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- This article is about the instrument as a whole. For a full description of the sound-producing mechanism, see Free reed aerophone.
An accordion is a musical instrument of the handheld bellows-driven free reed aerophone family, sometimes referred to as squeezeboxes.
The accordion is played by compression and expansion of a bellows, which generates air flow across reeds; a keyboard controls which reeds receive air flow and therefore the tones produced.
Modern accordions consist of a body in two parts, each generally rectangular in shape, separated by a bellows. On each part of the body is a keyboard containing buttons, levers or piano-style keys. When pressed, the buttons travel in a direction perpendicular to the motion of the bellows (towards the performer). Most, but not all modern accordions also have buttons capable of producing entire chords.
The related concertina differs in that its buttons never produce chords and travel parallel to the travel of the bellows (towards the opposite end of the instrument); there are also differences in the internal materials, construction, mechanics, and tone color, but the basic principles of sound production are similar.
The accordion is one of several European inventions of the early 19th century that used free reeds driven by a bellows; notable among them were:
- The Aeoline, by German Bernhard Eschenbach (and his cousin, Caspar Schlimbach), 1810. It was a piano with an added aeoline register. Similar instruments were the Aeoline Harmonika and Physharmonika. Aeoline and Aura were first without bellows or keyboard.
- The Hand Physhamonika, by Anton Haeckl, 1818 a hand type mentioned in a music newspaper 1821.
- The flutina, by Pichenot Jeune, ca. 1831.
- The concertina, patented in two forms (perhaps independently): one by Carl Friedrich Uhlig, 1834 and the other by Sir Charles Wheatstone, of which examples were built after 1829, but no patent taken out until 1844.
An instrument called accordion was first patented in 1829 by Cyrill Demian in Vienna. Demian's instrument bore little resemblance to modern instruments; it only had a left hand keyboard, with the right hand simply operating the bellows. One key feature for which Demian sought the patent was the sounding of an entire chord by depressing one key. His instrument also could sound two different chords with the same key: one for each bellows direction (press, draw); this is called a bisonoric action.
At that time in Vienna, mouth harmonicas with "Kanzellen" (chambers) had already been available for many years, along with bigger instruments driven by hand bellows. The diatonic key arrangement was also already in use on mouth-blown instruments. Demian's patent thus covered an accompanying instrument: an accordion played with the left hand, opposite to the way that comtemporary chromatic hand harmonicas were played, small and light enough to for travellers to take with them and use to accompany singing. The patent also described instruments with both bass and treble sections, although Demian preferred the bass-only instrument owing to its cost and weight advantages.
The musician Adolph Müller described a great variety of instruments in his 1833 "Schule für Accordion". At the time, Vienna and London had a close musical relationship, with musicians often performing in both cities in the same year, so it is possible that Wheatstone was aware of this type of instrument and may have used them to put his key-arrangement ideas into practice.
Jeune's flutina resembles Wheatstone's concertina in internal construction and tone color, but it appears to complement Demian's accordion functionally. The flutina is a one-sided bisonoric melody-only instrument whose keys are operated with the right hand while the bellows is operated with the left. When the two instruments are combined, the result is quite similar to diatonic button accordions still manufactured today.
Further innovations followed and continue to the present. Various keyboard systems have been developed, as well as voicings (the combination of multiple tones at different octaves), with mechanisms to switch between different voices during performance, and different methods of internal construction to improve tone, stability and durability.
The instrument was popularized in the United States by Count Guido Deiro who was the first piano accordionist to perform in Vaudeville.
Accordion is the main instrument in the musette style of ballroom music in France (a style now largely out of fashion) and in the 1950s chanson singing, which has a revival in the form of neo-realism.
The accordion is an important instrument in Dutch folk music, and often the only melodious instrument when clog dancing.
Accordion is also a central instrument in Zydeco from Cajun and African-American traditions in Louisiana in the United States, and in Polka, heard in Europe and North and South America. It is also widely used in 'ceilidh' dance music of Scotland and Ireland.
In northeastern Brazil, the accordion, along with the triangle and the zabumba, is the main instrument used in forró, a traditional style usually played by trios.
In Colombia, the instrument was first introduced by European immigrants and merchants mainly of german origin through the Antilles Islands in the early 20th Century, where local troubadours from the Caribbean Region used it as an instrument to accompany their sang messages. This form of music developed into the musical genre called Vallenato, representative of Colombia.
On button accordions the melody-side keyboard consists of a series of buttons (rather than piano-style keys.) There exists a wide variation in keyboard systems, tuning, action and construction of these instruments.
Diatonic button accordions have a melody-side keyboard that is limited to the notes of diatonic scales in a small number of keys (sometimes only one). The bass side usually contains the principal chords of the instrument's key and the root notes of those chords.
