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As a slight change of subject from my usual history musings I thought I’d write about something I’ve been trying recently for fun, relating to my musical side.

I’ve played the piano accordion for nearly 45 years, since I was 4. Later I learned violin at school, and taught myself piano, classical guitar, and most recently the concertina. Here is a picture of my accordion, that I’ve had since 1981.

Picture of my red accordion with sheet music in front of it

Often I’d like to do different musical arrangements for the accordion, or have sheet music for something I play only by ear. But being useless at writing sheet music by hand I’ve never tried creating my own sheet music. Until now!

I realised I might be able to use sheet music notation software to enter music into the computer. So I tried various packages, in demo mode. The extremely popular package Sibelius didn’t work well for me. I just didn’t find it intuitive to use from a user interface viewpoint at all. However I got on very well with the also well-established software program Notion, which is available for Windows, Mac and iOS devices. Very quickly I was working well with it, so bought a full licence (one-off purchase for this version), for my Mac and also my iPad.

I’m pleased to say it’s going very well, and is helping me create some great new arrangements for my accordion. Sometimes I’m starting from existing sheet music, often a published piano/vocal/guitar (PVG) book. I want to tweak this for the accordion, changing the arrangement, but also giving a more compact form for me to have on my music stand. With accordion music you often only need the melody line with a note of accompanying chords, e.g. C, Am, D7 etc. This can be presented far more compactly than in a PVG-book. At other times I am transcribing music totally by ear, e.g. from memory, or by listening to an audio recording as on an album, where I have no existing sheet music.

In the Notion software music can be entered by keyboard, mouse/trackpad, or by playing on a linked MIDI keyboard (MIDI is a computer/audio interface system, that links computers to musical instruments). I bought a low cost mini MIDI keyboard controller, that I can play music on, into the software, or experiment on as I am trying to figure out the right notes when transcribing by ear. With this compact keyboard I can even hold it up vertically as I play, as in a piano accordion posture! The picture shows it with my 13” laptop for scale.

Picture of small MIDI controller music keyboard perched on top of 13 inch laptop running Notion music software

Much of my arranging work involves developing the harmonies on the right hand, and adjusting the chords on the left hand. Ideally I’d try every change out on my accordion, but because of my neurological illness I’m too weak to play that often. Thankfully the Notion software can play back sheet music to show what it will sound like, including chords. This often reveals problems with the current arrangement, which I can then tweak, and gives me a good impression of what it will sound like played on my squeezebox. I’ve even been able to set the software up with an Italian accordion sound, so it sounds even more like my own Italian accordion. Here is a recording of part of one of my arrangements, played back in the Notion sheet music software, using that sound effect. The tune is “Once Upon A December” from the film and stage musical Anastasia.

Arranging sheet music, whether totally by ear or tweaking an existing set of sheet music, feels very much like a gigantic logic puzzle. It’s something that I find tremendously satisfying to work on. It also, importantly, stretches my musical side. In this way I can improve the range of sheet music I have available when I am able to play my accordion. And have musical fun even when I’m not strong enough to play it. Long may it continue!

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