Well, that’s a question that is disputed in various countries around the world. So, where did the accordion originate? Who invented it?
The Accordion is what is known as a “free-reed” instrument. This is similar to its close cousin, the Concertina, the Harmonica, and Reed Organ. Contrary to some beliefs, bagpipes are not free-reed instruments. They use beating reeds, and these can be single or double.
Who Invented The Accordion?
It is hard to determine the origins of the accordion with any real accuracy. Several countries claim it as their own. The best we can do is to rely on actual records of people using it rather than just speculate.
What we do know is that the free-reed system to create sound with the aid of bellows is a 19th-century invention, almost certainly in Europe. As far as we can ascertain, it originated in the early 1820s.
The inventor of this instrument seems to have been Christian Friedrich Ludwig Buschmann, an instrument maker from Germany. There is more evidence for his invention than anyone else’s claims. He kept a detailed family history and mentioned it and other musical inventions.
However, the very first accordion patent was taken out in Vienna by a man of Armenian origin, Cyrill Demian. His invention did take the accordion to a new level as you could play two chords at the same time.
The Russians also claim to have made an accordion at the same time. But, there is no evidence to support this. It was certainly very popular there in the 1860s. However, popularity does not prove they created it.
The Appeal Of The German Design
The German accordion first appeared in England in 1828. But, it wasn’t until an article in the Times newspaper viewed it favorably in 1831 that it began to be popular. Immigrants probably took the accordion, like most other instruments, to America in the 1840s.
By now, the German version was spreading far and wide, and they encouraged its development and people’s participation. This is one of the reasons that when asked, “Where did the Accordion originate?” most will say Germany.
Before we start to look at the various types of accordions, we should mention the Concertina, often called a ‘squeeze-box.’ We have a little more information about the origins of this instrument.
They were developed in two different countries. In England, in 1829, and in Germany, in 1834. The accordion was being developed at around the same time, and certainly in Germany as well. There is a link between the two in terms of inspiration.
The designs, though, were slightly different. The German Concertina was square rather than the hexagonal shape of the English version and a little larger. However, they both used the same bellows action to create sound.
We can’t be sure, but it appears the Concertina as an instrument was developed with a specific purpose in mind. The accordion would have been, and still is, a heavy instrument to carry around if you are a traveling musician.
The Concertinas, however, weighed a fraction of its bigger cousin. If you were a musician traveling and playing villages, the Concertina would have been the choice.
Should you wish to take a look at a Concertina, an English version is this Trinity College Concertina.
They Are Different
While the basis of the design function is very similar between the accordion and the Concertina, there are some fundamental differences. This is what separates the two instruments.
Types of Accordions
So, let’s take a closer look at the accordion. You can separate them into six groups:
- Button Accordion.
- Piano Accordion.
- Bisonoric Accordion.
- Unisonoric Accordion.
- Chromatic Accordion.
- Diatonic Accordion.
Let’s take a quick look at each type…
All accordions are designed with a button board on the left-hand side of the instrument. However, not all have a button board on the right side. This difference separates the Button from the Piano Accordions. On Button Accordions, there are buttons on both left and right sides.
Piano Accordions can be visually determined easily because they have piano-like keys on the right-hand or treble side. With the Piano Accordion, the description of the instrument gives a good indication of how you play it.
Your right-hand moves over the keys just as it would on a piano. The left-hand presses the buttons to make the chords.
A Piano Accordion that most people will be familiar with is this Hohner Accordions 1304-RED 48 Bass Entry Level Piano Accordion.
Bisonoric and Unisonoric Accordions
This sounds like it might be complex from the names. But, they are just descriptions of how the bellows help you produce the notes and pitches. Or, perhaps a better way of describing them is how the air reacts with the reeds.
The Unisoronic Accordion will create the same note whether you push or pull the bellows. Move the bellows in and out and the note, or the pitch, remains the same.
However, the Bisonoric Accordion, when using the same action with the bellows, will change the pitch. You hold a key or button and push the bellows in to create your note; when you pull out, the pitch changes.
Chromatic and Diatonic Accordions
There are two different types of Button Accordion – Diatonic and Chromatic.
Diatonic Button Accordion
In some ways, this instrument has slight limitations. There are some keys you cannot reach on the Diatonic. Therefore, it will need extra instruments to support it. It has three rows of buttons and sometimes fewer.
Furthermore, it is made as a Bisonoric design. So, you can create extra notes by using the direction of the bellows. Although, this is still not enough in some circumstances.
A good example of a Diatonic Button Accordion is this Hohner Panther G/C/F 3-Row Diatonic Accordion.
Chromatic Button Accordion
The Chromatic usually comes as a Unisonoric design. It can have up to five rows of buttons. Therefore, playing a single note will stay at the same pitch regardless of which direction the bellows are traveling.
An example of a Button Chromatic Accordion is this 3-Row Weltmeister, Vintage German Button Chromatic Accordion.
A Lack Of Standardization
What can confuse some people about this instrument is the lack of a standard accordion. There are so many types and configurations that it can all become quite confusing. Furthermore, this lack of a standard form is why many ask, “Where does the accordion come from?“
Some techniques you need to learn to play the accordion may be easy on one type but difficult on another and still impossible on another.
We have already seen that with a Diatonic Button Accordion. We saw that some notes cannot be played regardless of the direction of the bellows’ movement. Layouts can also be different, and playing skills sometimes do not transfer between different kinds of accordions.
