Accordion chord notation with chord playback

• Jan 25, 2021 - 13:56

I am learning accordion and have just started transcribing my first accordion piece, "Let my Baby Ride" by Doctor L (RL Burnside Cover)- Holy Motors OST.
I am trying to get playback on the chord but keeping with accordion notation standards of only notating/showing the root chord note.

Using Chord Notation with playback is not practical because the Chord Symbol require the note name (e.g. Em) whereas standard accordion notation only lists the accord type above the note, M/m/7/d (and then the playback sound is piano, not accordion).

I experimented with various other options (e.g. adding 3rd/5th as chord intervals) but in the end, the best option I could come up with, was to put root note in voice 1, put 3rd and 5th/7th in voice 2, keep them visible in the score, which allows me to hide them when creating the accordion part. There are some issues with this approach

1 mostly display / cosmetic issues in the score, like voice 1 stems face up, voice 2 stems face down
2 Transposing the score will not transpose the chord names (something that would have been solved with using proper Chord Notation)

How are others doing accordion chord notation with playback?


Not in all countries it's the standard notation.
At least with my accordion books (Germany) it's standard by using chord symbols.
But concerning your request, if I understand it correct: Shouldn't it work, if your using for notation sticking and for playback chord symbols and deselect for them visible. If I'm not wrong, it's also possible to change the sound of the playback of the cord symbols chord inside the mixer.

In reply to by kuwitt

I am unable to set the chord pitch (letter) on its own to invisible. Using E minor (Em) as an example, to have it conform to US (and other countries') notation standards, one would be able to hide the "E", but the "m" should remain visible. You cannot have different visibilities for different parts of an element.

Thanks, I managed to figure out how to the chord sound from piano to accordion:
* Mixer -> Click on "Show Channels" button (left-arrow) to expand the Accordion
* Highlight/select the "Acc.-harmony" channel (this is the bass clef).
* In the "Sound" dropdown, change from Piano to Accordion.

In reply to by SqueezeBoxer

In German speaking countries common accordion notation looks differently.
Here are some examples:…
All notes are fully written down so it sounds correctly.
Holzschuh is a well known German publisher who publishes a lot of accordion sheet music.
Here's a list of accordion chords for copy/paste:
Note that every chord in the left hand stradella system consists of 3 tones. For chords that usually have 4 tones, the fifth is omitted, e.g. pressing C7 plays c e bb (the g is missing), pressing C dim plays c eb a (the gb is missing).

In reply to by Riaan van Niekerk

I only took a short look at your tutorial. It's confusing for me a little bit by the one or other step.
Chord Symbols should added via add->text->chord symbols or shortcut ctrl+k.
The shortcut for system text is ctrl+shift+t, the shortcut for staff text ctrl+t.
But as mentioned I see the adavantage of add->text->sticking or maybe another text element instead of using system/staff text, so that you easily can move to the next element via space bar. Maybe for the latter it's necessary to define a new style concerning the position - either inside the inspector or format->style->text styles.
Or did I misread it?

In reply to by kuwitt

Thanks, I had some mistakes w.r.t. the shortcuts, which I hope I have fixed. Let me know if it still does not makes sense.

I now understand what you refer to w.r.t. a style similar to sticking and its keyboard navigation benefits (which staff text does not allow us to do). If you can come up with something (reusing an existing text type) we can definitely replace staff text with that.

In reply to by Riaan van Niekerk

I just played a little bit round with this topic, see attached file. Maybe some notes for your tutorial, not sure, if it's useful:
- be sure, that in format->style...->chord symbols "play" is ticked
- select in the inspector for the chord symbols in duration "Chord/rest duration" and set it as style
- add all Chord symbols with ctrl+k (or add->text->chord symbols), then select all chord symbols via right click on a chord symbol->delect->more...->same subtype and press "v" or untick visible inside the inspetcor
- open the mixer, click on the arrow to see the channel for cchord symbols, change the sound to accordion
- for the visible chord symbols I used add->text->sticking and entered all, then i used the same procedure via right click->select->more...->same subtype and changed the vertical offset with the inspector

But maybe there are better ways.

