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An accordion
Classification Keyboard
Inventor(s) Friedrich Buschmann
Developed 1822
Related instruments
A person holding an accordion

An accordion is a musical instrument that has keys similar to a piano, but is small enough for a person to hold. It makes sounds using air pushed and pulled through reeds using a bellows. The accordion can also have buttons instead of keys. The 6-plus-6-system with three rows has the same fingering in all twelve scales.

The accordion is played by compression and expansion of a bellows, which generates air flow across reeds; a keyboard controls which reeds receive air flow and therefore the tones produced.

Physical description

Modern accordions consist of a body in two parts, each generally rectangular in shape, separated by a bellows. On each part of the body is a keyboard containing buttons, levers or piano-style keys. When pressed, the buttons travel in a direction perpendicular to the motion of the bellows (towards the performer). Most, but not all modern accordions also have buttons capable of producing entire chords.

The related concertina differs in that its buttons never produce chords and travel parallel to the travel of the bellows (towards the opposite end of the instrument); there are also differences in the internal materials, construction, mechanics, and tone color, but the basic principles of sound production are similar.


8 key accordion
8-key bisonoric diatonic accordion (c. 1830)

The accordion's basic form is believed to have been invented in Berlin in 1822 by Christian Friedrich Ludwig Buschmann.

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 keyboard, 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 (press, draw); this is called 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 travellers 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 "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 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.

Musical genres

The instrument was popularized in the United States by Count Guido Deiro who was the first piano accordionist to perform in Vaudeville.

Accordion is the main instrument in the musette style of ballroom music in France (a style now largely out of fashion) and in the 1950s chanson singing, which has a revival in the form of neo-realism.

The accordion is an important instrument in Dutch folk music, and often the only melodious instrument when clog dancing. It is also significant in Scandinavian folk music, with notable performers including Finnish accordionist Maria Kalaniemi. Scandinavian-influenced British folk music has, in recent years, also featured accordionists such as Karen Tweed.

Accordion is also a central instrument in Zydeco from Cajun and African-American traditions in Louisiana in the United States, and in Polka, heard in Europe and North and South America. It is also widely used in 'ceilidh' dance music of Scotland and Ireland. The accordion gained popularity in the 1990s when Jaleel White portrayed an accordion-playing nerdy neighbor (Steve Urkel) on Family Matters. It is often seen as the epitome of the "uncool" instrument children are forced to learn by their parents in lieu of a different, "cooler" instrument such as the guitar; however two popular rock music acts, Weird Al Yankovic and They Might Be Giants, incorporate the accordion in their distinctive sound.

In northeastern Brazil, the accordion, along with the triangle and the zabumba, is the main instrument used in forró, a traditional style usually played by trios.

In Colombia, the instrument was first introduced by European immigrants and merchants mainly of German origin through the Antilles Islands in the early 20th Century, where local troubadours from the Caribbean Region used it as an instrument to accompany their sang messages. This form of music developed into the musical genre called Vallenato, representative of Colombia.

Button accordions

On button accordions the melody-side keyboard consists of a series of buttons (rather than piano-style keys.) There exists a wide variation in keyboard systems, tuning, action and construction of these instruments.

Diatonic button accordions have a melody-side keyboard that is limited to the notes of diatonic scales in a small number of keys (sometimes only one). The bass side usually contains the principal chords of the instrument's key and the root notes of those chords.

Almost all diatonic button accordions (e.g.: melodeon) are bisonoric, meaning each button produces two notes: one when the bellows is compressed, another while it is expanded; a few instruments (e.g.: garmon') are unisonoric, with each button producing the same note regardless of bellows direction; still others have a combination of the two types of action: see Hybrids below.

A chromatic button accordion is a type of button accordion where the melody-side keyboard consists of uniform rows of buttons arranged so that the pitch increases chromatically along diagonals. The bass-side keyboard is usually the Stradella system, one of the various free-bass systems, or a converter system. Included among chromatic button accordions is the Russian bayan. Sometimes an instrument of this class is simply called a chromatic accordion, although other types, including the piano accordion, are fully chromatic as well. There can be 3 to 5 rows of treble buttons. In a 5 row chromatic, two additional rows repeat the first 2 rows to facilitate options in fingering. Chromatic button accordions are preferred by many classical music performers, since the treble keyboard with diagonally arranged buttons allows a greater range than a piano keyboard configuration.

The Janko keyboard is used for the treble side of some accordions.

Various cultures have made their own versions of the accordion, adapted to suit their own music. Russia alone has several, including the bayan, Garmon', Livenka, and Saratovskaya Garmonika.


Various hybrids have been created between instruments of different keyboards and actions. Many remain curiosities, only a few have remained in use. Some notable examples are:

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

Related instruments


Digital Accordions

  • Roland Virtual Accordion

Other free-reeds


  • John Lennon played the accordion when he was young.
  • The piano accordion has been lampooned in American culture, from The Far Side to Garfield, and even other forms of media.
  • The book, Accordion Crimes by Annie Proulx (author of the story upon which the movie "Brokeback Mountain" is based), traces various immigrant stories, all of which are based on a single accordion.
  • "Weird Al" Yankovic used the accordion in a 1988 episode of Remote Control to torture contestants who were in last place at the end of Round 2 and sent Off The Air by being pulled back in a chair and/or lifted up and out of the room. This was the only time in the episode the backstage portion of the set was shown. The other time he actually played the game for charity.
  • The more modern "story telling" band, The Decemberists use the accordion in their song tale "Mariner's Revenge Song". The accordion is the lead instrument, and the song tells the horrid tale of two mariners trapped in the belly of a whale.

In the Irish tradition some musicians have a love-hate relationship with the accordion. Famous anti-accordion comments include: "A gentleman is a man who can play the piano accordion... and doesn't", "The best way to play the piano accordion is with a pen-knife" (attributed to Christy Moore) .


Accordion for Kids. Kiddle Encyclopedia.