This is a list of resources I’ve compiled for learning and finding a Slovenian or Austrian diatonic button accordion, targeted to those who live outside of central Europe, where it can be difficult to find the resources and assistance to get started with it. I’ve been asked a few times for help on how to get started, what instrument to get and where to buy one, so I hope this can assist others wanting to take up this instrument.
How they work
This Wikipedia article gives a great summary on how they work, it’s only a very quick read: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steirische_Harmonika
Helikon bases are the deep sounding bases unique to this type of accordion. The bases are typically constrained to the tuning of the box, and only allow major chords (bright tunes only, as is the style of music). Almost all of these accordions have decorative horns on the bass side but have no relevance to the sound at all.
What to look for
For example on a CFB box, you are limited to playing songs in the keys of C, F and Bb. But that’s never an issue, as songs are normally written within the constraints of 3 keys.
They come in 4 to 5 row variations as well, however that’s much more common in Austria. The most common keys in Slovenia seem to be CFB and BEsAs. I used to own a less common ADG but found it too low for chirpy Slovenian songs.
How to find one
- Visit a local Slovenian, Austrian (may be worth trying German as well) social club, and ask around for someone who may have a button accordion for sale, or someone who may play one. From here you may be able to find one second hand and not so expensive.
Talk to your local accordion dealer if you’re lucky enough to have one! They might know someone to order from, or even have one in stock.
- Look at local online trading sites like Gumtree, eBay, etc. Use search terms like slovenian accordion, austrian accordion, diatonic button accordion, steirische. If you’re not on a hurry, you can set up notification emails so that you get alerted as soon as someone starts selling one in your area (or within a radius).
There would also be dealers and manufacturers willing to ship internationally. Here’s some examples of dealers from Slovenia and Austria stocking some used boxes however I can’t vouch for them personally:
At the time of writing this, the most promising resources I’ve found are listed below, with an emphasis on resources in English.
Instruction books by Al Jevsevar
I haven’t used it but it sounds promising and it’s been around since the 70s. It’s written by Al Jevsevar from Pennsylvania, in English, catered for the Slovenian button accordion/Steirische, and doesn’t require any prior ability to read sheet music. It comes in three books, starting with a beginner level one that goes through all the basics. It’s available on eBay (here’s the link).
There’s an app for this too
Goter demonstrating the app in Slovenian
To start learning, you choose a song from a numbered level, and it will start playing it while highlighting the buttons that need to be pressed (both bass and treble), the names of their notes, and the bellows direction.
It also allows you to switch between English, German and Slovenian, change the (virtual) accordion’s tuning/keys to match your accordion, and the song speed, so that you can follow along at your desired pace. I believe extra songs are available through purchases. If you have a large enough device (or tiny fingers on a smaller device) you can play on the app’s accordion too (see below).
This isn’t Slovenian style but it’s fantastic and this guy is rocking it on his tablet
Learn your first song with this video
I’ll add the disclaimer that I started button accordion after years of learning piano accordion, which probably made it easier for me to pick it up. You may find that this video might be more helpful after covering the basics, it just depends on the individual. If you’re already familiar with another type of accordion, you might like the challenge of jumping into this tutorial.
Slovenia and Austria both have books available with sheet music and different types of notation.
If you’re looking at Austrian books, it’ll probably use the Griffschrift tabulature system that the Austrians have developed. There’s an in depth explanation of it in English: https://www.volksmusikschule.at/enggriffschrift1.htm
Sheet music from Slovenia usually has normal music notation for accordion, with the corresponding button name above each note (eg. B3 for 3rd button from the chin on the 2nd row from the outside), as well as indicators for the bellow direction.
Additionally there’s free sheet music available online:
- If you’re comfortable with using Google Translate or understand some Slovenian, frajtonerca.net forum can be a fantastic resource with free sheet music and other knowledge being shared
Keywords to help search for sheet music:
- Slovenian: frajtonarca note, frajtonarca tablature
- German: steirische harmonika griffschrift, steirische harmonika lernen, steirische noten
- Here’s a video in German explaining some basics: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q1mZD4BRPb0
- This link from Austria covers lots of information (in English), including how it works, sheet music examples, techniques, etc: https://www.volksmusikschule.at/english.htm
- This guy blogged about his learning over a period of weeks: http://steirische.blogspot.com
- You may also want to watch or listen to some accordionists who helped shape this style of music and the instruments themselves over the past 50 years. Among them are Lojze Slak and Franc Mihelič from Slovenia, both of which have written countless of popular compositions and even influenced extra buttons to be added to the instrument for ease of use and better play-ability