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A convertor free-bass piano-accordion and a Russian bayan.jpg
A piano accordion (top) and a button accordion (bottom)
Keyboard instrument
Hornbostel–Sachs classification 412.132
(Free-reed aerophone)
DevelopedEarly 19th century
Playing range

Depends on configuration: Right-hand keyboard

Left-hand keyboard

Related instruments

Hand-pumped: Bandoneon, concertina, flutina, garmon, trikitixa, Indian harmonium, harmoneon


Foot-pumped: Harmonium, reed organ

Mouth-blown: Claviola, melodica, harmonica, Laotian khene, Chinese shēng, Japanese shō

Electronic reedless instruments:

Digital accordion, Electronium
Accordionists (list of accordionists).
More articles or information
Accordion, Chromatic button accordion, Bayan, Diatonic button accordion, Piano accordion, Stradella bass system, Free-bass system, Accordion reed ranks and switches
An accordionist Accordionist.jpg
An accordionist

Accordions (from 19th-century German Akkordeon, from Akkord—"musical chord, concord of sounds") [1] are a family of box-shaped musical instruments of the bellows-driven free reed aerophone type (producing sound as air flows past a reed in a frame). The essential characteristic of the accordion is to combine in one instrument a melody section, also called the diskant, usually on the right-hand keyboard, with an accompaniment or Basso continuo functionality on the left-hand. The musician normally plays the melody on buttons or keys on the right-hand side (referred to as the keyboard or sometimes the manual), and the accompaniment on bass or pre-set chord buttons on the left-hand side. A person who plays the accordion is called an accordionist.

The accordion belongs to the free-reed aerophone family. Other instruments in this family include the concertina, harmonica, and bandoneon. [2] The concertina and bandoneon do not have the melody–accompaniment duality. The harmoneon is also related and, while having the descant vs. melody dualism, tries to make it less pronounced. The harmonium and American reed organ are in the same family, but are typically larger than an accordion and sit on a surface or the floor.

The accordion is played by compressing or expanding the bellows while pressing buttons or keys, causing pallets to open, which allow air to flow across strips of brass or steel, called reeds. These vibrate to produce sound inside the body. Valves on opposing reeds of each note are used to make the instrument's reeds sound louder without air leaking from each reed block. [notes 1]

The accordion is widely spread across the world because of the waves of migration from Europe to the Americas and other regions. In some countries (for example: Argentina, Brazil, [3] [4] Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Mexico, and Panama) it is used in popular music (for example: chamamé in Argentina; gaucho, forró, and sertanejo in Brazil; vallenato in Colombia; merengue in the Dominican Republic; and norteño in Mexico), whereas in other regions (such as Europe, North America, and other countries in South America) it tends to be more used for dance-pop and folk music.

In Europe and North America, some popular music acts also make use of the instrument. Additionally, the accordion is used in cajun, zydeco, jazz, and klezmer music, and in both solo and orchestral performances of classical music. Many conservatories in Europe have classical accordion departments. The oldest name for this group of instruments is harmonika, from the Greek harmonikos, meaning "harmonic, musical". Today, native versions of the name accordion are more common. These names refer to the type of accordion patented by Cyrill Demian, which concerned "automatically coupled chords on the bass side". [5]


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

The accordion's basic form is believed to have been invented in Berlin, in 1822, by Christian Friedrich Ludwig Buschmann, [notes 2] [6] although one instrument was discovered in 2006 that appears to have been built earlier. [notes 3] [7] [8]

The earliest history of the accordion in Russia is poorly documented. Nevertheless, according to Russian researchers, the earliest known simple accordions were made in Tula, Russia, by Ivan Sizov and Timofey Vorontsov around 1830, after they received an early accordion from Germany. [9] By the late 1840s, the instrument was already very widespread; [10] together the factories of the two masters were producing 10,000 instruments a year. By 1866, over 50,000 instruments were being produced yearly by Tula and neighbouring villages, and by 1874 the yearly production was over 700,000. [11] By the 1860s, Novgorod, Vyatka and Saratov governorates also had significant accordion production. By the 1880s, the list included Oryol, Ryazan, Moscow, Tver, Vologda, Kostroma, Nizhny Novgorod and Simbirsk, and many of these places created their own varieties of the instrument. [12]

The accordion is one of several European inventions of the early 19th century that use free reeds driven by a bellows. An instrument called accordion was first patented in 1829 by Cyrill Demian, of Armenian origin, in Vienna. [notes 4] Demian's instrument bore little resemblance to modern instruments. It only had a left hand buttonboard, with the right hand simply operating the bellows. One key feature for which Demian sought the patent was the sounding of an entire chord by depressing one key. His instrument also could sound two different chords with the same key, one for each bellows direction (a bisonoric action). At that time in Vienna, mouth harmonicas with Kanzellen (chambers) had already been available for many years, along with bigger instruments driven by hand bellows. The diatonic key arrangement was also already in use on mouth-blown instruments. Demian's patent thus covered an accompanying instrument: an accordion played with the left hand, opposite to the way that contemporary chromatic hand harmonicas were played, small and light enough for travelers to take with them and used to accompany singing. The patent also described instruments with both bass and treble sections, although Demian preferred the bass-only instrument owing to its cost and weight advantages. [notes 5]

The accordion was introduced from Germany into Britain in about the year 1828. [13] The instrument was noted in The Times in 1831 as one new to British audiences [14] and was not favourably reviewed, but nevertheless it soon became popular. [15] It had also become popular with New Yorkers by the mid-1840s. [16]

After Demian's invention, other accordions appeared, some featuring only the right-handed keyboard for playing melodies. It took English inventor Charles Wheatstone to bring both chords and keyboard together in one squeezebox. His 1844 patent for what he called a concertina also featured the ability to easily tune the reeds from the outside with a simple tool.