Almost all diatonic button accordions (e.g.: melodeon) are bisonoric, meaning each button produces two notes: one when the bellows is compressed, another while it is expanded; a few instruments (e.g.: garmon') are unisonoric, with each button producing the same note regardless of bellows direction; still others have a combination of the two types of action: see Hybrids below.
A chromatic button accordion is a type of button accordion where the melody-side keyboard consists of uniform rows of buttons arranged so that the pitch increases chromatically along diagonals. The bass-side keyboard is usually the Stradella system, one of the various free-bass systems, or a converter system. Included among chromatic button accordions is the Russian bayan. Sometimes an instrument of this class is simply called a chromatic accordion, although other types, including the piano accordion, are fully chromatic as well. There can be 3 to 5 rows of treble buttons. In a 5 row chromatic, two additional rows repeat the first 2 rows to facilitate options in fingering. Chromatic button accordions are preferred by many classical music performers, since the treble keyboard with diagonally arranged buttons allows a greater range than a piano keyboard configuration.
The Janko keyboard is used for the treble side of some accordions.
Various cultures have made their own versions of the accordion, adapted to suit their own music. Russia alone has several, including the bayan, Garmon', Livenka, and Saratovskaya Garmonika.
Various hybrids have been created between instruments of different keyboards and actions. Many remain curiosities, only a few have remained in use. Some notable examples are:
- The Schrammel accordion, used in Viennese chamber music and Klezmer, which has the treble keyboard of a chromatic button accordion and a bisonoric bass keyboard, similar to an expanded diatonic button accordion.
- The schwyzerörgeli or Swiss organ, which has a (usually) 3-row diatonic treble and 18 unisonoric bass buttons in a bass/chord arrangement (actually a subset of the Stradella system), that travel parallel to the bellows motion.
- The trikitixa of the Basque people has a 2-row diatonic, bisonoric treble and a 12-button diatonic unisonoric bass.
- In Scotland, the favoured diatonic accordion is, paradoxically, the instrument known as the British Chromatic Accordion. While the right hand is bisonoric, the left hand follows the Stradella system. The elite form of this instrument is generally considered to be the German manufactured "Shand Morino", produced by Hohner with the input of the late Sir Jimmy Shand. 
Stradella bass system
The Stradella Bass System uses rows of buttons arranged in a circle of fifths; this places the principal major chords of a key in three adjacent rows. Each row contains, in order: A major third (the "counter-bass" note), the root note, the major chord, the minor chord, the (dominant) seventh chord, and the diminished seventh chord.
All chord buttons sound 3 note chords. Early attempts to create 4 note seventh and diminished chords were hampered by mechanical difficulties. Consequently, modern Stradella systems drop the 5th from these two chords. This has the side benefit of making the preformed chords more versatile. For example, an augmented chord can be created by using the dominant seventh button and adding an augmented 5th from the piano keyboard or from one of the bass or counterbass buttons.
Depending on the price, size or origin of the instrument, some rows may be missing completely or in different positions. In most Russian layouts the diminished seventh chord row is moved by one button, so that the C diminished seventh chord is where the F diminished seventh chord would be in a standard Stradella layout; this is done in order to achieve a better reachability with the forefinger.
Common configurations are:
- "12 Bass" goes from B♭ to A, (the third to eighth column in the picture above), and only has root note and major chords.
- "24 Bass" goes from E to E, and has root note, major and minor chords
- "32 Bass" goes from E♭ to E, and has root note, major, minor and seventh chords
- "40 Bass" goes from E♭ to E, and has root note, "counter-bass" note, major, minor and seventh chords
- "48 Bass" goes from E♭ to E, and has all six rows
- "60 Bass" goes from D♭ to F♯, and has root note, "counter-bass" note, major, minor and seventh chords
- "72 Bass" goes from D♭ to F♯, and has all six rows
- "80 Bass" goes from C♭ to G♯, and has root note, "counter-bass" note, major, minor and seventh chords
- "96 Bass" goes from C♭ to G♯, and has all six rows
- "120 Bass" goes from B♭♭ (i.e. low A) to A♯; — that's 20 columns — with all six rows.
- "140 Bass" has the same 20 columns as the 120 bass configuration, but adds either a row for augmented chords or a second counter-bass row.
Free bass systems
Free bass systems allow the player to construct their own chords as well as to play bass melodies in several octaves. There are various free bass systems in use; most consist of a rotated version or mirror image of one of the melody layouts used in chromatic button accordions. One notable exception is the Titano line of converter bass, which repeats the first two bass rows of the Stradella system one and two octaves higher moving outward from the bellows. New York's Dr William Schimmel, who composes and performs in literally every genre, is a leading exponent of this particular bass system and uses it extensively in tandem with the standard stradella system. In the United States, Julio Giulietti was the chief manufacturer and promoter of the free bass accordion that he called a "bassetti" accordion which was mass produced from the late 1950s onward. Giulietti accordions with free bass capability often had a "transformer" switch to go from standard pre-set chords to individual free bass notes.
