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For other uses, see Accordion (disambiguation).
Accordions (from 19th-century German Akkordion, from Akkord - "musical chord, concord of sounds") are a family of box-shaped musical instruments of the bellows-driven free-reed aerophone type, colloquially referred to as a squeezebox. A person who plays the accordion is called an accordionist. The concertina and bandoneón are related; the harmonium and American reed organ are in the same family.
The instrument is played by compressing or expanding the bellows while pressing buttons or keys, causing valves, called pallets, to open, which allow air to flow across strips of brass or steel, called reeds, that vibrate to produce sound inside the body.[notes 1] The performer normally plays the melody on buttons or keys on the right-hand manual, and the accompaniment, consisting of bass and pre-set chord buttons, on the left-hand manual.
The accordion is widely spread across the world. In some countries (for example Brazil, Colombia and Mexico) it is used in popular music (for example Sertanejo and B-Pop in Brazil), whereas in other regions (such as Europe, North America and other countries in South America) it tends to be more restricted to folk music and as well as in regional and is often used in folk music in Europe, North America and South America. Nevertheless, in Europe and North America, some popular music acts also make use of the instrument. Additionally, the accordion is also used in zydeco, jazz music and in both solo and orchestra performances of classical music. The piano accordion is the official city instrument of San Francisco, California
The oldest name for this group of instruments is harmonika, from the Greek harmonikos, meaning harmonic, musical. Today, native versions of the name accordion are more common. These names refer to the type of accordion patented by Cyrill Demian, which concerned "automatically coupled chords on the bass side".
The accordion's body consists of two wood boxes joined together by the bellows. These boxes house reed chambers for the right- and left-hand manuals, respectively. Each side has grilles in order to facilitate the transmission of air in and out of the instrument, and to allow the sound to better project. The grille for the right-hand manual is usually larger and is often shaped for decorative purposes. The right-hand manual is normally used for playing the melody and the left-hand manual for playing the accompaniment, however skilled players can reverse these roles.
The size and weight of an accordion varies depending on its type, layout and playing range, which can be as small as to have only one or two rows of basses and a single octave on the right-hand manual, to the standard 120-bass accordion and through to large and heavy 160-bass free-bass converter models.
The accordion is an aerophone. The manual mechanism of the instrument either enables the air flow, or disables it:
There is a wide range of instruments that are called accordion. The different types have varying components. All instruments have reed ranks of some format. Not all have switches. The most typical accordion is the piano accordion, which is used for many musical genres. Another type of accordion is the button accordion, which is used in several musical traditions, including Cajun, Conjunto and Tejano music, Swiss and Austro-German Alpine music, Argentinian tango music and many other folk genres.
Right-hand manual systems
Different systems exist for the right-hand manual of an accordion, which is normally used for playing the melody. Some use a button layout arranged in one way or another, while others use a piano-style keyboard. Each system has different claimed benefits by those who prefer it. They are also used to define one accordion or another as a different "type":
- Chromatic button accordions and the bayan, a Russian variant, use a buttonboard where notes are arranged chromatically. Two major systems exist, referred to as the B-system and the C-system (there are also regional variants.)
- Diatonic button accordions use a buttonboard designed around the notes of diatonic scales in a small number of keys. The keys are often arranged in one row for each key available. Chromatic scales may be available by combining notes from different rows. The adjective "diatonic" is also commonly used to describe bisonic or bisonoric accordions—that is, instruments whose right-hand-manual (and in some instances even bass) keys each sound two different notes depending on the direction of the bellows (for instance, producing major triad sequences while closing the bellows and dominant seventh or 7-9 while opening). Such is the case, for instance, with the Argentinian bandoneon, the Austro-German steirische Harmonika, the Italian organetto, the Swiss Schwyzerörgeli and the Anglo concertina.
- Piano accordions use a musical keyboard similar to a piano, at right angles to the cabinet, the tops of the keys inward toward the bellows
- 6-plus-6 accordions use a buttonboard with three rows of buttons in a 'uniform' or 'whole-tone' arrangement. The chromatic scale consists of two rows. The third row is a repetition of the first row. So there is the same fingering in all twelve scales. These accordions are produced only in special editions e. g. the 'logicordion' produced by HARMONA.
Left-hand manual systems
Typical 120-button Stradella bass system. This is the left-hand manual system found on most unisonoric accordions today
Different systems are also in use for the left-hand manual, which is normally used for playing the accompaniment. These almost always use distinct bass buttons and often have buttons with concavities or studs to help the player navigate the layout despite not being able to see the buttons while playing. There are three general categories:
- The Stradella bass system, also called standard bass, is arranged in a circle of fifths and uses single buttons for chords
- The Belgian bass system is a variation used in Belgian chromatic accordions. It is also arranged in a circle of fifths but in reverse order. This system has 3 rows of basses, 3 rows of chord buttons allowing easier fingering for playing melodies, combined chords, better use of fingers 1 and 5, and more space between the buttons. This system was poorly traded outside of native Belgium
- Various free-bass systems for greater access to playing melodies on the left-hand manual and to forming one's own chords. These are often chosen for playing jazz and classical music. Some models can convert between free-bass and Stradella bass; this is called "converter bass".
Reed ranks and switches
Main article: Accordion reed ranks and switches
Inside the accordion are the reeds that generate the instrument tones. These are organized in different sounding ranks, which can be further combined into registers producing differing timbres. All but the smaller accordions are equipped with switches that control which combination of reed ranks operate, organized from high to low registers. Each register stop produces a separate sound timbre. See the accordion reed ranks and switches article for further explanation and audio samples.
All but the smallest accordions usually have treble switches. The larger and more expensive accordions often also have bass switches.
Classification of chromatic and piano type accordions
In describing/pricing an accordion, the first factor is size, expressed in number of keys on either side. For a piano type, this could for one example be 37/96, meaning 37 keys (3 octaves plus one note) on the treble side and 96 bass keys. After size, the price and weight of an accordion is largely dependent on the number of reed ranks on either side, either on a cassotto or not, and to a lesser degree on the number of combinations available through register switches. Typically, these could be announced as Reeds: 5 + 3, meaning five reeds on the treble side and three on the bass, and Registers: 13 + M, 7, meaning 13 register buttons on the treble side plus a special "master" that activates all ranks, like the "tutti" on an organ, and seven register switches on the bass side.
The larger piano and chromatic button accordions are usually heavier than other smaller squeezeboxes, and are equipped with two shoulder straps to make it easier to balance the weight and increase bellows control while sitting, and avoid dropping the instrument while standing.
Other accordions, such as the diatonic button accordion, have only a single shoulder strap and a right hand thumb strap. All accordions have a (mostly adjustable) leather strap on the left-hand manual to keep the player's hand in position while drawing the bellows. There are also straps above and below the bellows to keep it securely closed when the instrument is not playing.