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Technique: Piano Accordion for The Recycled Muso

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Subject: Technique: The P/A for The Recycled Muso
From: The Fooles Troupe
Date: 27 Oct 03 - 01:42 AM

This is a PermaThread™, maintained by Foolestroupe. Feel free to post to this thread, but be aware that all messages in this thread are subject to deletion and editing.

The Piano Accordion for The Recycled Muso

Due to some comments in other threads on Accordions, I decided to dig out what I wrote some time ago. It was to be a book but I will share it here, and retain the Copyright - All Rights other than the Mudcat having it on line Reserved.

I have made this letter longer because I lack the time to make it shorter.
— Blaise Pascal, 1656

Please look in Comments: PianoAccordion 4 Recycled Muso for comments on this Thread.

Robin Hayes
    "This is a work in Progress. The Author requests that you should check all thru the thread to see the latest version, including of any sections, in case of any detected errors. Please respect the Copyright. For personal use only."

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Subject: RE: Technique: The P/A for The Recycled Muso
From: The Fooles Troupe
Date: 30 Oct 03 - 11:19 AM

Useful cross-reference thread so I don't have to say it all myself -

What are other names for the accordion? - mainly contributed by the inimitable Bob Bolton.


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Subject: RE: Technique: Piano Accordion for The Recycled Muso
From: The Fooles Troupe
Date: 14 Dec 03 - 10:52 AM

OK, Here's what I will now call Version 2. I have run out of steam, and it's nearly the Holidays - so this should hold you till 2004!

They say if you spend 20 mins a day 5 days a week for three months studying a subject then you are an expert - on that basis I definitely qualify, but I am sure there are others with much more time on the ground (instrument) than me - I have only been playing the P/A for about 4 years, but have been a Muso since the mid 1950's.

Many small misleading statements due to the subtleties of the English Language have been corrected - if you notice any errors obvious to you, then please let me know. Thanks very much to "PDG" for our discussion on Tremolo/Vibrato - I had to do some real research in order to play "Humpty Dumpty" - see the Vibrato thread.

I really would like any positive or negative feedback from those who have been playing the Piano Accordion for many more years - and any from those players of other instruments referred to if I have made wrong assumptions about those instruments.

Thanks to Jeff for the PermaThread™ Status, and for the "Edit Button"!


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Subject: RE: Technique: Piano Accordion for The Recycled Muso
From: The Fooles Troupe
Date: 14 Dec 03 - 10:55 AM

The Piano Accordion for The Recycled Muso

This was Version 2 - it has now been updated to Version 3. Please find the replacements below. These Sections will continue to be Updated - the last Update date for each Section will be noted at the end of each Section.


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Subject: RE: Technique: Piano Accordion for The Recycled Muso
From: The Fooles Troupe
Date: 20 Dec 03 - 06:07 PM

The Piano Accordion for The Recycled Muso

Version 3 Intro.txt

This Opus is Copyright - © Robin Hayes who asserts his International Claim to be recognized as the Author of this work. This version is still in Development.

I have made this letter longer because I lack the time to make it shorter.
— Blaise Pascal, 1656

Layout Of This Opus.

There are five main sections, but there is some overlap of concepts between them.

1) Introduction:
You are here.

2) Definitions:
Important Basic Terms are defined in the Definition Section.

3) Instrument Design:
The Instrument Design Section expands on some of these Basic Terms, and adds more relational information in order to understand how to get the best out of the Instrument. It will also help The Recycled Muso in choosing an appropriate instrument for the style of Music which it is desired to play.

4) Rhythm:
The Rhythm Section builds on the two previous sections, and is still in development.

5) Bibliography:

The Recycled Muso.

A Recycled Muso is a person who has already learnt to play one Musical Instrument, and is starting to learn another.

There are various degrees of this: this Opus assumes that you have sufficient Music Theory so that you can read Music in Staff Notation form, and know about Key and Time Signatures, and Circle of Fifths. A few terms are clarified when discussed, but you should look elsewhere for more authoritative sources of Music Theory information - no single book can contain everything! It also assumes that you know nothing about the instrument other than "you move the bellows in and out and you have a piano keyboard and buttons and switches"!

You should perhaps grab this Opus while you have it in your hands, as you may not find it again. If you stash it away and not tell your teacher (if you have one) and dig it out as your proficiency improves, especially if you are starting on the Piano Accordion as your first instrument, you can always come back to it later, perhaps again and again, as your skills improve.

Lots of Scored Musical Examples can be useful for beginning Musos, but tend to be tedious for Recycled Musos because of their slow pacing, and are easily dated, especially when dealing with tunes and rhythm patterns. Relatively few examples for beginners in books written during the 1930-70's are still in vogue - styles change. Thus this edition of this Opus has no scored music examples.

Target Audience.

This Opus is not intended to be the same as every other guide to the Accordion. It is not intended to contain everything about Piano Accordions, but to contain sufficient basic starting information to assist a Musician who wants to take up the Piano Accordion. While it contains some useful relevant information, other sources of information will be more helpful in telling you the practicalities of how to choose a new or secondhand instrument - there are many useful guides out there on the web.

This Opus is intended for the Recycled Muso who now wants to play the Piano Accordion. Many fine books have been produced, designed to teach people to play the Piano Accordion. Most of these assume that the person has no musical background, knowledge or experience whatever.

There are many fine books on Rhythm, but few I found specifically for the Piano Accordion. Most seem to be for Guitar, which can have limited usefulness for an instrument so different as the Piano Accordion. If you do already play the guitar, they may assist you, but you are on your own to transfer the knowledge therein into working techniques on the Piano Accordion. If you don't play the guitar, then you will not understand their practical techniques, and you have a much harder task to translate the information into working Accordion techniques.

This Opus is mainly concerned with discussing the use of the Piano Accordion as a Rhythm instrument, as many other sources of information are available about playing tunes on the Piano Accordion, but this area is often not treated in any depth, especially for beginners. A Race car Driver needs to understand the working of his machine in order to achieve good results - the same is true for a Musical Instrument.

This Opus may well be useful for non-piano keyboard Accordions such as the Chromatic types, Button Boxes and Melodeons, as well as Concertinas - although the non-Stradella Bass systems require a slight modification in thinking, as the assumptions in this Opus involve using the Stradella Bass system.

Storing the Piano Accordion.

The relative amount of time the instrument is played compared with the storage time is minor. If the case fits nicely into a low flat space - it's probably the wrong way! The only way to store a Piano Accordion is on the Bass End - where the little rubber feet are if they haven't fallen off! It's probably the worst single thing you can do to harm the instrument - other than storing it in too much heat or damp.

The correct case will be built to store the Accordion in this position also. The way it sits should normally be with the longest side vertical - unless it is an unusual design. The Instrument and the case should both have little rubber or other feet on the correct bases. You can do the same sort of damage to Concertinas too: they normally need to be stored with the Bellows horizontal (but the old cases may wrongly store them on one end!) - which is probably what confuses people about Accordions.

Because of the way the Reeds and Valves are built into the instrument, if the Valves are not stored in the neutral vertical position, the Valves on the top side of the Reed Blocks will sit down on the Reeds, where they may stick and promote rust if moisture is present. The Valves on the other side will hang down, away from the Reeds, becoming warped. They then may not seal properly, or otherwise misbehave, seriously affecting the sound.

So after years of the instrument sitting around in the wrong position, you may need to have Valves replaced, or the Instrument will just sound "wrong", and out of tune, as well as having notes not voicing correctly. If the Valves aren't sealing properly, it may seem as if the Bellows are leaky, and you may get weird sounds.

It's probably the best single explanation why an old Instrument sounds terrible - fortunately the cost of replacing the Valves is relatively minor compared with the improvement in sound. Many old Instruments are condemned wrongly because of it.

The second hand dealer is perhaps the biggest cause - they often display the Instruments on their side with the Bellows horizontal as if the instrument is being played, so you can easily see both the Keyboard and Bass Sides. This not warps the Valves away from their correct normal position, stuffing up ALL of them (instead of just half of them) at the same time. And they may have it sitting in a nice hot window, where the wax holding the Reeds in place melts or the sun bleaches the color out of the finish. If you see a dealer selling "new" or used Accordions displayed wrongly, think about it! "Would YOU Buy..."

Choosing An Instrument.

The Piano Accordion is not a "Stomach Steinway" - it's more like a "Walking Wurlitzer"! Indeed some early models were called "Wurlitzer" which was a very famous name from Pipe Organ days. The Piano Accordion is NOT a PIANO - Pianos are percussive instruments - the sound starts loud, then fades away for every note, every time it is activated. The Piano Accordion (like "Button Boxes" and Concertinas and similar instruments like Harmonicas & Harmoniums) is a Free Reed instrument. The sound is more like a Pipe Organ than a Piano, but with certain Bellows Techniques, a very percussive like sound can be achieved.

Automobiles had Disk Brakes and other such "advanced" gadgets in the 1930's - there hasn't much noticeable advance in basic technology if you ignore electronic and safety additions. Disk brakes always were, and still are more efficient at stopping than drum brakes. The construction materials may have been improved, but they still work the same way.

In the same sort of general way, there really hasn't been any great advance in Technology in Piano Accordions (I'm not an expert in melodeons - but I don't see much difference in basic construction) since the 1950-70's - except for the addition of electronics and MIDI. The construction materials may have been improved, but they still work the same way. Once the introduction of the round corner streamlined plastic covered style that had aluminum instead of steel and wood frames, not much has really changed internally. Perhaps the reeds have got cheaper and nastier in the cheaper boxes.

The Instrument underwent a lack of popular interest through changed fashion which has slowed advancements. This is a good thing for Recycled Musos, because there are many secondhand instruments around that are just as technically capable of producing fine music as the latest expensive models.

Older is not always better! But the cheap and nasty old trash mostly didn't survive, fortunately, because when it became unplayable or broke down, it was often not worth fixing and was generally discarded or ended up in a "Collector's Museum", where the instruments often are only displayed, not played.

The Good Stuff (and they could have both come from the same production run!) mostly stood the test of time and maintenance. Eventually when the owner became too infirm to play any more, they were often packed away for thirty or forty years, for the relatives could not bring themselves to rapidly dispose of an instrument which brought back so many good personal memories. The storage itself may have caused some problems, but to many of those instruments - provided that insects, heat and moisture were excluded, little serious damage should have occurred. If not stored standing on its little rubber feet - its base - or the case stored with it lying on its feet - then the Valves will have been distorted by gravity, and may need to be replaced - a relatively minor and cheap procedure for a qualified competent person.

But some real trash also survived! So exercise care!

The right sort of instrument for you depends on what style(s) of music you wish to play.

The Recycled Muso has the advantage over a beginner Music Student in not having to learn everything about Music Theory before learning the physical and technical aspects of this new Instrument, and "getting a tune going". Thus it is not completely necessary to start with a smaller "Student Level" instrument with very few features. Smaller instruments with fewer features are lighter and may have just the sound you want anyway.

The Recycled Muso has the luxury of starting, if desired, with a larger instrument which has more features, and if acquired second hand, may be good value, but Bigger is not always Better!

Get a reputable repairer to "give you the tour" inside an instrument in good condition, and you will begin to understand what problems and advantages to watch for. Most of them can also be persuaded to play an instrument or two in good or poor shape, so you can hear some of the things that are warning signs of expensive repairs.

Styles Of Music.

The Piano Accordion and its relatives, the Button Accordion and Concertina families are played in almost every country in the world in different styles. There are many styles of "Accordion Music", but some of them were not originally played on the "Piano" Accordion. It is possible to imitate most of these other "Accordion" Styles with appropriate techniques.

For example, Cajun Style originated with the use of the Diatonic "Button Box", and can be imitated on the Piano Accordion, but because of the difference between the playing characteristics of the two instruments, the physical techniques are very different. In order to imitate the original instrument sound style, the Piano Accordion player has to imitate the target SOUND with different physical techniques.

Because "Button Box" style Accordions are designed to play in only a few Major and Minor Keys, they are generically referred to as "Diatonic Instruments". "Diatonic": a musical term signifying literally "through the tones"; music in which the notes employed are confined to those of the Musical Key, Major or Minor, in which it is written. This is discussed in more detail in the "Definitions" Section.

"Button Boxes" only have a very limited number of Bass Side Key Buttons built in - on a different physical layout to the Stradella System. They may have 4 left hand buttons (plus usually another for the air venting hole to allow the bellows to be moved without depressing any tone keys) so they will have 2 Bass Note Buttons and 2 related Chord Buttons, one each respectively to go with each Bass Note Button. Since these instruments sound different pitches on the pull and push, that means there are
2 x 2 = 4
possible chords for the Bass Side Buttons . With the necessary I IV V related Chord combinations used in most Folk & Trad Styles, the range of available workable Musical Keys for a tune is thus limited on an instrument of this size. Bigger Diatonic boxes, as well as more rows of right side Buttons, also add a few extra Bass Side Buttons, but the total range of available playable Musical Keys is usually far less than even on a 32 or 48 Bass Piano Accordion.

Full Size (120 bass) Piano Accordions are by intent "Chromatic Instruments" playing the same note in both bellows directions, and are by design able to play in all Major & Minor Keys: as instruments become smaller, the keyboard range is restricted, and fewer Major and Minor Keys outside those centered around the Stradella "Home Key" of C Major are catered for with Bass Side Buttons. Also the range of horizontal rows of left hand buttons is progressively restricted - until 8 Bass Accordions have only a one and a bit to two octave right hand range, and only the Bass and Chord Buttons for Keys of F, C, G & D Major.

One important practical physical difference, is that on the Piano Accordion, not only is it fully "Chromatic", but the whole scale of the current Key of the Tune, or any part of the scale can be played with a single unidirectional bellows movement. To imitate the sound of the "Diatonic" Accordion, which has the scale split into some notes on the pull, and others on the push, the Piano Accordion player must first understand the playing design and techniques of the target instrument whose playing style and sound is to be imitated. This is necessary in order to modify the usual Piano Accordion bellows techniques to produce the appropriate desired sound and rhythm.

You don't have to be able to play the target instrument itself, just understand its basic principles of operation. Thus to properly imitate the sound of a Diatonic Squeezebox, or a Concertina, you need to first understand somewhat the bellows technique for playing each note, and runs of notes, on the original instrument.

With an Anglo Concertina, or a Harmonica, successive notes in the scale are in opposite bellows directions. With an English Concertina, successive scale notes can be played in the same bellows direction. With an Anglo or Melodeon Button Box, not all Chords are available in both bellows directions, whereas all Chords designed to be available on a particular Piano Accordion are available in both bellows directions.

With the normal Diatonic Harmonica, Notes can be "bent" - Piano Accordions are traditionally designed to eliminate this: but the BluesBox™ is designed for intentional and controllable Pitch Bending. See the discussion in Pitch Bending in the Definitions Section.

