Last updated
Wheatstone English Concertina.jpg
Wheatstone English concertina, produced c. 1920
Other instrument
Hornbostel–Sachs classification 412.132
(Free-reed aerophone)
Inventor(s)Sir Charles Wheatstone, Carl Friedrich Uhlig
Developed1829, 1834
Related instruments
Accordion, harmonica, melodeon

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


The concertina was developed independently in both England and Germany. [1] The English version was invented in 1829 by Sir Charles Wheatstone, [2] while Carl Friedrich Uhlig introduced the German version five years later, in 1834. Various forms of concertini are used for classical music, for the traditional musics of Ireland, England, and South Africa, and for tango and polka music.


The word concertina refers to a family of hand-held bellows-driven free reed instruments constructed according to various systems, which differ in terms of keyboard layout, and whether individual buttons (keys) produce the same (unisonoric) or different (bisonoric) notes with changes in the direction of air pressure.

Because the concertina was developed nearly contemporaneously in England and Germany, systems can be broadly divided into English, Anglo-German, and German types. To a player proficient in one of these systems, a concertina of a different system may be quite unfamiliar.

English Concertina disassembled, showing bellows, reedpan and buttons. Wheatstone English Concertina Dismantled.jpg
English Concertina disassembled, showing bellows, reedpan and buttons.
Hayden Duet Concertina Duet concertina deyuetsutokonsateina.jpg
Hayden Duet Concertina
Chemnitzer concertina made by Star Mfg., Cicero, Illinois, USA in 2000 Chemnitzer Concertina Star Old Timer.jpg
Chemnitzer concertina made by Star Mfg., Cicero, Illinois, USA in 2000
Bastari 40-button Anglo concertina Anglo-concertina-40button.jpg
Bastari 40-button Anglo concertina

English and Duet concertina

The English concertina and the Duet concertina bear similarities in history and construction. Both systems generally play a chromatic scale and are unisonoric, with each key producing the same note whether the bellows are being pushed or pulled. Both of these English instruments are smaller than German concertinas, and are usually hexagonal in shape, though occasionally featuring 8, 10, or 12 sides. The English system alternates the notes of the scale between two hands, enabling rapid melodies. The duet system features the lower notes on the left, and higher notes on the right, facilitating the playing of interlaced harmonies and melodies.

The English concertina is credited to Sir Charles Wheatstone, who first patented such a design in 1829 in Great Britain. Wheatstone was also the first to patent a duet concertina, in 1844. [3]

German concertinas

German concertinas, developed in Germany for its local market and diaspora, are usually larger than English concertinas, and are generally bisonoric, using a different style of "long plate" reeds, and are often square, as opposed to hexagonal. [4] German concertinas also sometimes have more than one reed per note, which produces a vibrato effect if their tuning differs slightly .

Chemnitzer concertina

Various German concertina systems share common construction features and core keyboard layout. In the United States, particularly in the Midwest where there are many German and Central European descendants, the term concertina often refers to the Chemnitzer concertina, which is bisonoric and closely related to the bandoneon, but features a different keyboard layout and decorative style, including a few mechanical innovations pioneered by German-American instrument builder and inventor Otto Schlicht. [5] :204 A related variant is the Carlsfelder concertina from C. F. Zimmerman, created in 1849 [5] :1 and shown at the 1851 London Industrial Exposition. [6]


The bandoneon (also rendered bandoneón, bandonion) is a German concertina system with an original bisonoric layout devised by Heinrich Band. Although intended as a substitute for the organ in small churches and chapels, it was soon secularized and is now associated with tango music, due to the instrument's popularity in Argentina since the late 19th century when tango developed from various dance styles in Argentina and Uruguay. [7] Though the typical bandoneon is bisonoric, the 1920s saw the development of unisonoric variants such as the Ernst Kusserow and Charles Peguri systems, both introduced around 1925. [8] :18 [9] Bandoneons typically have more than one reed per button, dry-tuned with the reeds an octave apart. "Dry" means that vibrato is absent because the tuning is accurate. [8] :18 The instrument is considered an essential part of the Argentine tango orchestra.

Anglo concertina

The Anglo or Anglo-German concertina is, historically, a hybrid between the English and German concertinas. The button layouts are generally the same as the original 20-button German concertinas designed by Uhlig in 1834, and in a bisonoric system. Within a few years of its invention, the German concertina was a popular import in England, Ireland, and North America, due to its ease of use and relatively low price. English manufacturers responded to this popularity by offering their own versions using traditional English methods: concertina reeds instead of long-plate reeds, independent pivots for each button, and hexagon-shaped ends, resulting in the modern Anglo concertina.


