Button accordions, what are they and how are they played?




Button accordions

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What is a Button Accordion?

Unlike a piano accordion, a button accordion has buttons instead of keys on the melody side (right side) of the instrument.  Button accordions are popular in Europe and Latin America. The first button accordion was patented in 1829 by Cyril Demianov who patented it under the name “Accordion.”

There are many free-reed bellow-powered instruments that are called button accordions, squeezeboxes, wind boxes, button boxes, etc. They all have buttons and look and sound alike. But not all button accordions are created equal. In this article, we will list some of the most common button accordions, their similarities, and their differences.

We’ve devoted a bit more detailed description of every type of button accordion in a separate article you can access by clicking on the names of the accordions described below.

When reading about button accordions you will often find that they are described as either diatonic, bisonoric, or chromatic. Let’s acquaint ourselves with the meanings of these terms.

Diatonic accordions are bisonoric, which means that they produce different tones when bellows are expanded or compressed. Although they may look the same, diatonic accordions may be called differently in various parts of the world. In the UK and Australia, diatonic accordions are referred to as Melodeons whereas, in Ireland, only single-row accordions are referred to as melodeons.

What does diatonic mean?

Diatonic,(also referred to bisonoric when referring to an accordion) in musical theory, refers to a musical scale (major or minor), that comprises intervals of five whole steps and two half steps in an octave. Musical instruments such as keyboards, pianos, and accordions (buttons on a button accordion) form a diatonic scale.

Diatonic scale played on a piano

What does Bisonoric mean?

Any free-reed instrument that produces a different note (sound) depending on the direction of the bellows or airflow through the reeds is considered Bisonoric or diatonic. (two-toned). Examples of Bisonoric accordions would be Anglo concertinas or Cajun accordions.

What does Chromatic mean?

In music theory, the term chromatic refers to notes that are a half-step apart. The chromatic scale is a series of half-steps also known as the semitones. Semitones are the neighboring notes. (like black and white keys on the keyboard). Yes, a button accordion can also be chromatic. Russian Bayan accordion is a perfect example of a chromatic button accordion.

Chromatic accordions are often divided into C-system accordions and B-system accordions. The C-system bass button layout is predominantly used in Europe and China whereas the B-system layout is used in Serbia and Russia.

Here you can download a free chart of the chromatic C-system chart. (Courtesy of Accordion Life Academy)

Chromatic button accordions can have anywhere from 3 to 5 rows of buttons. In most cases, rows 4 and 5 are duplicates of rows 1 and 2.


These are compact, often hexagonally shaped, button accordions. They are often associated with sailors and have a rich tradition in England, Germany, and Ireland. Concertinas are further divided into Anglo, English, Duet, and German. To learn a bit more about Concertinas, please visit this post.

Club System Accordion

This is a two-row diatonic accordion with a third “helper” row. This row provides the missing notes and it is also equipped with a unisonoric (producing the same note or tone regardless of the direction of the bellows) button which is a “C” note.

Club system diatonic accordion. Video courtesy of Liberty Bellows.

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