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What Is a Piano Accordion?

A. Elms
A. Elms

A piano accordion is a wind instrument that consists of a right-hand keyboard attached to the side of a traditional button accordion. Contrary to its name, when the instrument is played, it produces acoustics similar to that of an organ rather than a piano. Unlike a traditional piano keyboard, which is played horizontally using both hands, the piano accordion’s keys are played with only one hand, which is kept in a vertical position. The instrument’s keys are smaller and more rounded than traditional piano keys. Although the instrument usually is presented in a right-handed fashion, it can be modified or constructed for left-handed use.

The piano accordion is made up of two main components known as the bellows and the piano. The bellows is the “squeezebox” portion of the wind instrument and contain reeds, made of brass or steel, which resonate and produce sound when air is pushed over them. Larger bellows contain more reeds and give the piano accordion a greater musical range. The piano covers the seven notes of the C scale — A, B, C, D, E, F and G — that are found on a traditional piano as well as the sharp and flat notes of the C scale range. The larger the instrument, the more octaves, that can be played; most full, adult-sized piano accordions have three octaves.

Man playing a guitar
Man playing a guitar

To produce music from the instrument, an accordionist must continuously push or pull on the bellows with one hand while playing assigned piano keys with the other hand. Playing the keys causes valves within the bellows of the accordion to open, thus allowing air to flow across specific reeds that then vibrate and produce sound. The instrument can be used for a variety of musical genres, including folk music, classical music and even contemporary pop and rock music.

The first piano accordion was introduced in Paris in 1852 and was showcased by an early piano accordion builder, Mattaus Bauer, in Germany. Taken to the United States by European immigrants, the piano accordion was a well-known instrument by the beginning of the 20th century. With the growth of Vaudeville, performers such as Guido Deiro played the instrument on stage and on radio shows. By the 1970s, the piano accordion had taken rank over the traditional accordion and was used by musicians in many places, including the United States, Scandinavia, Scotland, Italy, France and Australia.

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      Man playing a guitar