An accordion is a box shaped musical instrument (some types have keys as well) and is commonly used in European folk music, popular music of several cultures, and has also found a place in jazz and classical music. Its peculiar sound and portability makes it a favorite instrument for enthusiasts of all ages to learn and play.
Of late, the instrument has made a comeback of sorts, with music composers using accordion music in a wide range of genres. Read here to know why accordions are so hot right now.
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How Does it Produce Sound?
Accordion is basically a wind instrument that uses pleated bellows and banks of metal reeds to create sound. The most popular accordion designs feature two keyboards with buttons or keys located on either side of the bellows.
You produce a sound by expanding and compressing the bellows while playing the melody on the right keyboard and chords/bass on the left to provide the accompaniment. This movement opens valves that allow air to pass over the metal reeds and produce sound.
Accordions are capable of sustaining notes for a longer time than most music instruments.
Types of Accordions
Here are the more common types of Accordions:
- Piano Accordions: This type is more popular in the US. It has keyboard like keys for the right hand, while the left hand plays buttons to provide the bass accompaniment.
- Diatonic Accordions: These accordions have buttons for the left hand and for the right hand. On a diatonic accordion, for a single key the pitch of the note changes as the bellows is pushed or pulled. A diatonic accordion uses only notes from some scale.
- Chromatic Accordions: This type is more popular in Europe (compared to United States). These accordions have buttons for both the right hand (treble side) and the left hand (bass side). Unlike diatonic accordions, chromatic accordions includes all the sharps and flats, as well as all the naturals.
- Concertinas: While the other accordions have straps that is worn around the shoulders of the accordion player, the concertina is held and played with two hands. The concertina has buttons for both the right and left hands.
- 37/96 (refers to size for a piano type) means 37 keys (3 octaves plus one note) on the treble side and 96 bass keys.
- 2/4 reeds means that, at most, 2 treble reeds can play simultaneously for each treble key and 4 bass reeds can play for each bass note.
- 3/5 reeds means that 3 treble reeds can be played for each treble key and 5 bass reeds can be made to play for each bass button.
Needs to be Tuned/Serviced
Even accordions need to be tuned and serviced, but not as frequently as a piano. Depending on how much its played, an accordion will need to tuned and serviced (once in a decade or so). The reeds in most accordions are glued in place with a mixture of beeswax and rosin (wax makes it easy to replace a broken reed), which deteriorates over time.
Dry & Wet Tuning
You also need to remember that the way an accordion is tuned influences its style of sound (useful when buying used accordions, so make sure you find out more about its tuning/maintenance history).
The two popular methods of tuning accordions are:
- Dry tuning: Popular in Jazz and American popular music. Dry tuning plays a single note, sounds pure (without any “wobble”)
- Wet tuning: Popular in folk music from several ethnic cultures. Wet tuning plays two notes (slightly different) at the same time to give it a more fuller sound (that “wobbles” a bit, also called as tremolo.)
While buying used accordions, its better to have the instrument checked by an expert. A better alternative is to save some money and go in for a new one.
Storing Your Accordion
Here are the things to keep in mind for storing accordions.
- They need to be stored in a dry place with medium temperature.
- If the temperature is too hot, the wax that seals the reeds will melt, and if it gets too cold it will crack.
- Most accordions are made of wood, so mold can grow in the dark/protected insides of your accordion if it gets wet.
- Moisture is also bad for the instrument because it can rust the reeds, which can affect their pitch and performance.
- Store your accordion upright (on the bass side) so that the reeds do not warp (which could affect their response.)