SHLOMO PESTCOE שלמה פּסטקאָ
Please note: This is not a commercial site. I do not sell or appraise musical instruments. Please do not contact me to request that I identify and provide background information on a specific instrument in your possession and/or evaluate its worth. That's a job for an accredited professional appraiser, which I'm not. That said, I'll be glad to answer questions and discuss any subject I present here, so long as that one proviso is respected.
The button accordion is a free-reed instrument that is the bellows-powered sister of the harmonica, a cousin to the concertina and an ancestor of the more familiar piano accordion. A free-reed instrument is any type of wind instrument on which each note is produced by air being forced through a narrow channel, either by blowing in or sucking out, to strike a thin strip of bamboo or metal tuned to a specific note. The strip, called a reed, then vibrates freely within its slot, in a greater frame of reeds, to produce the given note, hence the name free-reed.
All types of accordions evolved from the akkordion-- patented in Vienna, Austria on May 6th, 1829 by Cyrillus Demian (1772-1847) -- the first free-reed instrument with bellows and touch keys to bear that name.
Demian's original accordion had five paddle-shaped keys which played only diatonic
chords, that is chords within the same major scale. Utilizing a "push-pull" system, each key played
two different 5-note chords-- one when the bellows were pushed in and a different chord when the
bellows were pulled out. This chording-type accordion was manufactured up to 1851 and seems to have
been used to accompany singing, similar to the way the small free-reed "sruti" boxes are now used in
Indian and South East Asian music.
By the early 1830s, instrument makers like Charles Buffet in Belgium and Fourneax and Busson in France combined ideas from both Demian's and Pichenot's instruments to create their own accordeons. Nowadays, these early French and Belgian-type accordeons are generally filed under the broad heading of flutina-- a reference to the flūtina, a small accordeon with keyboards on both the left and right sides, patented by Wender of Paris on December 8, 1842.
Flutinas typically had on the right hand side a single row of 10 melody touch keys or two rows of touch keys with 8 to 11 keys each. Most models had two button levers for chording on the left hand.
The two-row flutina was referred to as the "Semi-Tone or Perfect Accordeon" in American "tutors" (instruction manuals) of the day. On the instrument's right hand side, there are two rows of square melody keys laid with each row laid out in a diatonic scale, with the inner row in the scale of "B," while the outer row was tuned a semi-tone (half step) away in the key of "C." By going from row to row, it's possible to achieve a full chromatic range utilizing all twelve semi-tones of the chromatic scale. This system is similar to the one used in modern Scottish and Irish button accordion styles.
The Diatonic Button Accordion
By the 1870s, the flutina was superseded by the accordeon allemande, (German Accordion), the diatonic button accordion we know today in all its myriad forms.
Like all accordions, the button accordion has melody buttons on the right hand and bass and chord buttons on the left. Similar to the Demian's accordion and the flutina, it works on the "Push-Pull" system, wherein each melody button is capable of playing two different notes: One note when the bellows are "pushed" inwards and a different note when the bellows are "pulled" out (the bass and chord buttons work on the same system). The melody buttons are arranged in a vertical row, diatonically -- that is, having only the notes of a specific scale.
Diatonic button accordions range from one to five rowed models, with each row of melody buttons in the scale of one given key. They are used primarily in ethnic/ regional folk and popular music forms the world over, such as Brazilian Forro, Colombian Vallenato, Nigerian Juju, Tejano/Norteńo (Texas-Mexican and Northern Mexican), and Louisiana Cajun and Zydeco, to name but a few.
The Continental Chromatic
In the late 19th century, a different system of button accordion emerged in Europe, the continental chromatic. The instrument has four to six rows of melody buttons arranged to provide all the notes for all twelve musical keys. Unlike the smaller diatonic button accordions, the continental chromatic system offers only one note per melody or bass button and one chord per chord button, regardless of whether the bellows are "pushed" or "pulled." In Europe, the continental chromatic is generally favored over the related piano accordion, which is more popular on this side of the Atlantic. Along with the two-row diatonic button accordion, the continental chromatic is the preferred accordion for Scandinavian and French traditional dance music (especially for Parisian Musette music) and it's one of the most popular instruments in Russia, Ukraine and the rest of the former Soviet Union, where it's called the bayan.
-- Shlomo Pestcoe
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Last modified: 02/01/09