there are still some gaps in my understanding and Id rather not write nonsense.
But no. What Im busy with are the Afrikaner folk songs. On their own they will sound like regular European folk tunes (and sometimes the are exactly that with some modifications).
What boeremusiek typically does is it might take one of these folk songs, but play it on a certain set of instruments (e.g. concertina, banjo, guitar, bass) and/or the rhythmic execution might be in a non-European style (this is the point I still need to research a bit more, but if you want to look it up, theres one called vastrap). Some people say it has a Cajun-like feel.

Also, boeremusiek has very little sheet music. Nearly all of the unique things they do are by ear, even though it might still use the basic melodys feel.

Can you make any connection with the Afrikaner tunes involved to any similar Dutch language tunes? You may know this already, but there are various Dutch folk music styles which will probably have been transcribed into format suitable for accordion. I know Afrikaner isnt Dutch, but its probably as close as I can compare it with.
One of the main reasons Im doing this is because I want to learn a bit more about the theory, so I actually dont want to take an existing accordion arrangement to start with. My book does indicate when a song is a near direct copy of a known European song, but most of it seems to not be like that.

If you can get your hands on any of those Dutch books (assuming they exist) youll probably find that the bass parts merely give the key, and whether the chord is major, minor, or 7th. The French musette genre literally comprises thousands of tunes written specifically for the accordion, and I have never seen bass chords written in any format other than I have described above. Occasionally, bass runs are notated below the chord symbols, but these arent really considered mandatory, unless you have the ability to play them.
Thats what I want to end up with eventually: rearranging these pieces into simpler accordion format in case anybody else is interested (maybe like one other person somewhere in the world :D).

I dont know much about folk music at all, but there shouldnt be anything too taxing like 6/9 chords etc in the repertoire concerned.
Thats what Im hoping for. My first step is to get a piece playable on Stradella. After that I can try to be fancy if I really feel the need to.
 

Morne

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maugein96 said:
Morne,

That was pretty good playing, and whatever you are doing you seem to have it all nailed down. You've lost me with the technical stuff, but it sounds great. After all that heavy music speak I think I'll take up tambourine!

Long shall you live, Morne!

Thanks! However, as far as I'm concerned this is really basic stuff that I still have to learn properly. If you really want to break your head with technical stuff, you should ask some of the other members on here. If they had to post what I just did, but for the complex songs they play, then you might just pick the triangle!
 

donn

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You've made a good start, I'm sure the tune would sound satisfactory to people who are acquainted with it. I'm a rather compulsive player of overly dramatic harmony, though, and the tune has a pleasingly robust harmony, so it's in my nature to add a touch or two.

I work much more by ear, so I strapped on my accordion to see what would come out. I'm only going to address that third measure.

First, that B in the bass? YES! You've got it on the second bass row. Come right in on the B at the beginning and stay there like the source does. Note how that leads to the C, after all the G buildup. Classic secondary bass - now I do not remember exactly where I put the Gmaj chord button, presumably 2nd beat. And of course then C, which we agree on.

Now that last beat, your Am7? Well, yes - just lose the 7. To my ear anyway, a simple Am is called for here. On guitar I'm sure an Am7 would sound great, it's just awkward as could be on accordion, so that sustained B in the alto voice has to go. See how you like the Am, in terms of the feel of the song - it appeals to me, and I feel fairly sure there's some similar explanation as with the B secondary bass above why it works with the following Dmaj, but at the moment it isn't coming. [Edit] OK, CM -> Am changes one note, G -> A, and that prefigures the DM which includes that note. Well, I tried. Really the operative principle here with me is "no tune shall have only 3 chords!" [/Edit]

I think the rest will follow as more of the same, but didn't look carefully - it's hard to use my computer with my accordion in my lap, so I mainly worked out what I could clearly remember. Of course stylistic matters are up to you, but for me it felt like more of a choral thing with all voices sustained including bass.
 

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Id recommend that you might want to take the accompaniment into account. In which case...

Morne said:
Bar 3 is the first interesting one. The first 2 beats (1/4 + 1/8 + 1/8) are still G major.

Yes, but with a B in the bass of the vocals and accompaniment its technically G major in first inversion. So you could try playing the counterbass of the G row there instead of the regular G bass on beat one.

My decision is based on ignoring the vertical with the passing tones, so I pick C major. [...] I have already played a C note on beat 3, so beat 4 has to be a chord. So never mind - just stick with C-CM.

Id go with C major as the overall harmony for that bar too, but again theres a nice inversion on beat four with that E in the bass of the accompaniment. Might be nice to stick a counterbass under the chord (or instead of the chord) on beat four there? Just a thought...

