Guide to Bandoneon

The bandoneon, also known as bandonion, is a concertina instrument that originated in Germany. This instrument that was named by a German instrument dealer, Heinrich Band, was initially used in religious and pop music at that time. Although it started in Germany, the bandoneon had also found its way in different countries such as Argentina, Lithuania, and Uruguay. By the year 1870, Italian and German immigrants have brought the bandoneon to Argentina. In Argentina and Uruguay, the bandoneon is closely related to the history of tango dance and music.

Subsequently, this instrument was produced in Uruguayan and Argentine markets, with about 25,000 shipping in Argentina alone.Despite its popularity in Argentina, the bandoneons were historically made in Germany. Meanwhile, Lithuania had adopted the instrument to use in their folk music ensemble. However, when World War II began, the manufacturing of the bandoneon was disrupted and eventually followed its declining popularity. In the year 2000s, the instrument became rare and expensive. Moreover, original bandoneons can be seen in German museums like the Preuss family’s Bandoneon Museum located in Lichtenberg and the Steinhart family’s collection in Freiburg.

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Bandoneons do not differ much from other regular concertina instruments. The largest difference may be the bandoneon’s ability to produce bisonoric sounds with the air passing through several reeds when traveling through the hand portion of the instrument. In constructing the bandoneon, its manufacturers focus on making efficient bellows, buttons, and reed pan for channeling the airflow.

How to Play the Bandoneon?


The bandoneon, along with the other instruments in the concertina family, is called squeezeboxes. In playing these instruments, the performer must hold it with both hands and perform a constant pushing and pulling motion that will create movement and air pressure on the instrument’s bellows. The air in the bellows can only enter or leave if the instrument is pressed on both sides. With constant pressing and pulling, the instrument will then create a sound.

While accordions have buttons that travel perpendicularly to the movement of its bellows, the bandoneon has buttons that travel parallel to its bellows. Aside from that difference, bandoneons produce a different sound when the sound moves in and out of the bellows. With that, the player needs time to expand and contract the bellows depending on what sound he wants to create with each keypress. This effect is known as the bisonoric sound. This effect is difficult to master since the player needs to learn four different layouts of sound. Importantly, the bandoneon keys are not fitted in playing scale passages of single notes. Instead, these keys are focused on facilitating playing chords that supported other instruments and singers of tango music.

Although the bandoneon produces bisonoric sound, different notes on the push and pull, there were also bandoneons that produce unisonoric or monosonoric, the same note on the push and pull.  These variants include the Charles Peguri and Ernst Kusserow systems, which were both introduced around the year 1925.

Notable Bandoneon’s Player

Bandoneon can be played in several types of musical styles, including folk music and religious music. In addition to that, this instrument is known for being one of the cornerstones of tango music. The bandoneon was promoted to this state not only because of its early influences in Montevideo and Buenos Aires but also because of modern composers like Anibal Troilo and Astor Piazolla. Troilo was the leading bandoneon proponent in the 20th century, while Piazolla arranged and played Troilo’s Orquesta from the year 1939 to 1944. These two composers became successful in integrating the bandoneon instrument into the modern tango style. They also managed to mix classical music and tango music and thus transforming the traditional tango into a new genre, the nuevo tango.

Aside from Astor Piazolla and Anibal Troilo, there were also other notable bandoneon tango music players. Some of them are Eduardo Arolas, Pedro Laurenz, Pedro Maffia, Per Arne Glorvigen, Gabriel Merlino, and Richard Galliano. Moreover, notable conductors and musicians were also known to play the bandoneon. These musicians were Vicente Greco, Juan de Dios Filiberto, Eduardo Arolas, Augusto Berto, and Anselmo Aieta.