Music has always been a common thread which binds different cultures together. It has always acted as a symbol of euphony and harmony. However, the connecting beat to this feeling of harmony is through the musical instrument Accordion. Derived from the German word ‘akkord’ meaning ‘agreement or harmony’, Accordion is one such musical instrument which has been an essential part of the traditional music in the eighteenth century. Also known as the Squeeze–box, it is an important part of music which produces loud sounds. The Accordion is considered to be inspired by the Chinese ‘cheng’, the first known musical instrument to use a free vibrating reed to create sound. Also, it comes from the French word ‘accord’ which means ‘a musical chord or a concord of sounds’. It is a wind instrument and belongs to the same family of American reed organ and harmonium of box–shaped musical instruments which are bellow–driven, free–reed aero phone type. A person who plays the accordion is called an accordionist. Let us learn more about Accordion.

How did it originate?

Accordion was not the first of its kind with vibrating reeds, bellows and keys. Its ancestry can be dated back to as far as 2700 B.C to the free–reed of the Cheng, an ancient Chinese wind instrument. However, after a series of experiments, the Accordion was invented in the in the early eighteenth century in Europe. Christian Friedrick Bushmann is credited with the invention of the early Accordion in the year 1822 in Berlin and named it hand–aeoline. In 1829, Cyrillus Damian from Vienna, Austria created another improvised version of the same instrument by adding more bass keys, which produced chords and he named it Accordion. ‘Accord’ is the French term for ‘chord’. These were the earliest stages of development.  Further variations and inventions followed with modern versions of accordion being made, either by hand or automation. However, despite the contribution of the modern technology, the basic concept remained true to its original design. 

How does it work?

The bellows is the main part of the Accordion that controls the air flow. When the accordionist squeezes the bellows, an air pressure is built up which tries to find a way out to escape through any valve opening. When the air finds its way out, it passes over different set of reeds on either side of the accordion box. Each reed is exposed to the air pressure when buttons on either side of the Accordion are pressed. Reeds are of varying length and width enables the player to play different notes. Hence, an accordionist must, at the same time, control pitch and volume by squeezing the bellows and pressing various buttons to play different notes. The harder the bellows are squeezed, the louder the notes are produced. The different types of Accordions have variations in keyboards and buttons layout which produces distinct notes.

What are its components?

The Accordion is a portable instrument which consists of two reed organs connected by folding or collapsible bellows. There is a keyboard on the right side, which holds the melody notes and buttons on the left side hold the bass notes and full chords. The keyboard typically contains 41 keys or sometimes, 25 keys on the smaller models.

How is it manufactured?

The general manufacturing process of an Accordion involves making individual parts, gathering all the sub–sections of the instrument, assembling the entire instrument and final decoration and packing. The wooden parts are cut into appropriate shapes by jigs and presses by an automated process to achieve precision. Plastic components of the Accordion such as the buttons and keys are made by a process called injection moulding. In this process, the plastic granules are fed into a large hopper, heated, liquefied and injected into a mould where it acquires its shape and solidifies on cooling. The metal parts of an Accordion are made by melting the metal into a liquid form and placing it in a mould. On cooling, it hardens and the part is complete. A special process of tempering the metal is done for the reeds to reduce hardness and brittleness. After all the individual parts are made, they are assembled and the reeds are screwed to the reed plate, are attached and secured by the leather and plastic valve. The reed plates are then attached to the reed block and put in the treble and bass side castings. The bass side buttons are also attached to the reed block. The final assembly involves fixing together of treble and bass castings to the readymade bellows and sealed with wax to prevent air leaks.  Various decorative finishing touches are given before packaging.   

Which genres of music is it popular with?

The Accordion is used in folklore, ethnic, popular music, and is a transcription from the Opera and classical music from Europe, North America and South America. The musical instrument is also used in solo and orchestra performances of classical music and is sometimes, associated with busking, a form of music which is usually played in public places for voluntary donations. Some genres of music that feature the accordion are the Cajun music from US, Tango from Argentina, Polka, Irish music, Chanson and Quebecois.  Nowadays, the instrument is heard in modern styles such as rock, pop, jazz, waltz, classical music concerts and advertisements.

Mention its types?

There are three types of Accordion. They are:

  • Diatonic (button): In diatonic Accordion, there are one, two or three rows of buttons and each row is attuned to specific notes of particular scale. Each button plays a different note, whether the bellows are compressed or expanded.
  • Chromatic (notes): Chromatic Accordions have either three or five rows of buttons and the melody is tuned to a specific note, whether the bellows are pushed or pulled. The left hand side of the instrument contains a variety of chords and buttons for natural, sharp or flat notes and can be played by any key.
  • Keyboard (Piano): Piano or keyboard Accordion is the most common and recognizable musical instrument widely used in all musical ensembles. In the keyboard or piano type, the right hand side is a simple piano keyboard and works in a similar way as the piano whereas the left hand may have about 8 to 120 chord buttons.
Who are the great players of this instrument?

Astor Piazzolla was one of the most well known exponents of the Accordion. Other notable names are Frank Marocco and Charles Magnante who used the Accordion in jazz music. Pietro Fossini, Count Guido and Pietro Deiro are celebrated accordionists from Italy.

How does one learn and how long does it take?

There are teachers available to teach how to play an Accordion. Established players can be sought for guidance in any part of the world.  Some beginners may learn to play in 8 weeks or a year whereas some may take even more time. It depends on whether a beginner or a person is learning to play Accordion simply as a hobby or wants to become an expert Accordion player. Also, there are music schools in UK, USA, Germany and many other countries.

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