Bar 4, for beat 1 and 3 I picked the D root and for beat 2 D major and beat 4 D7.

Works for me. Technically the chord on beat 2 is a Dsus4 (not a sus2), but yeah, you dont have a button for that (and even combining buttons wont get you a precise sus4 chord).

Note the walk-up in the left hand of the accompaniment. Might be fun to sneak that in.

Bar 5 is simple. Its a G major then a C major.

Yup!

Bar 6 has a clear GM on the first two beats.

But theres that B as the lowest note again, not the expected G bass. Counterbass time? :)

The third beat works out to a C major. However, the 4th beat is: C-G-E-A-C-G-E-A-A. That is similar to the question I had in bar 3. Do I just ignore the As influence, or is there a way to incorporate it? I just ended up picking C major.

CM will work, but there is a definitely strong Am7 vibe going on there, so sneaking in an A (as F counterbass) with your C chord would probably sound really cool. Or you could play an Am chord instead of C major on beat four, although it wouldnt sound as cool as the combined A bass + C major.

Plus, having an A in the bass would set up the resolution to the following chord very nicely, as we shall see...

Bar 7. The first two beats are G major.

Well, its really a G/D (G over D bass, or G major in second inversion). Note where the lowest note is in both the vocals and the accompaniment. Its pedaling the D bass that whole measure, which is a classical-style trick commonly used in song endings. So you might want to use the alternate bass of G (the D) on beat one.

the The third beat is D major, but the forth beat is D7. Lets pick the D7 because were nearing the end and it wants to resolve to a G

Bingo!

Overall, I think thats a great analysis. Youre getting the hang of noticing when oddball notes really are suggesting a different harmony and when theyre merely passing tones. Just dont ignore the accompaniment part, and remember that chords are usually named from the bottom up (so take notice of the lowest note being played, especially on strong beats).

:ch
 

Morne

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Thanks a lot guys, this is much appreciated!

Im going to review all the advice once Im back at the accordion.

Based on what both of you said, I think I can extract the following rule of thumb:
The accompaniment chord inversion dictates which single bass note to play. More specifically: the lowest note is the one that I would want to play.
Continuing on that, if its written out like that, should I then refrain from applying alternate bass indiscriminately?


donn said:
Really the operative principle here with me is no tune shall have only 3 chords!
The second song Im busy with is a bit more interesting and Ive already identified 5 chords in my first attempt. Once Ive applied everything Ive learnt, Ill do a similar post.
 

donn

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Morne said:
Based on what both of you said, I think I can extract the following rule of thumb:
The accompaniment chord inversion dictates which single bass note to play. More specifically: the lowest note is the one that I would want to play.
Continuing on that, if its written out like that, should I then refrain from applying alternate bass indiscriminately?

See what you think, when youve had the chance to try these ideas out and hear how they sound. The rules have meaning only in terms of musical outcome. That said ... my musical theory is just stuff Ive noticed, and it leans toward harmonic movement. The best chord, or voicing, depends on how and where the music is moving.

The first three measures? Very overt buildup: G, with single repeated melody note; G, repeated higher melody note; G repeated even higher melody note, and then C!

As a very general rule, youd start a measure like 3 with the primary bass, G, and then in view of the approaching C I would go to the counterbass, B ...-> C. Matter of taste, though, and general rules dont get you very far. In the present case specifically, the bass voice starts the measure on B - theres no need to establish the G root, and were being a little heavy handed with the harmonic movement.

The Am at the end of the measure? Well, of course a II chord is a change in feel from IV, and that has to be part of it. But that C is really not the end point, its just on the way to the measure 4 D, and switching to Am both sets that up harmonically and keeps the harmony from settling in on C.

It would be interesting to see where your lowest note principle would take you, over a representative sample. Of course theres an obvious problem with choral music, useful vocal range is fairly limited and timbre is affected, so you might just fill in the chord using what you have and thinking not so much about voicings. Like playing chords on a guitar - or an accordion. But its probably a good idea if not taken too religiously.

I personally under-use alternate bass, occasionally have to remind myself to take advantage of it in situations where it really works. Likely partly because I have a 3/3 setup, in effect counterbass for every chord, and when I figured that out I went a little counterbass crazy. Alternate commonly feels much more static to me, but then sometimes it really works, and I havent developed a strong enough sense of when thats going to happen.
 

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Morne said:
Continuing on that, if its written out like that, should I then refrain from applying alternate bass indiscriminately?

All arranging is a series of individual musical choices. What to keep. What to leave out. What to change.