The "Franglo" system concertina was developed by the luthiers C & R Dipper, in cooperation with Emmanuel Pariselle, known for his expertise as a professional player of the two-and-a-half row diatonic melodeon. The system has the construction and reed-work of a concertina, with the buttons at the sides, but layout of the buttons is that of a melodeon. The name Franglo blends the words French and Anglo.


German concertina, mid 19th century 2rowearlygermanconcertina.png
German concertina, mid 19th century
Irish historian Gearoid O hAllmhurain Gearoid Kells concertina-cut.jpg
Irish historian Gearóid Ó hAllmhuráin

19th century

In the mid-1830s concertinas were manufactured and sold in Germany and England, in two types specific to the country. Both systems continued to evolve into the current forms as the popularity of the instrument increased. The difference in prices and the common uses of the English and German systems led to something of a class distinction between the two. German or Anglo-German concertinas were regarded as a lower-class instrument while the English concertina had an air of bourgeois respectability. English concertinas were most popular as parlor instruments for classical music, while German concertinas were more associated with the popular dance music at that time.

In the 1850s, the Anglo-German concertina's ability to play both melody and accompaniment led English manufacturers to start developing the various duet systems. The popular Maccann system was developed towards the end of the century; meanwhile, German manufacturers were producing concertinas with more than 20 keys for local sale. Three keyboard systems for German concertinas eventually became popular: Uhlig's Chemnitzer system, Carl Zimmerman's Carlsfeld system, and the Bandoneon's Reinische system. Various German manufacturers tried to develop a single unified keyboard system for all German concertinas, but this was only partially accomplished by the end of the 19th century, when the Chemnitzer and Carlsfelder systems merged into the unified concertina system, and a unified bandoneon system was created. Despite the new standards, the older systems remained popular into the 20th century.

The concertina was popular throughout the 19th century. The Salvation Army in England, America, Australia, and New Zealand commonly used concertinas in their bands, and other concertina bands and musicians performed in all parts of the English-speaking world. German emigrants brought their Chemnitzers and bandoneons with them to the United States and Argentina where they became regionally popular.

Early 20th century

In the early 20th century, this popularity rapidly declined as demand for the accordion increased along with mass production of other instruments such as the piano which are more suited to chromatic forms of music like blues and jazz. By the middle of the century, few concertina makers remained, and most of those used accordion reeds and inexpensive, unreliable keyboard mechanisms. Yet, the various forms of concertina survived in some areas: Anglo concertinas in Irish traditional music, the English and the Anglo in English Morris dancing, the Anglo in Africa, among Afrikaners (see Boer music) and Zulus (who call it a "squashbox"), [10] the Chemnitzer in the United States as a polka instrument, and the bandoneon in Argentina as a prominent part of the tango tradition. Between World War I and World War II, there were many concertina and bandoneon bands in Germany, but with the rise of the Nazi regime these musical clubs disappeared.[ citation needed ]

Folk revival and present

The folk revival movements of the 1960s led to a modest resurgence in the popularity of the concertina, particularly the Anglo. More recently, concertina popularity again seems on the rise, particularly the Anglo in the traditional music of Ireland. Renewed interest in tango since the 1980s has also seen interest in the bandoneon increase.

Traditional music playing continues in many parts of the UK in the 21st century, often using English and Anglo-system concertinas. Concertinas are mass-produced in Italy and China, and are produced by individual workshops in Europe, South Africa, Australia, and North America. Modern-made instruments are in a spectrum of quality and traditionalism, with the most expensive instruments using traditional concertina-type reeds, while mid-level and inexpensive instruments take advantage of the lower price of mass-produced accordion reeds.

See also


  1. Dan Michael Worrall (1 January 2009). The Anglo-German Concertina: A Social History. 1. Dan Michael Worrall. pp. 4–. ISBN   978-0-9825996-0-0.
  2. Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Concertina"  . Encyclopædia Britannica . 6 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 824.
  3. Giacomo Meyerbeer (1 January 2002). The Diaries of Giacomo Meyerbeer: The years of celebrity, 1850-1856. Fairleigh Dickinson Univ Press. pp. 138–. ISBN   978-0-8386-3844-6.
  4. Helena Simonett (2012). The Accordion in the Americas: Klezmer, Polka, Tango, Zydeco, and More!. University of Illinois Press. pp. 247, 316. ISBN   978-0-252-03720-7.
  5. 1 2 Dan Michael Worrall (1 January 2009). The Anglo-German Concertina: A Social History. 2. Dan Michael Worrall. ISBN   978-0-9825996-1-7.
  6. Tango: Geschichte und Geschichten. Deutscher Taschenbuch. 1999. p. 74. ISBN   978-3-423-24182-3.
  7. Carlos G. Groppa (30 December 2003). The Tango in the United States: A History. McFarland. pp. 69–. ISBN   978-0-7864-2686-7.
  8. 1 2 Alejandro Marcelo Drago (2008). Instrumental Tango Idioms in the Symphonic Works and Orchestral Arrangements of Astor Piazzolla. Performance and Notational Problems: A Conductor's Perspective. ProQuest. ISBN   978-0-549-78323-7.
  9. Rubén Pérez Bugallo (1 January 1993). Catálogo ilustrado de instrumentos musicales argentinos. Ediciones Del Sol. pp. 77–. ISBN   978-950-9413-49-8.
  10. "The Black Concertina Tradition of South Africa". International Concertina Association. Papers of the International Concertina Association. 2009-12-05. Retrieved 2016-11-27.