The first pages in Adolf Muller's accordion book Accordionschule1.JPG
The first pages in Adolf Müller's accordion book

The Austrian musician Adolf Müller described a great variety of instruments in his 1854 book Schule für Accordion. At the time, Vienna and London had a close musical relationship, with musicians often performing in both cities in the same year, so it is possible that Wheatstone was aware of this type of instrument and may have used them to put his key-arrangement ideas into practice.

Jeune's flutina resembles Wheatstone's concertina in internal construction and tone colour, but it appears to complement Demian's accordion functionally. The flutina is a one-sided bisonoric melody-only instrument whose keys are operated with the right hand while the bellows is operated with the left. When the two instruments are combined, the result is quite similar to diatonic button accordions still manufactured today.

Further innovations followed and continue to the present. Various buttonboard and keyboard systems have been developed, as well as voicings (the combination of multiple tones at different octaves), with mechanisms to switch between different voices during performance, and different methods of internal construction to improve tone, stability and durability. Modern accordions may incorporate electronics such as condenser microphones and tone and volume controls, so that the accordion can be plugged into a PA system or keyboard amplifier for live shows. Some 2010s-era accordions may incorporate MIDI sensors and circuitry, enabling the accordion to be plugged into a synth module and produce accordion sounds or other synthesized instrument sounds, such as piano or organ.


A diatonic button accordion being played

Accordions have many configurations and types. What may be easy to do with one type of accordion could be technically challenging or impossible with another, and proficiency with one layout may not translate to another.

The most obvious difference between accordions is their right-hand sides. Piano accordions use a piano-style musical keyboard; button accordions use a buttonboard. Button accordions are furthermore differentiated by their usage of a chromatic or diatonic buttonboard for the right-hand side. [17]

Accordions may be either bisonoric, producing different pitches depending on the direction of bellows movement, or unisonoric, producing the same pitch in both directions. Piano accordions are unisonoric. Chromatic button accordions also tend to be unisonoric, while diatonic button accordions tend to be bisonoric, [18] though notable exceptions exist. [19]

Accordion size is not standardized, and may vary significantly from model to model. Accordions vary not only in their dimensions and weight, but also in number of buttons or keys present in the right- and left-hand keyboards. For example, piano accordions may have as few as 8 bass buttons (two rows of four), or up to 140 (seven rows of twenty) or beyond. Accordions also vary by their available registers and by their specific tuning and voicing.

Despite these differences, all accordions share a number of common components.

Universal components


Bellows-driven instruments
Piano accordions: 1, 2, 13
Diatonic button accordion: 3
Chromatic button accordions: 11, 12, 14
Digital accordions (V-Accordions, Roland Corporation): 11, 12, 13, 14
Bandoneon: 4
English concertina: 5
Anglo-German concertinas (Anglo concertinas): 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 Squeeze boxes accordion bandoneon concertina diatonic chromatic.jpg
Bellows-driven instruments

The bellows is the most recognizable part of the instrument, and the primary means of articulation. The production of sound in an accordion is in direct proportion to the motion of the bellows by the player. In a sense, the role of the bellows can be compared to the role of moving a violin's bow on bowed strings. For a more direct analogy, the bellows can be compared to the role of breathing for a singer. The bellows is located between the right- and left-hand keyboards, and is made from pleated layers of cloth and cardboard, with added leather and metal. [20] It is used to create pressure and vacuum, driving air across the internal reeds and producing sound by their vibrations, applied pressure increases the volume.

The keyboard touch is not expressive and does not affect dynamics: all expression is effected through the bellows. Bellows effects include:

  • Volume control, including swells and fades
  • Repeated short, rapid changes of direction ("bellows shake"), which has been popularized[ dubious ] by musicians such as Renato Borghetti (gaucho music) and Luiz Gonzaga, [21] and extensively used in Forró, called resfulego in Brazil
  • Constant bellows motion while applying pressure at intervals
  • Constant bellows motion to produce clear tones with no resonance
  • Subtly changing the intonation to mimic the expressiveness of a singer
  • Using the bellows with the silent air button gives the sound of air moving ("whooshing"), which is sometimes used in contemporary compositions for this instrument


Showroom of accordions (Petosa Accordions, Seattle, Washington) Petosa - showroom 01 (cropped).jpg
Showroom of accordions (Petosa Accordions, Seattle, Washington)

The accordion's body consists of two boxes, commonly made of wood, joined by the bellows. These boxes house reed chambers for the right- and left-hand keyboards. Each side has grilles in order to facilitate the transmission of air in and out of the instrument, and to allow the sound to project. The grille at the right-hand side is usually larger and is often shaped for decorative purposes. The right-hand keyboard is normally used for playing the melody and the left-hand one for playing the accompaniment; however, skilled players can reverse these roles and play melodies with the left hand. [notes 6]

The size and weight of an accordion varies depending on its type, layout and playing range, which can be as small as to have only one or two rows of basses and a single octave on the right-hand keyboard, to the most common 120-bass accordion and through to large and heavy 160-bass free-bass converter models.

Pallet mechanism

The accordion is an aerophone. The keyboard mechanisms of the instrument either enable the air flow, or disable it: [notes 7]

A side view of the pallet mechanism in a piano accordion. As the key is pressed down the pallet is lifted, allowing for air to enter the tone chamber in either direction and excite the reeds; air flow direction depends on the direction of bellows movement. A similar mechanical pallet movement is used in button accordions, as well as for bass mechanisms such as the Stradella bass machine that translates a single button press into multiple pallet openings for the notes of a chord. Accordion button mechanism.svg
A side view of the pallet mechanism in a piano accordion. As the key is pressed down the pallet is lifted, allowing for air to enter the tone chamber in either direction and excite the reeds; air flow direction depends on the direction of bellows movement. A similar mechanical pallet movement is used in button accordions, as well as for bass mechanisms such as the Stradella bass machine that translates a single button press into multiple pallet openings for the notes of a chord.

