An accordion is one of few musical instruments that are recognizable across different world cultures, like a guitar. They are so popular, but few people know how sounds come from them or how accordions are made.
Figuring out how these musical instruments are produced can help you pick out just the right model. This ensures that you end up making the kind of sound you’ve been looking for.
Accordions come in types, but their general operation remains under the same system, making sounds with air pressure. Whether it is a piano squeezebox model, a chromatic button, a digital using MIDI, or bass accordions, they have similar components.
They contain compressible bellows, metal reeds, bass casing, treble casing, button rows, or a piano-Esque board. There are a few exceptions, like the digital accordions, as you will see.
The accordionist gets tones when he hits the buttons or keys—based on the equipment category. This happens each time he squeezes the bellows device or releasing it. The basic function of the bellows is to pump air into the instrument. These coordinated actions from the player cause air to enter the set of reeds. When this happens, it makes them vibrate to give off distinct tones.
Accordions are adaptable and used by musicians across various genres. North Americans use it for Tango, and Latins play it for Polka. People who play this equipment are accordionists, while one person is an accordionist. Musicians across genres around the world use this equipment. An interesting fact is that California in the United States officially recognizes it as the city instrument.
Description of the Accordion from its Left hand to Right hand
An accordion melody side may be a 25-key or 41-key board system, depending on the model size. Sophisticated accordion models can have four reeds sets, known as treble shifts. The tuning for one reed set is in unison, the second and third sets have one octave higher or lower respectively. Its last set, tremulant, is higher than unison.
The player uses both hands for an accordion. He hits the keyboard on the right hand and also squeezes the bellows and bass buttons on the left hand. For larger accordions, there are usually twenty buttons in six rows—making 120 buttons. These buttons have their arrangement in a sequence of perfect fifths.
The first row makes diminished 7th chords sound. Its second makes a dominant 7th chord. The third, the minor triad. The fourth-row buttons make major triads. The remaining two rows, the fifth and sixth, produce fundamental bass and counter bass that makes a low bass note. These low notes contain the chromatic pitches—all twelve. There is also a reedless button, air button, on the left hand that does not give sounds.
The accordion produces its famed accordion sound when air goes through the reed, and then the reeds’ slot. Its reeds have metal strips riveted to opposite sides of the plate. The reed has a slot under to make air reach the bellow. This airflow must follow the designated direction and sequence or the reed will bend and will not produce the normal sound.
The reeds also have a direct impact on the tone of the accordion. A short reed will make a longer note compared to what a long one would do. There are varying settings for keyboards on accordions. In the piano keyboard style accordion, its keys extend to the main body. The body also has pallets, which functions to cover reed block holes.
The air then gets stuck and cannot reach reeds. When the player hits the key, the pallet opens, allowing the inflow of air through reeds and slots to produce a sound. There are also register keys that operate slides to add to the tone outcome quality and variation. The person holds the accordion in place with shoulder straps while sitting or standing.
As the pressure applies on the bellows, and it compresses, air forces through the reed. The players then use the fingers on his right hand to control the keys, which then link to its reed to vibrate and set off distinct notes. The players use the left hand to operate both the bellows and the bass notes to give minor and major chords.
The instrument has a long history. Christian F. Buschmann made the official ancestor of the accordion today, but people still credit the Chinese too. A common belief was that its creation took inspiration from the Chinese cheng /sheng from around five millennia ago. This is because it creates sounds off vibrating reeds.
The instrument first appeared in Europe in 1777 when Russians saw it, and it may have made its way to Germany for Buschmann’s invention. Buschmann patented his instrument in 1822, by this time, it had a keyboard, a compressible bellow, and reeds.
In 1829, Cyrilus Damian reinvented the instrument to have bass keys that produce chords, hence getting the name accordion. Cyrillus also patented his design, and it stood till today, although with many modifications to the original one.
One of such modifications came in 1850 with the creation of a chromatic accordion. This accordion is different from the diatonic accordion that produces varying notes. More early modifications continued until the early 20th century. At this period, makers settled on the numbers of bass keys and designs for instruments.
But it did not end with these developments. In 1945, wiring allowed connection to electronic organs. The accordion evolved beyond this period to become what it is today. It became the vibrating reed instrument compatible with electronics. It went from a phoenix-looking Chinese instrument to something optimized for MIDI functions.
It started with a Cheng, having about 20 bamboo pipes, a mouthpiece, a resonator box, and a gourd. The instrument today can work with other MIDI devices. These devices include sound modules and other electronic appliances.
Modern Accordions and midi
Today, the accordion has three main parts, bellows, a treble end, and a bass end. The compressible bellows contain metal reeds and electronic components. The treble end has an attached keyboard, and the bass end has buttons for bass notes with chords.
