Piano accordions - the curse of traditional music

Piano accordions - the curse of traditional music

Calling all piano accordion players, and anyone who want’s to put their tuppence-worth in here - can anyone provide an answer to the following questions:

It has puzzled me for a number of years why - and this is, I believe, more of a problem in Scottish rather than in Irish traditional music - WHY, just WHY????????? For what possible reason, choose to play the piano accordion?

Before anyone answers my question, I must first explain that I believe it’s ACTUALLY POSSIBLE to extract music from piano boxes, but very few players seem capable of doing so (there’s one very good player from Campbletown, just down the road from where I stay, who is one of those exceptions).

As I mention in my profile, I occasionally attend local accordion & fiddle clubs - but this is more out of a sense of duty in raising the profile of the fiddle v’s the piano-accordion (fiddles are few & far between in these clubs). On one particular night I had the misfortune to witness a ‘stramash’ at the end of the evening, where there were 7, yes, SEVEN piano boxes playing together. Now, it’s hard enough to hear the ornamentation clearly on one piano box if the reeds are tuned far apart, but imagine the terrible din with 7 of them playing together! Does this only happen in Scotland - if so, why? Is it because the traditional music we play here is more to the Devil’s liking - and God sent a plague of piano accordions - or some other reason?

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Re: Piano accordions - the curse of traditional music

Ron, not everyone will agree with your view on piano boxes - see the recent discussion at https://thesession.org/discussions/6249. Having said that I sympathise with you on having to contend with seven of them, but then again this number of any reed instrument would surely be problematic!

Re: Piano accordions - the curse of traditional music

As are seven fiddles.

How do you get seven fiddle players to play in unison?

Shoot six of them.

It’s all in your perspective, I’m afraid.

KFG

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Re: Piano accordions - the curse of traditional music

Seven of any instrument is hard to make sound good, unless they are all skilled and inter-twined players playing equally well set-up instruments. The seven accordions / accordionists in various "moods" are no worse than the equivalent of seven fiddles / fiddlers in the same scenario (although much, much louder!) Just my experience, anyway.

I wouldn’t bash the accordion, though. (…but seven of them in the above scenario together must surely dilute the rhythm and murder the dynamics…)

Jim

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Definately not my favorite ITM instrument. I think they have a tendancey to take a natural flow/rythem out of the music and can sound quit mechanical. A lot of people seem to play them hear in NYC though.

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Pete D,
I can’t agree more.I’ve never heard anyone say that before.
It’s what I call ‘knocking the edges off’ the music, meaning that everything blends together with no trad musical ‘punctuation’. As you say they have their own natural/flow or rhythm.

We don’t get many here in East Anglia, mostly melodeons!

Sue (fiddler who hates massed fiddling!)

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Anybody minds an outsider’s question? I have never played any sort of box, and I’m wondering whether it is true that the button accordions lend themselves better to ornamentation and/or to that very bouncy style that I heard a lot - at least in the southwest (I’m also wondering whether the style is regional).

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Well, well, some interesting replies. In fact, I’m in agreement regarding the problem of 7 of any one instrument playing together, indeed I think 3 of any one particular instrument is starting to push things a bit.

Seven is an interesting number - I’ve heard it said, and am in agreement with, 7 being the approximate upper limit for a traditional music session - anything above this might be regarded as an orchestra for, although sometimes that’s OK if there are enough sensitive and good players present. Now, for the sake of this discussion, if 7 is taken as a limit, it could be argued that herein lies the problem with many piano accordion players; If 7 of any one particular instrument is too many, and if an accordion has 4 voices on i.e. reeds, and each reed is counted as an instrument in it’s own right (each reed might be considered as taking up the equivelant ‘audio space’ as for example, a fiddle) and if the player is using his left hand i.e. effectively 8 reeds/instruments - you’re over the limit mate! And that’s before anyone else has started to play!

I have, but only too rarely, come across piano accordion players who are sufficiently sensitive to play in a traditional music session. In my opinion, for this to happen, only 1 or 2 reeds are used, along with a light touch and careful use of the bellows. Furthermore, if there is an accompanist present, both he/she and the piano accordion player (with respect to his left hand) need to be listening extremely carefully to each other, and watch out for clashing in their accompaniment styles.

Of the players some of you suggested above, who’s playing I’m familiar with, I’ ve no problem there, they’re good musicians - indeed top-notch. It may also surprise you to hear me say that I don’t mind piano accordions too much in the context of a Scottish Country Dance Band when playing for dancing - however many of these bands do sound very alike. I think that even in the dance band situation, it would be preferable to have a bit more subtlety and texture in the music.