Then there is the matter of selecting appropriate Reed Ranks on the Piano Accordion to imitate the sound of the target instrument. Not every Piano Accordion will have an appropriate selection of Reed Ranks available to imitate the desired target sound.

The Stradella Bass System is not Work Squared, but Log(Work). The system has internal shortcuts, which if you don't understand, you will beat your head against in vain. If you understand the Stradells System Theory it just DOES certain things for you, bringing the right buttons under your fingers at the right times - but only for certain Music Styles - some Styles are less easy than others.

Most Folk & Trad Music is a doddle. Three Chorder (I, IV, V) music of any style is the bread and butter of the Piano Accordion: indeed that was the inspiration for the Stradella Bass System. Some Pop/Rock can be a thorough pain because of some of the specific chord progressions. Guitarists who use a Capo, or who do barre chord runs up and down the neck, can produce chord runs and steps that are not easily and quickly copied on the Stradella Bass System by beginners. The Rock Bass Sound Rhythm on the Piano Accordion is easy (provided the key changes are workable) - that's what you can waggle the Bellows around to obtain.

How many Buttons, Keys and Switches?

"Piano" Accordions - as distinct from other styles of "Accordions" with Buttons for both hands instead of a Piano Style Keyboard, have been manufactured in very much the same basic design since they first appeared, but many different physical layouts of the basic features abound. Pietro Deiro is credited with adding the Piano Style Keyboard in approx 1920. His name was widely used as a premium selling pitch on Sheet Music as the Arranger and as the Author of Piano Accordion Tutor Books for decades. Piano Accordions of this very early vintage will mostly be big and heavy.

The right hand is able to use the motor skills of the Piano Style Keyboard, although held in an apparently more difficult position physically and visually (at first) than the Piano. This is deceptive, because if the instrument is located correctly on the body (the keyboard should be close to the center of the chest, perhaps very slightly on the right side - irrespective of the size of the instrument), then both hands will be in relaxed, strain free positions. It should also sit snugly, and not flop around as you try to play. If this is not the case, you should adjust or replace the Shoulder Straps - if the instrument is not held correctly in position, you are making things harder for yourself. You can even cause muscle or tendon strain. Straps for small instruments usually have minimal padding: larger straps may be wider, have more padding, and even have backstraps to stabilize the instrument better.

The right hand is also able to select the number of Keyboard Reed Ranks speaking through the relevant Register Switches. The Recycled Muso with a previous background in a Piano Keyboard Style Instrument will bypass a few years of right hand and arm muscle and motor skill training.

There are "Chromatic Keyboard Accordions" which have all the attributes of "Piano Accordions" including the Stradella Bass, other than a Piano Style Keyboard. They have a layout of at least three, or sometimes five rows of squarish buttons, colored black and white. There are various designs of these, including the Reuther System. Some players who do not have a strong piano keyboard background prefer this layout because it was designed to allow easy and rapid Key Transposition without the slight difficulty of having to change fingering on a piano keyboard. All of the Bellows Control Techniques and the Reed Rank Theory in this Opus apply to this Instrument.

The left hand was provided with a Keyboard in a few models in the very early days, but since it is providing the motive power for the Bellows at the same time, it has a far more restricted range of physical movement than the right hand. Various arrangements of Buttons were tried. The musically elegant Stradella System (based on the Cycle of Fifths) originated in the town of Stradella in Italy, (before the Piano Keyboard was added) and rapidly became the dominant style of left hand layout. It is discussed in more detail elsewhere in this Opus.

The sound of the Piano Accordion is controlled by two means:

1) The selection of the various Reed Ranks for each side through Register Switches alters the Tone Colors available, and has a slight effect on Volume - the more Reeds speaking, obviously the greater the potential Sound Level. Smaller - often called "Student Models", - may have differing limited ranges of Keyboard Keys, Reed Banks, Bass Side Buttons and Register Switches. "Ladies Models", "Student Models", or "Miniatures" may have Key and Button sizes and spacing physically reduced.

2) The Bellows IS "The Engine" - not only is the Volume controlled by the force with which the Bellows is moved (thus varying the Bellows Pressure), but the way in which the Bellows is moved in and out affects the Sound Volume and Rhythm. Successive Pitches sounded while the motion of the Bellows is smoothly in one direction create the "Legato" effect: changes of direction or wobbles in one direction create many differing styles of Rhythm and Musical Styles.

Playing with other Musos and Instruments.

The Stradella Bass System is based on the Circle of Fifths.

This allows the player to place the middle finger on the Tonic (I) of the scale - the diagonal Row of Buttons to the left are then in the IV of the scale, the diagonal Row of Buttons to the right are in the V of the scale. Basic 3 Chorder songs use Chords based on the relative I IV V of the Scale. Going 2 Button steps to the right gives the II of the Scale, another 2 gives III, and so on - Circle of Fifths! More complicated song chord patterns jump around even more.

So when the tune is written in the Key of C Major, say, the guitarist may just slide up 2 frets by Capo or using Barre Chords, and the Accordion player steps over two diagonal sets of Buttons to the right for both to play in the Key of D Major - both players still thinking in relative terms of C Major Chord patterns. This seems OK at first.

There is one basic problem though - certain Bass Note Buttons called "Home Keys or Home Buttons" are marked so the fingers can feel which Musical (Scale) Key it is for - not unlike the concept of reading through the fingertips with braille. When you are transposing "on the fly" like this, the original "Home Keys" are now in different (wrong!) places! Since the playing of the instrument is based on trained unsighted instinct like the playing of the foot pedals on a Pipe Organ, one can get tricked, unless one has done this sort of transposing for a long time, or it takes some degree of concentration away from the playing of the Tune on the keyboard to ensure that one does not skip back to the original "untransposed" Musical Key. And then of course to be done at the same time; the "on the fly" transposing on the Piano Keyboard is a Skill that needs to be well practiced too!

Can I use this Opus to teach someone else?

Now this is an easily misunderstood suggestion - but if you can't find ANY help, Recycled Musos can LEARN a Piano Accordion MOSTLY by themselves, but teaching someone ELSE an instrument that you don't play yourself is probably NOT to be recommended!

The problem is that if would be students are really talented "Muso-to-be"s, they do really need Mentors:

1) A good musician - as many as possible, really, around them!

2) A good Piano Accordion player - as many as possible, really, around them!

3) Someone - at least one, but more is better! - knowledgeable in the Music Styles they want to play.

4) Most important, given all of the above, someone - one is essential! - who can Communicate the Love of Music, and Inspire the Student to gain the necessary Technical Knowledge, and practice sufficiently to gain the necessary Physical Skills.

Good Luck with your Search!

"Playing the Piano Accordion is revenge enough upon anyone who hasn't got the subtlety and wit to be able to appreciate such an incredible instrument."

The Piano Accordion for The Recycled Muso

Version 3 Intro.txt

Update 30/12/2003

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Subject: Update Ver3: Piano Accordion for The Recycled Muso
From: The Fooles Troupe
Date: 21 Dec 03 - 04:32 PM

The Piano Accordion for The Recycled Muso

Version 3 Defns.txt

This Opus is Copyright - © Robin Hayes who asserts his International Claim to be recognized as the Author of this work. This version is still in Development.


For the purpose of consistency in this "Opus", the following definitions apply. Some of these may seem pedantic, however you will see some of these terms used in other works to refer to different concepts.

I have tried to arrange them in a logical order by building on previous concepts. Some of the definitions form self-referential loops.

Chromatic and Diatonic Instruments.

"Chromatic" is a musical term signifying the use of notes extraneous to the Musical Scale in which the piece is written, and introduced to intensify melodic design or harmonic structure. It is from the Greek term "Chroma" - "Color". There is only one "Chromatic Scale" - it contains all 12 semitones; that is, all the black and white notes on the Piano Keyboard between any note and its octave.

Piano Accordions are fully "Chromatic" Instruments: the Keyboard Side of the "standard" 120 Bass Instrument allows easy playing of any note, and sequences or chords of notes, and most normal chords for Classical, Trad and Folk Music are immediately available as direct Left Side Buttons. Smaller Piano Accordions with fewer features may have some restrictions.

The rest of this discussion about "Diatonic Instruments" and "Single and Double Action" is of direct interest to you only if you want to play The Piano Accordion in imitation of the Styles of other "Button Accordion/ Concertina/ Melodeon/ etc" instruments!

This Opus assumes that the Recycled Muso already knows about Keys and Modes - if you don't, please seek help elsewhere for more detailed explanations - sufficient is included here only of the purposes of explaining the differences between The Piano Accordion and other instruments for which we are trying to emulate the Sounds and Styles.

"Diatonic" comes from an ancient Greek Musical term defined as - signifying literally "through the tones": music in which the notes employed are confined to those of the Musical Key, Major or Minor, in which it is written. These two particular Musical Modes are called "Diatonic Scales" and they contain only 8 notes, the 8th being the Octave of the Fundamental, or starting tone.

There are many different other types of Scales other than these two "Classical Music" forms. Folk and Trad Music, and indeed music from cultures outside Western Europe had many different ways of organizing a Scale. Indian Music even has rules which define what notes are suitable for a piece, depending on the time of day during which it is to be performed. Some cultures also incorporate "Quarter Tones" - notes which lie between the normal Semitones of Western European Music.

I know of no "Diatonic Boxes" which have Button Rows organized in other than Major Scales.

Since "Western European Folk & Trad Music" has more than just Major & Minor Scale Modes, "The Diatonic Scale" is assumed to include the other Western European Modes especially Dorian and Mixolydian, which are common in Irish and Scottish music respectively. A full discussion of Modes and their place in "Western European Folk & Trad Music" is outside the scope of this Opus.

The reason for the mention of only "Major & Minor" in the Definition of "Diatonic" is because the representation of Minor Scales in printed sheet music (due to Classical Music background!) is to display the related Major Scale Key Signature and insert accidentals where needed to generate the Minor Scale. The same "convention" is also used for any other "Mode". If we don't put the accidentals in the music, that would take us back to the Medieval/Renaissance conventions of "Musica Ficta", and I don't want to go there!

Of course now printed Sheet Music is used for anything from Irish Tin Whistle to Orchestral Swing/Jazz, so there are a multitude of "conventions" anyway. One is that many styles of music, including "Irish music" is printed with certain Classical Music note values, but that it is always played "as per the tradition", which means that reading the exact "Classical Music" time values for the notes will give you the WRONG note values and rhythm!!!

Some forms of "Button Boxes" are referred to as "Diatonic Boxes". Many tunes may contain "accidental" (or Chromatic) notes, which are additional to the Key Signature of the Scale that the piece is written in. These are noted by Sharps, Flats or Natural symbols inserted in each bar where appropriate in the sheet music: they are unobtainable on a single row "Diatonic Box".

Such "Diatonic Instruments" may have only a couple of rows of Right Side Buttons set in particular Diatonic Scales, e.g. C/G. It gets complicated thereafter, because with the right combinations of Diatonic Scales, you can achieve all the black and white notes on a Piano Keyboard. Some notes on a particular Instrument organized thus, however, may not be available in a particular Bellows direction, or nearby pitched notes may be located apart by large jumps, making some runs or chords tricky.

It is difficult to draw the line anywhere after one or two row Button Boxes. There are many conflicting usages of Terms that result in confusion. Some Button Boxes may be referred to as "Chromatic Button Boxes", but playing in particular Scales may be very difficult due to Button placements and Bellows direction restrictions. Also "Diatonic Boxes" mostly have very few Left Side Buttons, thus restricting the number of Scales and Chords practicable on the Instrument.

The 3-row A/D/G, G/C/F, D/G/C style boxes can play almost 2 octaves of Chromatic scale. Some players hesitate to call them fully "Chromatic", because of the previously mentioned restrictions: but a (usually French) 2½-row "Club" model is often considered more or less "Chromatic" - because it has alternate direction notes and a "dedicated" ½-row for "out of scale" accidentals.

Single and Double Action.

These two terms cause perhaps even more confusion than "Diatonic and Chromatic" - in fact the terms "Single Action" and "Double Action" cause endless confusion just as they do in firearms training! You will doubtless hear the terms used in reverse as much as used correctly.

having two of a sort together; being in pairs; coupled. - Funk & Wagnall.

(a) consisting of one only; separate; individual.
(b) having no companion or assistant; alone.
(c) Of or pertaining to one alone; hence, uncommon; singular; unique.
(d) Consisting of only one part; simple; uncompounded.
- Funk & Wagnall.

Single-acting: Doing effective work in only one direction; as a motor having a reciprocating action. - Funk & Wagnall.

Single-action: Designating a type of firearm in which the trigger must be cocked by one action and released by another. - Funk & Wagnall.

Wheatstone call large English system Basses, specially voiced "Clarinet" or "Oboe" models of Concertinas that have huge flap valves to refill the bellows quickly on the draw and only sound on the push - "Single Action" - you are only confused by this if you have got your understanding of the two terms back-asswards. Popular misconception is that the terms refer to "one" note for "both" bellows directions to be a single action, or "two" notes for "two" directions to be a double action. This is simply wrong!

Piano Accordions are "Double Action" Free Reed Instruments. They double the reeds for each pitch, one for each bellows direction. Thus, they always generate a single pitch for both bellows motion actions on each actuator (key or button).

A "Single Action" Free Reed Instrument generates a single pitch for each bellows push and pull motion action for each actuator (key or button) - simple "Diatonic" "Button Boxes" normally do this. There is a single Reed for each pitch for each Bellows direction for each actuator in a single Reed Rank instrument. Additional Reed Ranks do not affect this basic action, they just parallel it.

There is no insistence in Music Theory for any connection between the "Diatonic" and "Single Action" Terms, any more than there is a connection between the concepts of Color and Smell: it is a result of the physical way that Harmonicas, Anglo Concertinas and similar "Button Boxes" are constructed.

Some less simple "Musical Instrument Bellows Driven Free Reed Boxes with Buttons and no Piano Keyboard!" may be "Double Action" - Diatonic or Chromatic! You would need to get more deeply into the nomenclature and technical design & construction of these boxes, which is well outside the scope of this Opus. I only mention it because if you hang around Folk & Trad Musos, you WILL be engulfed in the confusion! "You play an Accordion, you MUST be an Expert!" - "Yes, but not that type of Accordion!"

The Cycle of Fifths.

This is the heart of the Stradella Bass System. A German musician called Johann David Heinichen defined this term in 1728. A circular chart of all 12 semitone pitches is arranged so that any clockwise pair of adjacent pitches represents the interval of an ascending "Perfect" fifth. The counter clockwise pairs seem to be a descending fourth, but things are not quite as simple as they seem. You should perhaps consult a proper chart to follow this - or draw up your own!

The chart starts off from a convenient point in a clockwise direction thus:

F - C - G - D, etc.

