Buttons on an Accordion – What Do They Do?

One of the musical instruments that you don’t see pop artist play is the accordion. However, it is still one of the world’s most unique and iconic instruments, mainly because of its many buttons and how it is played. In this article, I’ll discuss buttons on an accordion – what do they do?

The many buttons on an accordion are one of the main components that enable it to produce sounds. When you press a button in an accordion, it opens up a valve that allows air to pass through a reed so sound can be made when the bellows are pumped in or out. 

The buttons of an accordion are called bass. By constructing this instrument, a button is pushed perpendicular to the bellows. Almost all accordions have a bass that is capable of playing entire chords. Some accordions have buttons that can only play one note at a time.

Read on to learn more about the buttons on an accordion, what they can do, and how sound is produced when pressed.

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Buttons on an Accordion – What Do They Do?

buttons on an accordion

An accordion is a unique musical instrument dating back to 1882. Some historians say C. Friedrich L. Buschmann invented it in Berlin, Germany.

This instrument has free reeds on its bass and treble sides. It also has many buttons or keys that are pressed to produce sounds.

What do buttons on an accordion do? A valve opens at the press of a button, allowing air to pass through a reed or reeds. And then a sound is made when the bellows are pumped in or out. These are the bass buttons on an accordion.

The accordion is so constructed that when you push a button, they are pushed perpendicularly to the bellows. Some accordions are capable of producing the sounds of an entire chord. But some accordions can only have one note at a time.

A standard accordion has so many buttons. Why? The number of buttons of an accordion can indicate its size. There are accordions with only 24 buttons, and there are accordions with as many as 120 buttons. Many accordion players prefer accordions with 48 buttons.

It is not that difficult to learn the accordion. Like any other musical instrument, you have to invest some time learning it and a lot of practice to be able to play the accordion decently.

How Do Accordions Work

Before we discuss what the buttons of an accordion do, let us first discuss the basic working principle of an accordion.

Most accordions are bellow-driven musical instruments with buttons. Some have piano keys and are called piano accordions.

When you press a button, you compress and expand the bellows. These bellows are metal plates that open or block air passage in the free reeds.

The air can pass through the free reed when a plate is opened. This causes the reed to vibrate, which then produces the sound. An accordion can have up to six reed blocks of different octaves.

Most songs can be played on an accordion with 24 buttons. However, you can’t play songs in whatever key that you like. Many accordionists prefer the 48-button accordion because it contains all the major and minor chords that the 24-button accordion doesn’t have.

More About Accordion Buttons

To better appreciate this musical instrument and to understand the function of accordion buttons, you need to know some of its essential details.

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Let’s start with the layout of the buttons:

Button Accordion Layout

Stradella Bass System

Most accordions use the Stradella bass system, a button layout found on the left side (or bass side) of nearly all kinds of accordions. A typical accordion uses several columns of buttons arranged in a circle of fifths (C-G-D-A-E-B-F).

Most Accordions Have 120 Buttons Organized in Six Columns

Most accordions have a common layout of 120 buttons organized in 6 columns. Smaller accordions have fewer rows or columns but still have the same layout.

Arrangement of an Accordion’s Diagonal Column

Every diagonal column of an accordion has the following arrangement starting from the ones nearest to the bellows:

  • The major third above (or minor sixth below, depending on the particular note), the root notes (or counter-bass)
  • The root notes
  • The major chord of the root notes
  • The minor chord of the root notes
  • The dominant seventh chord of the root notes
  • The diminished seventh chord of the root notes

Buttons on the Bass Side

The piano keys are on the treble side, while the buttons are on the bass side in accordions with piano keys. Some accordions have only bass buttons. This means the treble and bass sides of such accordions have buttons only and no keys.

Air Button

Most accordions also have an air button. This is a special button that, when pressed, moves the bellows without producing any sound. So, since sound is produced by compressing and expanding the bellows, pushing the air button will enable you to control the volume of the sound you are playing.

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Why Do Accordions Have So Many Buttons

what do the buttons on an accordion do

You may be wondering why a typical accordion has so many buttons. Leslie Thompson, an accordion expert, explains it simply like this: the numbers of reeds are the same whether the accordion has 48 or 120 buttons.

The size of the keyboard is the element that determines how big an accordion should be. Additionally, the weight of an accordion largely depends on the size of its keyboard, which determines the size of its body.

