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Origins of the Accordion:

A Brief History



The accordion has a long history and in order to understand it, one must look at the main components that make up the accordion. These parts include the reeds, bellows, keyboard and bass section. Tracing back these parts will help uncover the interesting evolution of the accordion.

The musical instrument that started it all was an ancient Chinese wind instrument known as the Cheng or Sheng. The Cheng plays by blowing air into the wooden mouthpiece that attaches to a gourd and into which are fitted various amounts of bamboo shoots of different lengths. It was invented as an imitation of the Phoenix bird. The approximate date that this instrument was created is unknown, but it is believed to be more then 2,000 years old. The Cheng represents the free reed part of the accordion. A reed is an elastic-like tongue of steel set within a metal frame that pulsates "freely" by vibrating through a stream of air. By changing the mass and size of the tongue you can acquire different quality of tones and pitches.

  

Bellows were put on the accordion to substitute blowing air by the mouth. This allowed stronger air pressure and conserved the musician's energy. Greeks and Egyptians first used bellows around 1500 B.C to heat up furnaces in forges and portable bellow-like organs have been found in many dated pictures.



The first keyboard instrument was a pipe organ called the Hydraulus; this existed in ancient Greek and Roman times. The Hydraulus used water pressure to regulate airflow. Although it had a very simple keyboard, the Hydraulus helped pave the way for many other organ type instruments and it is believed to be one of the ancestors that helped build the foundation of the accordion.

 

The accordion was initially based on the principle of the harmonica or known to some as a mouth organ. When played, one tone sounds after blowing and another tone after drawing air. This is referred to as the diatonic system. Diatonic accordions usually come in certain combinations of keys and are mostly used for folk music.

 

There has been some controversy over who actually invented the accordion. Although Cyrillus Damian of Vienna is often attributed for its creation, it is now believed that Friedrich Buschmann of Berlin was the first person to build the basic model of the accordion in 1822. However, it was Damian who actually patented the name "accordion" in 1829. Early prototypes had no bass on the left hand; it wasn't until later that it was added on.

 

In 1829, Sir Charles Wheatstone of England invented what he called the "Symphonion with Bellows." His instrument had a single tone for every button and played all the notes in a scale. However, in 1833 he renamed it "concertina." The reeds were originally made of brass, but are now made of steel.

 

As you can see the accordion was developed through the creation of many other instruments and today it comes in many different types and sizes. Parts of the accordion such as the registers, reeds, basses or keys can vary depending on what the player's wants and needs are. An accordion can even be amplified through a pick-up or electronically altered through a midi to create hundreds of sounds. When played with a group or on its' own as a one-man-band, the accordion has entertained people for more then a century with its vibrant and elegant sound.

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