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What is a Concertina?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 23 March 2014
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A concertina is a type of free-reed musical instrument which resembles an accordion, with two panels connected by a set of bellows. Concertinas are often hexagonal in design, and they tend to be smaller than their accordion cousins. There are a number of different concertina styles and types on the market, and these instruments can be heard in a variety of settings. They often accompany folk music and casual music gatherings.

Like other free-reed instruments, a concertina produces sound by forcing air past a vibrating reed. The tone can be changed with the use of buttons, which can produce individual notes or be played together to create a chord. Air is forced through the concertina by manipulating the bellows. A well known member of the free-reed family is the harmonica, in which users blow air past the reed to create a desired sound.

The credit for the invention of the concertina usually goes to Sir Charles Wheatstone, who developed an early version in England in 1829, although versions also popped up in Germany shortly afterwards. It is unclear if the Germans invented the instrument independently, or if they picked up the British version and adapted it. The name of the instrument is a compound of “concert” and the Italian diminutive suffix “-ina.”

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A dizzying array of variations on the concertina can be found. Some produce sound as the bellows are being compressed only, while others can make sounds in both directions. It is also possible to find variations which play different notes on the press and draw of the bellows. Most have buttons arranged in a chromatic scale, meaning that they progress by even semitones, while others are diatonic, mixing full tone intervals and some half tone intervals. The shape of a concertina can also vary; many German versions, for example, are square or rectangular rather than hexagonal.

Some stores which stock musical instruments carry concertinas, and they can usually be ordered by special request for customers who want them. Concertina lessons can sometimes be hard to obtain, depending on where in the world one is, although if a player is familiar with other free-reed instruments, it is possible to pick up the skills needed for the concertina by experimenting with the instrument. Recordings of concertina music are also available, for people who want to appreciate the sound of skilled performances or music from different regions of the world.

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