The buttons do not weigh so much. There is not much difference between the weight of an accordion with 48 buttons and that of an accordion with 120 buttons. Remember, they both have the same number of reeds.

Again, what do the buttons on the left of an accordion do? The buttons on an accordion are divided into free bass and chord keys. The free bass keys make one unique pitch, while the chord keys produce three unique pitches, forming major, minor, seventh, and diminished chords.

Are Accordions Expensive?

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Generally, accordions are expensive. If you think about it, the components that make up the instrument do not cost that much. The wood, leather, plastic, and metal used to make accordions are not expensive.

However, the way they are made and assembled makes that beautiful-sounding, shiny, and beautiful musical instrument. Accordions are all hand-made.

There’s not much market for this musical instrument that will justify the mechanization of its manufacturing process, making its cost more affordable.

Each accordion has been manufactured the same way since it was invented in the late 1800s. Skilled manual labor is still responsible for making every part of this musical instrument.

Manual labor can only produce so much. And that costs more money than if you would make it through machines and robots which can turn out finished products in a matter of hours.

And considering its limited market, accordion manufacturers must make them the same old way. That’s the main reason why accordions are generally expensive.

Two Types of Accordions

Most ordinary people would assume that accordions are of just one type, no matter how big or small. Well, we could never be more wrong. There are two accordions:

  1. Button accordion, and
  2. Piano accordion.

Aside from these two, there’s also the chromatic button accordion. This accordion has its melody-side keyboard composed of several rows of buttons organized chromatically.

On the other hand, its bass side is arranged like one of the different free-bass systems or according to the Stradella system.

What Is the Difference Between Piano and Button Accordion?

One main distinguishing feature differentiates the piano from a button accordion.

  • Piano accordions have piano keys on their treble side and button keys on their bass side.
  • Button accordions have button keys on both their treble and bass sides.

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Advantages of a Piano Accordion over a Button Accordion

There are also some advantages of a piano accordion over a button accordion:

  1. The layout of its keys is more straightforward and logical than a button accordion.
  2. There are more piano accordions than button accordions. So, if you want to learn how to play the accordion, there’ll be more teachers of piano accordions that you can find compared to button accordions. More technicians know how to repair piano accordions than button accordions.
  3. All keys on a piano accordion are functional. In contrast, not all keys on button accordions are.
  4. Piano accordions are easier to learn because they are just like other keyboard instruments.

Frequently Asked Questions

what do the little buttons on an accordion do

Perhaps you still have some questions about accordions that you want to be answered since this is a topic for that not too much information is available. Maybe you will find your answers on the ones listed below:

What Do the Buttons of an Accordion Do?

Aside from buttons, a typical accordion has reeds and bellows. The buttons of an accordion are pressed so you can hear a sound or a note.

When you press a button, it opens up a valve so that air can pass through the reed. Then as you pump the bellows in or out, the sound or note will be produced.

What Do They Call the Buttons of an Accordion?

The buttons that you find in an accordion are called bass. They are pushed perpendicular to the bellows to produce a note or a sound.

What Are the Parts of an Accordion?

Accordions are composed of many parts. But there are just three main components of this musical instrument that produces notes or sounds. They are:

  • The button or piano keyboard at the right-hand side of the instrument
  • The buttons on the left-hand side
  • The bellows, which function as a bow

Is It Difficult to Learn the Accordion?

It is not that difficult to learn the accordion. Just like any other musical instrument, you must invest time and effort to learn the basics of the instrument.

And when you have already learned the basics, you must spend enough time practicing and honing your newly developed skills. That’s when you can play decent the accordion decently.

Is There Only One Type of Accordion?

No, there are two types of accordions. The first type is the accordion with buttons both on its left and right-hand side. These accordions are called button accordions. The other and more popular accordion is the piano accordion.

Piano accordions are called that way because they have piano keys on their left-hand side and button keys on their right-hand side. They are more popular because they are played like any other keyboard instruments making them easier to learn and master.

In Closing: What Is the Function of the Buttons on an Accordion?

One of the main components of an accordion is its buttons because it is the part that enables it to produce sounds. You have to press a button on an accordion to make a sound.

Once a button is pressed, it opens up a valve that allows air to pass through a reed. You also need to pump the bellow in or out so the reed can produce the sound you want.

Read next:

8 Best Lightweight Accordions for Beginners and Pros