The fifth note of the C Major Scale is G.
The fifth note of the G Major Scale is D, the fourth note of the G Major Scale is C.
Successive steps in the clockwise direction are additive base 8 - Octal Maths for the Computer Nerds! Thus V + V = II.
The Second Note of the C Major Scale is D.

These simple relative relationships hold all the way around the Circle.

The Seventh note of the D Major Scale is C - plus a semitone = C#. You really need to go sufficient steps clockwise to get to the correct note. Going counter clockwise, you seem to end up some semitones out in the additions, because it is not just a simple "perfect" fourth - there are "adjustments" to be made.

And don't forget, that often mentioned Tonic - Subdominant - Dominant: I - IV - V chord progression is in fact really I - IV - V7. The Note (Natural) C is the Flattened 7th of the D Major Scale.

Transposing correctly from one Musical Key to another involves taking two Circles of Fifths, and offsetting them: e.g., to transpose the Key of C to the Key of G, align the C of the first Circle to the G of the second Circle, and always read in the same direction from the first Circle to the second Circle.

The Bellows.

This is the most distinctive visual feature of the instrument. The Bellows is "The Engine" of the Piano Accordion mechanism which propels air through the Reeds, by either opening or closing. One must not strenuously force the Bellows in any direction when no Keys or Buttons are depressed, as this may cause damage to the Instrument. There is a special Air Release Button on the Left (Bass) Side. If not a separate button, it may be hiding as one of the lesser used Stradella Bass Buttons at the right hand end of the rows, perhaps as the last A# row Button.

The Style of Manipulation of the Bellows is what distinguishes the sound of the Instrument from imitations such as Harmoniums and other Keyboard Reed Instruments, Electric/Electronic Organs and Midi Generated Imitation Sounds. It is also mostly responsible for the distinctive sounds of certain musical styles that use any form of Accordion or Concertina.

With a practiced ear, you can tell quickly whether it is a real or imitated Instrument. Most "Pop Music" does not use a real Instrument to generate the sound, as the tone pattern of it is available as a "Stop" on Electronic Keyboards, along with "Harpsichord", "Piano", etc.

Change of Direction of the Bellows.

Slower movements (more notes before Change of Direction) are used for Legato Style and musical phrasing purposes: faster movements (including multiple direction changes on a single note) involve "Bellows Shake" Techniques.

Legato can only be done easily with uni-directional bellows movements. While forms of Staccato can be achieved purely with Keyboard or Button finger work as per Piano techniques, Bellows direction changes and pulsing techniques lend themselves to many different Staccato Styles of playing.

The Free Reed.

At the heart of what makes the Piano Accordion work is "The Free Reed". It is used in all Accordions, and Concertinas, as well as Harmonicas and Harmoniums.

The Reed vibrates mechanically, imparting vibrations to the air, which we detect as sound waves with particular frequencies. There are different types of Reeds in musical instruments: woodwind instruments use a single or double reed closely coupled to a tube, trumpets use a reed formed with the player's lips closely coupled to a tube.

The Free Reed does not depend on being part of a tube assembly. It is supported at one end and vibrates freely without any hindrance at a rate determined by the physical properties of the material of which it is constructed, similar to a pendulum. It produces a sinusoidal waveform, larger Reeds of more mass having a lower frequency of vibration. It may rarely be mounted in a "Tone Chamber" which modifies the impedance matching, and thus the Tone Color. This is referred to as "Cassotto".

The Standard Piano Accordion version of the Free Reed is an "asymmetric" "uni-directional" assembly: the unexcited reed tongue sits just outside one side of the Vent in the Reed Bed. As it vibrates back and forth, it interrupts the airflow coming out of the Vent, causing pressure fluctuations at the frequency at which it vibrates. This "asymmetric Free Reed assembly" is loud enough to be heard without a resonating chamber, although "Cassottos" are occasionally used.

It requires a minimum flow of air to sound. A well adjusted Accordion will have all Reed Ranks set to the same minimum air flow, so all Ranks should sound together. It only generates a clean sounding pitch when air is passed through in one direction. A Valve is used to prevent back flow of the air.

Reeds for the lowest pitches have small metal weights on their ends to add mass, which slows down the rate of vibration. Don't fiddle with them!

The Free Reed produces a string-like sound, and it can whisper, moan, roar, shriek and bark!

Free The Reed!

"Bending" The Accordion Reed.

You may hear claims that some players can "bend" Standard Accordion Reeds in a similar way to Harmonica Reeds. For a start, Diatonic Harmonicas (the normal ones people think of) which are played for "Blues" have no Valves. Chromatic Harmonicas (the ones with a "change button") normally have Valves called "Wind Savers" - so they don't bend Pitch. Advanced Harmonica Experts may have a Chromatic Harmonica from which they remove the Valves ("Wind Savers") in order to be able to "bend" Pitch.

Now this "pitch bending effect" does not work on all Piano Accordions, indeed it is normally designed to not work this way. Piano Accordion designers have gone to great trouble to build their Reed and Valve assemblies so that they will not change Pitch with change in Bellows pressure. High quality hand made Reeds, or hand finished Reeds, properly installed and adjusted will not bend in Pitch. Some cheaper Reeds may "bend" if the Reed is not adjusted "correctly" for normal use. If the Valves are really so bad as to be ineffective, you may experience some "bending".

Now some "Chorus Effect" may occur as you increase Bellows pressure, as stated elsewhere, which may give the sensation of a slight Pitch change.

Harmonica Reeds are normally "pulled" down in Pitch one or occasionally two Semitones; or more rarely by extremely advanced players, up one or two Semitones; by changing the shape of inside the mouth and "drawing down" using overblowing and overdrawing techniques. If you were to just increase the Bellows pressure, then the Accordion Reed that is sensitive to this technique would normally be expected to increase in Pitch. Some Concertinas and Melodeons are alleged to exhibit this behavior, but the Reeds in those instruments are normally constructed differently from Accordion Reeds - although some Concertinas and Melodeons are indeed built with Accordion Reeds.

One alleged way is to just press the Key so the Reed is only beginning to speak, and then increase the Bellows pressure - sometimes you may hear the note bend upwards in Pitch. Another claimed way is to start the note, then increase the Bellows pressure.

It is most likely that what is happening, is a combination of what are Traditionally considered "Bad Techniques":
#1) The Reed is not aligned "correctly" with regard to the "Vent" by normal standards;
#2) The Valve is in poor condition, and is not functioning "correctly" by normal standards;
#3) The Pallet may be leaking; Pallet sealing material may be worn, or dirt may adhering thereto.
#4) Impedance mismatching in the air feed path due to the Pallet not fully opening because the actuating rods may be out of correct adjustment, or by means of the actuating Key or Button not being fully depressed;

Take care, if your instrument is not sensitive to what is normally considered a "wrong" or "bad" Piano Accordion sound: trying to force it may most likely damage it! The same warning applies to other Bellows Driven Free Reed Instruments!

Warning: if you take an Accordion exhibiting this unusual behavior to a Tuner, unless you insist on retaining this "rare feature", it will most likely be returned "totally fixed"! Tuners firstly remove the Reed Blocks, and reset all Reeds that are not correctly positioned in their Vents (adjusting the gaps): or if that doesn't seem to work, they just replace the whole Reed Block (both Reeds) for that Pitch: then they replace ALL defective Valves: then they retune ALL the Reeds (at this step they can easily alter "Chorus" and "Musette" or "Tremolo" Sounds to taste - indeed some Tuners may automatically alter setups to what they were taught was the "correct sound") - again, if necessary, replacing any difficult Reed Blocks that are misbehaving and not responding to treatment - in that order. The Reeds are then reinstalled in the Instrument, and in some cases, Pallets may be found to be sealing incorrectly due to dirt or wear, and these would normally be recommended to be serviced as well. Any Reeds that WERE originally bending WILL thus now be eliminated. The Borg would be pleased.

Tom Tonon, however, since starting development in 1990, has patented and is now manufacturing and selling new BluesBox™ Piano Accordions with special Reed Assemblies based on different principles from Standard Piano Accordion Reeds - DESIGNED to "bend" in Pitch - the prototypes are currently designed to bend one Semitone downward with a controllable infinite gradation of bend, from zero to maximum. 62 year old Kenny Kotwitz, one of the world's top Jazz Accordionists has assisted with the development. See for details and sound files, as well as a demonstration CD. See,1413,200~20954~1829850,00.html for a L.A. Daily News Article if it is still online. These Instruments are highly unlikely to be available yet to the Recycled Muso seeking to pick up a cheap Second Hand Instrument, as so few have been made as yet - and the techniques are also applicable to the manufacture of "Button Boxes". Detailed discussion of Mr Tonon's impedance mismatching construction techniques are beyond the scope of this Opus.


The Valves are the little flaps of leather or plastic which seal the Reeds in "reverse mode". They are also called "Skins", and are usually not applied to the smallest Reeds, as there the leakage is minimal.

The Valves are very delicate and easily damaged. Don't fiddle ignorantly with the Valves: this is a skilled craft. When a Valve is replaced, the associated Reed usually needs minor retuning.

Register Switches.

Each Keyboard Key or Bass Button is connected to potentially more than one "Reed Rank", and each Reed Rank is allowed to speak in potential combination with each other Reed Rank through the action of Register Switches. These may also be called variously by different people "Switch", "Register", "Stop", "Shift", "Change", or "Coupler".

These Switches cause to slide small pieces of metal which open or close whole individual Reed Ranks at the one time. Not all Register Switches stay depressed after activation. Some Bass Side Register switches may be a single actuator that cycles between the different possibilities as it is depressed. A few Instruments had a Keyboard "Palm Switch" which cycled between the two possible settings of one or two Reed Ranks.

Some Instruments had "Toggle Switches", which allowed selecting between two preset set-ups - they were delicate and may be damaged on surviving Instruments.

Reed Block.

For each sounding pitch, there are two identically pitched Reeds (this is why it is a "Double Action" Instrument!), one for each direction of air flow, as the Reeds only speak properly in one air flow direction, mounted in a metal "Reed Bed". These are both mounted in a small solid metal block, which is held in place in the wooden reed-bank, usually by a wax based mixture, but some instruments may use mechanical fasteners and seals, or even a special PVA style glue.

With the very high pitches, the gap between the Reed and the sides of the Vent (the hole the Reed sits partly in and over) of each individual Reed Bed is so small as to allow almost no air through when the Reed is "in reverse": definitely insufficient air to cause the reed to speak. The rest of the Reeds have Valves - a small flap of leather or plastic designed to prevent reverse air flow.

Reed Rank.

A Reed Rank refers to all of the single fundamental pitches in a particular set of Reeds with the same Tone Color conceptually grouped together and simultaneously brought into use or disuse through a Register Switch - much as a Pipe Rank or "Stop" in a Pipe Organ, and imitated in Electric/Electronic Organs and Harmoniums. Other terms used by Accordion Technicians for this are "Line" and "Voice".

Harmoniums often split the Keyboard Reeds into upper and lower sections around Middle C for a greater range of contrasts, especially on a single keyboard manual model: Piano Accordions do not need to do this, as you only use the right hand.

Not all instruments are manufactured have Register Switches to individually actuate individual Reed Ranks - but theoretically, they could - they cannot easily be installed later. Many Instruments, especially smaller ones, manage well without individual control of individual Reed Ranks - especially on the Bass Side.

Reed Bank.

All of the individual metal Reed Blocks for each "voice pitch color", which is normally activated by a particular Register Switch, are gathered together into a hollowed out wooden block which is mounted on the holes opposite the pads of the pallets.

On many instruments, they may be split into two or three separate sub-banks, with gaps in the middle.

On "miniaturized" instruments, they may be arranged differently, for some very good practical physical construction reasons. Putting two Reed Block sets part by part into the same 'Dual Reed Rank' Wooden 'Reed Bank', but with two separate sets of air feed holes, allows them to be compressed into a smaller space, but still controlled by the individual sliders from the Register Switches. The Keyboard Levers which actuate the pallets in miniature instruments then can alternate from one Combined Reed Bank to another to allow the total length of the Keyboard to be shorter; narrower keyboard keys also then being used.

In most Instruments, the Reed Blocks are few and run in the direction parallel to the Keyboard, but in some Instruments, there are more & shorter ones, and they run at right angles to this direction.

Note: The Reed Block is the small metal bit to which the paired (double-action) Reeds are fixed: the Reed Bank is the removable Wooden thing in which several Reed Blocks are mounted.


The name for the small padded Block which seals the Airway opening to the Reed Ranks. The name originated with Pipe Organ builders. It sits on the end of the levers which are connected to each Key on the Keyboard Side, or on the end of each of the rods which are connected to the various Bass Side Buttons.

Seeing it on the Page:

There are conventions for printing Piano Accordion Sheet Music. It looks similar to normal Piano Sheet Music, but is interpreted differently. The Treble clef is interpreted exactly the same as for Piano Music. The Notes played on the 2 Bass Note Rows are represented in the bottom octave of the Bass Clef, with the note tails pointed down. The notes printed in the top octave of the same Bass Clef may be attached to the same tails, and refer to the Note Name of the Chord - Major chords may have an upper case "M" above them, and Minor Chords will have a lower case "m" above them. Other markers denote the Major (Dominant) 7th - a "7" or the chord name and a "7" e.g. "C7"- and the Diminished 7th - "Dim".

Other methods may involve the Bass Note Name in Upper Case, and the Chord Name in lower case, e.g. "C" & "c" - Minor Chords then will have a lower case "m".

When you see two notes (always an octave of the same note - one will be on a line, the other on a space) in the Bass Clef on a single note tail pointed down, it represents playing the Chord Note & Chord Buttons together - the loudest and deepest sound for that Switch Register setting.

Occasionally, the Chord Buttons may be represented by actual fully written out chords, similar to the way normal Piano music notation is represented. There will then also be the little letters and numbers as mentioned above.

Different Publishers tended to use different methods.
You can of course use any sheet music that has a tune on it - Guitar tabs can be even used as chord guides should they appear. In that case you are creating your own Rhythm patterns.

Tuning of Pitches.

The Major and Minor scales (and some of the Modes) should already be familiar to most Recycled Musos. Scales are made up of Tones and Semitones.

Tuning is measured in "cents". 1 cent = 1/100 or 1% of a Semitone, or a difference in pitch by a factor of 2 raised to the 1/1,200 power = 1.000577789507. The actual number of cycles per second (Hz - short for Hertz) in a cent varies with the original fundamental frequency in the Semitone referred to. When referring to "Musette", the basic reference cent difference is stated at Middle C.

Not all Piano Accordions were tuned to the A = 440 Hz reference pitch standard. For "Brightness", or that ability to "stand out, or "punch through", some were tuned anywhere from A = 440 Hz up to 445 Hz as the basic reference pitch. The majority of Italian Accordions were tuned to A = 443 Hz. Chinese Accordions were normally tuned to A = 440 Hz.

I say "were" because some owners have them retuned during the working life of the instrument.

"Dry" and "Wet" Tuning.

