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How to Play Jazz Chords on a Stradella Keyboard on Accordion

Updated: Oct 17, 2023

The Stradella Bass System, commonly found on the left-hand side of many accordions, is a powerful tool for creating rich harmonies and accompanying melodies. While it's often associated with traditional styles like polka or classical music, the Stradella system can also be a fantastic asset for playing jazz. This article aims to guide you through the basics of playing jazz chords on a Stradella keyboard.

Understanding the Stradella Layout

Before diving into jazz chords, it's essential to understand the Stradella system's layout. The buttons are arranged in a circle of fifths, with rows usually dedicated to bass notes, major chords, minor chords, dominant 7th chords, and diminished chords. Familiarize yourself with this layout to make the most out of your jazz explorations.

Basic Jazz Chords

Major 7th

For a Major 7th chord, combine the bass button with the minor chord of a major third above the root. To play a Cmaj7, you would press the C bass and E minor chord buttons together.

Minor 7th

For a Minor 7th chord, combine the bass button with the major chord of a minor third above the root. To play a Cm7, you would press the C bass and E♭ major chord buttons together.

Dominant 7th

The Stradella system usually has a dedicated row for dominant 7th chords, making these easy to play. Simply locate the button for the dominant 7th chord you wish to play and press it. However the dominant chord is missing 5th of it. To play a complete C7 chord, which consists of the notes C, E, G, and B♭, press the C major and G diminished buttons together. Or just press the C bass and G diminished buttons together to make a rootless C dominant 7th.

Half-diminished 7th

Also known as a half-diminished chord or a minor seventh flat five chord is a 7th chord composed of a root note, plus a minor third, a diminished fifth, and a minor seventh (1, ♭3, ♭5, ♭7). For example, the half-diminished seventh chord built on C commonly written as Cm7(♭5), or Cø7, has pitches C-E♭-G♭-B♭.

On a Stradella Bass System, you can form this chord by pressing the bass note for the root (C) and the minor chord button a minor third above the root (E♭ minor).

Advanced Jazz Chords

9th, 11th Chords

These extended chords can be a bit tricky on a Stradella system, but they're not impossible. For example, 9th chords are extended chords that add another layer of complexity and richness to your jazz playing.

To play a C9 chord, you could combine a C major chord with a G minor chord. This will give you all the notes of the C9 chord: C, E, G, B♭, and D.

11th, 13th, Altered Chords

11th, 13th, and their altered modifications, chords like b9, #9, or #11 can be approximated by creatively combining different buttons. Experimentation is key here, as the Stradella system doesn't offer a straightforward way to play these chords or may sometimes have an extra note which do not belong to a chord you want to play, resulting in a "dirty" sound. Also, stradella is limited by only 12 notes and cannot build a wide, clearly played chords when more than one octave would be beneficial to reproduce such advanced jazz chords.

Digital solutions

This is where digital accordion software can be a game-changer. Such software recognizes a broader range of jazz chords than is normally possible on a traditional Stradella layout.

With a digital electronic accordion, you can play most of the chords commonly found in jazz standard sheet music, overcoming the limitations of the classic system.

Digital Electronic Accordions for Jazz Practice

Digital electronic accordions with built-in accompaniment offer a versatile platform for improving your jazz skills. Here are some of the advantages:

Practice with a Rhythmic Accompaniment

Electronic accordion comes with a variety of pre-programmed rhythmic patterns with multi-track accompaniment. Whether you're practicing swing, bossa nova, or bebop, you can find a rhythm that fits your needs, as if you were playing with a full band.

Extended Jazz Chords

One of the significant benefits is the extended chord recognition. Unlike traditional Stradella systems, digital electronic accordion can recognize a broader range of jazz chords, allowing you to practice and perform more complex harmonic progressions.

Instrument Timbres

Digital electronic accordions also offer a range of instrument sounds, from piano and organ to brass and woodwinds, adding texture and color to your performance.

By leveraging these features, you can make your practice sessions more productive and bring a new level of sophistication to your jazz performances.

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