Skillful use of the free bass system enabled the performance of classical piano music, rather than music arranged specifically for the accordion's standard chorded capability. Beginning in the 1960s, competitive performance on the accordion of classical piano compositions, by the great masters of music, occurred. Although never mainstreamed in the larger musical scene, this convergence with traditional classical music propelled young accordionists to an ultimate involvement with classical music heretofore not experienced.
Within the United States, several noted instrumentalists demonstrated the unique orchestral capabilities of the free bass accordion while performing at the nation's premier concert venues. Included among the leading orchestral artists was John Serry, Sr.- a noted concert accordionist, soloist, composer and arranger. Mr Serry performed extensively in both symphonic and jazz ensembles as well as on live radio and television broadcasts. His refined poetic artistry gained recognition for the accordion among many prominent conductors and musicians of the twentieth century.
Recently Guy Klucevsek has built a reputation on combining folk styles with classical forms and makes extensive use of the free bass. In Europe today, free bass accordion performance has reached a very high level, especially in Finland, Russia, Italy and Germany. It isn't uncommon for music conservatories in Europe to consider the free bass accordion an acceptable instrument for serious study.
Many modern and avant-garde composers (such as Sofia Gubaidulina, Mauricio Kagel, and Magnus Lindberg,) have written for the free bass accordion and the instrument is becoming more frequently integrated into new music chamber and improvisation groups.
- Accordion chords (file info) —
- Chords being played on an accordion — 145 KB
- Problems listening to the file? See media help.
- Roland Virtual Accordion
- Players of the accordion include polka stars Lawrence Welk, Myron Floren, Frankie Yankovic and "Weird Al" Yankovic, Venezuelan accordionist Roberto Ruscitti, rock musicians Bruce Hornsby, Joseph Byrd, John Linnell of They Might Be Giants, Dennis DeYoung of Styx, David Hidalgo of Los Lobos, Garth Hudson of The Band, Zach Condon of Beirut, Tré Cool of Green Day, and Danny Federici of the E Street Band, Sweet Jonny V (Arabella) of Analog Arts Ensemble, and zydeco musicians Stanley "Buckwheat" Dural of Buckwheat Zydeco, John R. Capozello of jazz combo "The Blue Notes" and he played in US Air Force Band, Beau Jocques, Flogging Molly, Kevin Hearn, Jason Webley and Boozoo Chavis, and also Yuri Lemeshev of the band, Gogol Bordello. Jenny Conlee of The Decemberists. Also Cajun musician Steve Riley of Steve Riley and the Mamou Playboys, and Flaco Jimenez of the Texas Tornados. James Fearnley of the Pogues should not be overlooked as an agent in the resurgence of popularity of the accordion during the 1980's. Lisko Mäkinen and Antti Laurila incorporate accordions in metal music in the Finnish band Turisas. Those Darn Accordions is an accordion-based rock and polka band.
- The piano accordion has been lampooned in American culture, from The Far Side to Garfield, and even other forms of media.
- The book, Accordion Crimes by Annie Proulx (author of the story upon which the movie "Brokeback Mountain" is based), traces various immigrant stories, all of which are based on a single accordion.
- "Weird Al" Yankovic used the accordion in a 1988 episode of Remote Control to torture contestants who were in last place at the end of Round 2 and sent Off The Air by being pulled back in a chair and/or lifted up and out of the room. This was the only time in the episode the backstage portion of the set was shown. The other time he actually played the game for charity.
- The more modern "story telling" band, The Decemberists use the accordion in their song tale "Mariner's Revenge Song". The accordion is the lead instrument, and the song tells the horrid tale of two mariners trapped in the belly of a whale.
In the Irish tradition some musicians have a love-hate relationship with the accordion. Famous anti-accordion comments include: "A gentleman is a man who can play the piano accordion... and doesn't", "The best way to play the piano accordion is with a pen-knife" (attributed to Christy Moore) and "An instrument in harmony with the sentiments of the assassin".
- ^ p.98, Howard, Rob (2003) An A to Z of the Accordion and related instruments Stockport: Robaccord Publications ISBN 0-9546711-0-4
- ^ http://www.offutt.af.mil/Assoc_Units/Band/htmlpages/AOBhistory.html#1951
- Infos about accordions with Stradella bass system, table for creation of additional chords with the Stradella bass system
- Squeezebox, an open repository for squeezebox knowledge on Wikia
- Accordions A collection of media and videos of musicians playing the accordion.
- Chromatic keyboard