When two Pitches are exactly the same frequency that is called "Dry" Tuning.

When they are different by a small amount, they produce a "beat" or pulse at the frequency of the beat. This is called "Wet" Tuning. According to published Manufacturers claims, this difference may be from 5 (often called "Slow") to 25 ("Fast") cents at Middle C. Different degrees of "Wetness" are preferred by different styles of music, but this preference can change over time.

Chorus Tuned.

This is why some very small Accordions can have a very "large sound". In any instrument with individual sound generators in each Rank for each Pitch, the individual generators of each particular pitch can be tuned to the exact pitch of each of the other similar generators in other Ranks, which gives a "Dry" sound, or a very small amount of a cent or less off, which leads to the "Chorus" sound.

The Choir and Orchestra produce this effect naturally, as the pitch of each singer and instrumentalist may vary slightly - thus the origin of the name.

To hear and understand this effect if you do not understand, try this. Have two Radios playing the same program at a reasonable volume a fair distance apart - in two rooms if necessary. Walk between them from one towards the other, and you will hear the "Phasing" or Chorus" Effect.

In a "Chorus Tuned" Accordion, the tuning is very slightly "pulled" by only a very small amount over the whole Reed Rank pitch range. This is a far more subtle pitch difference than the "Musette" tuning arrangement.

This very small pitch difference produces a very slow beat that sounds like the "Chorus" or "Flange" guitar effect pedal. The resultant effect is to give a very big sound, or the "Wall of Sound" effect.

Some of this effect may occur with the "Wetness" of "Violin Tuned" Reed Ranks contrasted with the Bass Side Reed Ranks.

The amount of pitch "spreading" is usually smaller towards the top of the keyboard: too much difference here can make the instrument seem too much "out of tune" to some ears. This needs to be balanced against other methods of "detuning" various Reed Ranks. See also "Musette Tuning".

Some of the Bass Reed Ranks may be slightly "Chorused" relative to other Bass Reed Ranks as well, especially on large or even some "miniature" instruments.

What's this 8 Foot Stop Business?

In Pipe Organs, the basic reference fundamental Pitch range which includes the normal "Middle C" of the piano Keyboard is produced from pipes with a maximum length of 8 feet - this was established centuries before metrification, and the term is always in feet, never metric. "Stop" is the name given to a Rank of Pipes with a particular Tone Color and volume, which may actually be generated by up to half a dozen individual sets of pipes for each note!

Since higher octaves and lower octaves are twice and half the frequency respectively, they are produced by pipes twice and half as long. Thus a 16 ft stop has fundamental pitch pipes twice as long as the 8 ft stop, and produces tones an octave lower than staff notation. Similarly, the 4 ft stop produces fundamental tones an octave above staff notation.

These Pipe Organ terms are sometimes heard among Accordion Players and Tuners.

Meanings Of Names Of Some Reed Ranks and Register Switches.

The Bass Reed Ranks are normally not named like the Keyboard Reed Ranks, as you can't easily see them while playing, and normally more than one Reed Rank is speaking at a time anyway. Further, since one is rarely playing Solo Notes, but Chords, the difference between Tone Colors is less marked. The Bass Register Switches are marked with symbols which indicate which of the relative sets of Reed Ranks are switched in when that Register Switch is depressed. Bass Side Reed Ranks are normally 5 on a large "Professional Level" Instrument. There may be more, but they add more weight for relatively less function under "The Law Of Diminishing Returns". Smaller instruments manage with fewer, often usually 2; 8 ft & 16 ft.

The Keyboard Register Switches may not have printed names either, but similar symbols which indicate which of the relative sets of reed ranks are switched in when that switch is depressed.

Because of lack of standards, confusion is likely to abound: Register Switches on instruments from different manufacturers may have different names. For instance, a Keyboard Register Switch may be marked "Violin" but may in fact have two Reed Ranks, with a "Chorus" effect.

There are a range of other names I have not specifically mentioned: "Organ" "Bandoneon", "Melodeon", "Celeste", "Harmonium", Accordion", etc: one of these names may actually be the "Master" on an instrument if "Master" does not appear. The instrument designer has merely tried to convey an image of other distinctively separate sounds, often not very successfully. The range of names is probably due more to Marketing than anything else. "My Organ is better than your Organ"!

The names are not always consistent between all Manufacturers, or even among all instrument ranges from the same Manufacturer. Special instruments made to order will have whatever was specified. Maybe some clown may have "fixed" or "improved" the tuning on a particular box, so that the original tuning picture no longer applies.

Don't get fixated on a particular Register Switch name always being a particular sound: you will just have to examine each instrument carefully to see what you have. This is why some Manufacturers just put the little "L-M-H" pictures on the Register Switches - you can't get distracted by confusing names. It's perhaps best just to think in these "L-M-H" terms about the Register Switches anyway.

Master Register Switch.

This switches in all Reed Ranks on that side. There is a Keyboard Master and a Bass Master. Some more expensive instruments may have additional Wrist Master or Chin Master Switches that just parallel the action for the player's convenience.

"Bassoon Reed" Rank.

This (L) 16 ft stop is normally tuned "Dry" to the reference pitch scale (pitched at A=440, or whatever). It may be slightly "Chorused" relative to the Bass Side Reeds in some instruments. This is the only Reed Rank Name common to all Manufacturers.

"Clarinet Reed" Rank.

This (M) 8 ft stop is always tuned "Dry" to the basic reference pitch. It is called "The Concert Pitch Reed" - the lowest C on the keyboard should be Middle C on a Piano Keyboard. If a "2 Reeder" has a "Bassoon Reed" Rank and a "Clarinet Reed" Rank, then the Keyboard, and usually the whole instrument will be "Dry", unless some "Chorusing" has been added. Sometimes this Register Switch may be called "Oboe", and then the "Clarinet" Register Switch on the same instrument, or on other instruments from the same manufacturer, will engage both the 8 ft & 4 ft Reed Ranks together. Some instruments may even call this Register Switch "Flute".

"Violin Reed" Rank.

This (L) 8 ft stop is tuned slightly sharp (only a few cents) with respect to the previously mentioned reference pitch scale. If a "2 Reeder" has a "Bassoon Reed" Rank and a "Violin Reed" Rank, then the "Violin Reed" Rank will give a slight "Chorus Effect" with the Bass Side Reed Ranks, as well as with the "Bassoon Reed" Rank. The Keyboard Master will thus give a slight "Chorus" Effect as the fundamental of the "Violin Reed" Rank beats with the first overtone of the Keyboard "Bassoon Reed" Rank, and the relevant Bass Side Reed Ranks.

"Piccolo Reed" Rank.

This (H) 4 ft Stop is often tuned a few cents sharp with respect to the reference pitch scale. If tuned too sharp, especially at the top of the keyboard, the instrument may sound too "out of tune" when the Keyboard Master is depressed. The sharpness decreases near the top of the keyboard.

"Musette Reed" Ranks.

These are the extra (M) 8 ft Reed Ranks needed to generate the beating "Wet Sound". There may be one or two of these Ranks extra to the "Clarinet Reed" Rank, and they are tuned either sharper or flatter by a variable number of cents (depending on the degree of "Wetness") from the 8 ft reference pitch scale. The pitch difference is normally not constant across each of the whole Reed Ranks involved, usually being slightly lessened at the top of the keyboard. It generates a "beat sound" at the frequency of the difference.

If a "2 Reeder" set up (M-M) has a "Clarinet" style Reed Rank and a "Violin" style Reed Rank, then 2 Register Switches are often provided to allow separate selection of the (M) "Dry" & (M-M) "Wet" (the "Master" setting) sounds. This "Wet" sound may be called "Musette" or "Tremulant" Effect.

The "Wet" Sound will also conveniently provide a slight amount of "Chorusing" with the Bass Side Reed Ranks.

"French Musette" Sound and Register Switch.

This always involves three (M-M-M) 8 ft pitch reeds. Other "Wet Sound" beating tuning setups may be called "Musette" or "Tremulant".

"French Musette" tuning is "Wetter" than all other beating tunings, and is by default the (M-M-M) "Dry, Sharp & Flat" Setup:

1) "Clarinet" type Reed Rank for the basic reference pitch.
2) "Musette" or "Violin" type Reed Rank #1 is tuned sharp by the exact amount that
3) "Musette" type Reed Rank #2 is tuned flat.
There is thus a single fully amplitude modulated Tremolo applied to each note.

Another common Style of Three Reed "Musette Tuning" or "Wet Sound Tuning" is the "Dry, Sharp & Sharper" Setup. It is improper to call this tuning "French Musette".

This Three Reed "Wet Sound" tuning has "Violin" type Reed Rank #1 tuned a little bit sharp and "Violin" type Reed Rank #2 tuned a lot sharp. The player thus has a choice of a slightly wet sound or a much wetter sound.

If the amount of offset is not consistent between "Violin" type Reed Ranks #1 & #2, then you end up with a blend of different rates of Tremolo in this tuning if the "Musette Master" is used to engage all three "Musette" Reed Ranks, or if they are blended with other Reed Ranks in combinations. Register Switches may be provided to control all the various combinations, or the number of various combinations may be limited by design. There will be different sets of beats produced between the detuned various fundamentals and overtones of the Reed Ranks involved.

Listen to the instrument - the effect varies, and is far too complicated to theorize about here. There is also some "Chorusing Effect" with the Bass Side Reed Ranks here too.

Of course if the instrument is badly in need of tuning, or the Valves are in a bad way, the effect is ragged, and not necessarily pleasant!

That "Wobble In The Sound" Effect.

There are two words commonly used, often apparently at random interchangeably, to describe the "Tremor" or "Wobble" in the sound of human voices and musical instruments.

Fundamentals of Musical Acoustics
Arthur H. Benade
2nd, Revised Edition
Dover 1990 - First Published 1976.

The Index contains several references to "Vibrato" that each definitely refer to PITCH variations. No found reference to changes in VOLUME only.

Funk and Wagnall - reveals
"Vibrato ... A trembling or pulsating effect, not confined to vocal music, caused by rapid variation of emphasis on the SAME TONE: properly distinguished from Tremolo, where there is an alternation of tones."

From Merriam Webster On Line

Vi·bra·to Pronunciation: vi-'brä-(")tO, vI-
Function: noun Inflected Form(s): plural -tos
Etymology: Italian, from past participle of vibrare to vibrate, from Latin
Date: circa 1876
: a slightly tremulous effect imparted to vocal or instrumental tone for added warmth and expressiveness by slight and rapid variations in pitch

Trem·o·lo Pronunciation: 'tre-m&-"lO
Function: noun Inflected Form(s): plural -los
Etymology: Italian, from tremolo tremulous, from Latin tremulus
Date: circa 1801
1 a : the rapid reiteration of a musical tone or of alternating tones to produce a tremulous effect b : vocal vibrato especially when prominent or excessive
2 : a mechanical device in an organ for causing a tremulous effect

A useful Piano Accordion Reference site on the Web is
This refers to pulsing PITCH related wobbles as Tremolo.

So briefly the 'State Of Confusion' is this:

The Term "Vibrato" is often used to refer generally to any wobble in PITCH or VOLUME, whereas the allegedly older term "Tremolo" is used to refer to SPECIFICALLY PITCH only wobble.

Scientists such as Benade refer to PITCH wobbles as "Vibrato".

Singers usually refer to the mixed effect of VOLUME and PITCH changes as "Vibrato".

Violinists refer to the "tremor" caused by wobbling the left wrist while holding down a string (thus minutely changing the string length) as "Vibrato", but Physics says it is actually a PITCH wobble.

Banjo or mandolin players may refer to the characteristic sound of repeatedly striking the same note as "Tremolo", but there is of course no PITCH variation.

On Keyboard Instruments, the alternation of two PITCHES such as an extended "Trill" may sometimes be called "Tremolo"

"Tremolo" or "Tremulant" as a term for PITCH wobble is not uncommon in Organ and Accordion playing and tuning circles.

"Vox Humana" is an effect on Harmoniums that is mainly a pulse in the VOLUME.

There is also a subtle form of PITCH difference beating called "Chorusing".

The problem is that I MUST have TWO separate words for the purpose of this discussion in order to distinguish without confusion between the two separate physical effects of PITCH and VOLUME wobbles, when describing practical physical Accordion Techniques, and STICK TO IT! I have not needed to define a term for the combination of the "Vibrato" & "Tremolo" effects.

So this is my justification for my definitions: as Humpty Dumpty said in Lewis Carol's "Alice" - 'A word means just what I want it to mean' - for the purposes of this "Opus", I'm now Humpty Dumpty!

Vibrato Effect.

"Vibrato" is the pulsing of the VOLUME.

Tremolo Effect.

"Tremolo" is the beating effect caused when two speaking Reeds are slightly different in PITCH.

Chorus Effect.

The very small PITCH difference between two Reeds tuned only a cent or less different gives a very slow beat (much less than one cycle per second) that sounds like the "Chorus" or "Flange" Guitar Effect Pedals. It gives that "Wall of Sound" Effect of a much bigger instrument, and the human choir or orchestra, as well as Phil Spector's "Wall Of Sound" in Rock/Pop Music. It is discussed in more detail elsewhere in this Opus.

The Mechanics of (Volume) Vibrato on the Piano Accordion.

Because of the fixed Pitch of each of the Reeds, there is only one way to obtain Vibrato on an Instrument with a Bellows - to use the Bellows to cyclically vary the smooth flow of air through the Reeds.

This can be achieved in several ways:
1) "Bellows Shake" - with left arm, hand & shoulder;
2) "Keyboard Vibrato" - with right arm, hand & shoulder;
3) "Bellows Pressure Drop Vibrato" - with the Pallets;
4) "Body Bounce Vibrato".

Bellows Shake Vibrato.

Recycled Musos (depending on their previous instruments) normally have the advantage of having covered sufficient Music Theory to handle most Musical Concepts like Staff Notation, Musical Keys and Modes, Tempo, Rhythm, and Basic Keyboard Technique, let alone getting a tune going! A background in Pipe or Electric/Electronic Organ or Harmonium will have covered the basic concepts of Register Switches.

Bellows Shake is the primary recognized Vibrato method taught to Piano Accordion students. It is usually considered an "advanced" technique, because the student and teacher are first weighed down with coping with Music Theory and the basics of holding the instrument, struggling with the Stradella Bass System, as well as learning how to use the Keyboard and Register Switches, let alone getting a tune out of the box! Many students stop lessons before encountering Bellows Shake Technique, which is to be greatly deplored.

Unfortunately the primary thing about playing an instrument with a set of Bellows is to exercise complete and precise control of the muscles working the Bellows - the Accordionist needs to strengthen and gain precise control of the left shoulder especially, which is where the main power comes from. This is from where most Accordion Rhythm derives.

There are a large range of movements possible with the left arm, hand, and shoulder, but only 2 basic types:
1) Pulsing in the one direction (a more legato style);
2) Reverses of direction (a more staccato style).