There Are Obvious Differences
We have made mention of those already. The right hand is an obvious difference, with one version having a piano-like keyboard, another, rows of buttons. To make it a little more complicated, Button Accordions can have a right-hand button board that can be Diatonic or Chromatic.
The Bellows Movement
We have also learned that accordions can also be Unisonoric. A style that produces the same pitch regardless of which direction the bellows are traveling. Or Bisonoric, which will produce a change in pitch that will depend on if the bellows are traveling in or out.
Diatonic Accordions are usually, but not always, Bisonoric. Piano Accordions are Unisonoric.
You might think that an instrument you wear with straps might have a reasonably standard size. An electric guitar, for example, can vary in size and weight, but the difference is very little, not so with the accordion.
The size and, crucially, the weight can vary quite a bit between manufacturers. Even the number of keys and buttons can differ greatly.
As an example, a Piano Accordion might have as few as two rows of four bass buttons. You could see that number rise to over one hundred on some instruments.
There Are Some Standard Components
The most recognizable components of an accordion are the bellows. That is one thing they all have, albeit in slightly different sizes. Bellows are the source of articulation, the production of the sound.
The motion of the bellows has a direct effect on the sound production, especially in dynamics. They operate the same way that a singer uses his voice to create emotion and different dynamics.
What Are The Bellows Made Of?
They are made from a combination of layers of cardboard and cloth that are pleated. Leather and some metal are added to give it strength to withstand heavy use. The action of the bellows creates air pressure that is driven across the reeds located inside to create the sound.
Sound Expression and Dynamics
I said earlier that how you use the bellows has a direct effect on the sound. The keyboard is not touch-sensitive and cannot affect the dynamics of the sound. There needs to be a way to create sound expression and dynamics, and this is through the way you use the bellows.
So what exactly can you do by using the bellows?
- Control the volume.
- Create swells and fades.
- Produce clear tones without resonance.
- Change intonation to copy a singer’s expression.
- Create sounds using the silent air control.
The design idea is quite simple. It consists of two boxes made from wood. These boxes hold the reed chambers for both left and right manuals. They are joined together by the bellows.
Each box is designed with grilles to allow intake and output of air. This also adds to the projection of the sound. The grille built into the right side is usually decorated for appearance.
Role Of The Boxes
The right-hand box, or to give it the proper name, manual, is what you usually use to play the melody. That applies whether there are keys or buttons.
Consequently, the left-hand manual is for accompaniment. Some have learned to reverse those roles. But, that is only for much more experienced players.
Weight And Size
As we have already briefly mentioned, the size and weight can vary dramatically. It will depend on the type of Accordion and the layout.
Some will have only one octave on the right of a piano accordion. And some will only have one or possibly two rows of bass buttons on the left. These numbers can rise dramatically up to 120 bass buttons and three octaves on the right.
The accordion is what is known as an “aerophone.” That means it causes air to vibrate, which creates a sound. It does this without the use of any strings and any vibration from the instrument.
It has a manual mechanism called silent air control, which allows airflow. Or, it can disable it, which creates a different ‘whooshing’ sound.
You can’t dispute it is a popular instrument in all its forms. The countries where it is popular are quite staggering. It extends across Europe, North and South America, Australia, and even North Korea.
In North Korea, it was known as the “people’s instrument.” All teachers in schools were required to learn to play it at one time.
Some of these countries, like Bosnia and Colombia, claim that the instrument may have been invented there.
First Appearance in Music
The first recorded use of the accordion in a musical setting was in Australia in 1830. Other reed instruments, the Concertina, Melodeon, and harmonica, were already very popular.
The first known composer of accordion music was an Australian named Frank Fracchia. Some of his first works, the originals, have been preserved in Australian libraries. They include:
- My Dear, Can You Come Out Tonight.
- Dancing With You.
What Do I Think?
Where did the accordion originate? It seemed almost certain it was in Germany. Although, it does seem to have spread to other countries quite quickly. Unusual for the time without proper communications and good transport links.
The first verifiable ‘real’ mention, not just a claim, points to Christian Friedrich Ludwig Buschmann. The German instrument builder definitely produced a version in 1822. Although, what he produced as the first is very different from what we have today.
Resources of the Accordion
We have already looked at some accordions earlier. But, if you know a young person who might want to learn, there are some good accordion options for kids:
- Kids Accordion, Professional Accordion for Students
- MUSICUBE Accordion Instrument for Kids 17 Keys 8 Bass
Or, if you want a real quality instrument, there is this Hohner Piano Accordion Bravo II 48. Maybe you are an experienced looking to upgrade. In which case, there is this Hohner Amica Forte IV 96 Piano Accordion.
If you or someone else is going to learn, you will also need some instruction and guidance:
Interested in Learning More About the Accordion?
You may also enjoy our comprehensive articles on The Difference Between Brass and Woodwind Instruments, The Baroque Music Period, and The Romantic Period of Music for more insight into the kind of music accordions are used to play.
Where Did the Accordion Originate? – Conclusion
This is an instrument that has now gone around most countries in the world. And, in some, it has created an identity. Not only for itself but also for the country. Can you imagine France without its wandering accordion players?
A versatile instrument that, after 200 years, is still going strong. Long may that continue.
Until next time, let the music play.