Variable components

The term accordion covers a wide range of instruments, with varying components. All instruments have reed ranks of some format, apart from reedless digital accordions. Not all have switches to change registers or ranks, as some have only one treble register and one bass register. The most typical accordion is the piano accordion, which is used for many musical genres. Another type of accordion is the button accordion, which is used in musical traditions including Cajun, Conjunto and Tejano music, Swiss and Slovenian-Austro-German Alpine music, and Argentinian tango music. The Helikon-style accordion has multiple flared horns projecting out of the left side to strengthen the bass tone. The word "Helikon" refers to a deep-pitched tuba.

Right-hand keyboard systems

Different systems exist for the right-hand keyboard of an accordion, which is normally used for playing the melody (while it can also play chords). Some use a button layout arranged in one way or another, while others use a piano-style keyboard. Each system has different claimed benefits [22] by those who prefer it. They are also used to define one accordion or another as a different "type":

  • Chromatic button accordions and the bayan, a Russian variant, use a buttonboard where notes are arranged chromatically. Two major systems exist, referred to as the B-system and the C-system (there are also regional variants). Rarely, some chromatic button accordions have a decorative right-hand keyboard in addition to the rows of buttons, an approach used by the virtuoso accordionist Pietro Frosini.
  • Diatonic button accordions use a buttonboard designed around the notes of diatonic scales in a small number of keys. The keys are often arranged in one row for each key available. Chromatic scales may be available by combining notes from different rows. The adjective "diatonic" is also commonly used to describe bisonic or bisonoric accordions—that is, instruments whose right-hand (and in some instances even bass) keys each sound two different notes depending on the direction of the bellows (for instance, producing major triad sequences while closing the bellows and dominant seventh or 7–9 while opening). Such is the case, for instance, with the Argentinian bandoneon, the Slovenian-Austro-German Steirische Harmonika, the Czech Heligonka Harmonika, the Italian organetto, the Swiss Schwyzerörgeli and the Anglo concertina.
  • Piano accordions use a musical keyboard similar to a piano, at right angles to the cabinet, the tops of the keys inward toward the bellows.
    • The rarely used bass accordion has only a right-hand keyboard, with ranks of 8', 16', and 32' reeds, with the lowest note being the deepest pitch on a pipe organ pedal keyboard (pedal C). It is intended for performing basslines in accordion orchestras.
    • The rarely used piccolo accordion also has only a right-hand keyboard.
  • 6-plus-6 accordions use a buttonboard with three rows of buttons in a "uniform" or "whole-tone" arrangement, generally known as a Jankó keyboard. The chromatic scale consists of two rows. The third row is a repetition of the first row, so there is the same fingering in all twelve scales. These accordions are produced only in special editions e.g. the logicordion produced by Harmona.

Left-hand keyboard systems

Typical 120-button Stradella bass system. This is the left-hand keyboard system found on most unisonoric accordions today. 120-button Stradella chart.svg
Typical 120-button Stradella bass system. This is the left-hand keyboard system found on most unisonoric accordions today.

Different systems are also in use for the left-hand keyboard, which is normally used for playing the accompaniment. These usually use distinct bass buttons and often have buttons with concavities or studs to help the player navigate the layout despite not being able to see the buttons while playing. There are three general categories:

The bass buttons trigger a complex mechanism of wires, rods, and levers, which is normally hidden inside the instrument. Bassmechanics.jpg
The bass buttons trigger a complex mechanism of wires, rods, and levers, which is normally hidden inside the instrument.
  • The Stradella bass system, also called standard bass[ citation needed ], is arranged in a circle of fifths and uses single buttons for bass notes and additional rows of single buttons for preset major, minor, dominant seventh, and diminished chords. The dominant seventh and diminished chords are three-note chord voicings that omit the fifths of the chords.
  • The Belgian bass system is a variation used in Belgian chromatic accordions. It is also arranged in a circle of fifths but in reverse order. This system has three rows of basses, three rows of chord buttons allowing easier fingering for playing melodies, combined chords, better use of fingers one and five, and more space between the buttons. This system was rarely used outside of its native Belgium.
  • Various free-bass systems for greater access to playing melodies and complex basslines on the left-hand keyboard and to forming one's own chords note-by-note. These are often chosen for playing jazz and classical music. Some models can convert between free-bass and Stradella bass; this is called converter bass. The free-bass left hand notes are arranged chromatically in three rows with one additional duplicate row of buttons.
  • Luttbeg double-keyboard piano accordions have a piano keyboard layout on both the treble and bass sides. This allows pianists, most notably Duke Ellington, to double up on the accordion without difficulty. The Bercandeon is an improved version of that instrument, also making it a "keyboard bandoneon".
  • In 2021, a patent was published by Valerio Chiovarelli for a new bass system called the "Chiovarelli Jazz System". [23] This system is a variation of the Stradella bass system where, instead of triads, the chordal buttons of this system produce bichords (chords with only 2 pitches instead of 3). [24] The "Chiovarellia Jazz System" (or "CJS" for short) prioritizes the effectiveness of left hand accordion in jazz music, hence the name of the system, but its chordal combinations can be appliccable to many other genres according to the inventor.

Reed ranks and switches

Accordion reed ranks with closeup of reeds Reedsinset.jpg
Accordion reed ranks with closeup of reeds

Inside the accordion are the reeds that generate the instrument tones. These are organized in different sounding banks, which can be further combined into registers producing differing timbres . All but the smaller accordions are equipped with switches that control which combination of reed banks operate, organized from high to low registers. Each register stop produces a separate sound timbre, many of which also differ in octaves or in how different octaves are combined. See the accordion reed ranks and switches article for further explanation and audio samples. All but the smaller accordions usually have treble switches. The larger and more expensive accordions often also have bass switches to give options for the reed bank on the bass side.

