What are the buttons on the accordion?
Just going on the way they look and sound, accordions are one of the most distinctive musical instruments in the world. Not only do they have a unique sound that’s produced through elaborate action, using the arms and fingers of the musician but, there’s also a rich history behind accordions.
One of the first things you would notice about the accordion is its buttons. Many people are curious about this instrument’s buttons and how they impact the music it and the skill needed to make it.
What are the accordion buttons?
Generally, the buttons are located on the left-hand side of the accordion. If the person playing the accordion is left-handed, then the buttons will be located on the right side.
The buttons usually come in a wide range of sizes depending on the manufacturer of the accordion. different manufacturers have different styles but they generally follow a specific pattern because accordion players are used to certain types of buttons arranged a certain way.
The different types of accordion buttons
The left-hand buttons are called base buttons. These impact the low end of the scale of the sound produced by the accordion. Left-hand buttons also enhance the music produced in synchronization with the bellows as the accordionist moves in and out of different parts of the composition he or she is playing.
Left-hand button layout
Left-hand buttons are laid out in three standard ways. the most common is the Stradella bass system. Most bass buttons are used as standard, this layout is quite popular.
The buttons on the left hand are divided into two categories: Free bass keys, which produce one unique note or pitch. Chord keys, which produce 3 notes (or 3 different pitches) to form major, minor, seventh and diminished chords.
Free bass system
This layout is different because the right-hand side mirrors the base rows on the left-hand side. This is the second most popular button layout.
The free bass is essentially another chromatic keyboard on the bass side of the accordion – but with bass notes. Yes, each button on the free bass system is a single bass note! Just like the Chromatic System, there are both C & B Systems of free bass – but this time in mirror image to the right hand.
Free bass systems use the same two bass rows from the stradella system and add four more rows of free bass buttons. This allows the player to perform melodies in both the right and left hands. A lot of free bass accordions have matching systems in both hands. There are exceptions, like with the piano accordion and occasionally there will be an accordion that has a C-sytem in the treble and a B-System for the bass.
French three/three system
In this layout, a single bass row is added on top of the counter-bass buttons. This is not as popular as the other layouts above but many specialist accordionists prefer this layout for the distinctive sounds that are easier to make with it.
Keys and Buttons
The reed blocks connect to a set of piano keys on the treble side and buttons on the bass side. While the majority of accordions use both piano keys and buttons, some types of accordions only have bass buttons. For these types of accordions, both sides only have buttons. For the treble side, when pressing a piano key, the valves covering the reeds open.
The stradella bass, also known as standard bass, is the most common system used in accordions. With 6 rows of bass buttons, the stradella bass is a mix of single bass notes and chords: major, minor, 7th, and diminished. The stradella bass allows rhythmic accompaniment as well as bass solos – providing the solos are within 1 octave range. The single bass notes act like the upright bass of a band, with the chords being the rhythm guitar.
How to play bass buttons
The first step that you need to master when cutting your teeth on playing bass buttons is the layout of the buttons on your accordion. You have to know instinctively where each button is. As you get used to their placement and the distinctive sound that they make it gets easier for you to play them by feel.
You don’t have to look over to see if your fingers are hitting the right buttons. You will instinctively know where they are to produce a specific bass note. Of course, this takes quite a while to achieve, but it’s worth it.
Please understand that when you are playing the accordion, you are moving the bellows, and often you are moving your body and there are a lot of things going on. And it’s really important to pair, by memory the button that you want to push to create a specific sound.
Reaching this skill level starts with first memorizing the layout of your bass buttons. Whether you’re using a Stradella, a free bass, or a French three/three system, you have to be familiar enough with the initial layout, know where everything is and then practice reading your accordion buttons.
This essentially means playing your accordion and knowing which sound goes with which button. Of course, depending on how you play your bellows and how you tune your reeds sometimes there is a distinct variation in the sounds that you make.
You also have to memorize this and understand which base button is most likely to produce the kind of sound you are looking for. Now you start thinking in terms of sound ranges at this point.
Prioritize your bass buttons during practice
Practice does make perfect. The more you play your accordion the more you will know which button goes with which sound. you will also be less intimidated about making mistakes. Keep in mind that when you hit the wrong button you can still learn.
Sure you didn’t pick the right button, but now you know what sound that wrong button makes and why it’s the wrong sound. As you keep practicing you will become more familiar with where everything is and how the buttons are supposed to sound and how to string them together when playing a specific accordion piece.