Related Research Articles

Accordion Bellows-driven free-reed aerophone musical instrument

Accordions are a family of box-shaped musical instruments of the bellows-driven free-reed aerophone type, colloquially referred to as a squeezebox. A person who plays the accordion is called an accordionist. The concertina and bandoneón are related. 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 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, the bandoneon is held between both hands, and by pulling and pushing actions force air through bellows and then routing air through particular reeds as by pressing the instrument's buttons. Bandoneons have a different sound from accordions, because bandoneons do not usually have the register switches that are common on accordions. Nevertheless, the tone of the bandoneon can be changed a great deal using varied bellows pressure and overblowing, thus creating potential for expressive playing and diverse timbres.

English concertina Type of concertina

The English concertina is a member of the concertina family of free-reed musical instruments. Invented in England in 1829, it was the first instrument of what would become the concertina family.

Chemnitzer concertina

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, more distantly to the other concertinas, and accordions.


The term squeezebox is a colloquial expression referring to any musical instrument of the general class of hand-held bellows-driven free reed aerophones such as the accordion and the concertina. The term is so applied because such instruments are generally in the shape of a rectangular prism or box, and the bellows is operated by squeezing in and drawing out.


The garmon, 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.

Button accordion

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, however 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.

Piano accordion

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 wind instruments, 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.

Flutina 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.

Chromatic button accordion

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.

Diatonic button accordion

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.

Schrammel accordion 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.

Free-bass system

A free-bass system is a system of left-hand bass buttons on an accordion, arranged to give the performer greater access to playing melodies on the left-hand manual of the instrument and to forming one's own chords, by providing a buttonboard of single-note buttons with a range of three octaves or more, in contrast to the standard Stradella bass system which only allows bass notes and preset major, minor, dominant seventh, and diminished chords. 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.

John Kimmel (accordionist)

John J. Kimmel was a German-American musician known for playing Irish, Scottish, and American music on the 1-row diatonic accordion. Though not Irish-American, but rather German-American, Kimmel's playing had an enduring effect on the playing of the Irish accordion.

Anglo concertina

The Anglo or Anglo-German concertina is a member of the concertina family of free-reed instruments.

Duet concertina

The Duet concertina is a family of concertinas, distinguished by being unisonoric and by having their lower notes on the left and higher on the right.

Lachenal & Co.

Lachenal & Co. was a British firm producing concertinas from approximately 1850–1936. The firm was founded by Louis L. Lachenal, a Swiss emigrant to the United Kingdom, who arrived there in 1839, and by 1844 was working in support of the famous Wheatstone concertina firm before founding a supporting contract firm and by 1858, an independent firm.

Carl Friedrich Uhlig

Carl Friedrich Uhlig (1789–1874) was a German luthier, known for inventing the German family of concertinas, from which are descended variants such as the bandoneón, Carlsfelder concertina, and Chemnitzer concertina.

The Carlsfelder concertina is a member of the German concertina family developed by Carl F. Zimmerman, based on the earlier Chemnitzer concertina of Carl Friedrich Uhlig. Zimmerman, a native of Carsfeld, Saxony, unveiled his instrument at the 1849 Industrial Exhibition in Paris, the 1851 London Industrial Exposition, and the 1853 Exhibition of the Industry of All Nations in New York. Zimmerman expanded on Uhlig's early 1- and 2-row square concertinas, developing a 3-row chromatic bisonoric instrument, eventually selling his business to instrument maker Ernst Louis Arnold and emigrating to the United States, where he later became famous for his string instrument invention, the autoharp.

John Hill Maccann, or Professor Maccann was a concertina player and designer from Plymouth, England. In 1884, Maccann patented a new design of Duet concertina, which became the first successful and most widely accepted layout of that instrument. Maccann's layout was a refinement of the earlier "Duette" system developed by Charles Wheatstone, inventor of the concertina. Initially called the "New Chromatic Duet English Concertina", it was to later be called simply the "Maccann system".