The Free-Reed Journal
Articles and Essays Featuring Classical Free-Reed Instruments and Performers

Background For Success: Part 1

The first of a series of five articles in which will be discussed the fundamental requirements and training for professional accordionists who wish to rise above the average.

by Charles Magnante

This article was reprinted in its entirety from the February 1938 issue of Accordion World (New York), pages 7-8.

Photo caption: Work is the most important word in the language of the person who is to succeed. Here Author Magnante is shown practicing what he preaches -- rehearsing at the NBC studio with his Accordion Quartet. Left to right are: Abe Goldman, Gene von Halberg, Charles Magnante and Joe Biviano.

Back of every "Success Story" you will almost invariably find a story of hard work.

There is nothing startingly new about this observation, but it is one which can never be overlooked when you are interested in achieving recognition -- and remuneration-- beyond the average. I am not denying that some people seem to get "the breaks" which push them ahead faster than others who might be just as capable and deserving, but this is the exception rather than the rule. And a lucky break never helped anyone who wasn't prepared to make the most of it when it came. In other words, there is no such thing as overnight success.

In this and following articles, I am going to pass along my ideas as to just what kind of a background is necessary to really succeed in the accordion field -- not to be one of those who just "get along". First of let us consider the actual musical training and study that is essential.

My first recommendation is to find the best teacher you can possibly afford -- right from the beginning. If you are working for a professional career, it is poor economy to go on the theory that anybody is good enough to start with. Not only should your instructor be someone with a thorough understanding of music, but should be someone whose personality is suited to yours. By this I mean, try to find a teacher who is capable of inspiring you to do your best. Sometimes a perfectly fine musician may not be fine for you, because he is not the type that keeps your enthusiasm a high pitch, but rather makes study seem like nothing more than just plain work.

Many times the question is put to me: "How long must I study before I can expect to make a living with the accordion?" It is impossible to make a definite statement about this, but on an average I would say a person with an ordinary amount of talent should not expect to launch on a professional career for nearly five years after beginning to study. Some do sooner than this, of course. I have in mind a bright young man who is forging ahead rapidly in the accordion field. Just five years ago, without previous musical training of any kind, he started to study accordion. He devoted all his time to it and in two and a half years was able to do some teaching and orchestra work -- making enough money to support himself. However, he kept right on studying. Today he is earning seventy-five dollars a week playing with a well-known orchestra which broadcasts regularly. He is still far from satisfied with his playing however, and asks me to listen in to his broadcasts to criticize his work. This is the spirit that will bring real success!

Many an ambitious person has the handicap of having to work for a living at the same time that he is studying for a musical career. It's hard -- and a considerably longer time must be allowed for preparation -- but it can be done. And anyone who decides to follow this path must be prepared to give up anything that resembles a social life for many months and even years.

Though the person who is slow to learn may feel discouraged at times, he can take comfort in the thought that in the long run he may do better than someone with exceptional natural talent. So many times those who have the gift of being able to play "by ear," and who seem to have been born with music in their finger tips, lack the ambition and stamina to ever become successful professionals.

Now to give a really definite idea of what, in my opinion, constitutes a thorough, practical background for the accordionist!

Theory is, of course, a musical foundation in itself -- giving a knowledge of what music is. I strongly recommend that, at a very early stage, the student get a practical book on theory and devote a short time -- say ten minutes -- a day on it.

In my early years of study I began each day with a five to ten minute period of finger gymnastics, which might be termed the "daily dozen" for hands and fingers. This, of course, was done away from the instrument. The next step in daily practice was the Hanon five-finger exercises for the right hand (later for both hands). Even to this day I practice these exercises.

I used a metronome to build up speed and tempo, and after working with this for a while I seldom varied in maintaining the same time of seventeen minutes to complete the first thirty-one exercises. About an hour and a half would then be devoted to scales, arpeggios, chords, broken chords, thirds, sixths, etc.

Twenty minutes or so of rest would follow this work: then I renewed practice working on velocity exercises, and rhymthical [sic] and melodic study. Another ten minutes I spent on solefeggio [sic] -- which is the reading aloud of notes with playing. (Though this is often considered unnecessary by teachers, in my opinion it is a valuable aid in making a student into a real musician).

Following all this "ground work", I turned my attention to the current, new selections I was learning. My last practice period of the day was devoted to reviewing my complete repertoire and concentrating on any particular spots I felt I was not playing well. It is needless to play through an entire composition which one knows quite well. much better is it to pick out the difficult spots and concentrate on them.

The study of harmony can be started as soon as the student has passed the elementary stage. Counterpoint will follow later.

For three years I did nothing but study, and during that time my daily practice average from five to seven hours. At the end of this time I felt I had a musical background that really justified professional work. My first step, as is the usual case, was teaching, and the next month I'll give some ideas on how I think this field may be entered -- successfully.

The Classical Free-Reed, Inc. staff gratefully acknowledges volunteer Patrick Kiley who assisted in the production of this article, as well as Stanley Darrow and his comprehensive American Accordion Musicological Society library.

Charles Magnante: Background For Success, Part 2
Charles Magnante: Background For Success, Part 3
Charles Magnante: Background For Success, Part 4
Charles Magnante: Background For Success, Part 5

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