Do not forget that both Keyboard and Bass Side Reeds are affected at the same time.

Keyboard Vibrato.

Failure to play smoothly on the Keyboard Side will transmit a slight "wobble" to the Bellows. This wobble of the finger on the Keyboard can be side to side, up and down, or a combination of directions such as a small circle. This is normally considered poor technique when trying to play smoothly or "Legato".

Advantage can be taken of this, however, to produce a Vibrato of widely varying speed and depth, with often more subtlety than that of Left Side generated "Bellows Shake Technique" - at least for beginners. This is not unlike the Violinist left hand "Natural Vibrato" technique, but of course, the violinist is actually producing a subtle pitch change - "Tremolo" as per our working definitions.

The effect varies with each instrument, and also whereabouts on the Keyboard the finger is wobbled. This is because of the way the instrument is suspended from the straps and hangs against the body. Even if the instrument is rigidly held to the body, some degree of wobble will be transmitted to the Bellows, because the left side is not fixed, and the Bellows has its own inertia and flexibility.

Experiment - and listen.

Bellows Pressure Drop Vibrato.

This method involves taking advantage of the pressure drop produced in the Bellows when the Pallets are opened, allowing the Reeds to speak. A similar effect often occurs with Pipe Organs and Harmoniums.

This is similar to "Bellows Shake", but is achieved in another way. It is also generally slower in pacing of the pulsing produced (but with practice you can get very fast indeed!), and only occurs while the Bellows is moving in one direction - a Legato style.

This pressure drop sets up a standing wave, which will cyclically pulse the volume of sound generated by the Reeds. This is generated by the speed of repetition of opening and closing the Pallets. Different instruments will produce a marked effect at particular rates, due to different Bellows Dimensions.

For a simple example, hold down some Keys on the Keyboard, then tap a Bass Chord Button. You can also hold a Bass Chord Button down and Staccato some Keyboard Keys, even while holding down a single Keyboard key. This effect can be complemented by some pulsing of the pressure exerted by the left arm - a subtle form of Bellows Shake Technique.

Experiment - and listen.

Body Bounce Vibrato.

Moving the whole body around while playing can have varying Vibrato Effects, depending on the instrument, the way it is secured to the body, and the movements made (see also the "Doppler Effect"). Trying to dance around while playing and NOT have this effect can be difficult to master, especially if the instrument is not securely fastened, perhaps also with Back-straps.

Doppler Phase Change Effects.

"Doppler Effect" is a Pitch change caused by relative motion between the sound source and the listener. Relative expansion of the distance causes a Pitch drop, and vice versa. The effect ceases immediately the relative motion stops. This can cause a "Chorus or Tremolo", not a "Vibrato" effect. If you speed up or slow down the rate of Bellows movement in the one direction, this affects the "Doppler" effect.

The Keyboard Side is normally fixed relative to the listener. The Bass Side moves relative to these two. A subtle "Chorusing" effect may be noticed when the Bellows are moved, and Reeds on both sides are speaking. This can mildly accentuate any existing built-in "Chorus" effect. Some subtle variations of this can be managed by relative motions of the two sides. For instance, if the Left Side Top is moved further and faster than the Bottom.

You could wave the whole instrument around in the air like Guitarists do to produce this effect - which may be useful for very physically small Chinese "Hero" 8 Bass Accordions, or Concertinas, but physically large instruments would require a weight lifter to manage this! Remember any wobbling of the Bellows generated thusly will also cause some of the previously mentioned "Bellows Pressure Drop" Vibrato Effect.

Early Electric Organs used a rotating loudspeaker or baffle for a regular cyclic version of this Phase Change Effect specially named "Leslie Effect": which caused that "Wall of Sound" effect.

Experiment and listen. The Physics is correct, it is just whether you can consciously detect it.

"Accordions don't play 'Lady of Spain', People do!".

The Piano Accordion for The Recycled Muso

Version 3 Defns.txt

Update 29/12/2003

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Subject: Update Ver3: Piano Accordion for The Recycled Muso
From: The Fooles Troupe
Date: 22 Dec 03 - 02:10 AM

The Piano Accordion for The Recycled Muso

Version 3 Design.txt

This Opus is Copyright - © Robin Hayes who asserts his International Claim to be recognized as the Author of this work. This version is still in Development.

A Brief History of Constructions.

Pietro Deiro is credited with adding the Piano Style Keyboard in about 1920. You may find very old boxes, and these may have metal end plates, not plastic. They may well be worn out, or in need of extensive maintenance due to wear and tear, and you may think you need a forklift! You can get portable holder stands, which you just sidle up to these days. These may not be the most suitable instruments for The Recycled Muso, unless you intend Historical Re-enactment.

Those made with nitrate shells about the period of WWI - WWII were no better than ones made after the 1980's. Rolf Harris had his Piano Accordion explode into flames on stage under the heat of the lights - thus this doubtless was a nitrate plastic covered box. After the fire it was still playable!

Acetate (when used for film stock it was called "safety film") plastic covered ones came later - it seems that modern ones don't use nitrate - exactly what they use I don't know, but there are many different types of plastics nowadays.

After WWII in Italy, many Accordion Makers had worked in airplane factories, and some of those workers now knew much about making things in aluminum and crafting streamlined shapes. The peak of perfection in construction - "The Golden Days" - was in the 1950's - 1970's.

Until the 1950’s, makers made the Keyboard Keys with their long side key to key edges squarish: since then, they have been made more beveled. This earlier arrangement can slow down Keyboard Glissando (Slide).

Fashions have changed. The style of Keyboard called "Waterfall" has keys with curved front edges, and is indicative of an older instrument, mostly prior to the 1940's. Incidentally, this type of Keyboard is thus immune to damage caused by the straps getting caught under them when packing the Instrument in the storage case! Most modern instruments have a squarish front or are slightly lipped like many Piano Keyboards Key front edges.

Piano Accordion Design Philosophy.

The design philosophy of the Piano Accordion is based on the same basic principles as the much older Pipe Organ, and copied by the later period Reed Harmonium which proceeded the Piano Accordion; where each Keyboard Key is connected to potentially more than one Pipe, and each Pipe Rank is allowed to speak in potential combination with each other Pipe Rank through the action of Register Switches.

Each Pipe Rank in the "Unison" Register produces a note at the designed pitch of the keyboard - called the "8 Foot Pitch". This term refers to the particular length of the pipe for a particular pitch in the Pipe Rank. The octave below is called the "16 Foot Pitch" and the octave above is called the "4 Foot Pitch" - you may hear these references in the Piano Accordion world.

Other Pipe Ranks produce pitches at other relative intervals both of multiple octaves and other partial octave intervals to generate differing sound envelopes when used in varying combinations, the further exact details of which are outside the scope of this Opus.

The Piano Accordion uses Reed Ranks instead of Pipe Ranks.

Piano Accordions have only potential Lower, Unison and Higher Octave couplings, and the Reed Ranks switched by the Register Switches are referred to as the "L-M-H" (Low-Medium-High) combination for that Register Switch. The M pitch is the "Unison" or "8 Foot" Pitch. The L rank is tuned an octave lower than the M ranks. The H rank is tuned an octave higher than the M ranks.

The Master Switch for each of the Keyboard and Bass Sides always enables all Reed Ranks on that side.

Small Piano Accordions may have no Register Switches. If the number of Reed Ranks is one or two (for both Keyboard or Bass Sides), the effort and expense of providing Register Switches is often considered pointless as the instrument is just "balanced" to give one particular sound. As the size and thus the consequent extra facilities of the instrument is increased, a greater range of satisfying effects can be achieved by varying combinations of the various Reed Ranks through Register Switches.

Each Reed Rank in the "Unison" Register produces appropriate notes at the designed pitch of the keyboard. There may be more than one "Unison" Reed Rank, but then the notes from each Reed Rank are not tuned to precise identical pitch. The difference in Pitch between two speaking reeds results in a "beat frequency" of a rate equal to the difference in cycles per second (or Hertz - Hz) between the two pitches. This is called "Tremolo" in this Opus. If there are three speaking Reeds nearly equal in pitch, a richer and more complex sound results.

This may seem complex at first, but the "Unison" Reed Ranks can be a single one (M), two (M-M), or more rarely three (M-M-M). The amount of the difference in pitches is responsible for the character of the sound: very close settings are called "Dry" - further apart are called "Wet"; different styles of music are traditionally associated with different Tremolo Tone Characters. The actual details of this are beyond the scope of this Opus.

The Double Reed Rank setup (M-M) is called the "Tremulant" or "Tremolo". They may be tuned "Unison - Slightly Sharp" or "Slightly Flat - Unison" or more rarely "Slightly Flat - Slightly Sharp". Each has a particular character, especially when used in combination with the L & H Reed Ranks. Any Reed Ranks not in Unison may be controlled via Register Switches to allow different characters of Tone Color, allowing a wider range of music types to be played on the same instrument.

The Triple Reed Rank setup (M-M-M) is traditionally called the "French Musette Setting" as it attempts to reproduce a sound similar to the traditional Corn-musette reed instrument (a type of Bagpipe) which was common in France at the time of the spread of the Piano Accordion. The Corn-musette or Cornamuse was largely replaced in France for musical purposes by the Piano Accordion, which is why the "Traditional French Accordion Sound" is what it is!

The Three Musette Unison Reed Ranks are usually tuned "Slightly Flat - Unison - Slightly Sharp", but other combinations are discussed elsewhere in this Opus. The various Unison Reed Ranks may be controlled via Register Switches to allow different characters of tone, allowing a wider range of music types to be played on the same instrument, and if the instrument has L or H Reed Ranks as well, may be used in various pre-set combinations with them.

Some non-Unison Reed Ranks may be "detuned" by a few cents. See the Definition of "Chorus Effect". When combinations of these upper and lower Octave Reed Ranks are selected with the M (Unison) Reed Ranks, you will obtain a richness of sound due to a slight beating. Apart from the fact that it is almost impossible to precisely tune or keep perfectly in tune mechanical reeds which generate harmonics, the Piano Accordion is often deliberately tuned so that some pitches are very slightly sharper to give a richness and brightness of sound.

Very rarely, because of the weight and size drawbacks, you may have a custom built instrument with a Reed Rank tuned a third or some other interval above the Unison Rank on the Keyboard, which will produce similar sound envelope effects as on the Pipe Organ, where such an arrangement is very common. This is beyond the scope of this Opus.

How many Reed Ranks?

Piano Accordions are classified by the number of Reed Ranks both in the Bass and Keyboard Sides. A "4/5" will have 4 Keyboard Reed Ranks and 5 Bass Side Reed Ranks - this is a fairly normal standard for a "Full Size" or "Professional" level Instrument.

Most common discussion is concerned only with the Keyboard Side; usually on smaller and medium sized Piano Accordions there may be no Bass Register Switches, or only two options "High" & "Low" or "Soft" & "Loud", in which case there is little point in worrying too much about it. The main concern is with the Keyboard side, the number of Keyboard Reed Ranks being used as a handy method of classifying the instrument.

Thus a "Single Reeder" is obviously a Unison tuned usually physically small instrument. Very old Instruments may be much larger and heavier.

A "Two Reeder" may be "Tremolo" (M-M) or "Octave" tuned (L-M) or more rarely "High Octave" (M-H).

A "Three Reeder" can be (L-M-H) or (L-M-M) - the (M-M-H) is not as common. The (M-M-M) by itself is rare, as the "French Musette" usually only appears in a 4 or 5 Reed Rank instrument.

A "Four Reeder" starts to get physically heavy: it usually comes with a large Bass Side Reed Rank selection, and is usually tuned (L-M-M-H), but other selections are possible, especially if custom made to order.

A "Five-Reeder" is a very big and expensive instrument tuned (L-M-M-M-H) with a very large Bass Side selection with many Bass Register Switches, and perhaps up to a dozen Keyboard Register Switches.

Other custom combinations may exist: makers will make other tunings on special request, but these custom built instruments would be expensive and rare.

A few instruments may look like Piano Accordions, with white keys only, often in an apparent "stack" of three white keyboards, or with a black key between each white key. These are not Piano Accordions, but in fact a form of Button Accordion. The distinguishing feature is that they do not have a proper Piano Keyboard, but Button actuators arranged in a way that looks a bit like a Piano Keyboard. The excess black keys mean that you will have a Two Row Button Box - the "stacked" all white keys style will be a Button Box of how ever many rows of the white keys there are.

There are Accordions made with Quarter Tone tunings: some of these may have been modified after original sale for Arabian or other music. They will usually have Quarter Tones on either push or pull, and normal Semitones on the other.

A very few early Piano Accordions were built with a Keyboard for both hands, but it was rapidly discovered that the Left Hand was constrained in motion as it was working the Bellows, so that the full flexibility of the Right Hand was not available to the Left Hand. The Left Hand, however is easily capable of dealing with the Stradella Bass System, as well as the Register Switches.

Some modern Piano Accordions were designed with in-built electronic organs (Cordovox), and some recent ones have had MIDI installed. Most of the Physical Techniques discussed in this Opus are not applicable to those Electrical or Electronic parts of these Instruments, as these Bellows Techniques will work on Acoustic Reed Assemblies only.

Some styles of Button Boxes have a Stradella Bass Side. Most of the Bellows and Rhythm Techniques discussed in this Opus may be applied.

It is true that some types of Button Boxes (no Piano Keyboard) may have up to 7 Reed Ranks on the Right Side, but the total number of Reeds in this style of instrument is proportionally far less than in a Piano Accordion because of their construction style. They sound different notes on the pull and push, and have relatively only a few Bass Keys, being a Diatonic instrument designed to play in only a few Major & Minor Keys. This is unlike a Piano (or a Chromatic) Accordion which is designed to play in many more keys, Major and Minor. However some of the Bellows and Rhythm Techniques discussed in this Opus may be applied.

A Concertina comes in two types:
1) English: same note in both directions:
2) Anglo: different notes in each direction of bellows movement. Most only have one Reed per note, and the Reeds are not organized in Ranks or Banks in the same way as a Piano Accordion, but some of the Rhythm Techniques discussed in this Opus can be applied.

Cassotto Tone.

The Cassotto Tone is produced by a special "Tone Chamber" which gives the Keyboard Reed Ranks mounted therein a more mellow sound, reducing the intensity of some of the higher pitches. It also makes a slight improvement in response time of lower pitches, by increasing the loading or impedance of the physically larger Reeds. Only rarely are all the Keyboard Reed Ranks in the Chamber: usually it is only the Bassoon Reed Rank, but sometimes the Clarinet Reed Rank is also there. Even more rare are Cassotto Bass Side Reed Ranks.


Some boxes have trumpet like devices attached to the Bass Side: these are mainly Germanic Button Box instruments. They provide better impedance matching for the lower pitches, and give a fairly distinctive horn-like "Om-pah!" sound.