Classification of chromatic and piano type accordions

In describing or pricing an accordion, the first factor is size, expressed in number of keys on either side. For a piano type, this could for one example be 37/96, meaning 37 treble keys (three octaves plus one note) on the treble side and 96 bass keys. A second aspect of size is the width of the white keys, which means that even accordions with the same number of keys have keyboards of different lengths, ranging from 14 inches (36 cm) for a child's accordion to 19 inches (48 cm) for an adult-sized instrument. After size, the price and weight of an accordion is largely dependent on the number of reed ranks on either side, either on a cassotto or not, and to a lesser degree on the number of combinations available through register switches. The next, but important, factor is the quality of the reeds, the highest grade called "a mano" (meaning "hand-made"), the next "tipo a mano" ("like hand-made"), lower grades including "export" and several more.

Price is also affected by the use of costly woods, luxury decorations, and features such as a palm switch, grille mute, and so on. Some accordion makers sell a range of different models, from a less-expensive base model to a more costly luxury model. Typically, the register switches are described as Reeds: 5 + 3, meaning five reeds on the treble side and three on the bass, and Registers: 13 + M, 7, meaning 13 register buttons on the treble side plus a special "master" that activates all ranks, like the "tutti" or "full organ" switch on an organ, and seven register switches on the bass side. Another factor affecting the price is the presence of electronics, such as condenser microphones, volume and tone controls, or MIDI sensors and connections.

Accordion player on a street in the historic centre of Quito, Ecuador Quito Accordion player.jpg
Accordion player on a street in the historic centre of Quito, Ecuador


The larger piano and chromatic button accordions are usually heavier than other smaller squeezeboxes, and are equipped with two shoulder straps to make it easier to balance the weight and increase bellows control while sitting, and avoid dropping the instrument while standing. Other accordions, such as the diatonic button accordion, have only a single shoulder strap and a right hand thumb strap. All accordions have a (mostly adjustable) leather strap on the left-hand side to keep the player's hand in position while drawing the bellows. There are also straps above and below the bellows to keep it securely closed when the instrument is not being played.

Electronic and digital

Rainer von Vielen playing a Roland digital V-Accordion. The bank of electronic switches can change the accordion's sound, tone and volume. Rainer von Vielen-Heimatsound-2015 (12).jpg
Rainer von Vielen playing a Roland digital V-Accordion. The bank of electronic switches can change the accordion's sound, tone and volume.

In the 2010s, a range of electronic and digital accordions were introduced. They have an electronic sound module which creates the accordion sound, and most use MIDI systems to encode the keypresses and transmit them to the sound module. A digital accordion can have hundreds of sounds, which can include different types of accordions and even non-accordion sounds, such as pipe organ, piano, or guitar. Sensors are used on the buttons and keys, such as magnetic reed switches. Sensors are also used on the bellows to transmit the pushing and pulling of the bellows to the sound module. Digital accordions may have features not found in acoustic instruments, such as a piano-style sustain pedal, a modulation control for changing keys, and a portamento effect.

As an electronic instrument, these types of accordions are plugged into a PA system or keyboard amplifier to produce sound. Some digital accordions have a small internal speaker and amplifier, so they can be used without a PA system or keyboard amplifier, at least for practicing and small venues like coffeehouses. One benefit of electronic accordions is that they can be practiced with headphones, making them inaudible to other people nearby. On a digital accordion, the volume of the right-hand keyboard and the left-hand buttons can be independently adjusted.

Acoustic-digital hybrid accordions also exist. They are acoustic accordions (with reeds, bellows, and so on), but they also contain sensors, electronics, and MIDI connections, which provides a wider range of sound options. An acoustic-digital hybrid may be manufactured in this form, or it may be an acoustic accordion which has had aftermarket electronics sensors and connections added. Several companies sell aftermarket electronics kits, but they are typically installed by professional accordion technicians, because of the complex and delicate nature of the internal parts of an accordion.

Unusual accordions

Various hybrid accordions have been created between instruments of different buttonboards and actions. Many remain curiosities – only a few have remained in use:

Manufacturing process

The most expensive[ according to whom? ] accordions are typically fully hand-made, particularly the reeds; completely hand-made reeds have a better tonal quality than even the best automatically manufactured ones. Some accordions have been modified by individuals striving to bring a more pure[ clarification needed ] sound out of low-end instruments, such as the ones improved by Yutaka Usui, [28] [ irrelevant citation ] a Japanese craftsman.

The manufacture of an accordion is only a partly automated process. In a sense,[ clarification needed ] all accordions are handmade, since there is always some hand assembly of the small parts required. The general process involves making the individual parts, assembling the subsections, assembling the entire instrument, and final decorating and packaging. [29]

Notable centres of production are the Italian cities of Stradella and Castelfidardo, with many small and medium size manufacturers especially at the latter. Castelfidardo honours[ clarification needed ] the memory of Paolo Soprani who was one of the first large-scale producers. Maugein Freres has built accordions in the French town of Tulle since 1919, and the company is now the last complete-process[ clarification needed ] manufacturer of accordions in France. German companies such as Hohner and Weltmeister made large numbers of accordions, but production diminished by the end of the 20th century. Hohner still manufactures its top-end models[ clarification needed ] in Germany, and Weltmeister instruments are still handmade by HARMONA Akkordeon GmbH in Klingenthal.

Use in various music genres

A street performer playing the accordion A sexy street performer accordionist Accor de Nonnon or Norie ANZAI 2013-10-12 Nakano City Tokyo Japan.jpg
A street performer playing the accordion

The accordion has traditionally been used to perform folk or ethnic music, popular music, and transcriptions from the operatic and light-classical music repertoire. [30] It was also used by the Kikuyu tribe in Kenya and is the main instrument in the traditional Mwomboko dance. [31] Today the instrument is sometimes heard in contemporary pop styles, such as rock and pop-rock, [32] and occasionally even in serious classical music concerts, as well as advertisements.

