The accordion is a musical instrument classified as an aerophone or sometimes as a diatonic idiophone. It is a type of harmony based on reeds. The sound is produced by the airflow generated by manually operated bellows, causing the reeds to vibrate. Initially, it operated using foot bellows, which were later replaced by hand-operated bellows. This instrument has a keyboard (or buttons in the case of a button accordion) on the right side and buttons (bass notes, chords) on the left, and sometimes a melodic manual on the left called a baryton.
Some instrument experts classify the accordion as an idiophone, but this claim is controversial because idiophones themselves are a source of sound, whereas in the accordion, the reeds are set into vibrations through the column of air, similar to aerophones. The categorization of the accordion as an idiophone results from recognizing the reeds themselves as the source of sound, rather than the air passing through them.
The Accordion’s Fascinating History and Evolution
The free-reed was known in China almost 3000 years BC in an instrument called the “sheng,” which was a type of mouth organ. The sheng externally resembled the shape of the legendary phoenix bird. In the years 1770-1750, Bernhard Eschenbach, along with piano builder Caspar Schlimbach, constructed an instrument called the “aeolina.” It had a keyboard spanning over 3 octaves, with two bellows operated by knees. Christian Friedrich Ludwig built the hand aeolina in 1822, equipped with bellows. The most significant innovation in this device, from the perspective of future development, was the use of airflow from both directions of the bellows.
In 1829, in Vienna, organ builders Cyrill Demian and his sons Carl and Guido patented an instrument called the “accordion.” They highlighted the ability to play chords as the instrument’s most important feature, hence its name – “accordion.” The accordion’s scale mentioned in the patent description covered the notes from G to D2. The way of playing and holding the instrument was different from today. The right hand held the bellows, and the left hand’s thumb was placed in a leather strap attached to the neck. The bellows worked vertically. The other fingers of the left hand operated the keys.
Structure of the Instrument
- Bass side: Buttons arranged in rows and columns. The rows are arranged according to the circle of fifths, with the first two rows producing single notes, the third row major chords, the fourth minor chords, the fifth four-note seventh chords, and the sixth four-note diminished chords. (On the bass side, in the last two rows, there are buttons that, when pressed, produce the sound of three notes, respectively from four-note seventh and diminished chords, but always only three sound because they are constructed to sound without the fifth).
- There are also accordions with converters, where the left hand mechanics allow the “splitting” of bass chords into single notes, known as barytons.
- Melody side: May have a piano-type keyboard or buttons arranged chromatically in rows of three to six (there are also four-row button accordions). Various button layouts are used in accordions.
Types of Accordions
1. Diatonic Accordions: The Traditional Choice
Diatonic accordions are known for their rich heritage in folk music. They have buttons or keys arranged to produce specific scales in one or more keys. Each button plays a different note when the bellows are pushed or pulled. Diatonic accordions are commonly used in genres like Cajun, Zydeco, and Irish traditional music. They offer a unique, melodic sound that resonates with cultural traditions.
2. Chromatic Accordions: Versatility and Complexity
Chromatic accordions are favored for their versatility and ability to play in any key. They have a piano-like keyboard on the right side that allows the player to produce all the notes of the chromatic scale. This feature makes them suitable for a wide range of musical styles, including classical, jazz, and modern popular music. Chromatic accordions are known for their complex and expressive sound.
3. Button Accordions: A Unique Sound World
Button accordions, also known as melodeons or diatonic button accordions, are characterized by their button layout. They typically have rows of buttons on both sides of the instrument. The right-hand side contains melody buttons, while the left-hand side features bass buttons and chord buttons. Button accordions are widely used in various folk traditions, such as French musette, Tex-Mex, and Scottish folk music. They offer a distinctive and lively sound.
4. Piano Accordions: A Popular Choice
Piano accordions are well-known for their piano-like keyboard on the right side. These accordions are versatile and widely used in various music genres, from traditional folk music to contemporary pop. They offer a smooth transition for pianists due to their familiar keyboard layout. Piano accordions are available in both diatonic and chromatic versions, making them suitable for different musical preferences.
5. Concertinas: Compact and Unique
Concertinas are similar to accordions but have a unique hexagonal shape. They are often used in English, Anglo, and English concertina systems. These instruments are known for their compact size and portability. Concertinas produce a bright and distinct sound and are commonly used in sea shanties, folk music, and Irish traditional tunes.
Getting Started: Accordion Tips for Beginners
- Find a Qualified Instructor: One of the best ways to begin your accordion journey is by taking lessons from an experienced accordion teacher. Look for local music schools or instructors who offer accordion lessons. They can provide personalized guidance and help you build a strong foundation.
- Choose the Right Accordion: Selecting the appropriate accordion is crucial. Consider factors like your musical goals, the type of accordion you want to play (diatonic or chromatic), and your budget. Consult with your instructor for recommendations.
- Practice Regularly: Like any musical instrument, consistent practice is essential. Dedicate time each day to practice scales, exercises, and songs. Start with simple melodies and gradually progress to more complex pieces as your skills improve.
- Learn Music Theory: Understanding music theory, including reading sheet music and understanding key signatures, is beneficial for accordionists. It helps you interpret and play music accurately.
- Finger Strength and Dexterity: Developing finger strength and dexterity is crucial for accordion players. Practice finger exercises to improve agility and control over the accordion’s buttons or keys.
- Ear Training: Train your ear to recognize different melodies and chords. This skill is valuable for playing music by ear and improvising.
Online Learning and Educational Materials
- YouTube Tutorials: There are numerous accordion tutorials available on YouTube. Channels like “Accordion Love” and “Libertango Accordion” offer instructional videos for beginners and advanced players alike.
- Online Courses: Explore online courses and platforms dedicated to accordion lessons. Websites like AccordionLife.com offer comprehensive lessons, sheet music, and practice tracks. You can learn at your own pace and revisit lessons as needed.
- Accordion Forums: Join online accordion forums and communities where you can connect with other accordionists, ask questions, and share your progress. Accordionists often provide valuable advice and resources.
- Sheet Music Websites: Websites like MusicNotes and Sheet Music Plus offer a wide selection of accordion sheet music. You can find music for various genres and skill levels.
- Accordion Apps: There are mobile apps designed to help accordionists learn and practice. Apps like “Accordion Free” and “Accordion Keyboard” provide virtual accordion experiences and tutorials.
- Accordion Books: Look for instructional accordion books written by experienced players and teachers. These books often come with exercises, sheet music, and valuable insights.
- Online Communities: Participate in online communities on platforms like Reddit and Facebook dedicated to accordion enthusiasts. These communities are excellent sources for tips, resources, and camaraderie.