Straps for the Instrument.

Are the straps on the instrument proper Accordion straps, or something "home-made" - how wide, what padding, back-straps, etc? If you get cheap straps, then you at least will be able to play it, but you may find it less comfortable that you think after a while. Better quality straps cost more.

The bigger and heavier the box, the better quality straps you need - so they don't break and drop it on your toe - that doesn't do the instrument much good either. Sweat is the enemy of leather straps, time and wear that of plastic ones.Occassional application of a good quality leather dressing are advisable.

The bigger and heavier the box:

a) the wider the straps and more padding you need. The more padded and wider ones cost more.

b) the more chance you may need back straps. They usually come with the ones intended for bigger instruments.

The Keyboard: Key Sizes And Widths.

Full Size Standard Piano Accordion Keyboards have 24 White Keys and 17 Black keys - a total of 41 Keys. The standard Pitch Range for the 8 ft Reed Rank is from the F below Middle C - the second line from the top in the Bass Clef - to the note designated as "a''" - the space on top of the fourth ledger line above the Treble Clef. The range is thus between Three and Four fully Chromatic Octaves.

The "Home Key" of the Piano Accordion is C Major, so the bottom F is provided to allow many tunes to easily drop down to the Fourth of the Scale Below the Tonic.

The Full Size Piano Accordion Keyboard Keys are about 3/4 inch wide - slightly smaller than Standard Pianoforte Keys. In "Ladies", "Student" or "Miniature" Sized 41 Key Instruments, the keys are made narrower, in one of 11/16, 5/8, or 9/16, inch widths. There is no industry Standard Correlation between the widths and the "Size Names".

Reduced Reed Rank and Register Switch facilities are often provided on smaller instruments - usually with the normal 3/4 inch size Keys. Since the length of the Keyboard is reduced with fewer than 41 keys, there is little pressure to "squeeze" the Key Widths - these are often called "Short" Keyboards.

37 keys: the usual for 80 or 96 Bass Instruments. This has 3 Octaves usually from "G" to "g''". Other ranges are possible, sometimes from F. Anything is possible with custom made Instrument.

34 Keys: Most common for 48 Bass. Usually from "G" to "e''", just under 3 octaves, although other ranges are possible, some no doubt by custom request.

Fewer Keys:
The smallest would doubtless be the generic Chinese "Hero" style Boxes, which start from 17 Keys (10 White, 7 Black) Single Treble Musette Sound Reed Rank with 8 Basses. There is also a "Hero" Dual Treble Reed Rank (M-M) 8 Bass with 22 (13 White, 9 Black) Keys - a range of "G" to "e'" which is quite playable for a wide range of Folk & Trad Tunes.

Other sizes such as 25, 26, & 30 commonly exist and are usual for the 16, 24, & 32 Bass Size Instruments. These shorter keyboards may also occur among Instruments with more Basses. There never was any real standardization among the different Manufacturers in different Towns, let alone Countries, so other numbers of Keys may be found.

The Stradella Bass System.

Invented in the Italian town of Stradella in the early days of the instrument before the Piano Keyboard addition, the Stradella Bass System rapidly became the most popular common "Standard" left hand system on Piano Accordions, because of the ease of use for simple Rhythm Patterns common to Classical Music and much Folk Music.

It relies on the "Circle of Fifths" musical principle. Each succeeding diagonal row of buttons moving from left to right is a fifth higher than the one to the left. 20 rows allow one to play the I - IV - V chord pattern (and many others) for any Major Key without moving the left hand around much.

There is only a single octave of Bass Notes available on the Left Side - that is 12 separate semitones. There are also only a series of 12 individual pitch placings of chords in each horizontal row: the pitches "wrap around", and the relevant Buttons are ganged. You will notice on many instruments that the ganged buttons drop at the same time as the one you are pressing.

Not all instruments have the same "lowest pitch" Bass Note - it depends on the size of the instrument. How many Keyboard Keys there are will determine the lowest pitch on the Keyboard, and instruments are "balanced" to match left and right sides for this, as well as the tone colors and loudness of both sides.

A standard 120 Bass Keyboard is 41 keys, with a bottom note of F below Middle C. Smaller instruments have less, and tend to reduce in a fairly standard way, but there are exceptions.

The "Home Row".

This is the second row from the top on a 120 Bass Accordion. This is also called the "Fundamental Bass Row" to distinguish it from the "Counterbass Row". Small indentations or bumps are always made on the "C" Bass Note Button to mark the "Home Button". Most instruments will also have the "E" (4 diagonal rows to the right) and the "Ab" (4 diagonal rows to the left) Bass Note Buttons similarly marked. Some Instruments may have fancy sparkly objects embedded therein.

The "Counterbass" Row.

The top row in a full 120 bass Accordion is the "Counterbass" Row - tuned a Major Third diagonally above the "Home Row". C "Counterbass" is E. This allows Major Key Scales to be played fairly easily. Not all small Piano Accordions have this row, in which case the top row is obviously then the "Home Row". Rarely, there may be a third Bass Row tuned a Minor Third from the "Home Row" (C "Counterbass" is Eb) - this is always the very top row if it exists, and is what creates the 140 Bass Accordion. It allows the Minor Keys to also be played in more easily, but this addition has never been as popular as the normal "Counterbass" Row.

Major & Minor Chords at your Fingertips.

In the Chord Buttons or "Harmony" section, which consists of any other Rows diagonally below the "Home Row", they are arranged in the diagonal top down order: Major, Minor, (Dominant) 7th, Diminished 7th. Smaller instruments of less than 120 bass buttons (6 diagonal rows) omit some of these rows, starting from the bottom diagonally up, as these rows are used less frequently in some styles of music, and are usually used less by beginners.

You can quickly see for yourself how easily the system allows a basic Rhythm accompaniment to be generated.

"Folk and Trad Music" can usually get by well enough with just the three Bass, Major and Minor Rows, and for more complex Bass note runs the Counterbass Row can be helpful. The Major Dominant 7th Row is not as essential as you might think if you have a Guitar background, because if the MajDom7th note is really needed to be sounded, you are most likely playing it on the keyboard as part of the tune, or in a chordal "Vamp" anyway!

Incidentally, there were two alleged Manufacturing Standards for selecting the Reeds Speaking when the Seventh and Diminished Chords are being built. The earlier Standard was to include all of the relative Pitches I - III - V - VII: the later recommended Standard (and we're talking around the 1950's) dropped the Dominant (V), leaving only the I - III - VII Pitches - all that is necessary to distinguish the Chords.

The dropping of the relative Dominant (V) Pitch may give a clearer, less muddy sound. A Repairer could trim out the Dominant (V) Pitch Selectors, but it means totally disassembling the Bass Machine, and damages a valuable Historical Instrument. There is usually little point, as the older Instruments are mostly heavier anyway. Because of lack of real "enforcement" of any "Standards", Manufacturers went their own way regardless.

How Instruments Shrink.

The normal full 6x20 120 Bass layout:

Bbb, Fb, Cb, Gb, Db, Ab*, Eb, Bb, F, C*, G, D, A, E*, B, F#, C#, G#, D#, A#.

Which translates into what one would more normally recognize as:

A, E, B, F#, Db, Ab*, Eb, Bb, F, C*, G, D, A, E*, B, F#, C#, G#, D#, A#.

The keys marked * have the standard touchie-feelie marks to identify the standard Home Positions.

Some manufacturers differ - including special requests by individual customers, but normal common reduced sizes should be as follows.

The "8x6" 48 Bass Accordion has 8 horizontal rows of 6 Buttons and is fairly widely available. It can only play in a limited range of Musical Keys centered around "C", and is intended as an "Advanced Learner" Instrument to teach the playing of all 6 rows.

It is perhaps not very suitable for the Recycled Muso wanting to play Folk/Trad music Styles, unless one is going to play only in the restricted range of the available Musical Keys.

Since a I - IV - V pattern is fairly common, only the Musical Keys of F, C, G & D would be available. If a I - II - IV - V pattern is desired, there are fewer available playable Musical Keys. Of course one could just not play the Bass Side.

Bb, F, C*, G, D, A.

A 5x16 80 bass should have the following "Home Row" Keys:

B, F#, Db, Ab*, Eb, Bb, F, C*, G, D, A, E*, B, F#, C#, G#.

A 6x12 72 Bass should drop off two on each end leaving you:

Db, Ab* Eb, Bb, F, C*, G, D, A, E*, B, F#.

A 4x12 48 bass with C/Bass, Bass, Maj, Min, Rows:

Db, Ab* Eb, Bb, F, C*, G, D, A, E*, B, F#.

There are smaller, fairly standard ranges: 12 Bass, 16 Bass, 24 Bass, 32 Bass, 40 Bass. The Chinese even produce a "toy" (M-M) 8 Bass, but it is capable of useful Music, even if its Volume and Tone Color are a bit restricted - the cheap plastic straps should be replaced with real ones if you want to take this instrument seriously at all.
So now let's see you try to play a simple tune on the 48 bass with the I - II - IV - V pattern in the Key of B Major...

The physically smaller instruments do have some limitations.

Basic Scales using the Counterbass Row.

C Major Scale:
C, D, C counterbass (->E), F, G,
F counterbass (->A), G counterbass (->B) C.

C Minor Scale:
C, D, B counterbass (->Eb)**, F, G,
F counterbass (->A), G counterbass (->B), C.
**[a stretch, but mastered with sufficient practice!] - you can also use the Eb key directly.

That extra Counterbass Minor Third Row (which gives the Standard 140 bass Instrument) would be useful here, but there was never sufficient demand, so very few such instruments were sold. Probably most players needed to play less Minor Scale Music, or played less advanced Minor Bass Patterns.

The relative patterns are always the same on a Stradella Bass System for whatever Major or Minor Key you play in. With reduced size Bass Layouts, you may not be able to play a full scale in all the Major and Minor Keys as on a full size 120 arrangement, because some diagonal rows are eliminated.

Practice! Practice! Practice!

Now for the Major Scale you could play the E key in the "Home Row" instead, but the stretch back to the left to pick up the F key needs lots of practice to do easily - the "Home Row" A is only 2 to the right away from the G, and then the B is another 2 steps away to the right, but then that jump back to the left for the "Home" C is a killer!

Now if you are playing part scale Bass Runs in the C Major scale, you may substitute either one of the appropriate "Home" or "Counterbass" Row Keys as desired - whichever makes it easier.

Practice! Practice! Practice!

Noting the relative positions of the duplicated Bass Note Keys on the two Bass Note Rows, we can play almost any Bass Noted Chord (with two or more left fingers) with just the Bass Note Buttons if we practice those stretches. Some of the chords will be only available in inverted positions.

Not every player gets to this level!

Practice! Practice! Practice!

Free Bass Accordions.
The previously mentioned difficulties with doing Bass runs is why the Free Bass extension was added to some Professional Level Instruments. This is just an extra set of Bass Note Buttons which work in parallel with the existing Stradella arrangement. They cover more than a single octave.

Free Bass Instruments are more expensive and much rarer, and usually have large numbers of Reed Ranks and Register Switches on both Keyboard and Bass Sides.

The Drone Sound.
Useful for the "Church Organ" or "Bagpipe" Sounds.

You can use the Chord Button only, the Bass Button in the "Home Row" only, or both together, with various selected Bass Reed Ranks speaking to generate various Tone Colors. You can have a steady drone by moving the Bellows smoothly, or can pulse the Bellows in the one direction gently or strongly for Rhythmic Effects, or rapidly reverse the direction using "Bellows Shake" Techniques.

You can also use combinations of the Bass Buttons only: the one to the right of the Fundamental Bass Key Button will give you a I-V noted chord, the one to the left will give you a I-IV noted chord, and you can add in other notes in the Chord such as the Third of the Key, by using buttons in the Counterbass Row. Some stretching may be needed for some of these extra notes. As mentioned before, some of these chords will only be available in inverted positions.

You can also do a Drone using the Keyboard Side: useful for accompaniment.

On the Subject of Fingering.

Recycled Keyboard Musos have a head start. The Keyboard fingering is exactly the same as that on a Piano, and is about the only thing the two instruments do have in common. The best advice for getting comfortable with proper Keyboard Fingering Patterns is to practice the 24 Scales - Major and Minor. Of course there are also Harmonic and Melodic forms of the Minor Scales, so there are really 36! There are practical exercise books especially intended for the Piano Accordion which contain Scales and other finger exercises: one old but very good one is called "The Complete Hanon for Accordion". Any good Music Shop should be able to look up in their Index of Books and assist. Some useful books will be available from online sources.

There are two main "Classical Accordion" schools of thought on Left Hand Fingering: see below. Indeed if you ask any player for advice on fingering you will get plenty!

My recommendation is to carry across the basic fingering practices used on the Piano. The basic idea there is to strengthen ALL the fingers equally and be able to spread the load among them all so that no finger is too weak to be of use. The same concept is used in Touch Typing on Typewriters and Computer Keyboards. On the Piano, Left Hand Scales and stretch and strengthening exercises are practiced exactly the same as for the Right Hand - normal practice exercises use both hands in mirror and counter fashions. This can't be done exactly the same on the Stradella System, which has its own specific Hanon Patterns.

Most of the fingering advice you will get is from people who play particular styles of music, especially particular Rhythmic Patterns. If you are trying to do something different, this advice may be of little use, as you may be working with different Finger Patterns.

With a very simple Om-pah-pah Rhythm, you can use:

#1) your middle finger on the Bass Row and the index finger on the Chord Row - Major or Minor.

#2) your ring finger on the Bass Row and middle finger on the Chord Row - Major or Minor.

Many people are tempted to use the #1 method as the index finger is normally the strongest if no method of strengthening them all has been undertaken. For very simple stuff, it works, and you can play a few tunes almost immediately. But, no pain, no gain!

Method #2 has serious advantages, and is advised by Professional Teachers. When crossing to a new Chord, having the index finger available means that one can more easily play without fumbling the common relative chord change patterns {the letters in brackets represent the Chord Buttons}

C, {C}, G, {C}


C, {C}, C, {G}


C, {C}, counterbass C (->E), {G}

for a start,

as well as the simple I III V bass run

C, counterbass C (->E), G, C. {C}, {C}

The Microphone.

The Microphone is the natural enemy of the Piano Accordion, perhaps even more so than almost any other Musical Instrument. The Instrument was designed, and reached a high level of popularity before microphones became ubiquitous.

Many instruments have a non-uniform acoustical signature across the frequency range, as well as at a radial distance. Electrically amplified or generated instruments such as guitars are mostly a point source, even if the source is a string or column of air like a flute. The problem with these instruments is relatively easily solved by finding an appropriate point or number of placed mikes to capture the sound.

Instruments like an Electric or Electronic Organ deliver their output into loudspeakers, which are basically a point source output.

