Why is the accordion so often the busker's instrument of choice?
August 29, 2011 1:36 PM   Subscribe

I currently live in a European capital (Athens) and I've noticed that the accordion seems to be the favored instrument of its street musicians (not exclusively Roma). Ditto for practically all other European cities I've lived in or visited. Why is it this the case?

AFAIK the accordion is not an easy instrument to learn, so I don't think that's the reason.

Could it be related to the instrument's Eastern European history (many of the buskers originate from there)? Or (cynically) the fact that it gives a melancholy sound that could make busking with it a more profitable enterprise? Or perhaps simply because it's a one-man-band instrument that needs no accompaniment?

Anyway, interested in your views on this, or any studies done in this field.
posted by scrm to Media & Arts (6 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I always figured it was the one-man band aspect of it, that you have the melody and background very easily.

The way the left hand of the accordions work is that each button is a specific chord, rather than a specific note, so it's much easier to give yourself a full-sounding accompaniment than it would be on the piano, because you don't have to spend all the time memorizing crazy chord fingerings.
posted by Jon_Evil at 1:44 PM on August 29, 2011 [2 favorites]

Or perhaps simply because it's a one-man-band instrument that needs no accompaniment?

This is it I think - anecdotally, everyone I have ever met that played the accordion named this as its chief virtue.
posted by Dr Dracator at 1:47 PM on August 29, 2011

Best answer: Accordions and acoustic guitars. Difficult to master but easy for beginners to learn two or three chords and get started making sound right away. Extremely portable and don't require outside amplification - they produce a lot of volume relative to their size. They're chord-based, so they produce a broad spectrum of sounds, which, as others have mentioned, makes them ideal for the one-man-band scenario, as a solo accompanying instrument. They can produce a wide range of notes, making them less tiresome to play (and listen to) for hours on end than, say, a trumpet or a set of bagpipes. And, of course, the cases look good with coins and loose bills in 'em. ;)
posted by myrrh at 1:54 PM on August 29, 2011 [5 favorites]

In my experience, the busking accordion players in Athens were Serbian refugees or other slavic immigrants that use that instrument in their local music a lot more commonly.
posted by deanc at 1:59 PM on August 29, 2011

Myyrh has it, in my view. I am an occasional busker and even more occasional accordionist, but I have to say, if you have any skill at all, the accordion will pay dividends fairly quickly (an hour to learn, a lifetime to master, etc). Ten minutes after I picked one up for the first time, I could produce a recognizable rendition of "We Can Work It Out." A week after I started playing violin, I could still only produce sounds like someone tuning a bobcat.

As well, the timbre of the accordion cuts through the street noise better than almost anything else. And as others have said, the ratio of full sound to portability is excellent.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 2:13 PM on August 29, 2011 [2 favorites]

I would imagine the proximity to Eastern Europe is a factor as well.

Years ago I camped with Jason Webley, a Seattle accordionist, at Burning Man. He's got something of a following around North America (seems to have gotten bigger since he teamed up with Amanda Palmer), but I remember him saying it blew him away the first time he toured over there, especially Russia and Czech Republic, where he was treated like a rock star and given headlining slots at festivals.
posted by mannequito at 2:43 PM on August 29, 2011

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