direct proportion


The accordion is a portable box-shaped musical instrument of the hand-held bellows-driven free-reed aerophone family, sometimes referred to as a squeezebox. A person who plays the accordion is called an accordionist. It is played by compressing or expanding its 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.

The instrument is sometimes considered a "one-man-band", as it needs no accompanying instrument; 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.

It is often used in folk music in Europe, North America, Russia, and South America. It is commonly associated with busking. Some popular music acts also make use of the instrument. Additionally, the accordion is sometimes used in both solo and orchestra performances of classical music.

The oldest name for this group of instruments is actually "harmonika". It comes as a mixture of "aer", "monos" and "cassa", the first two words being Greek and the last Italian. They mean "air", "unit" and "box", describing the instrument. Today, native versions of the name "accordion" are more often used, which is a reference to the type of accordion patented by Cyrill Demian, which concerned "automatically coupled chords on the bass side.


Accordions are made in a large number of different configurations and types; there is not yet one standard accordion. As such, what may be technically possible to do with one accordion could be impossible with another:

  • Some accordions are bisonoric, meaning they produce different pitches depending on the direction of bellows movement.
  • Others are unisonoric and produce the same pitch regardless of the direction of bellows movement.
  • Some accordions use a chromatic buttonboard for the right-hand manual.
  • Others use a diatonic buttonboard for the right-hand manual.
  • Yet others simply use a piano-style musical keyboard for the right-hand manual.
  • Some accordions are capable of playing in different registers than others.
  • Additionally, different accordion craftsmen and technicians may tune the same registers in a slightly different manner, essentially 'personalizing' the end result, such as an organ technician might voice a particular instrument.

As such, the boundaries of what defines an accordion are perceivably broad.

Universal components


The accordion's body consists of two wood boxes joined together by a bellows, respectively housing reed chambers for the right- and left-hand manuals. 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 two rows of basses and a single octave on the right-hand manual, for children, to the standard 120 bass accordion and through to large and heavy 160 bass button free-bass converter models.


Between the right- and left-hand manuals is a bellows, which is made from pleated layers of cloth and cardboard, with added leather and metal. It is used to create pressure and vacuum, driving air across the internal reeds and producing sound by their vibration, applied pressure increasing the volume. Similar to a violin's bow, the production of sound in an accordion is in direct proportion to the motion of the player. This makes the bellows the primary means of articulation.

Button mechanism

Considering that the accordion is an aerophone, the manual mechanism of the instrument is one that switches between either opening up to the air flow, or disabling it. Exactly how this works is illustrated below:

Variable components

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, 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":

Left-hand manual systems

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 concave buttons to help the player navigate the layout despite not being able to see the buttons while playing. Here, there are two general categories:

Reed ranks & 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 producing differing timbres. All but the smaller accordions are equipped with switches that control which combination of reed ranks can be brought into operation, organized from high to low registers. Each register stop enables different sound timbres. See the accordion reed ranks & switches article for further explanation and audio samples.

All but the very small accordions usually have treble switches; the larger and more expensive accordions often also have bass switches.


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 leather strap (mostly adjustable) 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.

Unusual accordions

Various hybrid accordions have been created between instruments of different buttonboards and actions. Many remain curiosities, only a few have remained in use. For example:

  • The Schrammel accordion, used in Viennese chamber music and Klezmer, which has the treble buttonboard of a chromatic button accordion and a bisonoric bass buttonboard, 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 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.


The accordion's basic form is believed to have been invented in Berlin in 1822 by Christian Friedrich Ludwig Buschmann, although one instrument has been recently discovered that appears to have been built in 1816 or earlier by Friedrich Lohner of Nürnberg in the German State of Bavaria.

The accordion is one of several European inventions of the early 19th century that used free reeds driven by a bellows. 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 buttonboard, 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 (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 contemporary chromatic hand harmonicas were played, small and light enough to for travelers 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 book, 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 buttonboard and 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.

Use in classical music

Although the accordion is best known primarily as a folk instrument, it has been used with increasing frequency by classical composers. The earliest surviving concert piece written for the accordion is Thême varié très brillant pour accordéon methode Reisner, written in 1836 by Miss Louise Reisner of Paris, an accordionist and amateur composer.

The Russian composer, Piotr Ilyitch Tchaikovsky, included four optional single-action diatonic accordions in his Orchestral Suite No. 2 in C Major, op. 53 (1883), simply to add a little color to the third movement: Scherzo burlesque.

The Italian composer, Umberto Giordano, included the single-action diatonic accordion in his opera Fedora (1898). The accordionist appears on-stage—along with a folk-trio consisting of a piccolo player and triangle player—three times in the third act (which is set in Switzerland), to accompany a short and simple song which is sung by a little Savoyard (Alpine shepherd).

In 1915, the American composer, Charles Ives, included a chorus of diatonic accordions (or concertinas)—along with two pianos, celesta, harp, organ, zither and an optional theremin—in his Orchestral Set No. 2. The accordion part—written for the right-hand only—consists of eighteen measures at the very end of the eighteen-minute-long three-movement work. All the above works were written for the diatonic button accordion.

The first composer to write specifically for the chromatic accordion (able to play all 12 notes of the chromatic scale) was Paul Hindemith. In 1921 he included the harmonium in Kammermusik No. 1, a chamber work in four movements for twelve players, but later rewrote the harmonium part for accordion. Other German composers also wrote for the accordion.

In 1922 the Austrian composer, Alban Berg, included a short on-stage accordion part in his landmark opera Wozzeck, Op. 7. The instrument—marked Ziehharmonika bzw. Akkordeon in the score—appears only during the tavern garden (wirthausgarten) scene, along with an on-stage (Bühnenmusik) ensemble consisting of: two fiddles (violins tuned up a tone), one clarinet in C, one guitar and one bombardon in F (or bass tuba), to lend a touch of authenticity to the deutsche bier garten setting.