Attachment Size
Accordion.mscz 10.06 KB

Hi Riaan,
I too would like to get a "real" accordion sound from a Musescore file written with proper bass notation. I have tried various tricks, but in the end I quit. The problem is the left-hand buttons, which make sounds that seem unreproducible with the current Musescore release.
Le me refer to my “Paolo Soprani Madame” accordion. Single-note basses are each produced by the reeds of five different octaves, whereas the four chords of each root are obtained by three (or four) notes from the reeds of the upper three of the five octaves. Thus, the score would appear similar to that shown in the “Stradella bass system” article of Wikipedia, though with some differences. It would be quite a mess to write down such a bass score for a real music, but I have tried some measures, and the effect is not that far from a real accordion. Of course, you would then have to make most of the notes invisible to obtain an acceptable bass notation in a print, and perhaps this is possible, though (I imagine) extremely cumbersome.
There are two problems with this approach. The first is that, with all those notes, the “accompagnamento” almost cancels the right-hand melody in Musescore's playback. Somebody says it is possible to balance the relative volume of the two pentagrams of a grand staff by applying to them different dynamics; I have tried that, and was successful with the piano sound, but was unable to do the same with the accordion sounds.
The second problem is that the volume of the sound emitted by the reeds of the various octaves of a bass are calibrated (I do not know how) in such a way as to produce a Shepard effect (from Wikipedia: “This creates the auditory illusion of a tone that seems to continually ascend or descend in pitch, yet which ultimately gets no higher or lower”. That means, for example, that the bass sequence A B C D is perceived as ascending in pitch, even though all belong to the same octave starting with C). I have not found any way to produce this effect in Musescore.

Thanks to everybody for further comments.

In reply to by Silvano Presciuttini

I'm not totally sure I understand - I'm not familiar with accordion notation - but I can tell you that you can easily change the volume of the chord symbol playback, just lower the volume for that subchannel in the Mixer (you need to expand the main channel strip using the arrow at top in order to display the subchannels). So if you add chord symbols and set them to "root only" playback, and set their volume as desired, seems it would work fine. Or if you really would rather add new notes on a second staff, the same technique of setting the dynamic to "staff" rather than "part" works on any instrument, not just piano. Or make it a separate instrument instead of a separate staff, easier still. Then you can hide it completely if you like in Edit / Instruments.

If you continue to have trouble, please attach your score and people can surely help further.

In reply to by Marc Sabatella

Thanks Marc! Your suggestions have been helpful. I attach four files:
1) A Musescore file written for accordion with the "American Accordionist" bass notation (AmericanNotation.mscz); chords are represented by their root note and marked above by the letter M, m, 7 or d (their first instance only).
2) My best rendering of an accordion sound of the same score in Musescore (AccordionSound.mscz). To balance the volume of the right and left hand I created two parts, as you suggested. I don't think this is the best way to render the sound of an accordion; for example I only used three octaves instead of five for the single note basses; I am sure it is possible to do better.
3) The same file in (2) with notes made invisible, those notes that shouldn't appear in an accordion part (AccordionInvisibleNotes.mscz).
4) The file in (3) exported in pdf (AccordionInvisibleNotes). As you can see, this is ugly (can it be improved?)

I would like to add that the trick of playing the chord symbols with the "root only" option makes the bass too weak. I suggest that many accordionists would like to listen a playback similar to that from file (2) when the score is written something like file (1); this is what at present may be too difficult to implement (?).

Hope this clarify my issue.

In reply to by Silvano Presciuttini

@Silvano: the sound is pretty realistic. But it looks a bit strange for me to write down construction details like the octave voices of the bass tones in notation. The sound font approach of Ziya seems more practical. Also Kuwitt's proposal with invisible chord symbols sounds realistic and is pretty convenient to write.

@Ziya: I downloaded your Hedsound accordion soundfont and the demo files sound promising. But I have not understood by now how to use it for own scores - I admit I'm a complete newbie in using soundfonts. How are the registers (the patches) selected and changed? A detailed instruction how to use your soundfont would be really helpful. Any help is appreciated. Thanks.

In reply to by SqueezeBoxer

Of course, using this requires some familiarity with how Musescore software is used.

Method 1: Open the template file normally and save it under a different name.

