Guide to Accordions

An accordion is a musical instruments that is sometimes referred to as the squeezebox. It is a wind instrument that is played by expanding or compressing the bellows while pressing the buttons or keys to open the pallets and allow the air to flow across the strips of reeds that are made of brass or steel. Accordions are often used in zydeco, jazz, and cajun music. In this article, we are going to learn more about the history and different types of accordions. 

History of the Accordion

According to studies, the accordion originated from free-reed instruments, and the first accordion is believed to be made in China around 2nd millennium BC. Back then, this instrument was called as “sheng” and it sort of look like a mouth pipe organ, in fact, this kind of instrument is still played up until today. 

The modern-day look of the accordion is believed to have been first created by a man named Christian Friedrich Ludwig Buschmann in 1822 in Berlin. But, some Russian researchers dispute that fact and say that the earliest form of the simple accordion was first made by a man named Timofrey Voronstov in 1820 in Tule. But, it was an Austrian-Armenian inventor in Vienna named Cyrill Demian who first patented an instrument called an accordion. However, this said accordion only has buttons instead of a keyboard.
Two female playing accordion

In 1828, the Germans introduced the accordions to Britain. Initially, the British audience did not view the instrument favorable. But, as time passed, the accordion started to gain more popularity, and because of the Industrial Revolution, the manufacturing of the accordion quickly spread throughout Europe. By the 1840s, accordions were not just being manufactured in Austria and Germany but also in Italy, France, and Russia.

As the accordion became more popular, manufacturers tried to market it as a more respectable instrument rather than just a folk instrument. That is why in the 1920s, a major accordion manufacturer in Germany published a classical sheet music that successfully moved the accordion from being a folk instrument to a classical instrument. 

Today, the accordion is not only used in classical and folk music, it is also heard in pop and rock music.

Types of Accordion

  • Button Accordion – This is a type of accordion wherein its melody side of the board has buttons instead of piano keys. The button accordion is one of the two main types of accordions and it comes in different style and configurations. This type of accordion have bass and chord buttons on one side and single note buttons on the other. 
  • Chromatic Accordion – This type of accordion has buttons located on both its left-hand bass side and right-hand treble size. The chromatic accordion also have a bass button configuration just like a piano accordion. This feature gives the chromatic accordion a wider range of pitch.
  • Diatonic Accordion – Diatonic accordions are usually used in ethnic and folk music. Almost all diatonic accordions are button accordions which have one to several rows of buttons. The major difference between a diatonic and chromatic accordion is that the reeds of the diatonic accordions are bisonic. This means that the instrument produces different sounds when you push or pull out in the bellows. 
  • Schrammel Accordion – This type of accordion has a bass side that has diatonic, and bisonoric 12-button keyboard. Aside from that, the Schrammel accordion has a treble side of a chromatic button accordion. This type of accordion is named after the combination of two violins, contraguitar, clarinet, or accordion called as the Schrammelquartet.
  • Steirische Harmonika – The Steirische Harmonika is a bisonoric diatonic button accordion that are often used in traditional music of Slovenia, the Czech Republic, Bavaria, Austria, and the Italian South Tyrol. This accordion produces richer bass notes and it has a single key per scale row which gives off the same pitch whether the bellows are pushed in or pulled out.
  • Piano Accordion – This is the second main type of accordion and as the name suggests, this accordion has a piano-style keyboard commonly located on its right hand treble. The piano-style keyboard has the same design and layout like in a regular piano. Most full-sized piano accordion has 41 treble keys and about 3+ octave of notes. The left-hand side of the piano accordion has board of buttons for bass accompaniment. A typical piano accordion has 120 buttons but some varieties can have up to 140 buttons. 

Cajun Accordion – This type of accordion is also known as the squeezebox. It is single row diatonic accordion that has multiple reeds for every button. The Cajun accordion is often used in polka, Italian, Irish, and other styles of music.