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!
Nydana's alternative accordion bass system:The Accordion Bass Project
Nydana's accordion glove:The Accordion Glove Experience
An alternative to traditional notation - perfect for the chromatic button accordion:Modulo Notation
There are many types of accordions. The most common ones are Piano Accordions and Chromatic Button Accordions (CBAs). CBAs come mainly in two different versions: B-system and C-system. Both these systems are popular in the classical world, and they can handle the sometimes big RH intervals that may be required in certain arrangements. There is also the less well-known Kravtsov Accordion; and the nowadays seldom used Uniform (or Reuther) Accordion, that has a Janko layout.
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(+5) 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(-5). The chords C7(+5) and C7(-5) can generally work as a substitute for C+ and C(-5) respectively. For a good Csus4 substitute, try C11, C7sus2, or C9sus4.
The Stradella chords are in some register combinations comprised of tones taken out of a two-octave range. This makes it somewhat irrelevant to speak of particular chord inversions - or voice leading between chords. If, for example, 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.
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.
The chart has a table with chord symbols in the leftmost column. The other columns show various ways to play the chord. There is a legend at the bottom of page 2 that shows how to interpret the chord indications.
A useful thing about writing a chord combination in the new syntax is that it can easily be used in spoken or written communication.
Here's a suggestion for the chord combination chart: print out the two pages and put them back to back in a transparent plastic cover.
A bigger version of the 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.
Since whole step intervals are more consonant than half steps, they are more likely to be played legato. On the CBA-C, with whole steps distributed along the diagonals that are aligned with your fingers, these can easily be played legato. Ascending chromatic runs can be done with a 4-3-2 fingering along each diagonal – and this is fine, since you normally don't want to play half steps legato. On the CBA-B, the situation is the reverse, so playing whole steps legato is often not as comfortable.
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 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 masking those octave breaks). Maybe the term "melody bass" should be reserved for the chromatically arranged free bass layouts that have minor thirds along each row.
Most accordions that feature free-bass are so-called convertor accordions, which means that you can alternate 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, at least on a chromatic free-bass, are also very convenient.
There are several different free-bass systems in use. 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, especially in the classical world, 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 tones.
Here are some of the features that the chromatic free-bass systems all have in common:
FB-C is a widely used chromatic free-bass. The lower pitches are closer to your chin. Having low pitch LH tones at the top of the instrument can be compared to playing the cello, and it is something that one has to get used to, but eventually it becomes natural. You may find FB-C 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. FB-C has the following features:
For a nice example of jazz being played on a convertor accordion, using free bass only (CBA-C with FB-C), check out Sören Rydgren and his album "From My Heart" (available on YouTube).
FB-N is sometimes used with CBA-B (primarily in Norway), and is a mirror version of the right-hand layout. For the FB-C and the FB-R, a common technique is to match fingers 2, 3, and 4, against rows 1, 2, and 3, respectively (or possibly against rows 2, 3 and 4). With FB-N, however, this seems less appropriate as it may require some bigger leaps when playing scales. FB-N 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. With the lowest sounding melody bass buttons closer to the floor, FB-R players often resort to using Stradella basses in combination with melody bass buttons in order to avoid having to place the left hand too far down on the button board. FB-R has the following features:
FB-Q (Quint) has the Stradella bass- and counterbass rows duplicated twice, with higher octaves toward the bass strap. It has a maximum range of almost three octaves (or even four if there are eight rows) without switching registers. It has the following features:
The Quint system is not ideal for chromatic passages. Another thing to take into consideration is the octave breaks: try playing a major chord arpeggiated on a Quint free-bass, starting on different notes. You have to know where the octave breaks are. In comparison, the chromatic melody bass systems are much easier in this respect.
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.
The chromatic melody bass systems are more suitable for LH piano arrangements than any of the other systems. The Quint system is, however, convenient when you want to arpeggiate over greater ranges, as the hand can be kept relatively still in the same position.
Sometimes you encounter accordions with a stepped/terraced LH melody bass button board. The intention is to make it easier to use the thumb. While this may appeal to some people, using the thumb on the second and third row, while the left hand is being constrained by the bass strap, can be somewhat uncomfortable.
Other layouts that have been proposed in the past include the Wicki/Hayden, the Janko (cf. Frosini), and the Kuehl layout. The Wicki/Hayden can be mirrored in different ways, and it would also be possible to let each row pair handle a certain octave range. The Wicki/Hayden behaves less good in the lowest or highest range (that is, in the first or last rows), and it would be better if it had additional rows. The Kuehl layout has chromatically arranged tones along the rows. Yet another free bass layout is the one that goes with the Kravtsov accordion. Like the RH side of such an accordion, the layout is not isomorphic, and it seems less efficient than the common chromatic layouts.
