Slovenian-Australian accordionist · Learning material

Phillip Nadvesnik

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Slovenian ‘Oberkrainer’ accordion rhythm technique for waltzes (Slo: tresanje, spremljavo) (Ger: begleitung)

⚠️ For a brief historical explanation of the technique and a video on how to use this technique in polkas, click on the article below 👇.

Waltzes in the Oberkrainer accordion rhythm technique (Slo: tresanje or spremljavo, Ger: begleitung) involve playing chords in quavers (eighth notes) repeatedly and smoothly in 3/4 time, with no bellow shaking. Below is a video and exercise sheet PDF which I hope might assist some people in learning and improving their technique.

Some tips to help you on your journey:

  • Wrist movements on the treble (right) hand can help with maintaining rhythm.
  • Varying the pressure of the bellows at different times helps with a dynamic feel and energy.
  • I like to vary the number of notes played at any given time, alternating between 3, 4 and 5 notes, to suite the melody and feeling of the song, as well as coordination with other instruments in a trio or quintet.
  • Varying the bellow movement is not essential. There is no bellow shaking of any sorts.
  • Tapping the left (bass) hand can be used instead of playing basses, to help maintain feeling and rhythm.
  • The faster the waltz, the higher chance that the chords will be played with shorter, staccato notes.

Slovenian popular folk ‘Oberkrainer’ vs. American-Slovenian ‘Cleveland style’

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If you’re new to Slovenian popular folk music (from Slovenia) or American-Slovenian style polkas (from North America), you might get confused between the two (I sure did), so in this post I try to clear it up with the sort of information I’d love to have had available several years ago.

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Slavko Avsenik performing with Frankie Yankovic on one of Avsenik’s visits to USA (image from Simon Golobič ‘s archive)

How to play basic Slovenian Oberkrainer guitar polka rhythm

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Vilko & Slavko Avsenik’s ensemble from Slovenia were the creators of the ‘Oberkrainer’ sound and genre which took off in the alpine parts of central Europe. A typical band in this genre, following Avseniki, has three main parts: the vocal, melodic and rhythm sections. The rhythm section in the band is usually made up of the vital three instruments: accordion, guitar and double bass or electric bass which alternates with baritone.

Accordions played by Slavko Avsenik

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The sound of Slavko and Vilko Avsenik’s ensemble (Slo: Ansambel bratov Avsenik, Ger: Slavko Avsenik und seine Original Oberkrainer) had many moving parts that contributed to the legendary sound which evolved throughout their career spanning from the 1950s to the 1990s. Technique, band members, advancements in sound engineering, arrangements by Vilko Avsenik and combinations of instruments evolved with each album and each decade. This includes the evolution of each accordion that Slavko Avsenik recorded and performed with.

Slovenian ‘Oberkrainer’ accordion rhythm technique for polkas (Slo: tresanje, spremljavo) (Ger: begleitung)

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Slovenian/Oberkrainer style accordion rhythm is a technique used by Slovenian and Austrian alpine style accordionists to complete the rhythm section in a trio or quintet, by playing chords repeatedly as semiquavers in polkas, or quavers in waltzes. In Slovenian it’s known as ‘tresenje‘ (shaking), for its ‘shaking’ sound, and ‘spremljavo‘ (accompaniment). In German it’s called ‘Oberkrainer begleitung‘ (Oberkrainer accompaniment). In trios with vocals, or quintets with a trumpet and clarinet, the accordion never only sticks to melody or rhythm, but fluidly alternates between melody and rhythm.

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