Use in traditional music

A folk accordionist, 2009 Antonia Begonia accordion MACRoCk 2009 Little Grill Collective Harrisonburg VA April 2009.jpg
A folk accordionist, 2009

The accordion's popularity spread rapidly: it has mostly been associated with the common people, and was propagated by Europeans who emigrated around the world. The accordion in both button and piano forms became a favorite of folk musicians [33] and has been integrated into traditional music styles all over the world: see the list of music styles that incorporate the accordion.

Use in jazz

Notable jazz accordionists

Early jazz accordionists include Charles Melrose, who recorded Wailing Blues/Barrel House Stomp (1930, Voc. 1503) with the Cellar Boys; Buster Moten, who played second piano and accordion in the Bennie Moten orchestra; and Jack Cornell, who did recordings with Irving Mills. Later jazz accordionists from the United States include Steve Bach, Milton DeLugg, Orlando DiGirolamo, Dominic Frontiere, Guy Klucevsek, Yuri Lemeshev, Frank Marocco, John Serry Sr., [34] Lee Tomboulian, and Art Van Damme. French jazz accordionists include Richard Galliano, Bernard Lubat, and Vincent Peirani. Norwegian jazz accordionists include Asmund Bjørken, Stian Carstensen, Gabriel Fliflet, Frode Haltli, and Eivin One Pedersen.

Left hand techniques

The constraints of the Stradella bass system, limiting the left hand to preset chord buttons, is a barrier to some jazz chord conventions. Jazz accordionists expand the range of chord possibilities by using more than one chord button simultaneously, or by using combinations of a chord button and a bass note other than the typical root of the chord. An example of the former technique is used to play a minor seventh chord. To play an Am7(add9) chord, the Am and Em preset buttons are pressed simultaneously, along with an A bassnote. An example of the latter technique is used to play the half-diminished chord. To play an Eø7, a Gm preset button is pressed along with an E bassnote.

For the left hand, the free-bass system is used in jazz as a means of creating complex chord voicings. Jazz harmony that would otherwise be difficult to replicate with the Stradella bass system, such as tritone substitutions, become more accessible using a free-bass accordion. [35]

John Linnell of They Might Be Giants playing a Main Squeeze 911 John Linnell 2011-11-10.jpg
John Linnell of They Might Be Giants playing a Main Squeeze 911

The accordion appeared in popular music from the 1900s to the 1960s. This half-century is often called the "golden age of the accordion". [36] Five players, Pietro Frosini, the two brothers Count Guido Deiro and Pietro Deiro and Slovenian brothers Vilko Ovsenik and Slavko Avsenik, Charles Magnante were major influences at this time. [37]

Most vaudeville theaters closed during the Great Depression, but accordionists during the 1930s–1950s taught and performed for radio. Included among this group was the concert virtuoso John Serry, Sr. [38] [39] [40] During the 1950s through the 1980s the accordion received significant exposure on television with performances by Myron Floren on The Lawrence Welk Show . [41] In the late 1950s and early 1960s, the accordion declined in popularity because of the rise of rock and roll. [42] The first accordionist to appear and perform at the Newport Jazz Festival was Angelo DiPippo. He can be seen playing his accordion in the motion picture The Godfather. He also composed and performed with his accordion on part of the soundtrack of Woody Allen's movie To Rome With Love. He was featured twice on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.

Richard Galliano is an internationally known accordionist whose repertoire covers jazz, tango nuevo, Latin, and classical. Some popular bands use the instrument to create distinctive sounds. A notable example is Grammy Award-winning parodist "Weird Al" Yankovic, who plays the accordion on many of his musical tracks, particularly his polkas. Yankovic was trained in the accordion as a child. [43]

The accordion has also been used in the rock genre, most notably by John Linnell of They Might Be Giants, featuring more prominently in the band's earlier works. [44] The instrument is still frequently used during live performances, and continues to make appearances in their studio albums. Accordion is also used in the music of the Dropkick Murphys and Gogol Bordello.

Accordionists in heavy metal music make their most extensive appearances in the folk metal subgenre, and are otherwise generally rare. Full-time accordionists in folk metal seem even rarer, but they are still utilized for studio work, as flexible keyboardists are usually more accessible for live performances. The Finnish symphonic folk-metal band Turisas used to have a full-time accordionist, employing classical and polka sensibilities alongside a violinist. One of their accordionists, Netta Skog, is now a member of Ensiferum, another folk-metal band. Another Finnish metal band, Korpiklaani, invokes a type of Finnish polka called humppa, and also has a full-time accordionist. Sarah Kiener, the former hurdy-gurdy player for the Swiss melodic-death-folk metal band Eluveitie, played a Helvetic accordion known as a zugerörgeli.[ citation needed ]

Use in classical music

Although best known as a folk instrument, it has grown in popularity among classical composers. The earliest surviving concert piece is Thême varié très brillant pour accordéon methode Reisner, written in 1836 by Louise Reisner of Paris. Other composers, including the Russian Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, the Italian Umberto Giordano, and the American Charles Ives, wrote works for the diatonic button accordion.

Finnish accordionist Esa Pakarinen (Feeliks Esaias Pakarinen (1911-1989) Esa Pakarinen.png
Finnish accordionist Esa Pakarinen (Feeliks Esaias Pakarinen (1911–1989)

The first composer to write specifically for the chromatic accordion was Paul Hindemith. [45] In 1922, the Austrian Alban Berg included an accordion in Wozzeck , Op. 7. In 1937, the first accordion concerto was composed in Russia. Other notable composers have written for the accordion during the first half of the 20th century. [46] Included among this group was the Italian-American John Serry Sr., whose Concerto for Free Bass Accordion was completed in 1964. [47] [48] [49] In addition, the American accordionist Robert Davine composed his Divertimento for Flute, Clarinet, Bassoon and Accordion as a work for chamber orchestra. [50] American composer William P. Perry featured the accordion in his orchestral suite Six Title Themes in Search of a Movie (2008). The experimental composer Howard Skempton began his musical career as an accordionist, and has written numerous solo works for it. In his work Drang (1999), British composer John Palmer pushed the expressive possibilities of the accordion/bayan. Luciano Berio wrote Sequenza XIII (1995) for accordionist Teodoro Anzellotti. [51] Accordionists like Mogens Ellegaard, Joseph Macerollo, Nick Ariondo, Friedrich Lips, Hugo Noth, Stefan Hussong, Teodoro Anzellotti, and Geir Draugsvoll, encouraged composers to write new music for the accordion (solo and chamber music) and also started playing baroque music on the free bass accordion.