Another bass layout that has received some attention in later years is the Moschino free bass. As with all things, this layout has both its pros and cons.
1. A good reach is possible when playing two tones simultaneously.
2. Jumps between bass note and chord in a stride accompaniment are shorter (this requires more practice with the ordinary chromatic layouts).
3. A great range is possible to implement; but bear in mind that the weight, cost, and maintenance of the acoustical instrument will increase with any additional reeds. Modern free bass accordions can already have 58 free bass notes available without a change of register.
4. The layout is vertically compact, which means that buttons are not placed too high or too low on the button board.
5. Good legato qualities when playing one note after another (although it is still possible to play legato also on a regular chromatic layout, especially if it has five rows).
1. When playing chords having some tones sustained and others changing, the Moschino seems difficult in some cases. Here’s an example: play C E F# together, and then let the F# walk chromatically up to the next C. In cases like these, both legato and reach qualities could potentially suffer.
2. The minor seventh appears to be somewhat uncomfortable to play; for example, in a major or minor chord.
3. Needing up to eight rows implies having to move back and forth between those rows to find the most comfortable fingering, which in addition requires some calculation to accomplish. Having so many rows also adds to the total cost (including maintenance), and possibly affects the size of the accordion. Playing on rows 7 and 8 is a stretch. In comparison, it's possible to manage with just three button rows on a regular chromatic free-bass.
4. The consecutive chromatic notes’ button placement, when going up or down, is not as proportional to pitch as on the regular chromatic free bass systems. This means that while some notes may be conveniently close, others become a stretch. Try, for instance, playing a C major chord (C E G) and then move C chromatically all the way down to G#.
5. The Moschino layout needs four basic rows instead of three, and it may be difficult to stick to only those four rows. When your fingers get closer to the bellows, or too close to the bass strap, then finding a good way to play some passages or chords without completely altering the position of your fingers, may be cumbersome. Try C7 -> C6 (may require finger switches).
6. The low tones are at the bottom, which means heavy use of the weaker little finger. If the little finger is not used, some of the good reach properties could be lost.
7. The layouts of RH and LH do not match like they do on a CBA, which necessitates learning and mastering two substantially different systems.
8. Playing a chord together with a bass note is not possible if the intervals become too great. The reach is thus still not quite sufficient if you want to do exactly the same things a Stradella is capable of. Stride accompaniment is only possible to a limited degree, and may not allow the use of different register combinations for bass tones and chord tones, respectively (the Stradella on an acoustical accordion can have a different number of reeds sounding when a bass button is depressed, compared to the number of reeds used for the notes in a chord.
9. With the Moschino on a digital accordion there is no devised manner in which you could play with, for example, an electric bass guitar sound assigned to some of the buttons, and a piano sound assigned to some of the other buttons. It is, of course, possible to switch to another layout on the digital accordion if the tactile markings on the bass buttons are logically adapted in some way. A selling point with the Moschino is, however, that one should not be needing any complementing layout.
Despite the drawbacks, the Moschino layout can nevertheless be an interesting alternative for those who appreciate certain qualities.
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.
Since a convertor accordion is likely to use the same reeds for both prefixed chords and free basses, the register options that can be achieved may be different from those in a regular accordion. There will usually only be tones arranged in octaves, and no overlapping ranges. Bigger accordions usually have E1 as the lowest tone, which can make the Stradella basses really deep. In another register the basses may start on E2, which is a bit high to use as a default. The convertor is also a compromise in that the reeds have to be loud and do well on their own in free bass mode, while chord buttons may benefit from softer sounding reeds.
Another thing is that converter mechanisms are reportedly sensitive and prone to need service. If you depress a button while at the same time depressing the conversion switch, the mechanism could potentially be damaged. Some brands may be more sensitive in this respect than others. Reportedly, convertor accordions could sometimes also have octave coupling mechanisms that do not rely on sliders, and thus exhibit the same kind of vulnerability. Older convertors usually have a different kind of conversion mechanism that is not sensitive. On those accordions, some of the uppermost chord buttons remain in melody bass mode also when standard bass is switched on. You can often easily recognize these accordions since the melody bass buttons may continue up above the regular layout of buttons. Some of these accordions also have only three free bass rows available, and the row closest to the bass strap may not provide any free basses to play.