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Hey !

Don’t say like that about piano accordion.
Every else instrument sounds bad when it is played by unskilled musician X7.

I play piano accordion, and I like it very much.
I don’t see why piano accordion is a CURSE of traditional music.Playing solo accordion of course.
When there are more than one accordion, it won’t sound good…

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When you complain about. p.a.s this means you take it for granted that they’re there. Over here we’ve got the strange situation that ITM-minded people take up the fiddle, flute or even harp and pipes but accordions are not in fashion. Probably because they are associated with the boring side of German trad. music.
A lot of bands use keyboards and I must say that I much prefer accordions for the more natural sound.
I am in the happy position to play alongside a professional piano accordionist (she’s a music teacher) and it is good fun for a fiddler to have such a partner. Apart from us there are 7 more people in the band btw. It can be done without a conductor but we have tried using a metronome…

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Re: Piano accordions - the curse of traditional music

Obviously, piano box is among the most unpopular instruments in ITM, just like bodhran. But, seven classical violins are even worse, you know. I might be wrong, but it seems piano box used to be more popular. I find it interesting that some well-known musicians such as Brian McGrath and Catherine McEvoy started playing music on it.

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Why choose to play the piano accordion? Simple – I can’t carry my piano around from session to session. I would if I could – accordions are a poor substitute, but better by far than the real curse of sessions – the dreadful melodeon, played badly and too loudly by millions, and properly only by about half a dozen people in the world.

I would suggest that any instrument played too loudly, too often, in too many numbers - or in any way dominating (especially when not played well) would be horrible for a guitarist anyway. You are disarmingly honest about your fiddling, but maybe it needs to be your session instrument if you are to be heard.

Take heart, Ron - even the accordion is rather large to carry, so I’m working on my concertina.

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I definitely like the "texture" the button accordian gives the music, especially old timey stuff. However, as I mentioned before, Williams and Cunningham have my respect for exemplary piano accordian. I suppose it is like appreciating top bodhran players but having issue with beginners playing the bodhran like pizza boxes. Just think of the era of Norse and German piano accordian mania with dozens of Lawrence Welk look alikes dressed up in alpine overall shorts and Robin Hood hat and feather (the equivalent of an Elvis impersonator convention).

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I have never been on any kind of session.
Are piano accordions relly so unpopular instrument ??
I play irish folk on my piano accordion, and it sounds very well.
How it is ?
Is a piano accrdion, a instrument which is not used on sessions ?
I’ve always thought that p.a. is one of standart instruments in irish bands …

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In my humble opinion, the only instrument that really sounds better when a lot more of them play is the fiddle. Balance is everything, and when a group gets out of balance, it doesn’t sound as good. A session with all flutes and/or whistles, can sound like a fife and drum corps, and lots of accordions can become quite overwhelming. That being said, when well played, the piano accordion can be one of the finest instruments in the tradition, witness Phil Cunningham from Scotland or Jimmy Keane from Chicago. The problem of too many accordion players in Rhode Island is not a problem, and I know that because I am among the ten best accordion players who plays traditional music in the state. Of course, the biggest reason for my status is because I can’t even come up with a list of more than half a dozen trad accordion players in the entire state (it is a very small state after all)!

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Again some interesting comments made, but it also has to be said that not everyone seems to have read through all that’s been posted regarding this topic before entering their own comments. Please Tubular_bell, don’t take things personally, the title for my dicussion topic "Piano accordions - the curse of traditional music", was meant to facilitate a response, and there is a bit of craic/humour intended - I’m not out to get piano accordion players, simply to stimulate thought and, hopefully, intelligent discussion on the subject. I would urge people to read ALL the comments prior to making their own. A great Scottish expression/bit of advice applicable to this might be a request for people not to open their moo and let their bellies rumble - tanslated = think before you speak.

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Like it or not, Ron, the piano box is central to the Scottish dance band tradition. So that IS the tradition. Most dance bands have 2 boxes, one on melody one playing chords, which works very well in that genre.

Like you I don’t like massed accordions, massed fiddles or for that matter symphony orchestras.

Bad fiddlers and awful whistle players are ten a penny, but nobody seems to mind.

Use of both the piano accordion and the button accordion have followed very different paths in Scotland and in Ireland in the past 100 years. The piano box is a fringe instrument in Irish music, and you could argue that the flute and whistle are fringe instruments is Scottish music. And since when is Phil Cunningham an Irish musician, guys? I like him, he’s good, but that isn’t Irish music he’s playin’

What are we talking about here anyway?