This doesn’t happen overnight, but with repeated practice, you will get used to it, and most importantly you are not as intimidated about making mistakes. The less stressed you are the less likely you will make a mistake because now you’re just exploring the buttons. And you’re focusing on figuring out and memorizing which button goes with which sound.
For this type of accordion, the buttons are located on the right side of the accordion instead of the piano keys. The common key pairs for buttons are G and C, A and D, C and F, and D and G.
When learning to play right-hand button accordions it’s important to start with those common key pairings. Play around with them, check out different combinations and keep practicing the common key pairs to nail down the specific sound that you’re trying to make with such pairings.
Two distinct types of button accordions
There are major types of button accordions. These are accordions that use buttons instead of piano keys.
Diatonic button accordions
Diatonic accordions have bass buttons that are laid out in pair arrangements. So each bass button is paired with another bass button in a specific layout. This is easier to memorize because the pair buttons are paired and ordered.
Chromatic button accordions
Chromatic accordions use a button layout that is arranged by the sound that they make the melody buttons are laid out in terms of the scale of the sounds they produce. If you are the type of musician who prefers to learn keys or buttons in terms of sound, this is probably the best option for you.
Air buttons are special buttons for the bellows of the accordion. These buttons modulate the airflow in the ballows and can have quite a bit of an impact on the overall sound that you make with your accordion as you work on pushing air in and out of it.
It takes quite a bit of practice and an ear for melodic distortion and sound changes to master air buttons. Still, they do add a nice additional rich layer of sound, if not, complexity to the typical Diatonic or Chromatic button accordion.
Some accordion models have a lot more buttons than accordionists are used to. Many of these buttons are there for cosmetic reasons. They just look better. You can’t press on them, they don’t make any sound but they give a distinctive look to your accordion.
Many experienced accordionists prefer to stick with accordions that are more stripped down and have a basic design. They prefer designs that only have buttons that work and produce sound.
Frequently asked questions about accordion buttons
Should you memorize the buttons?
This is not straightforward, a lot of beginner accordionists would rather play based on notes. This would entail knowing where the buttons are, but this is not strict memorization. If you truly want to memorize the buttons you should focus on the sound they make.
This way when you are looking at sheet music you translate it first into the sound of the note and then you instinctively find the buttons that would produce that sound. This is done almost automatically when you memorize the buttons in such a way that you know which button goes with which sound.
This is quite different from memorizing the layout of the buttons or the general note range of the buttons. This is deep-level memorization and it takes quite a bit of practice. A lot of beginner accordionists would rather just memorize the layout and take it from there.
How many buttons are present in a standard accordion
Standard accordions feature button layouts that range from 48 to 120 button pieces. Some more elaborate accordions have a lot of decorative buttons that are purely cosmetic. They don’t do anything. But generally speaking, if you’re looking for functional buttons, the typical range is 48 – 120 buttons.
Which is easier to play – button accordion or piano accordion.
A button accordion is a type of accordion on which the melody -side keyboard consists of a series of buttons . This differs from the piano accordion , which has piano-style keys. Erich von Hornbostel and Curt Sachs categorize it as a free reed aerophone in their classification of instruments , published in 1914.
Depending on who you ask, is generally regarded as a more accomodating instrument for the newbies. Beginners appreciate the fact that button accordions have smaller keys than piano accordions.
This makes them easier to handle and it’s easier to hang onto the buttons as you move your arms to produce sound through the operations of the accordion’s bellows. You also tend to remember the placement of the buttons better even though you’re moving around quite a bit because a lot is going on when you’re playing the accordion.
It’s easier to play when it comes to physical handling. But with that said, button accordions are harder to learn and master. If you are looking for something more simple in terms of note placement and sound predictability you might want to go with a piano-type accordion.
Are accordions with more buttons heavier than accordions with fewer buttons?
Not necessarily, the number of buttons on an accordion doesn’t have a direct impact on its weight.
How do you prevent buttons from getting stuck?
One of the more common problems accordion players have with their unit is when their buttons get stuck. This can happen if you don’t store your accordion inside a gig bag. You can also run into this problem if you fail to store it in the right place.
There are a lot of accordionists in humid places like the state of Louisianna. Many of the accordionists there fix the excessive moisture problem of their sticky accordion buttons by storing their accordions in a dry place. Ideally, you should look for a low humidity storage space for your accordion.
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!