AskDefine | Define accordion

Dictionary Definition

accordion adj : arranged in parallel folds; "plicate leaves" [syn: plicate] n : a portable box-shaped free-reed instrument; the reeds are made to vibrate by air from the bellows controlled by the player [syn: piano accordion, squeeze box]

User Contributed Dictionary





  • /əˈkɔ(ɹ).di.ˌən/
  • `


From mid nineteenth-century German Akkordion based on Italian accordare (to tune). SEE accord.


  1. A small, portable, keyed wind instrument, whose tones are generated by play of the wind from a squeezed bellows upon free metallic reeds.
    • A disreputable accordion that had a leak somewhere and breathed louder than it squawked. —Mark Twain, Innocents Abroad
    • an instrument in harmony with the sentiments of an assassin. — Ambrose Bierce, Devil’s Dictionary


Derived terms


A small, portable, keyed wind instrument


  1. Pleated.
    An accordion underskirt of blue silk moirette. —James Joyce, Ulysses

Extensive Definition

An accordion is a musical instrument of the handheld bellows-driven free reed aerophone family, sometimes referred to as a squeezebox.
The accordion is played by compressing and expanding the bellows, while pressing buttons or keys to allow air to flow across reeds, thereby producing tones and chords. Accordions are played worldwide, being especially popular in Colombia, North America, Brazil and France. The instrument's popularity in France also made its music a trademark of the country.

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 accordion's basic form was invented in Berlin in 1822 by Friedrich Buschmann. The accordion is one of several European inventions of the early 19th century that used free reeds driven by a bellows; notable among them were:
  • The Aeoline, by German Bernhard Eschenbach (and his cousin, Caspar Schlimbach), 1810. It was a piano with an added aeoline register. Similar instruments were the Aeoline Harmonika and Physharmonika. Aeoline and Aura were first without bellows or keyboard.
  • The Hand Physhamonika, by Anton Haeckl, a hand type produced 1818 and patented in 1821.
  • The flutina, by Pichenot Jeune, ca. 1831.
  • The concertina, patented in two forms (perhaps independently): one by Carl Friedrich Uhlig, 1834 and the other by Sir Charles Wheatstone, of which examples were built after 1829, but no patent taken out until 1844.
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.
Approximately 2.5 million Americans play the accordion.

Manufacturing process

The manufacture of an accordion is not a completely automated process. In a sense, all accordions could be called 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. However, 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.

Musical genres

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, and often far greater speed, than a piano keyboard configuration. There exists an accordion with 6 rows in the treble side. It is commonly played in Serbia and throughout former Yugoslavia. The rows are based on the B system. The natives refer to it as "dugmetara".
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 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.

Stradella bass system

The Stradella Bass System uses rows of buttons arranged in a circle of fifths; this places the principal major chords of a key in three adjacent rows. Each row contains, in order: A major third (the "counter-bass" note), the root note, the major chord, the minor chord, the (dominant) seventh chord, and the diminished seventh chord.
All chord buttons sound 3 note chords. Early attempts to create 4 note seventh and diminished chords were hampered by mechanical difficulties. Consequently, modern Stradella systems drop the 5th from these two chords. This has the side benefit of making the preformed chords more versatile. For example, an augmented chord can be created by using the dominant seventh button and adding an augmented 5th from the piano keyboard or from one of the bass or counterbass buttons.
Depending on the price, size or origin of the instrument, some rows may be missing completely or in different positions. In most Russian layouts the diminished seventh chord row is moved by one button, so that the C diminished seventh chord is where the F diminished seventh chord would be in a standard Stradella layout; this is done in order to achieve a better reachability with the forefinger.

