This guide was written to help experienced
musicians, especially those with a good music education,
quickly teach themselves to play the three-row diatonic
bellows-driven free reed button instrument called the
Acordeon Conjunto Norteño
, also known as
, Tex-Mex Accordion
being variants of the International
style of accordion . It's a fun instrument
to play, described subjectively by its adherents as being
easier to learn and feeling "more natural" to the hand than
piano accordion. It's also a interesting instrument from
the point of view of music theory and the evolution of the
family of diatonic bellows-driven free-reed
This guide is not a graduated method book, nor is it a
guide to the Tex-Mex or Norteño musical styles. It
is a explanation of the minima which the experienced
musician, one hopefully with some bellows-driven free reed
instrument experience, needs to know to arrange, practice
and perform his or her own repertoire on the Acordeon
This guide assumes that you already know (applied to any
instrument, e.g., piano or guitar):
This guide may not be complete and it may contain
errors. It was written in a burst of enthusiasm which the
author felt for the instrument, and no guarantees are made!
Please report errors and corrections to
Jacques Delaguerre .
- General music theory, including such terms as
- half step
- whole step
- Major and minor scales
- Relative (I, II, III, etc.) numbering of scale
We employ the following conventions in
presenting information in this guide:
- Items which appear at first mention in italics and
which are also links are glossary entries.
- Note names are shown in fixed-width font, e.g.,
F# , when they are actual notes which may be
played. When note names are the names of a key or a row
of an instrument, e.g., the key of C, they are shown in
the normal variable-width font used by this
- Individual notes are arbitrarily and even
occasionally inconsistently referenced enharmonically as
sharps or flats.
- E.g., when we say D#, of course we are
referring the same note as Eb and we may say
- The expulsion of wind by the Accordion is called
press and the
drawing in of wind is called draw .
- Where press and draw notes for a button are shown
together, the press note is first and separated from the
draw note by a slash, e.g., C/D.
- An underlined letter name for a note means the
note is found in the octave below middle C, e.g.,
A (A 220)
- An unadorned letter name for a note means the
note is found in the octave which begins with middle
C, e.g, A (A 440)
- A letter name for a note followed by one or more
apostrophes means the note is found as many octaves
above middle C as there are apostrophes, e.g.,
A'(A 880) A'' (A 1760)
- Where note names are relative (e.g., I, II, III)
octave markings are relative to scale represented by
the I note (the tonic note of the scale).
- Our examples are mostly given in terms of the G/C/F
version of the instrument.
- All examples in terms of the G/C/F version of the
instrument will be found identical to the layout of
any other tuning if transposition is made.
- E.g., to apply a G/C/F example to an A/D/G
instrument, raise every note in the illustration
one whole step.
The Continuum of
There are all kinds of button-actuated
bellows-driven free reed instruments in the world. Those
curious about the wider context of accordion and concertina
should visit the Jax RCFB
Free Reed Musical Instruments Page
. The present
guide makes simplifying assumptions and broad
generalizations in order to facilitate the
The Acordeon Conjunto Norteño is a member of the
family of the one-row to five-row diatonic
accordions. This family originated for the most part in
Central and Western Europe. The instruments of this family
share a general scheme in their fingering system.
The basis of these Central and Western European button
accordions is the same diatonic arrangement of notes found
on the harmonica or "blues harp". This arrangement has at
its core ten playing positions which each play two
different notes, one when wind is expelled at the playing
position, one when wind is drawn in at the playing
As embodied by single-row melodeons such as
the Cajun accordion, the notes of this 10-position
instrument are the notes of the major scale whose root is
the third press note of the ten. In the table which
follows, the 10-position diatonic system is shown relative
to the key of C.
10-position Diatonic System (with notes for the Key of
There are seven notes in the scale; three (C-E-G or
I-III-V) are found on press, four (D-F-A-B or II-IV-VI-VII)
are found on draw. The system is rooted on a middle tonic,
e.g., Middle C for the Key of C. Since there is one more
draw note than press notes, the draw sequence precesses
with respect to the press sequence. The 1st position draw
note is anomalous in the above diagram, though it reflects
accurately many one-row Cajun-style melodeons; if the 1st
position draw note were consistent, it would be A
is, however, rather
useful on a single-row instrument.
Along the same lines, if there were an extra button before
the 1st position, the pairing would be C/F
system to stay consistent.
