How Does an Accordion Work?

By Paul Bright ; Updated September 15, 2017

The Bellows

The bellows is the main part of the accordion that controls air flow. The bellows, held by one hand on each side of the accordion, is typically made up of flexible material like cardboard and cloth. When the accordionist squeezes the bellows, pressurized air is forced to find a means to escape, namely any valve openings. The harder the bellows are squeezed, the louder the notes.

Buttons and Reeds

The valves that the air is forced out of pass over different sets of reeds on either side of the accordion box. Each reed inside the box is exposed to this air when the accordionist presses a button that allows the exposure. Buttons are laid out on either side of the accordion. The reeds vary in length and width, giving the accordionist the ability to play different notes. Thus, an accordionist must simultaneously control pitch and volume by squeezing the bellows, and press varying buttons to play one or more notes.

Playing A Piano Accordion

The piano accordion uses a piano-like lay out for the right-hand side of buttons. They resemble piano keys, except shorter and rounder. The keys encompass more than three octaves. The left-hand side of buttons are arranged to play bass and chord accompaniments.

Playing A Diatonic Accordion

The diatonic accordion looks like a piano accordion, but the button lay outs are very different. The diatonic accordion buttons are arranged in columns that extend vertically towards the bellows. Each one is specific to a musical key and actually plays two different notes: one note for when the bellows are squeezed and another when they are extended.

About the Author

Paul Bright has been writing online since 2006, specializing in topics related to military employment and mental health. He works for a mental health non-profit in Northern California. Bright holds a Bachelor of Science in psychology from the University of North Carolina-Pembroke and a Master of Arts in psychology-marriage and family therapy from Brandman University.