The Piano Accordion, and its close relatives, are similar to Pianos, Pipe Organs, choirs and whole Orchestras with multiple sources spread over an area. Multiple miking is normally used to capture the best result.

There are optimum solutions in opposite directions for miking an Accordion: they have advantages and disadvantages.

Monaural pickup provides a good method of capturing a flat stable sound, probably fine for background sound, or a TV ad.

Stereo or mixed down multiple miking keeps more of the subtle phase differences that are generated by instruments with multiple independent tone generators.

Expensive or Cheap Mikes?

Differing classes and types of microphones have differing types of responses, and may overload giving distortion at differing levels - the Accordion is capable of generating a high acoustic level. Normally, it would be expected that more expensive equipment will give better results, but with particular instruments, certain mikes with known frequency responses will tailor the sound in predictable ways.

"Internal" Miking.

"Internal" miking (this includes a mike fixed directly on the outside of the instrument) may pick up large amounts of action noise - rattling and clanking of moving parts. Internal miking will give a constant stable sound pickup if the player is moving around. If playing in an ensemble, internal miking will give a more predictable separate response in many cases.

Single miking inside an instrument gives a predictable output, but may have frequency response limitations, especially for one side or the other. There are professional setups that use one mike for each side with adjustable level balancing controls: some even have radio links.

The problem is that these will be at fixed distances from each Reed on whatever side they are mounted, so there may be limitations on the detected "phasing" effects discussed elsewhere.

"External" Miking.

Background noise will seriously affect external miking. A single mike may lose some "precision placing" of the sound. A crossed stereo pair or mixed down multiple miking will give a predictable capture of phase differences. External miking will allow the player to move in and out of the mike's pickup pattern, thus providing controllable effects.

A Mike for all Seasons?

So which method is best? It depends on which sound YOU want, from YOUR instrument. The full technical aspects of miking are well outside of the scope of this Opus, and you would be best to consult an expert, or someone who is obtaining satisfactory results for the type of Music you want to capture.

Intertwingularity is not generally acknowledged — people keep pretending they can make things deeply hierarchical, categorizable and sequential when they can't. Everything is deeply intertwingled.
— Theodore Holm (Ted) Nelson

The Piano Accordion for The Recycled Muso

Version 3 Design.txt

Update 31/12/2003

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Subject: RE: Technique: Piano Accordion for The Recycled Muso
From: The Fooles Troupe
Date: 23 Dec 03 - 11:30 AM

The Piano Accordion for The Recycled Muso

Version 3 Rhythm.txt

This Opus is Copyright - © Robin Hayes who asserts his International Claim to be recognized as the Author of this work. This version is still in Development.

Rhythm on the Piano Accordion.

The Piano Accordion is a whole orchestra at your fingertips.

There are several ways of achieving Rhythm on the Piano Accordion using only the Buttons on the Bass Side.

1) Use just the Bass Note Buttons:

This is not a simple style - walking bass is not a thing for beginners on the Piano Accordion Stradella System to gain mastery over quickly, especially if you have ever played other instruments.

2) Use just the Chord Buttons:

This can be a very fruitful approach.

3) Use both the Bass Note and the Bass Chord Buttons:

This is perhaps the most common approach, the most often used in beginner books.

4) Drone Techniques:

Use the buttons (see 1 & 2 above) without great emphasis on Changes of Direction. But as they say to singers - don't forget to breathe! Do not forget that a steady Drone is a form of Rhythm, and using this method, you can easily get the sound of a pipe (or electric or electronic) organ.

5) Bellows Work Techniques:

This is the antithesis of 4) - every time you change bellows direction you momentarily interrupt the sound. Done gently, it can add phrasing to pieces, done more forcibly, it adds great drive to the rhythm. "Bellows-Shake" Techniques are just more advanced (basically faster) that can give a sound not unlike the fiddler doing rapid bow strokes on single notes, but there are also techniques that approximate techniques such as snaps, rolls and trills, but done in a slightly different way to other instruments.

6) Combinations of all the above Techniques:

This is what real Piano Accordion Rhythm work is about.

7) Keyboard Rhythm Techniques:

There is of course another method, partly involving some or all of the above, and that is to also use the keyboard to achieve the rhythm sound.

You don't always have to play just the tune just on the keyboard. As part of a solo, this can be very effective, it is also extremely useful in accompaniment and ensemble work, both for accompanying yourself while singing, playing another instrument like a Harmonica or Kazoo, or accompanying other players, both instrumental and vocal.

Simple Rhythm Patterns.

Depress the Bass Buttons to generate some simple rhythm patterns.

Bass, Chord, Chord: will generate a Triple time pattern such as a Waltz Rhythm.

Bass, Chord, Bass, Chord: will generate a Common time pattern such as a March Rhythm.

These two basic patterns are in fact useful building blocks for building complex and even syncopated rhythmic structures.

Bass, Bass, Bass, etc
Chord, Chord, Chord, etc.

These two patterns are ambiguous: you need to add some accentuation and/or syncopation to them, most easily by changing the way you move the bellows in order to build a rhythmic structure for things such as Simple or Triple Rhythm, otherwise there is no life or drive to the sound. But sometimes it may be the exact plain "Vamping" sound you need.

Energy stored in the Reeds.

The lower pitched Reeds take more energy to start sounding than the higher pitched reeds. The reverse is also true: the energy is not drained from lower pitched Reeds as quickly as it is from the higher pitched reeds.

Interestingly enough, the lower pitch Reeds may keep resonating somewhat against the Valves when closed - although not sounding because of the Valve blocking the air flow; keeping some of their resonating energy and "staying more alive", so that with Bellows Shake Techniques, the lower pitch Reeds may tend to speak a little quicker. This can also happen if you are playing vigorously and loudly (more bellows pressure injects more energy into the Reeds increasing the volume), as the energy is thus retained more readily in the lower pitched Reeds, but not for more than fractions of a second.

This effect is not dissimilar to what may happen in Pipe Organs when a large number of ranks of pipes are coupled and the Keyboard played at a certain simple rhythmic rate: standing waves in the air pathway can give rise to a flutter effect to the sound. These are results of the physical construction of the instruments, which a novice may not logically anticipate, and be surprised at noticing it for the first time.

This subtle technique can be used to good effect with certain rhythmic patterns, and varies with each instrument, but can markedly affect the sound in ways not logically anticipated on paper.

"Bellows-Shake" Rhythm Techniques.

See firstly the discussion on "Tremolo/Vibrato" in the Definitions Section.

The Piano Accordion is very different from other Keyboard style acoustic instruments, such as Piano, Harpsichord, etc. Such Percussive instruments have a quick rise in intensity, with a slightly decaying sustain quality. The Piano Accordion is similar to the Pipe Organ, in that its sound generators do not normally have a percussive, but a more sweet Drone-like character.

The Bellows are capable of an infinite degree of subtlety of movement, and can be used to give a Percussive or Pulsing nature to the sound, which then sounds far more hard driving.

Bellows-Shake is the technically advanced method of activating the bellows, using the left hand, arm & shoulder to rapidly stop and start motion in one direction, or rapidly change direction, thus producing particular rhythmic sound patterns. The force applied to the change affects the "drive" of the pattern.

This technique affects both the Bass and Keyboard Sides of the instrument simultaneously, and can produce many useful Rhythmic techniques with the Keyboard, allowing trills, rolls and snaps to be generated, some even without using explicit keyboard fingering techniques. You can use it with just the Keyboard while the Bass side is silent too. And vice versa.

Extremely advanced and technically very difficult techniques involve changing notes on both Bass and Keyboard Sides whilst the Shake is in progress. You must build much strength and speed in the left shoulder to master these techniques.

These Shake techniques can be used to varying degrees of effectiveness with any bellows operated instrument: Anglo boxes, Melodeons, Concertinas, etc. The Piano Accordion produces the same pitch per note actuator in both directions of bellows movement: with instruments that don't, some interesting different effects are created.

Similar techniques are used with the Harmonica, but the diaphragm, rib cage, cheeks or throat are used to generate the effects.

Using the Bass Register Change Switches.

Each Button on the Bass Side of the Piano Accordion may be linked to more than one Bass Reed Rank through Bass Register Switches.

Depending on the size, weight and expensiveness of your Piano Accordion, you may have none, or you may have several switches which engage and disengage different Bass Reed Ranks in different octaves.

There can be up to 5 or 6 Bass Reed Ranks on big instruments, some for the Bass buttons and some for the Chord buttons.

The Bass Master Switch always engages them all. Some settings may be all high pitched Reeds for both Bass Note and Chord Buttons; some may be all low pitched Reeds for both Bass Note and Chord Buttons; some settings may have differing mixes of high pitched Reeds for one and low pitched Reeds for the other. Listen to your instrument.

Remember that your selection here can have a profound effect on the sound of the Rhythm pattern, especially when using Advanced Bellows Techniques. The Reeds for lower pitches tend to respond slower than the Reeds for higher pitches, because not only are the lower pitched reeds longer and wider, but the very low ones have more mass, including lumps of weight attached to them to decrease their frequency of resonance.

You can have the lower pitched Reeds set up differently so that the lower pitches respond faster, especially for quick Bellows Techniques. Doing this will affect the sound for slower playing, as in order to do this, the Technician adjusts the gap between the Reed and the Reed Bed. This is not a craft for the beginner: you can do expensive damage to the reeds if you arrogantly & ignorantly twiddle.


Misc thoughts not yet fully organized.

You cannot "clone" everything, you must interpret the Style using the instrument you have. This is why certain Pianoforte patterns were created in Jazz/Swing Styles to "fake" particular Harmonica and String Instrument patterns.

The Guitar started to become the Instrument of choice for Jazz & Blues and much Popular Music during the 1950's. Prior to that, the Accordion in various forms, including the Piano Accordion had been fairly dominant, often the Instrument of choice for Virtuoso Soloists in many various Styles of Music.

If you are a Pianoforte trained player, or used to any other instrument with a Keyboard and no Bellows, such as an electric/electronic organ, you will have to totally rethink the way you play. Certain Styles of Music do allow a fairly direct translation of previous skills, but other Music Styles may seem difficult or even impossible until you remember that this is not just a clone of other keyboard instruments, but a totally different beast. Once you have learnt proper basic control of the Bellows, you can even do some things more easily than with standard Piano or Organ Keyboard techniques.

With non-bellows keyboard Instruments, you need to press and/or release a Key each time you wish to make a note sound. With a Bellows driven Instrument, this is not necessary, it may even make playing certain passage harder than is necessary. Often, you can make the successive same pitched notes of a tune "Voice" easier by Bellows action - whether Pulsing, or Bellows Shake. When you become coordinated enough to time placing different pitches on successive pulses, a whole new world of thinking about what you are doing opens up.

For example, with that "Hard Driving Blues" sound, they were often songs that originated on a stringed instrument, or even a Harmonica. String players repeatedly strike the same note with fingers or a plectrum. Fiddlers in Bluegrass Styles reverse the bow stroke direction to rapidly sound the same single pitch or "double stop" of two strings. Rhythms involving arpeggios of chords on guitars may be simulated with Bass Button Techniques, and you can easily achieve simulations of all these Styles with a rapid Bellows Shake or Pulse. These techniques also affect the Bass Side, giving that Rhythm.

This also affects standard "Classical Music" Piano fingering patterns. A phrase that you may finger one way on a Piano, can well be fingered in a different way. For instance, since you will be using the bellows to do a fast triplet or trill on the one note, you keep the fingers in place. Don't lift and replace them - let the Bellows do the work! For rapid passages, you may use totally different fingering. You may even be able to not play every note, and instead have your hand spread to cover the full run, instead of having to do rapid scale passages, with subsequent hand repositionings. It depends on the Musical Style you are simulating and interpreting.


When Russia crossed the Elbe in WWII, they "liberated" the Hohner factory.

The Piano Accordion for The Recycled Muso

Version 3 Rhythm.txt

Update 30/12/2003

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Subject: Update Ver3: Piano Accordion for The Recycled Muso
From: The Fooles Troupe
Date: 27 Dec 03 - 05:59 PM

The Piano Accordion for The Recycled Muso

Version 3 Biblio.txt

This Opus is Copyright - © Robin Hayes who asserts his International Claim to be recognized as the Author of this work. This version is still in Development.

Reference Sources:

Thanks to Bob Bolton & pdg and all those others on The Mudcat who have contributed to the discussions there. Also most especially, thanks to the owners/maintainers at The Mudcat, without whose kind assistance this project would have never progressed beyond the initial few pages.

Fundamentals of Musical Acoustics
Arthur H. Benade
2nd, Revised Edition
Dover 1990 - First Published 1976.

Funk and Wagnall Dictionary

Merriam Webster Dictionary On Line

Big Bangs in Music
BBC TV Documentary by Howard Goodall.

Repairing Your Accordion
by Pietro Deiro
© 1937 O.Pagani & Bro.
New York, N. Y.
Available now through
Ernest Deffner Publications.

Accordion Repairs Made Easy
(How to fix any part of any Accordion)
John Reuther
© 1956 O.Pagani & Bro, Inc
Copyright now claimed by
Ernest Deffner Publications.

Tom Tonon's BluesBox™ Piano Accordions:
See for details and sound files.
If it is still online, see,1413,200~20954~1829850,00.html
for relevant L.A. Daily News Article.


Phil Baker Piano Accordion Method


Complete Hanon For The Accordion
Adapted by Charles Nunzio.
Sam Fox Publishing Company, Inc.,
New York, 1941. 88 pages.
The famous Hanon Piano Course adapted for the Piano Accordion: highlighting technique, velocity, special bass rhythms etc. Essential basic studies for the serious student of the Instrument.

Note: Some of the following sources may have had errors detected in the referenced version, which may have been corrected in subsequent versions.

The Accordion FAQ found at
Written by
Alan Polivka
P.O. Box 061904
Palm Bay, FL 32906-1904


Pretty Complete Guide to Squeezeboxes
by Wendy Morrison
© Wendy Morrison 1997 - Last Rev July 28 1999.


Noted Recordings:
There is an excellent record called "Global Accordion" which has 20 different recordings from the 1920's of accordions in a whole range of cultures, from Switzerland to the Caribbean, illustrating the spread of the accordion around the world, and what each culture did with it.

Global Accordion:
Early Recordings,
From Wergo, Weltmusik (German)
SM 1623 2 (2001).
From Puerto Rico (Los Borinquenos); Turkey (Papatzis-Tsakiris); Finland (Aili ja Lyyli Vainikainen); Austria (Wiener Original Schrammeln); Madagascar (!) (Hira Malaza Taloha); South Africa (Jonas Mate & Kleinbooi Motaung); Poland (Stanislaw Bagdzinski); Quebec (Monmarquette & St. Jean); Texas/Mexico (Narcisco Martinez); Dominica (Grupo Dominicano) plus 10 more.