The modern accordion provides the ability to change a note and refine the tone and acoustic sound outcomes. It is also easier to handle and control as it gets lighter and includes technology that can help make musicians more versatile.
It is this concern for versatility that drove the creation of MIDI- Musical Instrument Digital Interface. MIDI was the means to control electronic sound instruments from other instruments. MIDI accordions are digital equipment that encodes and sends signals from the keys of equipment. This equipment such as a keyboard sends MIDI messages to an accordion when connected via its amplifier.
A significant upside of MIDI is that it can improve the performance of the sound output. It can also help record, edit, and improve already sung music. For instance, It can help an accordionist resume recording without problems if he forgets a part of his line. All he needs is to store the record, and edit the record with a MIDI accordion. He can listen to what he had done and add the remaining parts while having the previous record intact.
How accordions are made
Makers of squeezeboxes join hundreds of components for each product. They were able to manage this high demand by engaging laborers where manual labor is cheap. It is common in places like Russia and China. Other European squeezebox companies who do not have the opportunity to use such contend with huge costs.
Running a complete machine production is too costly, so manual processes support it. Companies use fine woods, granulated plastics, metal, leather, and high-strength cardboard. American Tulipwood and basswood are a common choice for large wooden parts or frames like a reed block.
Metals are usually blue steel and aluminum. The major manufacturing stage is coupling small interior components such as the reeds. This is where the human hand is most relevant in the process. Craftsmen laborers merge the small parts to ensure the tonal output is topnotch.
Local makers build instrument components to sell to larger firms. They couple essential internal parts like reeds that can affect the quality, so the companies they supply can do the finishing design. For non-digital accordions, reeds made without machines make better tones.
After making these instrument subparts, they put them together, then they put the whole instrument together as well. Designing and packaging also follow these construction processes.
European companies that make components within their factories carve wood into pieces with machines. This will ensure conformity with requirements like the size of other wooden components and parts. Companies produce the plastics of the instrument, the keys, and each button, with injection molding.
This process involves pouring granulated plastic or powder into a hopper. The hopper liquifies on heating and forced into molds by injecting it into desired shapes and sizes. The liquid plastic then solidifies on cooling.
Metal rods connect the pallets to bass buttons, and it does the same for register slides controlling reed blocks. As it is for plastic, the metal melts and turns liquid. This liquid then goes into a mold, where it cools and solidifies as desired. For metal reeds, the process is a little different. The producers make the metal for reeds undergo tempering, which will enhance the metal ductility and make it tougher.
The makers of accordions make bellows with cardboard, steel, and leather. They tuck thick cardboards, then pleat and supporting them with leather as well as strips of steel. These makers then attach the reinforced cardboard to the casings on either side as bellows. Wax is then used to prevent air from seeping out between gaps ads the bellows force air ao.
After completion of the instrument subparts, the assembly process commences. Screws help to hold the reeds to the metal plates. The aluminum plate of squeezeboxes has two slots with one of plastic or leather set on each side of its open end. When these plates fit, the reeds lock to wooden reed blocks designated to keep them in place.
Based on the accordion model, wooden blocks can be three or four in the treble and bass casings. On the side casings of each hand side, the bass buttons and keyboard fit to the reed blocks. After full assembly of the parts, paints, designs, and branding happens.
When the production is complete, the quality assurance process begins. Companies check material and production facilities when they produce their instrument. Weight, melting point, appearance, etc are some tests for plastics, metals, and wood where applicable.
If the materials do not come from in-house, a review of the quality is necessary. The company quality department helps to ensure standard practices and avoid flaws that can impact the outcome.
How Diatonic Button Accordion and Other Types Are Made
Accordions have varying materials, designs, forms, and sizes. Often these differences determine the sound production of the accordions. Accordions with a piano key sound are different from those with buttons. Here are differences to accordions based on production methods.
The most produced type of accordion has a piano-Esque keyboard on the treble side. Standard piano accordions usually have at least three octaves and 41 keys. But simpler models exist for beginners to learn with. The left side of the piano accordion has buttons for bass. They are usually 120 buttons but can be more. The bass configuration is often in the free bass or Stradella style, but it may also have the French 3 by 3 style.
During the making of button accordion, buttons come in place of the keyboard on a piano accordion’s treble keyboard side. As a result, it has treble buttons instead. Button accordions originated in Vienna and are acquired by Europeans more. Franz Walthier, the inventor, made a button that produces a single note on the melody side and left the bass-chord buttons on the second side.
