Welcome to "the accordion smorgasbord". Here you will find some useful information related to the accordion. You can, for instance, download a chord combination chart for free!
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Nydana's alternative accordion bass:The Accordion Bass Project
Nydana's accordion glove:The Accordion Glove Experience
An alternative to traditional notation - perfect for the chromatic button accordion:Chromatic Nydana Notation
There are many types of accordions. The most common ones are Piano Accordions and Chromatic Button Accordions. The chromatic button accordions come mainly in two different versions: B-system and C-system. There is also the less well-known Kravtsov Accordion; and the nowadays seldom used Uniform (or Reuther) Accordion.
The most common bass is the standard Stradella bass with its preset chords. Traditional French, Belgian, and Russian accordions, may differ in their respective Stradella arrangements. There is also something called free-bass, in which there are no preset chords.
Abbreviations that will be used here:
|CBA-B||Chromatic B-system Button Accordion|
|CBA-C||Chromatic C-system Button Accordion|
|FB-C||C-system Chromatic Free Bass|
|FB-S||Finnish C-system Chromatic Free Bass|
|FB-N||Norwegian B-system Chromatic Free Bass|
|FB-R||Russian B-system Chromatic Free Bass|
|FB-Q||Quint Free Bass|
This document shows the Stradella layout and how to combine chord buttons to produce various kinds of chords. An interesting article by Stephen Keen, found on Hans Palm's accordion website, was the source of inspiration for this chord combination chart. Left hand chord combining can be useful when you want to leave your right hand free to perform fast melodic lines while providing all kinds of chords with your left hand. The chords you get with these combinations are correct from a music theory point, but the voicing of each chord - that is, in which octave each note is put - is predetermined on your accordion once a specific register switch has been selected.
It should be remembered that in many cases it might be better to play simple chords with your left hand and add notes in your right hand to accomplish the desired harmony - this way you have more control over the voicing of the chords. For example, a Cmaj7 chord is formed if you combine a simple left hand C chord with the major seventh (B) in your right hand. If you want to play C13, you can play C7 with your left hand and Dm with your right hand. You can play C7+ by playing C7 in your left hand, while filling in the +5 (G#) in your right hand. This is made possible because the fifth is missing in the left hand C7 chord button. In the same way you can fill in a -5 (Gb) in your right hand and get a C7-. The chords C7+ and C7- can generally work as a substitute for C+ and C- respectively. For a good Csus4 substitute, try C11, C7sus2, or C9sus4.
The chords produced by the chord buttons are often comprised of notes taken out of a two-octave range. This makes it somewhat irrelevant to speak of particular chord inversions - or voice leading between chords. If a C major chord button is sounding the following notes: GCEGCE, then you actually have all three inversions hidden in there: CEG, GCE and EGC.
You cannot engage the notes in a preset chord individually. However, if your accordion bass features a high register where the fundamental and counterbass buttons sound only the very same reeds that the chord buttons use, then various chords can be formed using only those bass buttons. A melody can then be played over these chords, in your right hand. If you happen to have a CBA (and big enough hands), you may even be able to manage both melody and bass notes with your right hand. It is thus possible to play a Csus4 by depressing bass buttons F and G, while playing a lower C (and possibly a melody line) in the right hand.
In the case where the bass buttons are only sounding the same reeds as the chord buttons, then some additional chord combinations (not mentioned in the chart) are actually possible. For instance, if you combine the C major chord button with the bass buttons for D and A, you get the notes corresponding to C6.
The top diagram in the chart shows the complete Stradella layout. Then there is also a diagram which shows only the bass buttons and their intervallic relationships. For instance, to play the equivalent of a major scale on the bass buttons, use the following sequence: 1 2 3 4 5 6 M7 1 (intervals 1, 4 and 5 are perfect intervals; 2, 3 and 6 are major intervals).
Regarding the PDF chord combination chart below: print the two pages on each face of a single sheet of paper (if your printer allows it), or print on two separate sheets and put them back to back in a transparent plastic cover for easy reference whenever you play the accordion.
Here is a magnified Stradella layout:
This document tries to compare, in an objective way, the pros and cons of respective system. It also lets you give points to either system in order to find out which one is best for your needs.
In case you have made up your mind to begin playing the chromatic button accordion (CBA), then it might be difficult to choose between C-system and B-system (can also be referred to as C-griff and B-griff, or C-grip and B-grip). C-system is used in, for example, France, Italy and Sweden, and is also sometimes referred to as the "international system". In Finland they also play the C-system, but the rows have been shifted so that the note E is found on the first row. The B-system is used in, for example, Russia and Norway.
C-system is strongly associated with French musette, while B-system is preferred for Balkan music.
When comparing these two systems, it may also be of interest to consider the free-bass systems associated with each type.
The C-system feels somewhat more like a piano accordion when you play it. The diagonals, along which the fingers naturally align, feature major seconds. This makes diatonic music quite comfortable to play. You can usually place all available fingers on the buttons that are to be played, and thus get a very good "legato flow" - much like the piano accordion - provided that you know how to employ the duplicate rows efficiently.
