What Is a Button Accordion?

A. Leverkuhn

The button accordion is a specific version of the accordion instrument that uses a series of small buttons instead of the piano keys present on the melody side of some full-size models. Many associate the button accordion with a smaller, more portable accordion, but this is not always the case. In general, the button accordion provides a different “interface” for the musician.

A button accordion features buttons instead of piano keys for playing melodies.
A button accordion features buttons instead of piano keys for playing melodies.

Button accordions are made by various recognized manufacturers in the industry around these musical instruments. Many of these models are made for portability, where button accordions can be more compact and space efficient. These are also popular for learners, where some more basic student models of the accordion may be button accordions.

Like other varieties of accordions, button accordions follow specific scale patterns in order to provide classic melodies on the regular scale or octave. Two different versions of button accordions, the diatonic or seven-tone accordion, and the chromatic or twelve-tone accordion, represent two very different styles for this instrument.

The diatonic accordion has seven tones in an octave. These are the tones associated with the regular major scale. This limits the variety of uses that this type of button accordion can provide for a musician.

The more versatile chromatic button accordion has twelve tones for each octave. This includes all of the half steps and whole steps in the octave, so that the musician can play minor notes or play in the minor key. It’s important to note that with button accordions, one button can produce two distinct kinds, depending on whether the musician is pushing or pulling the instrument, expanding or contracting the air inside it. With the traditional piano key accordion, the melody keys provide the same tone regardless of the direction of the instrument.

Musicians use button accordions to play a wide variety of musical compositions. Many of these small accordions are used for playing Irish reels or other Celtic types of music. They can also be popular for performing Cajun music, which often relies heavily on the accordion. Almost any kind of music played on the traditional piano key type accordion can be played effectively on the button accordion, though various “trills” that players do on the keyed models can be difficult or impossible to emulate with buttons. Regardless, the button type accordion is popular in many musical communities around the world.

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