Thursday, 28 October 2010

Melodeon Ornamentation

Melodeon Ornaments

The art of ornamentation is possibly the ‘black art’ of melodeon playing. Too many flourishes added to a tune can destroy the melody, but used the right amount, they can turn even the simplest tune into a masterpiece.
For the sake of examining the possible ornaments, they can be broken down into three families.

•Notes which come before or after a melody note – eg., leading notes, slurs, and cuts.

•Notes or phrases which replace a melody note – eg. trills, triplets, and
specific phases.

•Harmonic ornaments eg – right hand chords, bass runs, harmony runs, and replacement of melody line with harmony.

This article focuses on the first of the three families to give an overview of ornaments available before and after the stated melody note. In these examples the grace note/slur/leading note is notated by the use of a small note on the stave. Button numbers are written in where appropriate – G5 would mean playing the 5th button on the G row on the push. A comma after the button number denotes a pull note so D4’ would be the 4th button on the D row on the pull.

1) Leading Notes

This is perhaps the most instant and universal area of ornamentation, which can be applied to melodeon playing. In the simplest form, all a player does is play one note before another to produce a ‘leading note’ emphasising the melody note.

This is achieved by lightly glancing off a button onto the desired melody note, possibly by using one finger and sliding across the rows, or two fingers, one after another. The first note should be one scale note lower eg. F# slides into a G, as Example 1a. Both notes should be in the same bellows direction. Some notes are available in both directions eg. G and A as show in example 1b.
Example 1b shows many of the common leading note combinations on the lower end of the melodeon. All the notes are repeated in the upper register and can be used in the same way, only the buttons are different.

When ever the melody of a tune plays a note which can be lead into, the leading note is played briefly in between the two intended melody notes. Example 1c shows the first two bars of the tune ‘Princess Royal’. The first bar is completely plain, the second bar has a leading F# before the G. Button D4 is depressed very slightly with the 2nd or 3rd finger before finger 1 plays button G3 to finish the phrase.
In classical music these notes are often refered to as ‘grace notes’ and are always written in. In folk, most of the time ornaments such as this are omitted and it is down to the player to add them in from the many possible combinations.
2) Slurs

Firstly, these are not strictly slurs in the full musical sense, as they are harder to play and describe on the melodeon compared to other folk instruments (fiddles!), but the ‘slurring’ technique here is a step in the right direction.

The basis of the slur on the melodeon is to play a scale note between two melody notes. This is most often done (and to best effect) where the two melody notes and the slurred note are three consecutive scale notes. Example 2a shows the first phrase of ‘La Marianne’ .

The melody moves between a G and a B. The note A can be put into the phrase to give three consecutive scale notes G A and B. The A is played quickly between the G and B in order to give the phrase more fluidity and interest.
The slur can also be used with buttons on the row and notes in the same direction. Example 2b shows the first 4 bars of ‘Tralee Gaol’. Bar one uses the E pull on button G5’ and then the A pull on button G3’. In bar 3 the same phrase happens again, but as they are not consecutive scale notes, it is better to slur using the button on the row in between them (G4’).

If a tune plays a note on one button, and then in the same bellows direction and on the same row, plays another button two buttons higher, the button in between can always be used to slur from the first to the second. See example 2c.

3) Cuts

These are notes placed between repeated melody notes or in the middle of long sustained notes (more of that in the next instalment!).

Example 3a shows bars one and two of the melody ‘Schottische a Bethanie’. Bar two resolves to a B note played twice. This can be cut with the addition of an A grace note cut in between the two B’s.
Basically, any pair of identical melody notes can be cut with any other note, but a scale note above or below, or the note on a conveniently placed button will work best. Example 3b shows two possible variations.


  1. Thanks a lot! This is of great help (also Chapter Ornaments2): plainly and clearly explained, with good examples and easy and concise words! Best regards from Spain, Marta.

  2. Thank you, I will finish the article in time with part 3 - looking at rhythmic variations on different notes.