Where does the accordion come from?
The Chinese Cheng, which was introduced to Europe in 1777, is widely regarded as the instrument that sparked the idea of developing an accordion.
It seems that the accordion did not have a full (chromatic) note range containing every note until around the 1850s. Wheatstone in England had invented his concertina in 1829 and developed it over the next few decades, but he did not add a piano keyboard to it. This was done by Busson, and he called the result: "Organ accordion". In 1859 this had a three-octave keyboard with upper voices. Both the Wheatstone Concertina of 1844 and the accordion had a unified tone, meaning they were not diatonic or only in It appears that the development and popularity of the Wheatstone Concertina slowed the acceptance of other types of piano accordions in England, at least until the 20th century.
The development of the modern accordion continued, refinements were constantly being added, and a number of variants were patented at the end of the 19th century. The Chromatina, developed in Bavaria by G. Mirwald, had four octaves and sound registers. The autophone, patented in New York in 1880, worked automatically with cardboard strips, more or less like a pianola. The bandoneon, a large square type of concertina, was developed by Heinrich Band in the 1840s. It is still very popular in Argentina and is currently becoming more and more popular in Europe.
The Flutina Polka, patented by Busson in 1851, had two registers of reeds. In 1854, Leterne von Paris patented a similar instrument with only a second set of reeds, tuned slightly differently than the first, which became the first musette-tuned accordion.
As mentioned earlier, today's piano accordion has its roots in what we would now call a type of concertina, with buttons and a piano keyboard. The Stradella Bass System was invented and had two vertical rows of single notes and four vertical rows. Each button activates a fixed chord. This became the most widely used bass system, commonly known as the "Stradella Bass" or "Standard Bass". It is almost universally regarded as one of the best learning systems of all instruments. The Stradella Bass, when combined with a piano keyboard, requires the player to acquire knowledge of the chromatic sequence of the pitch as on the piano keyboard as well as of the relationship between the chords and types of chords, as arranged in fifths on the Stradella Bass. Having single notes and fixed chords available at the same time makes it unique among all musical instruments.
Some other solutions to these limitations were offered in accordion design, also known as free bass or converter bass. These bass systems convert the preformed chords of the Stradella system into individual notes on specific couplers or switches. This allows a number of octaves of individual notes to be played at the same time. The Stradella system can be switched on again by operating a switch.
The best solution to circumvent the one-octave limitation was to use a converter accordion, which the Stradella system maintains in some of its couplers and converts to single notes in others. This enables the musician to use the Stradella system when it is beneficial, and at the same time allows the use of an expanded range of individual notes when necessary. There were several converter systems that were widely used. One of them is also known as the "Stradella Free Bass" and has the advantage that the player does not have to learn new fingering in order to play the instrument. This system copies the note arrangement from the Stradella system in two consecutive vertical rows, replacing the four chord rows with individual notes. Each of these rows is an octave higher than the two rows before it.
An alternative free bass system to the one just described has an arrangement of individual notes when converted, also described as chromatic. This system often has a few more notes in the bass. The chromatic system requires learning a new fingering in addition to that used for the Stradella bass. A number of other arrangements for chromatic free bass systems are currently in production. There are very few accordions that have enough bass buttons (180) to use both systems at the same time without switching. And the ones that were produced weren't very popular either, because they were too big, too heavy and too expensive.
In addition to several bass alternatives, two upper part keyboards are available; the piano and button keyboard. A number of different button layouts and music are available to suit all types of accordions, whether bass or upper part construction. Some music may suit a particular type of accordion better, and so do the vocal and fingering variants.
Some other accordion developments of the 20th century were the addition of a fifth set of reeds to the upper voice keyboard with one set of a major fifth tuned differently from the other reeds (similar to a five and a quarter footstop on an organ). Aside from the common manual switches, some have been added that can be operated with the player's chin, and switches have been developed that can hold a bass note until they are turned off.
The very latest development has been the addition of MIDI to conventional accordions. With a minimum of modification and weight gain, accordions can be equipped with MIDI contacts that attach to the treble and bass keys, which then allow them to be played through MIDI compatible sound equipment. This includes synthesizers, organs, electronic sound modules and electronic pianos. Equipped in this way, an accordion can be just as versatile as a synthesizer. Pressure valves have been developed that allow electronic sounds to be altered and controlled by the bellows pressure, similar to the control of the reeds where the volume is determined by the pressure of the bellows. The MIDI accordion retains its punched reeds and so the accordion sound is preserved as it can be reproduced either with or without accompanying electronic tones.
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