A very common musical ornament is the so-called turn. It could, for example, look like this: C -> D -> C -> B -> C. This particular pattern is very comfortable on the C-system.
The basic shapes for minor and major chords are comfortable, especially when adding the root (lowest note) on top of the chord, like C_Eb_G_C, provided that the duplicate rows are sometimes employed.
The C-system is generally well suited for melodic/diatonic music and harmony. The diatonic C major scale, for example, has mostly whole steps, and only two half steps between E and F, and B and C, respectively. A scale like this will have a nice flow along the buttons when using all five rows.
The duplicate rows are comfortably placed, and thus very convenient for easy finger switches in legato playing, without having to cross your index finger over the thumb, for instance.
The thumb moves very naturally in chromatic steps along the diagonals. The thumb is perhaps also more likely to be employed than on the B-system.
The button diagonals that are in line with your fingers are chromatically arranged, and this could be useful for those who like to play Balkan music; or, for technically challenging music that contains a lot of chromatic passages.
The B-system makes it somewhat easier to stick to three rows (cf. playing D_F#_A_D on the first three rows of a CBA-C). B-system is also convenient in case you don't want to use your thumb at all.
Reaching the next higher note a half step away, especially with the little finger, is perhaps slightly more convenient than on the C-system (where you rapidly get further and further away).
The B-system allows the sliding up a semitone (a technique used frequently in rock and blues) in much the same way you do it on the piano (and moreover, you are not limited to slide from only the buttons that correspond to the piano's black keys).
There are, however, other techniques to achieve the same thing on a CBA-C that can be just as effective. A typical Hammond organ or piano blues lick sometimes requires the simultaneous sliding of two notes, both a semitone up. For example, to go from C_Eb_F# to C_E_G on the CBA-C, try putting the thumb, ring finger, and little finger on C_Eb_F#, respectively. Keep the thumb at the same position but slide all other fingers in a downward motion so that the index finger and middle finger land on E and G, respectively. This technique can be performed in any key. By the way, the chord change in question can also be done on the Stradella bass.
Generally speaking, the CBA-B can do simple slides two semitones down or one semitone up. Conversely, the CBA-C can easily slide two semitones up or one semitone down. Sliding down a semitone can be used quite extensively, too.
The duplicate rows will sometimes require that you cross your index finger over your thumb, much the same way you do on the piano, in order to play some notes legato. In this particular case, the hand is moved further up than on the C-system since the duplicate buttons are positioned slightly higher up along the button row.
Another consequence of how the duplicate buttons are positioned, is that striking the same note repeatedly, by alternating between a button and its duplicate, seems easier and more comfortable on the B-system; although one has to remember that this technique cannot be used on the third row of a five-row CBA, simply because the third row has no duplicate row. In general, though, more commonly used techniques, which involve alternating fingers, would typically be used.
Why free-bass? Free-bass gives the accordion a different sound - a sound that is suitable for all kinds of music, but works particularly well with classical, jazz, and pop. Free-bass allows you to play sheet music written for piano. You can play melodies in your left hand that extend over several octaves. Chords can be played in different inversions.
Free bass is sometimes also called melody bass because you can play a melody in the bass without experiencing the octave breaks you sometimes get with a Stradella bass (although one should remember that there are usually multiple octaves sounding when you play a Stradella bass, which has the effect of making those octave breaks less apparent).
Most accordions that feature free-bass are so-called convertor accordions, which means that you can alternate, with the help of register switches, between the usual Stradella layout and a free-bass layout.
Is it difficult to play free-bass? It need not be more difficult to play than the Stradella; but to get a fuller sound, both your left and right hand need to be very active. Being able to read sheet music is desirable, but you can also learn to improvise bass parts from chord symbols if you don't like to read bass clef.
Long jumps in your left hand can often be avoided (unless you want to mimic a Stradella by playing a stride accompaniment). Furthermore, chromatic passages, on a chromatic free-bass, are also very easy.
There are several different free-bass systems in use (only the most common are mentioned here). You have chromatic layouts that are similar to the right-hand side of a chromatic button accordion. These layouts have more or less become the norm, and are relatively easy to learn and to play. Let's call these FB-C, FB-S, FB-N and FB-R, respectively (where FB stands for Free Bass). Then we also have the Quint Free Bass, which we could call FB-Q. It is laid out in fifths rather than having chromatically arranged notes.
Here are some of the features that the chromatic free-bass systems all have in common:
FB-C is the most commonly used chromatic free-bass. You find it on CBA-C and PA (except in Russia where a PA will normally have FB-B). It is a mirror version of the right hand side of a CBA-C. The FB-S is basically an FB-C that is shifted one step closer to the bellows. Low notes are closer to your chin. FB-C has the following features:
FB-N is sometimes used with CBA-B (primarily in Norway), and is a mirror version of the right-hand layout. It has the following features:
FB-R (R for Reversed, or Russian) is the chromatic free-bass that has the lowest sounding notes closest to the ground. The available range may influence how high up on the instrument your hand is usually held. The lowest notes may be slightly more difficult to control because their buttons are at the bottom, and they will be operated by the less stronger fingers. It is harder to reach intervals such as 10ths. FB-R has the following features:
FB-Q (Quint) has the Stradella bass- and counterbass rows duplicated twice, with increasingly higher octaves toward the bass strap. It has a maximum range of almost three octaves without switching registers. It has the following features:
When playing a chromatic free bass, the hand can feel a bit cramped if not positioned correctly. If this happens, place your fingers on the buttons that you are about to play, slide the palm of your hand as far down as you can. It should feel as though you have to stretch somewhat to reach the buttons further up on the button board. Always pay close attention to where the palm is placed so that the hand can be relaxed. To be able to always place the palm in a perfect position, it is recommended to wear a low-friction glove.