You seem to have wanted to give the tune a more rhythmic oom-pah, oom-pah feel, in which case tossing in an alternating bass not found in the original arrangement is a perfectly valid musical choice.

But note that the accompaniment, as written, is a lot less rhythmic, using a lot of held chords (similar to how you might play something like God Save the Queen).You could go that direction too. Or you could fall somewhere in the middle. Not better or worse or wrong or right... it all comes down to just how you want to play it.

For that matter, you could completely reharmonize the tune, tossing in chord substitutions here and there. Maybe play an Em chord in the second measure, and/or an Am on the first two beats of the 4th measure?

To quote the late, great Bob Ross, any way you want it to be, thats just right!
 

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Morne said:
The second song Im busy with is a bit more interesting and Ive already identified 5 chords in my first attempt. Once Ive applied everything Ive learnt, Ill do a similar post.

You know, it might be fun if you went ahead and posted the source arrangement youre working from. Then I (and anyone else who wanted to join in on the fun) could try an accordion arrangement too, while youre doing yours.

We could then post our results. Might be interesting to see where we all agreed and where we didnt! :D
 

Morne

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donn said:
Of course stylistic matters are up to you, but for me it felt like more of a choral thing with all voices sustained including bass.
JeffJetton said:
But note that the accompaniment, as written, is a lot less rhythmic, using a lot of held chords (similar to how you might play something like God Save the Queen).
That is the interesting thing about this arrangement. I had a much lighter, jolly tune in mind. I havent really heard the song that much in my life and definitely not in the scored version. The original is a Dutch birthday song Lang zal hij leven (although I think it might have been used locally for some non-birthday celebrations too). I tried playing what I had before by keeping the bass and/or chords down, but then my single note melody starts to drown out a bit, and while I like doing sustained bass, it felt a little heavy. Id be curious to hear what this song sounds like in the way you two see it based on the score.

Heres my latest attempt after incorporating the ideas both of you have mentioned - especially about the basses and counterbasses.

My playing is a bit worse (I hit a minor at the end of the first play through) because the bass is somewhat more complex this time.
I also need to pay more attention to phrasing and bellows, since the bass runs cause it to be more connected now.

<ATTACHMENT filename=Lank_sal_hy_lewe 2.jpg index=0>

Bar 1: No change
Bar 2: No change
Bar 3: Start on counterbass B, instead of G. Replace CM with E counterbass.
Bar 4: Try to incorporate the walk-up (if I understood correctly), although Ive brought it in a bit sooner on the 1/4 note, not the 1/8. Also I kept one chord, since Im not sure how to fill it up otherwise
Bar 5: Changed the C to counterbass E (to sort of test the lowest bass idea)
Bar 6: Change G to B, change CM to A
Bar 7: Changed to D-Gm-D-D7
Bar 8: No change

In closing, playing more of a melodic bass definitely spices up the song. The first versions accompaniment sounds fine, but its almost only a rhythmic accompaniment. Now it sounds like the bass side wants to contribute more. But maybe its a bit overdone in my case?
Ive definitely picked up some things to look out for when deciding to pick counterbass.
Also, hen limiting myself to an oom-pah rhythm theres less opportunity to add some of the possible progressions as in the score, but I think for a simple song this is close to enough anyway.
 

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Morne

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Heres the next tune Im working on:



Ive started doing that one also with a single note melody and an oom-pah accompaniment - I do this because its easier and my right hand chords need practice. But Ill probably also want to do a version where its slower and closer to the score (playing the full chords with cassotto, maybe). This song, as played by various military bands, can range from slow to relatively fast. This songs got more scope for playing with emotion, since its an old war song about longing for your lover back home.

Unlike what I said before, Ive actually identified 6 different chords so far (and the one changes from minor to major and seventh).

donn said:
Or just post a list of tunes you like, and watch the arrangements roll in!
That would be cheating!
 

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donn

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I'm giving my brain a break (otherwise known as intellectual sloth) and did not look at the score, but did listen to a couple of renditions. Just a suggestion, after your full thrills deal, try trimming it down to 4 chords - I IV II V I.
[Edit] OK, I mislearned the B part, and going back to fix that, the VIm in the band version works for me. [/Edit]

My first reaction was that the tune was not very interesting, as I didn't care much for either of the versions I heard [Edit] the military version keeps reminding me of the Lumberjack Song, for some reason [/Edit], but it could be a natural for the accordion. Especially with a vigorous left hand - not just the bass notes, the upbeat from the chord buttons helps too (you can hear that in the military band arrangement, at the beginning, probably alto horns (tenor horns to the English.) And it can swing a little without injury.
 

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