French composer Henri Dutilleux used an accordion in both his late song cycles Correspondences (2003) and Le Temps l'Horloge (2009). Russian-born composer Sofia Gubaidulina has composed solos, concertos, and chamber works for accordion. Astor Piazzolla's concert tangos are performed widely. Piazzolla performed on the bandoneon, but his works are performed on either bandoneon or accordion.


The earliest mention of the novel accordion instrument in Australian music occurs in the 1830s. [52] The accordion initially competed against cheaper and more convenient reed instruments such as mouth organ, concertina and melodeon. Frank Fracchia was an Australian accordion composer [53] and copies of his works "My dear, can you come out tonight" [54] and "Dancing with you" [55] are preserved in Australian libraries. Other Australian composers who arranged music for accordion include Reginald Stoneham. [56] The popularity of the accordion peaked in the late 1930s [57] and continued until the 1950s. [58] The accordion was particularly favoured by buskers. [59] [60]

Bosnia and Herzegovina

The accordion is a traditional instrument in Bosnia and Herzegovina. It is the dominant instrument used in sevdalinka, a traditional genre of folk music from Bosnia and Herzegovina. [61]


Brazilian accordionist Dominguinhos (Jose Domingos de Morais (1941-2013) Dominguinhos de Morais.jpg
Brazilian accordionist Dominguinhos (José Domingos de Morais (1941–2013)

The accordion was brought to Brazil by settlers and immigrants from Europe, especially from Italy and Germany, who mainly settled in the south (Rio Grande do Sul, Santa Catarina and Paraná). The first instrument brought was a "Concertina" (a 120 button chromatic accordion). [62] The instrument was popular in the 1950s, and it was common to find several accordions in the same house. There are many different configurations and tunes which were adapted from the cultures that came from Europe.

Accordion is the official symbol instrument of the Rio Grande do Sul state, where was voted by unanimity in the deputy chamber. [63] During the boom of accordions there were around 65 factories in Brazil, where most of them (52) in the south, in Rio Grande do Sul state, with only 7 outside the south. One of the most famous and genuinely Brazilian brands was Accordeões Todeschini from Bento Gonçalves-RS, closed in 1973. The Todeschini accordion is very appreciated today and survives with very few maintainers. [64] [65] The most notable musicians of button accordions are Renato Borghetti, Adelar Bertussi, Albino Manique and Edson Dutra. [62]

Compared to many other countries, the instrument is very popular in mainstream pop music. In some parts of the country, such as the northeast it is the most popular melodic instrument. As opposed to most European folk accordions, a very dry tuning is usually used in Brazil. Outside the south, the accordion (predominantly the piano accordion) is used in almost all styles of Forró (in particular in the subgenres of Xote and Baião) as the principal instrument, Luiz Gonzaga (the "King of the Baião") and Dominguinhos being among the notable musicians in this style from the northeast. In this musical style the typical combination is a trio of accordion, triangle and zabumba (a type of drum).

This style has gained popularity recently, in particular among the student population of the southeast of the country (in the Forró Universitário genre, with important exponents today being Falamansa, and trios such as Trio Dona Zefa, Trio Virgulino and Trio Alvorada). Moreover, the accordion is the principal instrument in Junina music (music of the São João Festival), with Mario Zan having been a very important exponent of this music. It is an important instrument in Sertanejo (and Caipira) music, which originated in the midwest and southeast of Brazil, and subsequently has gained popularity throughout the country.


The number of accordionists in China exceeds every other country in the world, and possibly every country combined. Introduced in 1926, the accordion has risen to popularity in China throughout the years, thanks to Russian teachers and its being a popular instrument in the People's Liberation Army, and remains popular. [66]

In the late 2oth century, the development of high performance standards for the accordion within China's halls of academe was also influenced by several American virtuosos including Robert Davine, who was invited by the Ministry of Culture of the People's Republic to present Master Classes and to broaden its national program of music for the accordion in 1984. [67] [68] [69]


The accordion is also a traditional instrument in Colombia, commonly associated with the vallenato and cumbia genres. The accordion has been used by tropipop musicians such as Carlos Vives, Andrés Cabas, Fonseca (singer) and Bacilos, as well as rock musicians such as Juanes and pop musicians as Shakira. Vallenato, who emerged in the early twentieth century in Valledupar, and have come to symbolize the folk music of Colombia. [70]

Every year in April, Colombia holds one of the most important musical festivals in the country: the Vallenato Legend Festival. The festival holds contests for best accordion player. Once every decade, the "King of Kings" accordion competition takes place, where winners of the previous festivals compete for the highest possible award for a vallenato accordion player: the Pilonera Mayor prize. [71] This is the world's largest competitive accordion festival.

Czech Republic

At U Flekú, Prague

Accordion is often played at traditional Czech pubs, such as U Flekú, Prague.


