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Introduction to the Club System Accordion

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Hohner Club IIB
Hohner Club IIB (antique)
30 keys, 2 treble reeds
Photo courtesy Wendy Morrison
Weltmeister Club "wood" color
Weltmeister Club 332
33 keys, 2 treble reeds
Photo courtesy Weltmeister
Weltmeister Club 332 specs
Specs of Weltmeister Club 332
Illustration courtesy Weltmeister
Hohner Preciosa
Hohner Preciosa (antique)
25 keys, 2 treble reeds
Photo courtesy Alexander Rata
Hohner Astoria
Astoria 2-row (antique)
21 keys with unisonoric C on inner row
Photo courtesy Andreas Sumerauer
Finotte Club
30 key
Photo courtesy Helmut Wurzer
Hohner Club II B
Hohner Club IIB
Photo Courtesy Hohner USA
Morino Club 5
Hohner Morino Club 5
Photo Courtesy Hohner USA

Notes on illustrations:
  • Instruments are not shown all according to the same scale.
  • For some models designated "antique" herein there exist contemporary equivalents bearing the same model name or number.
  • Most pictures are actually larger than displayed here.
    • Use your browser to view the image by itself for greater detail.
The purpose of this book is to introduce experienced musicians to the Club System accordion. This book is not a graded tutorial, nor does it teach a particular style of music. Instead, it is an exposition of what the musician must know to get started playing his or her own repertoire on the Club System accordion.

It is expected that the reader already will:
  • understand fundamental music theory
  • know the major and minor scales
  • understand the numbering of scale steps
  • understand basic chord theory
Hopefully, the reader has experience playing bellows-driven free reed instruments such as the accordion, concertina or harmonium. For more information on free reed instruments, please visit Jax RCFB Free Reed Musical Instrument Page. Also, here is a link to Online Forum Discussion of the Club System Accordion.

This book makes generalizations and simplifying assumptions to facilitate the discussion. For links to allow you to research matters further on your own, please visit Jax RCFB Free Reed Musical Instrument Page.

A Terminological Note

There is a painful ambiguity in the technical vocabulary of button accordion. The buttons are properly referred to as "keys". However, the term "key" is also used to mean "musical key", as in "the key of G". The differentiation will hopefully be clear from context.

Place of Club System among Diatonic Accordions

The Club System is one of the later developments in the family of diatonic button accordions. It is a direct descendent of the fourth-tuned two-row button accordion, in particular the variant with a unisonoric C in the middle of the inner row (such as the Astoria depicted on this page), and a sibling of the three-row International System accordion.

The continuum of multiple-row diatonic button accordions, excepting the Club System, is covered in a previous web book by the same author, A Musician's Guide to the Tex-Mex Accordion / Acordeon Tejano / Acordeon Conjunto Norteño . The discussion here will start from the discussion in the previous work and proceed to a discussion of the Club System.

Comparison of Club System and International System

The 3-row International System diatonic button accordion (the Tex-Mex or Norteño accordion) is a generalization of the various multiple row diatonic button accordions prevalent in Europe. These ethnic, regional and national variants are all based on multiple rows, each row similar to a modern diatonic harmonica (mouth organ, "blues harp"), which is why Hohner refers in German to diatonic button accordion as die Handharmonika (as opposed to die Mundharmonika , the mouth organ). The International System truncates the multiplicity of rows at three and adds a pair of accidentals to the press and draw of a single button at the end of each of the three rows. This setup plays
  • easily in the three different major scales represented by the home row and its two companion rows (and their relative minors)
  • reasonably easily in two more major/minor scales
  • with increasing difficulty in other keys by ascending and descending fourths away from the home key .
In particular, the International System allows
  • the home key to be played either entirely press or entirely draw
  • the two companion keys to be played entirely draw and nearly entirely press except for one draw note.
The Club System takes a different sort of advantage of the multiple row physical architecture. Rather than expend the three rows in three essentially identical rows pitched a fourth scale step apart, the Club System takes the approach of a modified two-row instrument plus a third row consisting of helper accidentals .