Common configurations

Free bass systems

Free bass systems allow the player to construct their own chords as well as to play bass melodies in several octaves. There are various free bass systems in use; most consist of a rotated version or mirror image of one of the melody layouts used in chromatic button accordions. One notable exception is the Titano line of converter or "quint" bass, which repeats the first two bass rows of the Stradella system one and two octaves higher moving outward from the bellows. In the United States, Julio Giulietti was the chief manufacturer and promoter of the free bass accordion that he called a "bassetti" accordion which was mass produced from the late 1950s onward. Giulietti accordions with free bass capability often had a "transformer" switch to go from standard pre-set chords to individual free bass notes.
Skillful use of the free bass system enabled the performance of classical piano music, rather than music arranged specifically for the accordion's standard chorded capability. 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, several noted instrumentalists demonstrated the unique orchestral capabilities of the free bass accordion while performing at the nation's premier concert venues and encouraged contemporary composers to write for the instrument. Included among the leading orchestral artists was John Serry, Sr. A noted concert accordionist, soloist, composer and arranger, Mr. 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.
In Europe, free bass accordion performance has reached a very high level and the instrument is considered worthy of serious study in music conservatories. The most historically influential player has been Mogens Ellegaard (Denmark). Today, some of the most importants players are: Friedrich Lips (Russia), Matti Rantanen (Finland), Jon Faukstaad or Geir Draugsvoll (Norway), Stefan Hussong (Germany), Hugo Noth, Elsbeth Moser or Teodoro Anzelotti (in Germany), Owen Murray (Great Britain), Max Bonnay or Frederic Deschamps(France), Mini Dekkers (Holand), Ivan Koval (Czech Republic), Claudio Jacomucci (Italy), Iñaki Alberdi or Angel Luis Castaño (Spain)...
Many modern and avant-garde composers (such as Sofia Gubaidulina, Edison Denisov, Vladislav Solotarev, Luciano Berio, Jean Française, Robert Gerhard, Per Norgard, Arne Nordheim, Jurgen Ganzer, Uros Rojko, Jindrich Feld, Franco Donatoni, Toshio Hosokawa, Mauricio Kagel, Magnus Lindberg...) have written for the free bass accordion and the instrument is becoming more frequently integrated into new music chamber and improvisation groups.

Audio samples

Related instruments


Digital accordions

Other free-reeds

Famous accordionists

Players of the accordion include: 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", and "An instrument in harmony with the sentiments of the assassin" (From Ambrose Bierce's Devil's Dictionary).

Accordion organizations

accordion in Arabic: أكورديون
accordion in Bosnian: Harmonika
accordion in Breton: Bouest an diaoul
accordion in Catalan: Acordió
accordion in Czech: Akordeon
accordion in Danish: Harmonika
accordion in German: Akkordeon
accordion in Spanish: Acordeón
accordion in Esperanto: Akordiono
accordion in Basque: Akordeoi
accordion in Persian: آکوردئون
accordion in French: Accordéon
accordion in Galician: Acordeón
accordion in Croatian: Harmonika
accordion in Interlingua (International Auxiliary Language Association): Accordion
accordion in Italian: Fisarmonica
accordion in Hebrew: אקורדיון
accordion in Kazakh: Аккордеон
accordion in Latin: Harmonica diductilis
accordion in Lithuanian: Akordeonas
accordion in Hungarian: Harmonika
accordion in Dutch: Accordeon
accordion in Japanese: アコーディオン
accordion in Norwegian: Trekkspill
accordion in Norwegian Nynorsk: Trekkspel
accordion in Polish: Akordeon
accordion in Portuguese: Acordeão
accordion in Romanian: Acordeon
accordion in Quechua: Yatana takiy phukulli
accordion in Russian: Аккордеон
accordion in Sicilian: Fisarmònica
accordion in Simple English: Accordion
accordion in Slovenian: Harmonika
accordion in Finnish: Harmonikka
accordion in Swedish: Dragspel
accordion in Turkish: Akordiyon
accordion in Ukrainian: Акордеон
accordion in Vlaams: Accordeong
accordion in Chinese: 手风琴
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