A convertor accordion has both a Stradella and a free bass arrangement. Some of the register switches on a convertor accordion will engage the various free-bass modes. The document below shows a typical convertor bass layout with a C-system chromatic free-bass (which is more or less the default system on both CBA-C and piano accordions). Please note, however, that the way the Stradella bass rows and the chromatically arranged rows are positioned relative to each other, can vary between different accordions. Although the convertor bass is extremely versatile, one has to keep in mind that an ordinary accordion, that only features a Stradella bass, can be optimized for the Stradella sound.
The order in which register switches line up on either side of the accordion should perhaps follow a common standard. Here is a proposal which would be in line with what you see on many accordions already:
Place the darkest sounding switch in the top position (nearest the chin), on both sides of the accordion. Let the other switches follow in succession, from dark to bright, towards the floor. The assumption made here is that the relative darkness or brightness is perceived as the average of the individual reeds.
For the bass side on a converter accordion, any switches solely dedicated to free bass should appear closest to the chin, then followed by the rest of the switches.
Note that it is not always feasible to have all conceivable switches available on an accordion as it would require too many register switches. Furthermore, the suggestions below do not take into account the use of duplicate register switches.
L = Low, M = Medium, H = High
LMH ⇒ L, LM, LH, LMH, M, MH, H
LMM ⇒ L, LM1, LM1M2, LM2, M1, M1M2, M2
LMMH ⇒ L, LM1, LM1M2, LM2, LH, LM1H, LM1M2H, LM2H, M1, M1M2, M2, M1H, M1M2H, M2H, H
LMMM ⇒ L, LM1, LM1M2, LM1M3, LM1M2M3, LM2, LM2M3, LM3, M1, M1M2, M1M3, M1M2M3, M2, M2M3, M3
LMMMH ⇒ L, LM1, LM1M2, LM1M3, LM1M2M3, LM2, LM2M3, LM3, LH, LM1H, LM1M2H, LM1M3H, LM1M2M3H, LM2H, LM2M3H, LM3H, M1, M1M2, M1M3, M1M2M3, M2, M2M3, M3, M1H, M1M2H, M1M3H, M1M2M3H, M2H, M2M3H, M3H, H
LLMM ⇒ L1, L1L2, L2, L1M1, L1M1M2, L1M2, L1L2M1, L1L2M1M2, L1L2M2, L2M1, L2M1M2, L2M2, M1, M1M2, M2
Hello, I'm Dan Lindgren, the editor of this web site. Maybe you looked up this site because you wanted to find out more about various accordion types and their keyboard layouts? In case you still haven't made up your mind about what to choose, allow me to tell you about my own experiences.
I started out with piano accordions since I already had some experience playing the piano. Then I bought an inexpensive CBA-C and tried it for a while. Various credible sources on the internet (and in real life) pointed to the advantages of CBA-B, so I managed to get hold of one of those too, just so I could compare.
At first it felt awkward to migrate to buttons, and there were times when I felt so frustrated that I wanted to give up CBA altogether. But, slowly it started to make sense. I focused mostly on CBA-B for a few years and it worked out relatively well.
Then I picked up CBA-C again to see how it would feel, now that I had more experience with buttons. During this transition I was totally stumped and found myself incapable of playing either C- or B-type for some time! To help myself, I pictured the C# row as a sort of "pivot", and concluded that the two other rows (containing C and D, respectively) simply change places with one another when you switch from CBA-B to CBA-C, or vice versa.
After having tried the CBA-C for an extended time, I decided that this was the type of accordion that I liked the most - and it's still what I use today.
For the bass side I wanted something beyond the usual Stradella bass, though. I tried chromatic free bass and noticed that it was possible to do things that the Stradella couldn't manage. The Stradella, in turn, could do things that that free-bass couldn't (I guess that's why we have converter accordions).
For a great number of years I examined various bass layouts that others had invented, and I also came up with a number of alternative layouts myself. I am now, more than ever, convinced that the new bass layouts that I present on this web site is a really nice mix of the best qualities of both Stradella and free bass.
So what does the ideal accordion look like, to me? I prefer a small accordion that doesn't weigh more than 7 Kg (15 lbs). Here is a list of other details regarding my preferred accordion:
Luckily I almost have this kind of accordion already, since I have a modified (and very inexpensive) accordion that mostly differs from my specs in that it has an ordinary C-system RH layout, two bass registers, and 96 LH buttons.
If you wonder why I would like to have D on the first row, here are the reasons:
Thanks for reading,
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Dan Lindgren: Contact Information