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Hi Kris, fair comment - I was talking in general terms, and not specifically Irish traditional music, although the discussion topic is certainly relevant to Irish traditional music. Your comments regarding 1st and 2nd box in the Scottish dance band tradition I accept, but I’ve commented on that above already.

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Re: Piano accordions - the curse of traditional music

If you don’t like them stay at home.

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I wish I could use that for everything, but then I’d be holed up at home all the time. (For the record, I don’t mind PAs, so long as there aren’t more than one at any given session. But what do you expect? I’m a stepdancer, and I’ve developed the necessary antibodies.)

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i loved the sound of the 7 fiddles (only) i heard in a sub-session at The Bullingdon Arms, oxford, years ago _uplifting, sweet to my ear with a warm ”stringy” tone i recall; i wasnt huntiing for blagged ornamentation and was ”drawn to the sound” on my way to the bog; listening for 10 mins, i returned to my 4 pipes section and the ‘pub with three sessions’ played through the night

those were the days (and nights) i tell you

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There are a few piano accordion players I know who are absolutely superb musicians (some of them are on this website). They can produce everything that a button accordion can do because they know how to - they don’t just knock out a tune, but know how to give a tune lift and drive and, ….well, life, if you like.
But that only comes with close familiarity with the music. There are also many box players, piano and button, who are total pish, who think that because they know how the notes in a tune go, they can therefore do it justice….but then there are flute fiddle pipes banjo etc players of the same league.
The stramash you heard was probably due to the boxes being tuned a bit different to one another. And also with a bit too much legato rather than staccato.

Re: Piano accordions - the curse of traditional music

Cathal Hayden and Arty Mcglynn also started on it! I like listening to it if its played well but as any instrument if its played badly I would prefer not to have to listen to it.

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Hi Pingu,

I’m not in disagreement with you regarding your comments, with the exception of the stramash - I think, no matter what, 7 piano accordions playing together is a very bad idea. However, I should perhaps enlighten people on this site about the phenomenon of the ‘stramash’ - for those who’re not familiar with the concept, it may take place at the end of an evening at accordion & fiddle clubs in Scotland. In all fairness, I think it’s really more of a social thing, rather than a musical thing - it normally consists of all of the musicians who’ve performed in the evening, getting up on stage together and playing through a few tunes everyone knows.

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I’ve heard some great piano accordian players too. Some can even make them sound like musical instruments. 🙂

Re: melodions - the curse of traditional music

In truth, PAs are much more suited to sessions than melodions. The bigger and better (and louder) PAs generally have a choice of noise(?) and only the quietest should be used in an Irish Session, and the basses used only sparingly if at all. End of story.

Unfortunately, most melodions (even the ones with knobs on) cannot produce a single reed noise similar to PA so are going to clash with everything else. (Vicious runours abound that melodions can only play in 2 keys)

Button accordions seem to have been "custom tuned" for sessions and seem to work better.

I don’t know how anyone can complain about 7 PAs in a session and not mention anglo concertinas. Mine will certainly be heard above 7 PAs.

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And there was me, a melodeon player (of sorts), defending Piano Accordions!
Right - that’s it. Never again.

:~}

Yes, D/G melodeons are only in 2 keys, but B/C ones are chromatic.
Don’t know if I agree with you Geoff, that melodeons clash with everything else. Castagnaris are usually very dry-tuned so that obviates having to get a single reed sound. You’d be more likely to run into that kind of problem with the big old fashioned wet-tuned Paolo Sopranis…the sound of which I really like, in actual fact!

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Sing it, brother! Testify!

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listen to Melanie Simpson´s CD "The Old Verdi" and you´ll know what great trad music can be played on a piano box.

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No thank you.

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The curse of ITM or TIM is people running down other instruments. Bad anything players are bad, the instrument doesn’t matter. And seven of anything at a session, usually in a pub or somewhere in a confined space, is bad news.

I mean, I love pipes but seven pipers in a session?

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I guess they qould be playing nine "Gold Ring"s

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Forgive my ignorance, but would someone explain the difference between an accordian and a melodeon?

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I guess you could call them all accordions - piano accordion vs button accordion. The button accordions are also called melodeons.

Does anybody still play TIM on the single-row melodeon? And is the Irish version any different from the Cajun accordion?

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Coincidentally, seven of any noisemaker is what it takes to *double* the volume level of one.

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Paul Brock and Johnny Connolly often play tunes on single row instruments.