"Most people wouldn't know music if it came up and bit them on the ass."
- Frank Zappa

The Piano Accordion for The Recycled Muso

Version 3 Biblio.txt

Update 30/12/2003

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Subject: RE: Technique: Piano Accordion for The Recycled Mu
From: Rapparee
Date: 31 Dec 03 - 12:42 PM

Yeah, yeah, but it takes real brass to play trumpet!

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Subject: RE: Technique: Piano Accordion for The Recycled Mu
From: The Fooles Troupe
Date: 31 Dec 03 - 04:59 PM

I take it Amos, that you have just finished "Reed"ing this Opus...

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Subject: RE: Technique: Piano Accordion for The Recycled Muso
From: Sorcha
Date: 07 Jan 04 - 06:48 PM

Refresh, so I can find it....and trace it..

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Subject: RE: Technique: Piano Accordion for The Recycled Muso
From: Teresa
Date: 04 Feb 04 - 02:45 AM

Thanks, Foolestroupe, for all the work you've done. I think I have a "mentor" in Las vegas. Will see what happens and let you know.

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Subject: RE: Technique: Piano Accordion for The Recycled Muso
From: The Fooles Troupe
Date: 04 Apr 05 - 10:00 AM

About due for a refresh....

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Subject: RE: Technique: Piano Accordion for The Recycled Muso
From: Peter T.
Date: 14 May 06 - 03:21 PM

I have never found any music that one can buy for the Piano Accordion that contains the music one hears every day on the streets of Paris -- old Piaf songs, and other musette songs. It may be because they play those big button accordions. Mel Bay has a book on French Tangos, which are not quite the same thing. I would love to have any help trying to locate such a book or books. I have stacks of French accordion albums and cannot find any music/instruction that would help me play the damn things!


Peter T.

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Subject: RE: Technique: Piano Accordion for The Recycled Muso
From: Bob Bolton
Date: 14 May 06 - 09:39 PM

G'day Peter T,

I don't think the choice between Piano keyboard and Chromatica (Continental Chromatic button accordion) would make much difference to the playing of the sort of songs you seek. (The Chromatica may have an edge in very fast, complicated, music ... but not here.)

I did see a number of books covering the popular French music of this sort ... but the bloke who had them:

a) managed to select them from secondhand stuff that went through his "Accordions 'n Folk" shop,

b) had looked hard for them, to support his regular gigs with Alliance Français, in Sydney,

c) then had to go looking for the older, "traditional" stuff the Alliance Français really wanted!

Unfortunately, he has, since, moved some 530 kilometres up the New South Wales North Coast, but such books should be hanging round the old & tatty section of the secondhand music book market (somewhere well below Lady of Spain) ...



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Subject: RE: Technique: Piano Accordion for The Recycled Muso
From: The Fooles Troupe
Date: 18 May 06 - 07:24 AM

Piano Accordion 'Chords' - for the Stradella System may be notated in several different ways. These should be noted in the 'Opus' above. This can look to the neophyte confusingly like normal piano notation, but it is all in the 'interpretation'!

Much good music was published previously in languages other than English, and in European countries. Good luck trying to find it by means other than sheer serendipity! But Mudcat has people in many countries around the world, you just never know...

Some easy to get hold of stuff first

Mel Bay at have a large range of relevant books for the Piano and other Accordions.

A couple of examples (with CDs)

French Tangos for Accordion (Registrations & Accordion Chords)
Cafe Accordion (Registrations & Accordion Chords & Guitar Chords)


Accordion Music Around the World (Accordion Chords & Guitar Chords)


Jazz - and How! Alfred Music NY © 1959

There are 4 elements that go into the making of fine jazz:

1) Rhythmic variations in the original melody.
2) Harmonization of the melody line.
3) The addition of embellishing notes and runs to the melody line.
4) The addition of a more interesting melody line.

This book details these steps for beginners in this field.

Accordion Ragtime per fisarmonica - Claude Noel (single item)
© 1963 Ricordi & Co Italy.

Internationale Solistenmappe
Italienische Solisten I
(marked Band 4 - one of a large series of various 'ethnic nationalities' styles)
Publisher Musicverlage Hans Geric - Koln
(marked '48 bass')
Several pieces - includes
Harmonika Boogie (1954) - Pizzigoni
others are various polka, waltz, Samba, Foxtrot, Tarentalla.

Georg Espitalier (born 1926)
Hora - Kolo - Oro
(2516) - some sort of identification number
Publisher: Eres Edition - Lilienthal/Bremen
7 pieces - Romanian and Yugoslavian including some pieces in 7/8 & 11/16 !!!

And two more easier to find modern ones

The Irish Piano Accordion
Waltons Music Inc Ireland (undated)

Beatles Accordion Songbook
Arranged by Pete Lee
ISBN 0-7119-6394-0
© 1998 Wise Publications
mentioned - available thru
The company is mentioned with offices in UK & Australia (in this edition)
Others mentioned in the 'Accordion Songbook' series include
Film & TV
Show Tunes

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Subject: RE: Technique: Piano Accordion for The Recycled Mu
From: CarolC
Date: 03 Jun 06 - 09:31 PM

For Peter T - when I was new to the Mudcat, someone pointed me in the direction of "style musette" when I asked about continental accordion music. I did a google search on "style musette" for you just now, and came up with this site. It might have some of what you're looking for. There are several books by French publishers on this page, and for the specific page for "style musette", in the drop down menue with the heading "ACCORDION sheet music by styles", click on "musette"...§ion=new

Here is the Google search. If you speak French (or if you trust BabelFish), you might also find something useful in the sites that are in French...

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Subject: RE: Technique: Piano Accordion for The Recycled Muso
From: Peter T.
Date: 04 Jun 06 - 12:15 PM

Hi Carol, thanks for the work, but this accentuates my problem. The only music for piano accordion that is listed there is a Mel Bay book, which is not very helpful (I have looked at it, and it has none of the songs anyone ever hears!!). The Musette books listed are all for the French button accordion.

Unless I guess someone can tell me how to transfer French accordion sheet music to regular piano accordion music, I am no better off.

Thanks anyway.

yours ever,

Peter T.

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Subject: RE: Technique: Piano Accordion for The Recycled Mu
From: CarolC
Date: 04 Jun 06 - 12:24 PM

I don't understand, Peter T. How is sheet music for button accordions different from sheet music for piano accordions?

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Subject: RE: Technique: Piano Accordion for The Recycled Muso
From: Peter T.
Date: 04 Jun 06 - 03:41 PM

Different fingerings.


Peter T.

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Subject: RE: Technique: Piano Accordion for The Recycled Mu
From: CarolC
Date: 04 Jun 06 - 05:30 PM

Your sheet music shows fingerings? I didn't know you could get that kind of sheet music. Well, good luck with your search.

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Subject: RE: Technique: Piano Accordion for The Recycled Muso
From: The Fooles Troupe
Date: 04 Jun 06 - 06:00 PM

Just ignore the fingerings, and work out your own.

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Subject: RE: Technique: Piano Accordion for The Recycled Muso
From: Peter T.
Date: 05 Jun 06 - 07:45 AM

What if you are lazy?


Peter T.

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Subject: RE: Technique: Piano Accordion for The Recycled Muso
From: The Fooles Troupe
Date: 05 Jun 06 - 07:48 AM

Then you probably won't bother playing any musical instrument much...

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Subject: RE: Technique: Piano Accordion for The Recycled Muso
From: Peter T.
Date: 05 Jun 06 - 09:11 PM

Thanks for the help.


Peter T.

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Subject: RE: Technique: Piano Accordion for The Recycled Muso
From: The Fooles Troupe
Date: 05 Aug 06 - 10:49 PM

Taxonomy of free reed instruments

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Subject: RE: Technique: Piano Accordion for The Recycled Mu
From: The Fooles Troupe
Date: 08 Aug 08 - 01:52 AM

Time for another Refresh!

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Subject: RE: Technique: Piano Accordion for The Recycled Mu
From: The Fooles Troupe
Date: 25 Oct 08 - 01:19 AM

Another refresh.

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Subject: RE: Technique: Piano Accordion for The Recycled Mu
From: AllisonA(Animaterra)
Date: 25 Oct 08 - 08:14 AM

Very refreshing! I now am trying to wrestle my fingers around a 72-button Guerrini, and this is most instructive. Thanks!

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Subject: RE: Technique: Piano Accordion for The Recycled Muso
From: Valmai Goodyear
Date: 26 Oct 08 - 07:45 AM

May I draw your attention to Paul Hutchinson's all-day accordion workshop in Lewes, Sussex, UK on Saturday 6th. December 2008? In the evening he and Paul Sartin perform together at the Lewes Arms as Belshazzar's Feast.

Paul Sartin leads an all-day fiddle workshop at the same time.

Valmai (Lewes)

Lewes Arms Workshop No 102
Places £30
Saturday 6th. December 2008
10.45 a.m.- 4.45 p.m.
The Royal Oak
Station Street, Lewes, East Sussex BN7 2DA

Paul Hutchinson is a member of the innovative & progressive folk trio, Hoover the Dog as well as Okavango, the collaboration between Hoover the Dog and Fluxus (Belgium). Paul is also a seasoned accordion tutor for Folkworks, Hands On Music, British Council (in Czech Republic and Belgium) & the University of Limerick. His favourite colour is pink.

Paul says: 'Correct fingering, methods of left-hand accompaniments, harmonies, use of dynamics and playing rhythmically will all be covered in depth. So by the end of the day participants will be playing their instruments in a sublimely pleasing and tasteful way.' Music will be sent in advance. Sight-reading skills will be useful for this workshop & first aid will be on hand.

(£7, advance tickets available from the address at the end of this form)

Saturday 6th. December 2008

Provisional Timetable

10.45    Registration & coffee; order lunch (refreshments not included).

11.00   Feeling the squeeze

13.00         Lunch

14.00        Hoover tunes: a selection of moderately challenging tunes (which don't suck) composed mainly by Hoover the Dog's violinist John Hymas.

15.30 Tea/coffee break

16.45        Finish

N.B. Booking is recommended as numbers are limited. Music will be sent in advance & maps & accommodation lists on request.

Saturday 6th. December 2008

I enclose a cheque for £30.00 for workshop fees (refreshments not included).

No. of tickets for evening performance
(£7 each, include SAE for these):




E-mail address:

Tick for map:         Tick for accommodation list:

Please make cheques payable to Lewes Arms Folk Club and send with this booking form to: Valmai Goodyear, 20, St. John's Terrace,
LEWES, East Sussex BN7 2DL

Tel. (01273) 476757

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Subject: RE: Technique: Piano Accordion for The Recycled Muso
From: The Fooles Troupe
Date: 16 Jun 09 - 07:27 AM

Refresh ... again ...

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Subject: RE: Technique: Piano Accordion for The Recycled Muso
From: GUEST,Smokey
Date: 16 Jun 09 - 10:51 PM

This is excellent - it deserves publication.

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Subject: RE: Technique: Piano Accordion for The Recycled Muso
From: The Fooles Troupe
Date: 17 Jun 09 - 12:11 AM

Thank you Smokey - but I think it still needs a little work... :-)

Of course if you know a reputable publisher who would like to talk to me, since I put the major amount of work into it (and the original concept was mine), I'll think about it. A small fee will go to Mudcat, as it has helped me with this too...

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Subject: RE: Technique: Piano Accordion for The Recycled Muso
From: GUEST,Smokey
Date: 17 Jun 09 - 06:55 PM

It might possibly be worth you showing it to
Charlie Watkins
His newsletters are gems too..

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Subject: RE: Technique: Piano Accordion for The Recycled Muso
From: GUEST,Smokey
Date: 17 Jun 09 - 06:59 PM

Charlie Watkins

His newsletters are gems too..

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Subject: RE: Technique: Piano Accordion for The Recycled Muso
From: The Fooles Troupe
Date: 17 Aug 09 - 06:28 PM


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Subject: RE: Technique: Piano Accordion for The Recycled Muso
Date: 31 Oct 09 - 12:16 AM

From the article:

> Some boxes have trumpet like devices attached to the Bass Side:
> these are mainly Germanic Button Box instruments. They provide
> better impedance matching for the lower pitches, and give a
> fairly distinctive horn-like "Om-pah!" sound.

Not true. While these front bass-section openings do let the bass sound out more directly, the little metal horn-bells in the openings are decorative. The deep tuba-style sounds themselves come from extra-large bass reeds, called helicon reeds. Instruments with these reeds may or may not have the horn-bell decorations.

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Subject: RE: Technique: Piano Accordion for The Recycled Muso
From: The Fooles Troupe
Date: 31 Oct 09 - 07:20 PM

"these front bass-section openings do let the bass sound out more directly, the little metal horn-bells in the openings are decorative"

OK - putting some thought into it based on simple physics/acoustics, I'll have to agree - I was quoting research claiming to be accurate. The physical size of the horns is really too small for noticeable acoustic effects at the frequencies involved.

Pity I can't accredit you cause you left no id - you may also have far more useful accurate info.

I know about the helicon reeds properties.


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Subject: RE: Technique: Piano Accordion for The Recycled Muso
From: The Fooles Troupe
Date: 08 May 10 - 07:25 PM

From another thread, but very useful here!

The modes ARE different. If you play only the white notes, C major scale, you are probably in the the mode you are in depends on the start note (D=Dorian, A=Aeolian), and a choice of 5 others).
The major key is just one of the seven possible scales/modes.

As a general rule, in neither case should you use a G7 chord, but a G instead, because the G7 contains notes which the ear expects to resolve to a C chord at the end of a phrase. Dominant 7th chords are suited to major and(harmonic) minor modes only, for which they were invented.

Ha! That's the technical reason that the Stradella bass 'fakes it' so well when you have a 'small bass' box. You can fake it with the Basic chord, and not the 7th version of that chord - the small boxes don't HAVE the 7ths anyway, but if someone somewhere in the group is playing the 7th as part of the melody, you have what the ear needs anyway! What you (the P/A player) are doing is playing the basic 'modal chord' which is the underlying basis of the 'Maj/Min structure' - these are just 'extensions' to word it one way! If the 'resolution' is needed/expected, or not! You're letting the others do the hard work playing the fancy bits!

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Subject: RE: Technique: Piano Accordion for The Recycled Muso
From: The Fooles Troupe
Date: 30 Jan 11 - 06:50 PM

This section about autoharps also demonstrates how you use the I IV V buttons to harmonize against a scale.

What's the difference between a chromatic autoharp and a diatonic autoharp?

a five-note major scale, played both up and down. To play this scale on a chromatic autoharp requires the I, IV and V chords of the key

Note the I V I IV I cord progression for the first 5 notes of the scale. It is left to the student to work out the rest of the scale :-)

The autoharp and the Stradella Bass Piano Accordion are closely related in technique, due to the same music theory underlying them. If you play one, you can rapidly transfer to the other, due to the similarities.
    Thread closed - it's become a magnet for Spam. -Joe Offer-

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