A Norteno band, including an accordion Tijuana-performers.jpg
A Norteño band, including an accordion

Norteño heavily relies on the accordion; it is a genre related to polka. Ramón Ayala, known in Mexico as the "King of the Accordion", is a norteño musician. Cumbia, which features the accordion, is also popular with musicians such as Celso Piña, creating a more contemporary style. U.S.-born Mexican musician Julieta Venegas incorporates the sound of the instrument into rock, pop and folk. She was influenced by her fellow Chicanos Los Lobos who also use the music of the accordion. [72]

North Korea

According to Barbara Demick in Nothing to Envy , the accordion is known as "the people's instrument" and all North Korean teachers were expected to learn the accordion. [73]

United States

Accordions are played in Tejano music, Cajun and Creole music, zydeco, klezmer, and polka. [74]

During the post-World War II era from the 1940s to the 1960s, accordions were widely used in the United States for performances of traditional Western classical music within the configuration of large free-reed symphonic orchestras both in live performances on the concert hall stage and in phonograph recordings. [75] [76] [77] [78] [79]

Other audio samples

See also


  1. For the accordion's place among the families of musical instruments, see Henry Doktorski's Taxonomy of Musical Instruments (The Classical Free-Reed, Inc.) Also on this page is Diarmuid Pigott's The Free-Reed Family of Aerophones
  2. There is not a single document to back up this belief. Christian Friedrich Ludwig Buschmann was 16 years old at that time; handwritten evidence of C.F. Buschschmann and his father exists, but without any related notice within. The first mention of an aeoline was in a text dated 1829.
  3. This is the accordion owned by Fredrik Dillner of Sweden, which has the name F. Löhner Nürnberg engraved (stamped) on it. The instrument was given to Johannes Dillner in 1830 or earlier
  4. A summary and pictures of this patent can be found at (Version of 20 Okt 4 – 19 Jun 9 Using Way Back Machine to Display: The Classical Free-Reed, Inc.)
  5. German Text: "Mit den Dekel des Balges, läßt sich das ganze Instrument verdoppeln, so daß man dadurch die Accorde vermehrt, oder auch mit einzelne Töne spielen kann, in diesem Fall, muß ein zweyter Einsatz mit Federn, und auch eine 2te Claviatur dazu kommen, der Blasebalg bleibt in der Mitte, jede Hand dirigirt abwechselnd, entweder die Claves, oder den Balg. Durch eine obengenannte Verdoplung des Instruments oder durch Vermehrung der Accorde, würde niemand etwas verbessern, oder was neues liefern, weil nur die Bestandtheile dadurch vermehrt, das Instrument theurer und schwerer wird." Translation of this snip: With the Cover of the bellows the instrument can be duplicated, so the amount of Chords or single notes can be enlarged, or one can sound single notes, in this case, a second part with springs (free reeds) and also a second keyboard must be added, the bellows are in between these two parts, both hands push buttons and push and pull the bellows at the same time or alternatively. Through this doubling or increasing of chords within the instrument nothing new is invented or improved by someone else, because only the amount of similar parts is increased and the Instrument is heavier and more expensive.German full text Archived 18 July 2011 at the Wayback Machine
  6. Guido Deiro claimed he was the first accordionist to play a solo with the left hand: Sharpshooter's March (1908) Guido Deiro, Guido Deiro's Own Story of Sharpshooters March, The Pietro Musicordion, Volume 6, Number 2 (May–June 1948)
  7. Illustration made with reference from a similar illustration that can be found in both Det levende bælgspil (p. 9) by Jeanette & Lars Dyremose (2003), and Harmonikaens historie (p. 35a) by Bjarne Glenstrup (1972, The University of Copenhagen, Faculty of Music)

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Concertina</span> Free-reed musical instrument

A concertina is a free-reed musical instrument, like the various accordions and the harmonica. It consists of expanding and contracting bellows, with buttons usually on both ends, unlike accordion buttons, which are on the front.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Bandoneon</span> Musical instrument

The bandoneon is a type of concertina particularly popular in Argentina and Uruguay. It is a typical instrument in most tango ensembles. As with other members of the concertina family, it is held between the hands, and played by pulling and pushing air through bellows, routing it through sets of tuned metal reeds by pressing the instrument's buttons. Unlike most accordions, bandoneons always employ the same sets of reeds to produce their sound, and do not usually have the register switches common on accordions. Nevertheless, the bandoneon can be played very expressively, using various bellows pressures and other techniques.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Chemnitzer concertina</span> Musical instrument

A Chemnitzer concertina is a musical instrument of the hand-held bellows-driven free-reed category, sometimes called squeezeboxes. The Chemnitzer concertina is most closely related to the bandoneón, and more distantly, to the other types of concertinas and accordions. It's essentially a bigger version of the Anglo Concertina that sounds more akin to an Accordion due to having Multiple Ranks of Reeds.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Garmon</span> Musical instrument

The garmon, commonly called garmoshka, is a kind of Russian button accordion, a free-reed wind instrument. A garmon has two rows of buttons on the right side, which play the notes of a diatonic scale, and at least two rows of buttons on the left side, which play the primary chords in the key of the instrument as well as its relative harmonic minor key. Many instruments have additional right-hand buttons with useful accidental notes, additional left-hand chords for playing in related keys, and a row of free-bass buttons, to facilitate playing of bass melodies.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Button accordion</span> Musical instrument

A button accordion is a type of accordion on which the melody-side keyboard consists of a series of buttons. This differs from the piano accordion, which has piano-style keys. Erich von Hornbostel and Curt Sachs categorize it as a free reed aerophone in their classification of instruments, published in 1914. The sound from the instrument is produced by the vibration of air in reeds. Button accordions of various types are particularly common in European countries and countries where European people settled. The button accordion is often confused with the concertina; the button accordion's buttons are on the front of the instrument, where as the concertina's are on the sides and pushed in parallel with the bellows.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Piano accordion</span> Musical instrument

A piano accordion is an accordion equipped with a right-hand keyboard similar to a piano or organ. Its acoustic mechanism is more that of an organ than a piano, as they are both aerophones, but the term "piano accordion"—coined by Guido Deiro in 1910—has remained the popular name. It may be equipped with any of the available systems for the left-hand manual.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Chord organ</span> Electronic organ

