Deer Park Elementary School Assembly

Accordions
and their Kin: 

An Introduction to Free-Reed Instruments

2 May 2006
12:00 & 2:00 pm

Accordions belong to a family of instruments known as the "Free Reeds", which also includes harmonicas and concertinas.  The first free reed instrument was the Sheng or Lusheng from China. 

"So, what exactly is a free reed?", you ask. 
There are three basic sound reed designs: 

Trapped Reed 
Double Reed 
Free Reed 

In Trapped Reed instruments, a thin tongue (reed) of cane or metal is clamped against a mouthpiece frame and produces sound as wind blown through a small opening causes the reed to vibrate and beat against the mouthpiece.  Clarinets and Saxophones are examples of Trapped Reed Instruments. 

Double Reed instruments are made of identical strips of cane that are clamped together in such a way as to force them to beat against each other when air is forced through the small opening that separates them.  Oboes, Bassoons, and Bagpipes are examples of Double Reed Instruments.

Free Reed Instruments employ single reeds, made of a thin metal (or other suitable material) strips clamped over an openings slightly larger than the size of the reeds, so that the reeds vibrate freely within the opening when air is forced over it. 

Accordions are BELLOWS BLOWN instruments that get their name from the simple fact that at least one button or key on the instrument will produce a CHORD (two or three different notes played at the same time).  Most accordions are shaped like two rectangular boxes joined by a set of bellows, and suspended from the shoulders by leather straps for playing.  They may have buttons and piano keys or just buttons. 

Concertinas  (also BELLOWS BLOWN instruments) tend to have two square- or hexagon-shaped halves joined by a set of bellows, and a nearly equal number of sound buttons on the left and right halves.  Concertinas DO NOT HAVE CHORD BUTTONS, and are played by holding them in the two out-stretched hands, either in front of the body, or resting on the lap of the seated player.


3-row Folk (button) Accordion
"Gabbanelli"

1-row Folk Accordion
"Cajun"

Large German Concertina
German Chemnitzer

2-row Irish Style (folk)
"Irish Dancemaster"

Chromatic Piano Accordion 
"Paolo Soprani"

Chromatic Button Accordion 
"Maestri"
Harmonicas ("mouth harps" and "French harps") are hand-held instruments that are MOUTH BLOWN.  Practically all harmonicas produce a different musical tone when blowing into a sound hole from the tone made by drawing air in the opposite direction.  This is referred to as BISONORIC. 

Most concertinas are BISONORIC, and about half of the various kinds of accordions are BISONORIC as well. 

If a free-reed instrument produces the same pitch when a note is played either blowing or drawing, it is referred to as UNISONORIC. 

Sometimes the term CHROMATIC is used interchangeably with UNISONORIC; and, DIATONIC is used instead of BISONORIC. 
 

Accordions and concertinas have not been around for that long less than 200 years.  The first accordion was invented and patented in 1829, and the first concertina was patented in about 1836. 

Accordions reached their maximum popularity in the United States in 1956, but rapidly fell into disfavor when Elvis Presley and other Rock 'n' Roll artists rose to fame. 

Many accordionists are asked or expected to play polkas and flashy show numbers, such as Beer Barrel Polka and Lady of Spain, but accordions are capable of a much wider repertoire. 

Many European countries, notably Germany, have orchestras of as many as 120 accordions.  These groups play both classical compositions and pop music. 

Folk, or "button", accordions are popular all over the world; and, as the name suggests, are used in the performance of folk music, such as Cajun, Tex-Mex, and other styles. 

Personal note from Terry Knight:
I first began studying and playing the accordion just before I turned 5 years old.  My father was a chief in the U.S. Navy, stationed in Bremerhaven, Germany at the time, and he arranged for a teacher to come to our home once each week for lessons.  That was over 50 years ago, and I have played accordions ever since.