Uni-sonorous and Bi-sonorous Accordion
The makers can design the bellows to pass air through the reed to make one or two pitches with each key hit. Music enthusiasts name squeezeboxes with reed and reed block system set to give one pitch uni-sonorous and bi-sonorous for two. Accordion configurations allow more than one pitch to produce when a player hits a key. A uni-sonorous accordion releases one pitch no matter the bellows movement. A bi-sonorous accordion gives two distinct notes when a player hits a key and moves the bellows.
From the outside, a digital accordion may not look different from other accordions since it has bellows and the rest, but a lot is going on inside. Squeezebox makers may leave out the reed system entirely or create a hybrid where they shut out the reeds. Traditional accordions are quite different and would be useless without reeds.
The digital accordion contains microchips and produces sounds with special effects. Digital accordions also work with MIDI that users connect the computer with or other devices of music production.
When a musician composes music with a plugin in her digital work station, MIDI clips will determine the note that the plugin produces. MIDI does not send sounds across to the DAW, but it sends MIDI info instead.
An accordion made in this way is still a type of button accordion. Its buttons on both the right hand side and left hand side make reed banks unnecessary. But contrary to the button accordion, it has a Stradella bass button configuration. This causes a significant increase in the range of pitch produced.
On the right hand side, a chromatic accordion can have three rows, four or five, and the setup is either C or B systems. Accordionists who play classical songs prefer the B-Grif, while those who play chords like the C system more.
Diatonic squeezebox is the accordion for accordionists that enjoy folk music. Like the chromatic accordions, they are button accordions. They may have many rows for their buttons or leave them all in one row. Diatonic accordions differ from chromatic accordions in the number of notes that the reeds produce.
With a diatonic squeezebox, a player can change the pitch when they release bellows or squeeze it. The different notes happen for all keys based on bellows movement, including for bass and chords notes.
Why are accordions so expensive?
Accordions are costly because of the production process. The materials for making accordions are not hard to find. But the price is affected because it involves lots of manual operations. The cost of human resources needed to produce the instrument is a crucial factor in its price.
Companies do not attempt to fully automate the process because its demand does not justify such investment. People condition the woods and cut them into smaller pieces with a jig.
They bend hundreds of wire pieces and assemble them for the bass machine. They also cut and shape reeds before they pound in their rivets. The processes for making reed block sets, reeds waxing, cardboards, etc need skilled manual activities. Squeezeboxes with up to six reed blocks are more expensive. But they usually have two or up to four.
How much is an old accordion worth?
Accordions can last up to two decades of use without a need for replacement. In this period, the buyer maintains and retunes the instrument. A used accordion has a few things that can determine its value, brand, design, type, antiquity, and playability.
The most costly used accordions have to be very old with some historical significance, or they have to be old and playable. For instance, Cyril Demain‘s original instrument in 1829 would sell for its antiquity even though it is not playable. An accordion that is not that old will have to be playable or at least repairable.
Repair Condition and Cost
The buyer can deduct repair costs from the worth of the instrument. An old accordion with bellows having mold usually costs more, although it might mean that the reeds need replacing. The reeds would probably be rusty if it stayed that long. Without a reliable reed system, the note is terrible.
Some people believe that old brands differ in how they maintain their reputation of quality. Some older accordion brands have done better with quality for older models than recent ones, while the case is vice-versa for others. The most exotic brands over the years are from Austria, Germany, or Italy. Some of these brands include Paolo Soprani, Pigini, Victoria, Scandalli, Hohner, etc.
Country Quality Reputation
European countries make the best quality available in the accordion market. Other accordions of low-cost usually come from China and Eastern Europe. Brands like Delicia and Hero are much cheaper options. In an unexpected twist, some companies that release high-end brands sometimes buy from China in parts or as a whole to couple and rebrand.
Size of Instruments
How big or small an accordion is and what it is capable of doing may determine its cost. For instance, a diatonic accordion does not have different prices, whether big or small, so long the required number of buttons is complete. But the size of a piano style accordion matters, and it costs more than a diatonic model. For instance, the size of Sir Charles Wheatstone concertina would not matter at all.
Functionality and Note Quality
Even a small-sized model costs more than many accordion types. A standard sized accordion would have 120 buttons of bass system. Sometimes these buttons are more or less than this standard. On rare occasions when there are more buttons than 120, as it is for baritone basses, it costs more. Accordions that have fewer buttons are usually very cheap.
Number of Treble Keyboard, Bass Keyboard, or Bass Accordion Buttons
The acceptable number of buttons for a professional accordionist must be at least 60 buttons of bass. Some accordionists that mastered high octane musicians still use, though. The number of registers is crucial to the quality of an accordion and will affect the price, like the number of bass system buttons. Register number refers to the number of switches on the right side of the accordion.