Other composers who wrote for the accordion during the first half of the 20th century were:

The free-bass accordion in classical music

Despite efforts by accordion performers and organizations to present the accordion as a serious instrument to the classical music world, the much-coveted breakthrough into the mainstream of serious musical circles did not take place until after leading accordionists more or less abandoned the stradella-bass accordion (an instrument limited to only bass and pre-set chord buttons on the left-hand manual) and embraced the free-bass accordion (an instrument which could play single pitches on the left-hand manual with a range of three octaves or more, similar to the right-hand manual). Composers found the free-bass accordion much more attractive and easier to write for as it liberated the instrument from the tyranny of a limited range of bass notes (only a minor seventh) and the pre-set chord buttons.

Despite being invented as early as 1912, the instrument did not really become popular until the mid-twentieth century; when it was "discovered" by classical accordionists. The Danish accordionist Mogens Ellegaard, regarded by many as the father of the avant-garde accordion movement, described his introduction to the new accordion:

Ellegaard continued,

Symphonic Fantasy and Allegro was premiered by the Danish Radio Symphony with the composer conducting. Ole Schmidt made the following comment about the work, "I hated accordion until I met Mogens Ellegaard. He made me decide to write an accordion concerto for him."

Other Danish composers soon followed Schmidt:

  • Niels Viggo Bentzon wrote Concerto for Accordion (1962-63), In the Zoo (1964) and Sinfonia concertante (1965) for six accordions, string orchestra and percussion.
  • Per Nørgård wrote Anatomic Safari (1967) for solo accordion and Recall (1968) for accordion and orchestra, which was dedicated to Lars Dyremose, director of the Danish Accordion Academy.
  • Karl Aage Rasmussen wrote Invention (1972)
  • Hans Abrahamsen wrote Canzone (1977-8) for solo accordion.
  • Steen Pade, Nørgård's student, wrote a concerto for accordion and three solo works: Excursions With Detours (1984), Aprilis (1987) and Cadenza (1987).
  • Vagn Holmboe wrote Sonata, Op. 143A.

In Europe, free bass accordion performance has reached a very high level and the instrument is considered worthy of serious study in music conservatories . Modern and avant-garde composers such as Sofia Gubaidulina, Edison Denisov, Luciano Berio, Per Norgard, Arne Nordheim, Jindrich Feld, Franco Donatoni, Toshio Hosokawa, Mauricio Kagel, Patrick Nunn 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.

In the United States, the free-bass accordion is heard occasionally. 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, a number of instrumentalists have demonstrated the unique orchestral capabilities of the free bass accordion while performing at the nation's premier concert venues and encouraging contemporary composers to write for the instrument. Included among the leading orchestral artists was John Serry, Sr. A concert accordionist, soloist, composer, and arranger, Serry performed extensively in both symphonic orchestras and jazz ensembles as well as on live radio and television broadcasts. His refined poetic artistry gained respect for the free bass accordion as a serious concert instrument among prominent classical musicians and conductors of the early twentieth century.

Recently Guy Klucevsek has built a reputation on combining folk styles with classical forms and makes extensive use of the free bass. New York's William Schimmel, who composes and performs in many genres, is a leading exponent of the "quint" style free bass system and uses it extensively in tandem with the standard stradella system.

Use in traditional music

Since its invention, the accordion has become popularly integrated into a lot of varying traditional music styles all over the world, ranging from the European polka and the Colombian Vallenato to Korean trot music. See the list of traditional music styles that incorporate the accordion.

Sometimes, certain traditional music styles may even be tied to a certain type of accordion, like the Schrammel accordion for Schrammelmusik or the Trikitixa for Basque music. It would be hard to name one country in which the accordion did not play a significant role in its music tradition. It has even been idealized in literature.

Use in popular music

In popular music, it is generally considered exotic and old-fashioned to include the accordion, especially in music for advertisements. Nevertheless, some popular acts do use the instrument in their distinctive sounds. See the list of popular music acts that incorporate the accordion.

The instrument was also used in the Disney song "Whale of a Tale" from 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, as well as Donald Duck's song, "Quack Quack Quack". It was used in a Christmas setting for the song "Nuttin' for Christmas".

Accordion jokes

While the accordion is a versatile instrument and is widely played throughout the world, it is not universally respected. The 1954 Edition of Grove's Dictionary of Music and Musicians describes the accordion as producing "quite the most unpleasant musical sound ever devised by the inventor's and the instrument maker's ingenuity". The instrument has been the butt of jokes at least since 1866, when the French painter and cartoonist, Honoré Daumier (1808-1879), created by zincography a picture published in Le Journal Amusant of an accordionist and a man playing snooker who stated in the caption: "One does not yet have the right to kill the people who play this instrument, but there is hope that we will soon get it.

A more recent 1986 jibe is one from Gary Larson, author of The Far Side, who drew a cartoon with the punchline "Welcome to heaven, here's your harp. Welcome to hell, here's your accordion.

Manufacturing process

The manufacture of an accordion is only a partly automated process. In a sense, all accordions are handmade, since there is always some hand assembly of the small parts required. The general process involves making the individual parts, assembling the subsections, assembling the entire instrument, and final decorating and packaging.

The best accordions are always hand-made, especially in the aspect of reeds; completely hand-made reeds have a far better tonal quality than even the best automatically-manufactured reeds. Some accordions have been modified by individuals striving to bring a more pure sound out of low-end instruments, such as the ones improved by Yutaka Usui, a Japanese-born craftsman.

Other audio samples

Accordion organizations

Notes and References

External links

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