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Button Accordion versus Piano Accordion
- Piano accordion technique is based upon the right side of the instrument
resting still and stable, whereas button accordion technique allows
motion of the right side. The piano accordion exerts the greater requirement
for stability because the fingers must line up with the keys, whereas
the button accordion player's hand may skew with regard to the keyboard
without prejudice in view of the rounded and arched buttons.
- You can play two-row with the left side resting on the left knee
and the bellows arcing to the moving right side.
- The greater flexibility of the button accordion in this respect allows
greater scope for bellows accents than does the piano accordion.
- This is part of why button accordion sounds "bouncier" even though
internally the instruments are quite similar nowadays.
- The button action is more direct than the piano key lever.
- This offers the possibility of a sharper, puffier attack to each
note in comparison with the piano accordion.
- Piano accordion is the more general instrument, one intended to play
all styles within the mainstream of Euro-American music.
- The button accordion evolved as a particularist, especially ethnic
particularist instrument and is not concerned with being able to play all
- However, three-row International System is very flexible and can
play most popular styles, from pop to rembetiko and klezmer.
- Descant Voicing
- The piano accordion plays up to five voices on the right side.
- The button accordion generally plays two voices, occasionally four,
on the right side. The tradeoff is
- broader harmonic possibilities for the piano accordion;
- greater freedom of accent for the button accordion;
- Piano accordions tend to be tuned more conservatively than button
- Bass Voicing
- Part of the embodiment of the piano accordion's drive to generality
is the Stradella bass and concern for the left hand.
- The simplistic left hand of the typical International System box
is now almost universally ignored, if the reeds are not actually removed!
- But not completely! Some players use the bass and chord buttons
to produce a quaint, nostalgic sound evocative of the 19th century.
Rules to Play By
- A little goes a long way. The Tex-Mex accordion sounds best
when played lightly. In the Norteño style, the instrument has more
or less taken the place of the mariachi violin, and to some extent the
brass. It is a used mostly for a single-voice obligato with a fluttering,
shifting second harmonic voice, like a violin part with occasional double-stops.
In any event, the rich warble of the tuning of these instruments (e.g.,
440/444, 4 Hz offset between paired reeds) favors arpeggiated chords
and renders thick chording rather mushy. Despite this consideration, many
sytlists sprinkle their arrangments lightly with thick chords, especially
at the close of a piece.
- Accompanying singing is mostly a matter of laying back a bit
(dimenuendo along with simplification of the part being played) as the
singer enunciates and swelling (crescendo) and filling out the part as
the singer finishes a line. Accordion easily drowns out vocals. Tasteless
or careless play can quickly make the player extremely unpopular with
the vocalist (and other instrumentalists). Be sensitive in your application
of accordion which in conjunto playing is as more a color instrument
then a virtuoso instrument.
- The key to good arranging is keeping in mind how simply a tune
might be played if simplicity were the only consideration. The basis
of the system is, after all, the single-row melodeon repeated thrice in three
separate keys. While the instrument allows long draw or press passages,
you should always try a new melody on a single row (or as few rows as possible),
bellows reverses and all. This gives the player broad insight into the
many choices for phrasing even the long press and draw passages.
- Smooth fingering is about 45% of playing. Bellows technique (including
your physical posture) is everything else.
- Listen to the Latino radio stations!
- Mexican music may or may not be to your taste. In any case, play
songs you like, borrowing techniques and ideas from the greats of Mexican
- Listen to players of other button accordion systems. There are
many, many variants of button accordion, on the average about two
variants per Central and Eastern European ethnic group! All these instruments
are based on similar principles, yet there is an amazing variety of
styles and creativity.
- Listen to concertina music, especially the Anglo-Irish (Anglo-German)
variant ("Irish concertina") and the bandoneon/chemnitzer variant.
- Listen to other color instruments (saxophone, vibraphone, mandolin,
banjo, steel guitar).
- Listen to the other musicians in your band and complement their
playing with your playing.
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