The Two-Row Button
A two-row button accordion has two rows
instead of one, each consisting of the above system, but in
two different keys. The most common system of a two-row
button accordion is to root the inner row (closer to the
bellows) a fourth scale step up from the outer row. Thus,
one commonly finds C/F, G/C, Bb/Eb and D/G two-row button
accordions. The two-row button accordion will usually have
eleven buttons on the outer home row
buttons on the inner row. A pair of helper
are found in the first position instead
of the diatonic scale pair, e.g., for a C/F box, the C row
will have in the first position F#/G#
and the F
row will have in first position G#'/F#'
first notes from the system in the C row will be
G / B
. Also, the eleventh position
has one extra step conforming to the system, e.g., on a C/F
instrument the C row will have an G''/D''
Playing a one-row melodeon requires alternate press and
draw movements of the bellows in rapid succession in order
to play the melody. A two-row button accordion, however,
allows the player to hop from row to row and lessen the
number of bellows reversals required to play the melody.
For instance, on a C/F two-row button accordion,
- the major scale (and relative natural minor scale)
for either key C or F can be played entirely on the draw,
- the sequence E F G A B C' can be played all
in press notes.
The Three-Row Button
A particular scheme of three-row extension of
the system mentioned above
is sometimes called the Hohner
System, or the International
Note: The Hohner System is not to be confused with
the Hohner Club System, which latter is a somewhat
modified two-row system with a third row of two to ten
accidentals . The very interesting Club System, a
clever bisonoric, diatonic layout which approaches the
fully chromatic, is covered in The Musician's Guide to the Club
On a G/C/F International System accordion:
- Three rows rooted scale fourth intervals apart, e.g.,
G/C/F, are provided along the lines of the harmonica-like
- G is the lowest-pitched tonic.
- F is the highest-pitched tonic.
- The three rows appear from farthest from the bellows
towards the bellows in the order G - C - F.
- The home row of such an instrument is the center
row of the three.
- e.g., in the case of a G/C/F instrument, the C
- Thus the rows are relatively arranged V - I -
- Helper accidentals are provided on the first
(leftmost) button of each row.
- The home row is eleven (11) buttons as in the case of
the home row of a two-row instrument.
- The home row may have twelve (12) buttons on some
- The other two rows may have eleven (11) buttons on
some instruments; more common is ten (10).
- The lowest note is found on the V row on the second
- It is the tonic of the first full octave of the V
- In the case of the G/C/F instrument, this note is
G below middle C, the same as the
violin's low G .
- The highest note is found on the IV row when pressing
the last (10th, or 11th if present) button.
- On a G/C/F instrument with ten-button secondary
rows, this note is A above second high
- On a G/C/F instrument with eleven-button
secondary rows, this note is third high C .
- The same third high C is found
pressing the last button on the twelve-button
This three-row system allows all the steps of the
scale of the home row to be obtained either press or draw
without reversing the bellows. The steps of the two
secondary rows can all be obtained in either direction with
only one exception on each of the secondary rows, e.g., on
the G/C/F instrument the Bb
for the F row and the
for the G row can be obtained only on the draw.
This last statement is to meant exclusive of helper
accidentals; generally, either press Bb
usually appears as one of the helper
accidentals but unfortunately generally not both, this
being one of the most noticeable limitations of the
standard modern instrument. (The most
limitation is the absence of a high G#
The tradeoff of the three-row button accordion versus other
members of the family is that in return for weight and size
the instrument provides more notes and less need to reverse
bellows direction. Of course, the size and weight of the
instrument itself makes reversal of bellows direction more
difficult than it is on the smaller and lighter members of
Note: There do exist other three-row, four-row and
five-row systems. For example, one four-row system
popular in Central Europe consists of the straight
diatonic system analogous to the harmonica without helper
accidentals. The diatonic scale is repeated four times in
keys in a cycle of fourths, e.g., G/C/F/Bb. There is also
the chromatic button accordion based on three long
columns of three-button rows of half-steps, with four
rows making up an octave. Again, these systems are beyond
the scope of this guide; visit JaxRCFB
Free Reed Musical Instrument Page for links to more
information on these systems.
Acordeon Conjunto Norteño /
Acordeon Tejano / Tex-Mex Three-Row are all names for the
same instrument, a three-row International System button
- whose design and construction is typically optimized
- two of whose two or more reeds per note are typically
tuned offset by 4 Hz for a brilliant, warbling tone.
- That is, on a two-reed instrument, the pair of
reeds sounding in for A above middle
C will be tuned to some delta on either side
of the official 440 Hz frequency, for instance,
438/442 which produces a 4 Hz beat, with other reeds
tuned the same distance apart.
- Some instruments may increase the offset in
the higher octave, e.g., to 6 or 8 Hz.
- Other offsets are used in various popular
- This subject, " wet tuning", is worthy of a
volume of its own and has not been treated here
A player will often apply one further characteristic
optimization, that of removing the left-hand reed blocks
which play bass notes and chords, since they are rarely
used for modern music and they weigh down (and slow down)
the motion of the left side.
Perusal of the remainder of this guide should give the
experienced musician enough understanding to commence to
apply his or her skills and repertoire to the instrument.
We cover the following topics: