Two-row vs three-row button accordion

Two-row vs three-row button accordion

I am interested in starting playing the button accordion.
A friend is offering to sell me a b/c/c# and I’m wondering what the benefits and downsides are of a three-row as compared to a two-row.
I know one-row is limited in key, but 2 row is already chromatic, so why does 3 row even exist? Why do people like Sharon Shannon play only 2 row? Maybe it’s lighter?
Thanks in advance for the help!

Re: Two-row vs three-row button accordion

Hi John and welcome here.

Yes a 2-row B/C is chromatic in the sense that you have all the notes. That doesn’t mean it is easy to play in any key. Not that it’s necessarily easy on a true chromatic instrument like the piano, but the button box has the added difficulty of bellows-direction issues and a note layout that is really rather odd. So take "chromatic" with a pinch of salt. A few players really can play in any key on a 2-row. Most of us are content to do OK with the keys most commonly used in Irish music, and enjoy the bonus of never being stuck for an accidental.

The point of the B/C/C# is that both "accidental" rows (B and C#) give you all the notes that are missing on the C row, except in different bellows directions. This makes it easier to smooth out certain passages and yes make truly chromatic playing easier. For instance, once you can play in the key of D major B/C style, i.e. on the C and B rows, you can just shift across the rows and use the same fingering to play in E-flat.

The downside is that the instrument is considerably bigger and heavier - most full-featured B/C/C#s are anyway - and that mastering the thing is that much more complex. The system had a certain popularity in Ireland in the 1950s and there are still a few players around today. But clearly most Irish players have decided that the added weight and complexity are things that can easily be done without. (The instrument is much more popular in Scottish music.)

I would recommend you start learning on a simple, light, 2-row, 2-voice, 8-bass instrument. Once you can drive that on the highway you can decide whether you want or need something heavier and more complex. On the other hand, don’t necessarily look a gift horse (or a bargain accordion) in the mouth….

Re: Two-row vs three-row button accordion

After having played a two row box for several years, I began to learn the Bandoneon: I got an old German instrument from the 40ies, and started to play Irish music on it. Of course, the Bandoneon is completely uncommon in Irish music, but it works! It’s not the easiest instrument to play, but the sound is great and it’s fully chromatic. And the reactions at sessions are really positive.

Peter

Re: Two-row vs three-row button accordion

@Peter Koller: Do you have any video clips of yourself playing Irish music on bandoneon? I’d be interested to see and hear it.

Re: Two-row vs three-row button accordion

The difficulties inherent in playing an instrument with all notes but not every note in both directions, such as a 2 row B/C are part of what makes the B/C style distinctive. "Solving" the problems with additional notes may make getting to a few of the notes easier but you may not sound like that great old player you want to emulate.

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Re: Two-row vs three-row button accordion

Most B/C/C# instruments have piano-accordion style "Stradella" bass, lots of small buttons! Does the idea of learning to play that appeal, or would it just be unnecessary extra weight and bulk!

It seems to me that the B/C/C# with Stradella bass is a bit like a motorcycle and sidecar combination - it’s a hybrid that is wonderful in some some ways, has unique advantages, and also disadvantages, and has a very small band of passionately loyal supporters!

As Stiamh says, "don’t look a gift horse" if the instrument is on offer at a good enough price it might be worth taking it on. It’s often recommended that you start out on two rows only, playing it as if it was a B/C, so you could try that out. The question is, could you get back most of what you paid if you don’t continue with it. Ebay etc!

Re: Two-row vs three-row button accordion

Re. the video of Kevin Loughlin: that tune ("Lady Anne") on that B/C/C# would give a player a golden opportunity to avoid one of the awkward bits about the B/C, namely the fact that F# is on the push while the other two notes in the D arpeggio (D and A) are on the pull. On the C# row, there is an F# on the pull. So our Kevin could have smoothed the whole first phrase out by playing it all on the pull.

Why didn’t he? Probably he likes the characteristic B/C "kick" that you get from having to change direction for the F#. Also possible that he learned the tune on B/C and never considered changing anything when he moved to B/C/C#. It may even never have occurred to him that the pull F# is available… as far as I can tell he doesn’t actually use the C# row once in that clip - his fingers do move over the inside row but I think they are just flailing when not in use and not actually pressing any buttons.

