Is this an accordion? How do I play it?
November 19, 2004 9:50 AM   Subscribe

I can't figure out my accordion.
posted by ba to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (19 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Position it in such a way that it doesn't make a noise. Walk away.

That's all anyone need know.
posted by fvw at 9:53 AM on November 19, 2004

I have an accordion. It's name is Bob (spelled out in all cap bold art-deco-ish letters on the front of the instrument). I can't figure out how how the buttons for the left hand are arranged. Some of them sound a bass note, and some sound chords. The chords aren't arranged chromatically or in a cycle of fourths, so far as I can tell. I did some preliminary Googling, but thus far all I have learned is that I don't even know if it is an accordion, concertina (english, duet, something else?) or other instrument I've never heard of.

About me: I play sax, read music and have a pretty solid grasp on music theory. I like long walks on the beach and dislike mean people (unless they're funny).

About Bob: 41 (piano-looking) keys, a 6 x 20 array of buttons, 2 big white buttons that change the nature of the tone. It's in great condition, nothing sticks and everything with a spring pops back solidly; Sounds great. A metal badge affixed to the instrument proclaims the maker to be the Italian Accordion Mfg. Co., Chicago. There is not year, but the phone number of the company above is given as Hudson-X-XXXX. I don't remember phone numbers here using alphabetic exchanges since the very early 70s. Hand-scratched into the finish in three places is "Made in Italy."

So really what I think I need is confirmation that this is indeed an accordion, and a fingering chart.
posted by ba at 9:53 AM on November 19, 2004

fvw: That's actually what I've been doing with it for the last three years.
posted by ba at 9:54 AM on November 19, 2004

Well, I can't help with the bass buttons but it sure sounds like you have a piano accordion (as opposed to a button or diatonic accordion). You most certainly do not have a concertina.
posted by transient at 10:05 AM on November 19, 2004

Hey, how about this?
posted by transient at 10:09 AM on November 19, 2004

Would something like this help? Not in English, but the illustrations seem to provide a key. (sorry)
posted by cairnish at 10:11 AM on November 19, 2004

(A warning: It's been years since I took accordion lessons and my terminology is suspect. The principles are as described.)

Round abouts the middle of the buttons should be one button with a dimple in it. This is your C bass note. Depending on how your accordion is built, there may be a counterbass row behind the bass row. The bass buttons play a single note at a time, much like a bass guitar.

The other buttons play the chords associated with the bass note. The order is, if I recall correctly, major, minor, M7, and Dom7. You'll just have to play them and find out, however.

If there is a counterbass button behind the bass button, it will be a fourth below the root bass note. In the case of C, this will be a G. This allows the player to play an alternating I/V bass line, which you've heard a million times.

Toward the front of the accordion are the aforementioned chord buttons. In order to get that classic polka sound, one can hit the bass button on the one of the measure (in 3:4) and the chord on the two and three. This will give you a perfect omm-paw-paw groove.

As for the vertical arrangement, the interval between chords/ bass notes are a perfect fifth apart. Unfortunately, I cannot recall which way is up an which is down. But this means that in one direction, moving on row from the C row (with the dimple) will give you identical chords built off a G root and with D in the counterbass (if such a row exists). In the opposite direction, you'll find the same chords built off an F root with C as the counterbass.

If you don't know chord theory, there was an earlier AskMe post that does a far better job than I could ever do explaining it.
posted by stet at 10:13 AM on November 19, 2004

Or you could just read cairnish and transient's links.
posted by stet at 10:16 AM on November 19, 2004

stet: you've explained perfectly.

cairnish: I read German well enough to figure it out, and the illustrations are excellent.

transient: thank you. perfect.

I'm off to drive my cats crazy (man, they hate when I take a day off).
posted by ba at 10:22 AM on November 19, 2004

transient's diagram is the thing you need. Also, note that the C button is dimpled. This is where you place the ring finger of your left hand. This is the anchor for all subsequent fingering of your bass lines. Each finger plays the note positioned on the button above and below it, diagonally, with the forefinger and pinkie going further afield. If you watch, you'll see that most accordion "virtuosos" go wild on the piano side of the accordion, and just oom-pah on the bass keys. But if you are really ambitious, you might want to work on creating more contrapuntal interplay between the right and left hand. You can also wring a deep, sonorous growl from those bass keys, that will accelerate you into a bridge or solo like hitting overdrive.
In short, those bass and chord keys are the great, unexploited frontier of modern accordion music, and the popular artist, arranger or composer who is able to take advantage of their immense potential, will lift the piano accordion to its rightful place among the leading concert and recording instruments of our time. Work that left hand! Work it!
posted by shambles at 10:25 AM on November 19, 2004

ba: My cats hate it too.
posted by shambles at 10:26 AM on November 19, 2004

This sounds like a job for Accordion Guy, known around here as AccordionGuy.
posted by tommasz at 10:30 AM on November 19, 2004

shamble: Thanks. That's a big help. I was hoping (after getting the basic mechanics down) to try to do a sort of bebop thing with the left hand, where I'm doing chord substitutions every beat. I'm just not sure how to work the bass notes into that scenario.
posted by ba at 10:32 AM on November 19, 2004

Can I hijack this thread? (Sorry!) If I were looking for a real basic piano-key accordion, as a musician just looking to noodle around a bit (and to use in demo recordings; same reason I bought a lap steel guitar), what would I look for? What could I expect to pay? Musician's Friend (my go-to web store for "general ideas") sells a 32-key, 32-bass accordion for $300; is this a reasonable price? Or is this likely to be garbage I'll wish I hadn't bought?
posted by uncleozzy at 10:46 AM on November 19, 2004

(I'd also like to express surprise and mirth at MeFi's accordion community)
posted by uncleozzy at 10:47 AM on November 19, 2004

For those of you in the market, or researching an accordion purchase, I'd like to recommend the good folks at Petosa Accordions here in sunny Seattle, WA. They're a 3rd generation family of accordion builders, lots of contacts straight from Italy, and a sterling reputation as makers of some of the world's finest (and best sounding) accordions.

Their production models may be a little pricey for the beginner, but they handle used and student models as well. Check them out, and don't be afraid to make a phone call; they're just as friendly as you'd expect an accordion-making family business to be.
posted by Aquaman at 11:33 AM on November 19, 2004

If I were looking for a real basic piano-key accordion, as a musician just looking to noodle around a bit

A long time ago I got a mint La Tosca at a garage sale for 75$, and I just went to look it up on the net to see how much they run and someone is paying 1000$ for a beat up one. So ... I would have to say that the prices are all over the map. As usual, ebay is a good place to start.
posted by milovoo at 11:48 AM on November 19, 2004

Pawnshops and secondhand shops seem better to me than anything from Musician's Friend. I'd check what Elderly Instruments first. Unlike Musician's Nemesis, Elderly is a real music store staffed with knowledgeable employees who sell quality stuff, even when it's cheap. I believe they sell a few student model accordions.

And I second Petosa Accordions. They also have great staff/inventory of recording gear. It's where I do my shopping.
posted by stet at 12:17 PM on November 19, 2004

Excellent. Thanks, guys.
posted by uncleozzy at 1:25 PM on November 19, 2004

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