As the 1957 Hohner advertisement in the frontspiece for this guide states:
The complete CHROMATIC SCALE is made possible by a third row of treble buttons which provide all the sharps and flats for the first and second row. Players of Vienna Style "push and pulls" (2 row accordion) who feel they could improve their playing with the help of sharp and flat keys will not find it difficult at all to master the Club model scale as the first 2 rows of both accordion types are almost identical.
The approach taken to right hand of the Club System is thus somewhat similar to the approach taken by the 30-button Anglo-Irish Concertina. The next chapter discusses the particulars of the layout of the Club System and delves more deeply into the compromise represented by the Club System.

Advantages of the Club System

The net tradeoff between right-hand fingering systems of the International System and the Tex-Mex system appears to be the following:
  • Riffing harrmonically is easier on the International System than on the Club System.
  • Complex chromatic music is easier on the Club System than on the International System.
The Club System presents some particularly advantageous aspects:
  1. The modification of the two-row system results in a slightly superior instrument when played merely as a traditional two-row instrument.
  2. The Club System is entirely chromatic on the draw within the range of the helper accidentals and where the companion row has the home note on the draw.
    • The range of helper accidentals depends upon the instrument, with various models offering from two to ten bisonoric helper keys.
    • The companion row has the home note on the draw twice (more on this in the chapter on the Club System layout ).
  3. The instrument has all the notes of a comparable International System box with less repetition and more density resulting in a wider and more complete range.

A Philosophical Aside

The Club System is an evolutionary step of the diatonic accordion towards what we might call "quasichromaticity" similar to the evolutionary step taken by the Chemnitzer or Bandoneon over earlier Central European concertinas. There are (at least) two paths to a chromatic instrument.
  1. One is the start with an explicity chromatic system, such as
  2. The other is to start from a diatonic instrument and keep adding buttons.
    • It's easy to play the basics of Diatonic instruments.
    • It is mnemonically as easy to grasp a diatonic system with accidentals as the helpers as to grasp a fully chromatic system.
The Anglo-Irish Concertina seems to be headed in a similar direction. Increasingly larger models are available with more complex helper rows. This is similar to how the Chemnitzer Concertina and Bandoneon emerged, starting from a core system of nine keys and expanding to include more and more helper notes.
Hohner Club Traviata
Hohner Victoria Bb/Eb (antique)
27 keys, 2 treble reeds
Photo courtesy Wendy Morrison
Weltmeister Club "green marble" color
Weltmeister Club 333
33 keys, 3 treble reeds
Photo courtesy Weltmeister
Weltmeister Club 333 specs
Specs of Weltmeister Club 333
Illustration courtesy Weltmeister
Monica 30-key 3-reed
30 keys, 3 treble reeds
Photo courtesy Helmut Wurzer
Hohner Club III
Hohner Club III (antique)
30 keys, 3 treble reeds
Photo courtesy Helmut Wurzer
Hohner Club I
Hohner Club I (antique)
21 keys, 2 treble reeds
Photo courtesy Helmut Wurzer
Norma III (Club IIIM)
Hohner Norma III (Club IIIM)
Photo Courtesy Hohner USA
Club Norma IV
Hohner Norma IV
Photo Courtesy Hohner USA

The Left Hand

The left hand of the Club System instrument consists of varying numbers of bass notes and bass chords assigned in bisonoric fashion which will be discussed in the chapter on the layout of the Club System . While the right hand (treble) side of the Club System is suitable for all styles of traditional and popular music up to Jazz and New Age, the left hand of the Club System, while in some models much superior to the left hand of the International System, is not entirely satisfactory nor terribly useful outside of folk and traditional music.

The left hand of diatonic accordion systems has not entirely kept up evolutionarily the right hand. There are two reasons for this:
  1. The earlier bisonoric bass system for diatonic accordion is not as easy to expand usefully as the treble side grows more complex.
  2. The very physical style of button accordion play encourages performers to treat the left hand solely as a bellows grip.
Players (and even manufacturers) of the International System instruments often remove (or omit) the bass reeds to make the left hand "bellows grip" lighter. While the author has not seen bass-less Club System instruments, the prevalence of eight-button basses with 33-button trebles (the "classic" 33-button Club System instrument has twelve bass buttons) makes it clear that in the marketplace interest is waning in the bass side of the Club System.

The Rest of this Book

The rest of this book will explain the basics of obtaining, playing and caring for your Club System instrument.

Notes on conventions used in this book

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Copyright © 2003 Jacques Delaguerre