Re: Two-row vs three-row button accordion

I don’t think there should be anything bad about playing a 3 three row. If anything it should be much better as it gives you more options, this will possibly make for a smoother sound as you won’t have to change bellow direction as often. Tim Edey plays one, he used to play a 2 row. He sounds really good. Only downside is it slightly heavier but as a piano-accordionist myself its not that big a sacrifice, compared to carrying around a 96 bass beast everywhere!

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Anyone know the piano player in Tony O’Rourke’s clip?

Re: Two-row vs three-row button accordion

Josie Keegan, I’m fairly certain - with Sean Maguire looking on from behind.

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Re: Two-row vs three-row button accordion

For what it’s worth, the keys are a whole step up:
Lady Ann Montgomery in pitch E and George White’s Favourite is F#m/A (which usually means B/C style on a box tune a step higher)

Re: Two-row vs three-row button accordion

And I think Tim Edey has a box in the very unusual combination of G/D/C# so he can play in either the "quint" system or the semitone system: clever chap!

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Isn’t it the other way around? C#/D/G

Re: Two-row vs three-row button accordion

Most three row players, myself included, started learning on a two row B/C. The fingering on a B/C/C# is the same but the use of the C# row cuts down on the ‘in and out’ movement of the bellows. Having Stradella bass allows you to have the bass notes for all the keys that are available to you on a three row. Tony Kearney for instance does a tremendous lot of solo work and has his Stradella bass fitted with a Midi. This gives him a perfect piano style accompanist to his playing….Both Tony and Seamus Shannon (no relation to Sharon) are masters of the B/C/C# ….This is Seamus Shannon (no relation to Sharon) trying out a new Manfrini B/C/C# box….
https://youtu.be/rg16fdo_040

Re: Two-row vs three-row button accordion

« Isn’t it the other way around? C#/D/G » Depends on how you look at it. 🙂 And actually not that unusual. I mused about getting one myself before seeing the light.

People have tried all kinds of combinations. In France, there was the « système mixte » - G/C/B with stradella basses - played by Émile Vacher and others. This article calls the B/C/C# a variant of the same idea (because of the stradella basses): http://denecheau.free.fr/spip.php?article28

Re: Two-row vs three-row button accordion

Yes, that’s what I was thinking of!

Re: Two-row vs three-row button accordion

last time I saw Tim [December last year] he’d just bought himself a new 2-row D/G - he’s a hard man to keep up with!

Re: Two-row vs three-row button accordion

If your friend doesn’t want much for the box maybe buy it, but these are a lot heavier than 2 row 8 bass instruments and full size models can be difficult to manipulate, even with tight bellows and good reeds. I play 3 rows like this, including a Manfrini, and you have to be strong to get much of a sound going, frankly. Kevin Loughlin is one of the type of players who just don’t really crank on the thing, Jimmy Blue was a well known Scottish player who approached the 3 row like that, or you could look up Daniel McPhee on YouTube - he has a ton of videos. To be louder they use mics and PAs.

Daniel once wrote that he just plays the box like a B/C too, not really bothering with the possibilities of the C# row, much as Stiamh describes. His nephew Brandon was all Scotland champ a few years ago. Will Starr was a really great Scottish player from the old days, he definitely sounds like he was squeezing the crap out of the box.

The C# row comes into play when you want to be in keys like Bb, which is much more of a thing in Scottish music than Irish and easier to do on the extra row. Utilizing it to smooth things out can frankly make things more confusing, your hand can find it tricky to get back to where it’s supposed to be.

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Tim Edey sounding good on anything is no proof of what anyone else could do!

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I’d like to see him play a nice set of Irish tunes, in a couple of keys. Unless it’s a circus tune, it seems that he’s playing mostly one-row style whatever the system. Maybe I’m wrong? (I hope so!)

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> it seems that he’s playing mostly one-row style whatever the system.

I believe his "native" instrument is the D/G, so yes, it makes sense that he will prefer to play up the row rather than across. He seems to play alright to me.

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Re: Two-row vs three-row button accordion

I’ve got a C#/D/G accordion and it’s ingenious! I play it similarly to just a plain old D/G but with three octaves of accidentals on the outside row, which is REALLY useful. 🙂

Re: Two-row vs three-row button accordion

Ted McGraw and John Michael Ryan in Rochester, NY, play three-row B/C/D accordions, a hybrid of B/C style and melodeon-style fingering options. Ted is playing a gorgeous Beltuna C#/D more often than his B/C/D workhorse lately, though. We also have a curious B/C/F Hohner in our Comhaltas loaner instrument library.