Chord organ is a kind of home organ that has a single short keyboard and a set of chord buttons, enabling the musician to play a melody or lead with one hand and accompanying chords with the other, like the accordion with a set of chord buttons which was originated from a patent by Cyrill Demian in 1829, etc.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Flutina</span> Free-reed musical instrument

The Flutina is an early precursor to the diatonic button accordion, having one or two rows of treble buttons, which are configured to have the tonic of the scale, on the "draw" of the bellows. There is usually no bass keyboard: the left hand operates an air valve. A rocker switch, called a "bascule d'harmonie" is in the front of the keyboard. When this switch is thumb activated, it would open up a pallet (a pad that covers a tone hole, at the other end of the key button, for a simple Tonic/Dominant drone: Tonic on the draw and Dominant on the press, e.g. Tonic notes C/g, and Dominant G/d, without any major or minor thirds.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Chromatic button accordion</span> Musical instrument

A chromatic button accordion is a type of button accordion where the melody-side keyboard consists of rows of buttons arranged chromatically. The bass-side keyboard is usually the Stradella system or one of the various free-bass systems. Included among chromatic button accordions are the Russian bayan and Schrammel accordion. There can be 3 to 5 rows of vertical treble buttons. In a 5 row chromatic, two additional rows repeat the first 2 rows to facilitate options in fingering.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Diatonic button accordion</span> Musical instrument of the free-reed aerophone family

A melodeon or diatonic button accordion is a member of the free-reed aerophone family of musical instruments. It is a type of button accordion on which the melody-side keyboard contains one or more rows of buttons, with each row producing the notes of a single diatonic scale. The buttons on the bass-side keyboard are most commonly arranged in pairs, with one button of a pair sounding the fundamental of a chord and the other the corresponding major triad.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Schrammel accordion</span> Musical instrument

A Schrammel accordion is an accordion with a melody keyboard in the chromatic B-Griff system and a twelve-button diatonic bass keyboard. It is named for a traditional combination of two violins, accordion or clarinet, and contraguitar known as a Schrammelquartet – a group that played Schrammelmusik in the Vienna chamber music tradition.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Schwyzerörgeli</span> Musical instrument

The Schwyzerörgeli is a type of diatonic button accordion used in Swiss folk music. The name derives from the town/canton of Schwyz where it was developed. Örgeli is the diminutive form of the word Orgel (organ). Outside of Switzerland the instrument is not well known and is hard to find.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Cajun accordion</span> Diatonic button accordion used for playing Cajun music

A Cajun accordion, also known as a squeezebox, is single-row diatonic button accordion used for playing Cajun and Creole music.

Cyrill Demian (1772–1849) was an Austrian inventor of Armenian (Armenopolis) origin, who made his living as an organ and piano maker with his two sons, Karl and Guido, in Mariahilfer Straße No. 43 in Vienna, Austria. On May 6, 1829, Cyrill and his sons presented a new instrument to the authorities for patent - the accordion. The patent was officially granted on May 23, 1829.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Stradella bass system</span>

The Stradella Bass System is a buttonboard layout equipped on the bass side of many accordions, which uses columns of buttons arranged in a circle of fifths; this places the principal major chords of a key in three adjacent columns.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Free-bass system</span>

A free-bass system is a system of left-hand bass buttons on an accordion, arranged to give the performer greater ability to play melodies with the left-hand and form one's own chords. The left-hand buttonboard consists of single-note buttons with a range of three octaves or more, in contrast to the standard Stradella bass system, which offers a shorter range of single bass notes, plus preset major, minor, dominant seventh, and diminished chord buttons. The term "free-bass system" refers to various left-hand manual systems that provide this functionality: The Stradella system does not have buttons for different octaves of the bass notes, which limits the types of melodies and basslines that can be performed with the left hand.

The accordion is in a wide variety of musical genres, mainly in traditional and popular music. In some regions, such as in Europe and North America, it has become mainly restricted to traditional, folk and ethnic music. Nonetheless, the button accordion (melodeon) and the piano accordion are widely taught and played in Ireland, and have remained a steady fixture within Irish traditional music, both in Ireland and abroad, particularly in the United States and Great Britain. Numerous virtuoso Irish accordion players have recorded many albums over the past century or so; the earliest Irish music records were made in the 1920s, in New York City, by fiddler and Sligo immigrant Michael Coleman, widely considered to have paved the way for other traditional musicians to record themselves. Accordions are also played within other Celtic styles, as well as in English traditional music, American traditional music, polka, Galician folk music, and Eastern European folk music.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Steirische Harmonika</span> Musical instrument popular in alpine folk music

The Steirische Harmonika is a type of bisonoric diatonic button accordion important to the alpine folk music of Croatia, Slovenia, the Czech Republic, Austria, the German state of Bavaria, and the Italian South Tyrol. The Steirische Harmonika is distinguished from other diatonic button accordions by its typically richer bass notes, and by the presence of one key per scale row that has the same tone on both compression and expansion of the bellows, called a Gleichton. The bass notes earn the distinction Helikonbässe because they use bigger reeds with duralumin reed frames and a special chamber construction that amplifies its bass tones to give it a loud sound reminiscent of a Helicon tuba.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Khromka</span> Musical instrument

Khromka is a type of Russian garmon. It is the most widespread variant in Russia and in the former USSR. Nearly all Russian garmons made since the mid of the 20th century are khromkas.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Digital accordion</span> Musical instrument

A digital accordion is an electronic musical instrument that uses the control features of a traditional accordion to trigger a digital sound module that produces synthesized or digitally sampled accordion sounds or, in most instruments, a range of non-accordion sounds, such as orchestral instruments, pipe organ, piano, guitar, and so on. Digital accordions typically encode and transmit key presses and other input as Musical Instrument Digital Interface (MIDI) messages. Most digital accordions need to be plugged into a keyboard amplifier or PA system to hear their sounds.


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