Albeit more rarely found, there are also accordions with nothing but melody bass. These can usually have three, four, or five rows. The advantage of having five rows is that in some cases it will be easier to reach intervals such as 10ths (octave + third); and since there are more fingering possibilities, playing legato can be facilitated in some situations.
It would be a good thing if there could be established a standardized fixed relationship between the Stradella bass buttons and chromatic melody bass buttons on a converter bass. Maybe the relationship shown in the PDF below, that shows an example of a converter bass layout, could be suitable as a standard for C-system accordions.
Once we know where our fingers are on the keyboard or button board, we can keep a map of the layout in our heads to guide us. The most obvious way to know where to start playing, is to look at the pattern that the black and white keys or buttons form. Those who play CBA sometimes desire a monochromatic (same color) layout. In that case there can be a little black dot, that only the player sees, on the edge of some of the buttons. Sometimes CBA players prefer monochromatic layouts because a black/white pattern feels piano centric to them.
The black/white pattern can, however, be regarded as simply a model or template for a diatonic scale. The diatonic scale, in turn, can be explained by taking a pie slice, consisting of seven tones from the circle of fifths, and then rearrange the tones so that they come in the right order (this is the basis for tonal music). But then the question is why it should be precisely seven tones, and not, for example, six or eight. If it was five, then we would get a pentatonic scale instead. One way to justify the number seven, is to observe that it is the smallest number to produce scales that will only contain whole and half steps. So, with this reasoning we have justified the black/white pattern also without involving the piano keyboard layout.
A very practical thing about the black/white pattern is that we can easily tell, just by looking at an accordion, what type it is. The black/white pattern possesses the useful property that it always creates a unique pattern for a certain type of layout. This is helpful when we see someone playing, or when we look at ads for used accordions. It also makes it possible for someone in an audience to see what tones are being played.
Another way to orient oneself, is to feel with your fingers where you are. It is often claimed that this can be done on a piano keyboard since the black keys are spaced apart in a specific way. While this is true, it is maybe not a very fast method for most of us.
CBA right hand buttons often have some sort of texture on some of its buttons, to help us out. If we take a C-system CBA as an example, the buttons for C and F can have a granular surface, or be cross-hatched. Although less common, the marked buttons could instead have a dimple.
Since a CBA-C with a converter usually has melody bass buttons where F is cross-hatched and C is concave, the question is if this scheme should perhaps also be employed on the RH side. The RH buttons that emit C could then have a dimple instead of a granular surface. Thus both sides would match each other perfectly.
Some CBA players feel that there should not be any texture at all on the button surfaces. The reason would be that it tends to distract when you want to transpose a piece into another key. Yet another reason would be that it interferes when fingers slide across the buttons, since the marked buttons are less smooth.
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 any duplicate register switches.
L = Low, M = Medium, H = High
LM ⇒ L, LM, M
LMH ⇒ L, LM, LMH, LH, M, MH, H
LMM ⇒ L, LM1, LM1M2, LM2, M1, M1M2, M2
LMMH ⇒ L, LM1, LM1M2, LM2, LM1H, LM1M2H, LM2H, LH, M1, M1M2, M2, M1H, M1M2H, M2H, H
LMMM ⇒ L, LM1, LM1M2, LM1M2M3, LM1M3, LM2, LM2M3, LM3, M1, M1M2, M1M2M3, M1M3, M2, M2M3, M3
LMMMH ⇒ L, LM1, LM1M2, LM1M2M3, LM1M3, LM2, LM2M3, LM3, LM1H, LM1M2H, LM1M2M3H, LM1M3H, LM2H, LM2M3H, LM3H, LH, M1, M1M2, M1M2M3, M1M3, M2, M2M3, M3, M1H, M1M2H, M1M2M3H, M1M3H, 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 in comparison. After having tried the CBA-C for an extended time, I finally decided that this was the type of accordion that I liked the most.
For the bass side I wanted something beyond the usual Stradella bass. 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.
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 layout that I present on this web site represents 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 too much. For me, personally, it is enough to have only two voices in the RH (LM). I mostly use an inexpensive CBA-C on which I have modified the Stradella bass, but occasionally I also play a piano accordion with melody bass.
With so many types of accordions it can certainly be difficult to choose what to play. If I had to narrow down the number of combinations to a minimum that could still satisfy most people, I would suggest three main categories. The following alternatives would all feature a C-system RH, but the LH could have: 1) The bass system I propose (check out the link at the beginning of this page), as it would likely be all that is needed for the vast majority of people. 2) The same bass system, albeit with a C-system melody bass in a convertor. 3) A pure C-system melody bass layout with five rows.
Thanks for reading,
Dan Lindgren: Contact Information