Top brands have thumb registers located on different parts of the instrument. They are behind the keyboard, chin registers, above the keyboard, and a master switch. Cheap brands or models have no register. They only have two notes per key.
Is accordion hard to learn?
Accordions are not hard to learn at all, but they take time and lots of dedication. With countless internet resources, it is easier to learn anything today than it was at any time in human history.
A dedicated learner can achieve the skill to handle simple songs on the instrument within two months. It helps to have some experience with piano keys, but even those who do not have these experiences can learn with dedication.
Do You Have Music basics?
Some factors may determine how much time it will take a person to get the knowledge for an accordion. Essential criteria include previous use of similar instruments. Other factors are dedication to practice, mode of learning, instrument type, and age.
Are you familiar with using piano keys? Have you used a free bass instrument before? A learner who has previous experience with musical instruments will learn faster than a person who is not inclined. For instance, playing a piano accordion would be easier if you knew the key structure.
Likewise, playing a bass accordion would be easier with understanding a few related things. Such things include knowing how a free reed works, how free bass structures differ from Stradella bass, how useful root notes can be to some genre, etc.
When learners want to choose an accordion to start with, the best-recommended type to go for is the piano accordion. Especially when the learner has some experience with a piano. New accordionists who have experience with a guitar will tend toward chromatic button accordions.
This accordion works on the principles of a guitar. The finger movement is close to the chord and scale system of guitars. Button accordion will generally take a little more time to learn. It requires familiarity with the button operation.
Beginners should use fewer key instruments for practice, even when they can only have access to few sounds with it. Taking an accordion suitable for professionals will only make things difficult for a newbie. But, fewer keys mean the instrument will be easier to control because of the lighter weight.
Learners should keep the learning process slow and steady. A habit of regular practice is crucial to get familiar with the keys and learn the instrument fast. Beginners can prevent overburdening themselves with long training sessions. They should replace such training techniques with short periods that can help them stay consistent.
They can start with this simple trick. Take some pre-practice exercises, make arrangements to begin, then get on with the actual practice. After some time, stop the training and take some time off to relax.
Accordion learners that have skilled instructors usually save themselves a lot of time trying to find what works. It is not very easy to find a certified accordion instructor in North America or Europe. Learners should make sure they have the right coaches, and make the best use of their time together. An instructor can help new players understand the best practice regime and recommended practices.
They can also provide easy techniques to make the learning process straightforward. Instructors can make tailored advice across different scenarios. It may happen when the learner may need an accordion that is best suited for their experience, budget, interest, or physique. People can easily ask questions when they get stuck too. Learning with someone with more experience is the best thing to do if learners can afford to do so.
Tips to learn Fast
To learn to play the accordion fast, a player should try to follow these actionable recommendations.
Train Your Hand for the Instrument
Train for the appropriate finger movement and proper hand coordination. Train with small accordion types first before going to bigger and more complex ones. You may start with a 12 bass button bass accordion, focusing on root notes before more. One way to practice is using finger taps with or without the actual free reed instrument as you go on with other daily activities.
Learners can help themselves get started by choosing the right instruments. Accordion models targeted at students are not heavy and usually have few buttons and reed blocks on the side of the accordion.
Accordion Options for Learners
Here are accordions to look out for to understand your piano keys, the treble side buttons, and other finger buttons. Horner’s lightweight piano accordion, Hohner BR48R-N, has 26 keys that produce unique sounds. This horner model also has a four bass note system, two-tone colors, and a two-treble register. It is an ideal design with students in mind, although some professionals fancy it for their concerts.
It produces distinct sounds across different music genres. You can go from Irish Folk music to Tango and more classical music. Horner’s 3100 GB Panther is another good accordion. It is a diatonic button accordion, and it is also suitable for beginners for its size and output level.
It has 31 treble, two treble reed, 12 Bass buttons, and helps learners play G/C/F keys with ease. Players need to learn hand control and about the instrument.
Wal Front’s colorful and lightweight piano accordions are another good accordion option. It is only around 3.4 kg heavy. This model is ideal for learners with its 22 keys and eight bass buttons.
How to Make accordion last longer
Maintenance is essential for accordions, as it is for most instruments. Do not leave bass accordions or any accordion outside its casing after playing them. Clean their bellows and other parts as well. Avoid frequent falls that can dislocate delicate subparts. The instrument subparts may be the reed set, reed block, wind chamber, bellows, etc.
The most used accordions in America are the chromatic and piano accordions. Diatonic accordions are also in high demand for folk music.
My introduction to accordion music was by way of Zydeco and Tex-Mex music. Once I got my hands on my very own squeezebox, I was hooked. Let me tell you, playing the accordion is every bit as fun as listening to it. Thanks for joining me in my exploration of the awesome world of accordions and all its amazing versions!