There are two staff-texts (named "patch") at the head of the staff in the template. If you right click on them and select "staff text properties": You can see and set the patch changes.

Upper part: 02.png

Lower part: 03.png

Check the demo mscz files where "M, m, 7, d" chord changes are made in this way. //You can also copy and paste M, m, 7, d staff-text's from here into your new file.

Chords: 04.png

You can use staff-text at the top for the melody and staff-text at the bottom for the Chord / Bass part (also with copy and paste).

Method2: Use the template file: copy it to its templates folder, so you can open it from within Musescore // it appears under "Custom templates" option.

If you do it this way, you have to add the staff-texts yourself accordingly.

To use the Soundfont (without using the template) in a separate score, add the "Hedsound_Accordion-instruments.xml" file to the required place in the "Edit => Preferences / Score" section: "Instrument list 2"
Thus, patches appear in the Instrument list.

In reply to by SqueezeBoxer

@SqueezeBoxer: Yes, I agree that it is impractical (to say the least) to write down in a score basses and chords that way. I hope there is a way to obtain those composite sounds by writing a single note in a staff. After all, we obtain a chord when the MuseScore player come across a single-letter chord symbol.

But my idea was more ambitious. I have always been intrigued by the accordion bass scale, which appears to be endless. It is the effect I have referred above as the Shepard illusion. I have made an attempt to obtaining it in the attached file. May I ask you what do think about it? The feeling is probably subjective; I for example perceive a jump between F and G, much less between D and E, where it should be. (I have tried to work with note's “velocity” instead of dynamics, which should be much better, unsuccessfully until now).


I think that once we have obtained a good way to render the accordion basses (and also a practical way to write them down), we would obtain a realistic sound even for the chords.

@Zija: Thank you for sharing your files and notes. I still have to understand the interplay of voices and channels, but it seems to me that the main problem, that of obtain a realistic accordion bass-chord sound, is still unresolved. It seems to me that the main problem is that the basses are played as a single note of a single octave. Am I wrong?

Attachment Size
EndlessFiveStaffBassScale.mscz 23.88 KB

In reply to by Silvano Presciuttini

About the bass tones: As only 12 tones are available an ascending scale is only possible in one key. In all other keys there's an octave step somewhere. The trick is that the different octaves have that octave step at different locations to reduce the overall effect. For details we should ask an acordion manufacturer or an expert in repairing accordions

About chords: In the Stradella system all chords consist of three tones. The 7 and the diminished chords omit the fifth. Knowing that is essential for playing jazz chords on the accordion. See…
or just search for "Stradella chord combinations" or "accordion jazz chords"

about sound fonts: sound fonts like Zia's are based on sampled "real accordions" so the bass tones are not single tones but reproduce the full sound with all octave reeds as the original instrument

Currently I see different methods to write accordion bass with playback. All sound and print sufficiently but are more or less inconvenient to edit.
- German notation style
Works with every sound font as the chords are completely specified as notes. Chord symbols should be used for both bass tones and chords to allow transposing. Set Automatic Capitalization=OFF so that lower case can be used for chords and upper case for bass tones. Set Play=OFF for the chord symbols as the sound is produced by the written notes.
Editing: copy/paste might help. See
- American Accordionists Association style with chord symbols
Chord symbol settings: Play=ON, Duration=Chord/Rest Duration, Voicing=Three Note (to be close to Stradella system, not investigated in detail yet). Set chord symbols invisible that are not required for printing. Use staff text for m / 7 / dim. See Kuwitt's example above.
- American Accordionists Association style with chords from the sound font
See Ziya's approach above.
Needs a special soundfont, I'm still experimenting with it. Many thanks to Ziya for your explanation.

Please share your ideas and workflows for convenient editing.

Silvano's approach is interesting for understanding of and experimenting with the Stradella system details, but seems not feasible for engraving.

There is a way to do AAA notation on the fly using a Roland FR-4x or FR-8x and a MIDI Solutions Event Processor or Event Processor Plus. If you're interested, and you have one of those V-Accordions and the MIDI Solutions device, please post a reply here. Unfortunately, there is no way for any notation program to play back a single note as a chord. I've been pursuing that aspect for many years with several music notation software publishers, to no avail.

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