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I’ve been trying to find a melodeon…. but I can’t find on in D…. Argh.


they’re all in C!!!


Augh!

Re: Piano accordions - the curse of traditional music

Grego - your ignorance isn’t really ignorance, just box players up themselves for the sake of it.
My (simplified…but no doubt some egghead webspider supercilious geek here will in time correct me) take on it is as follows.
Accordions seem to be the generic term for objects that you squeeze and poke with your fingers and a sound comes out.
You can push them and pull them, whereby achieving different sounds, but you always have to use your fingers.
Piano Accordions have a blonde (with black streaks) keyboard, and are easy to manipulate. You can push or pull, but they don’t mind, so long as you use your fingers you’ll get the same sound, regardless of the pulling or pushing. Although it must be said, gentlemanly use of the left hand around the back of the body of the box can elicit a surprising number of bass, or low, purring, tones.

Button accordions, by contrast, are far more elusive yokes to define. But once you hold one in your arms use your fingers and squeeze, in and out, you will be forever smitten by the sounds produced. They are manifest in many mysterious tempting forms, single row D, 2-row D/G (and I think *these* are called melodeons because of the incessant push/pull action) B/C and (I think) C#G.

I personally, these days, having squeezed and fingered many a box, am happilly stuck with a D/G Castagnari, which I love dearly, and we are well on our way to giving birth to a new interpretation….of a just a small number of tunes, but we’re happy with that.

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you´re welcome not to, kerri….


Mick McAuley (Solas) plays button and piano accordion … and concertina as well. His playing is no curse on any of these.

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Hey,
Piano accordions are/were extremely popular in Poland (where I and Tubular bell come from) also in Czech Rep, Slovakia, and farther south east. I perfectly know what it means, when a person - obviously an accordion player - says it suits the irish music. We get a lot of performing all folk/irish bands here in Poland with piano accordion players. As I see it- it is all the matter of knowledge or should I say - the lack of it. Playing polish way in irish folk bands, with no ornamentation whatsoever but with a slavic pulsation, people get enthusiastic about it. Let’s not blame them. Like Tubular Bell said- he has never been to any session at all- where can he possibly learn the subtle differences? You can’t get Solas,Shantalla and other CDs here. Oh yeah this reminds me- some people play irish tunes using galician gaitas- thanks to that part of Irish hertige stays alive - eventhough all the play is Cooley’s Reel…

All the best.

Kuba

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Re: Piano accordions - the curse of traditional music

thanks for that kuba

and by the by, there’s something about the ‘sevens’ _for example, ‘the seven god’s of luck’ in japenese folklore

and a mighty tune ‘the guns of the magnificent seven’ which, surprisingly, appears on less than 100 tune lists on this site _the 1960’s western of that name was lifted from a japenese classic ‘the seven samurai’ (see zina’s comments)

to come full round, you only have to think of the rich sound of a full orchestra to appreciate the simple point that ‘it’s not only the quanitity, but the quality’ of what you hear (if it’s there)

so i look forward to hearing seven fiddles again in a session or seven piano boxes, why not?

Re: Piano accordions - the curse of traditional music

Hi Kuba

I noticed that, during a recent discussion about Piano Accordions, you referred to Shantalla and the difficulty of finding our cds in Poland. If you would like to obtain a copy of one of our albums please let me know.

Gerry Murray
www.shantalla.com

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I’ll tell you why I did it
I was playing the PA long before starting to play ITM. I started playing balkan/gypsy music, studied classical, etc.
I do think there shouldn’t be more than one accordion as its sound is too full, but here in Mexico there are not enough musicians interested in ITM to make a session (to my knowledge) so my band which is a lonely whistle, my accordion and a Bodhrán doesn’t sound too bad (I hope).
However, I got my concertina out of it’s box and I’m learning some tunes in it, and I’m thinking of getting a B/C box on my trip to Ireland in a few days.

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Not in the hands of the right person playing the right kind of piano-accordion: but to know the right kind you’ve probably got to have set out by playing the wrong kind - the usual beginner’s Catch-22.
The wrong sort will be the one that entices you from a junk shop window when you’re toying with the thought of playing another instrument, so you buy it for a fairly feasible amount and go home in a warm glow of anticipation - maybe you’ll have mastered some standards by the coming Folk Festival…etc.etc! Little do you know.
The right sort will be lurking in a showroom, and will cost a huge amount more. With luck the staff will know which accordion would be best for your needs (Lucid description of session required at this point…). But I know nothing of this. The TWO accordions that I’ve owned, have been
the first sort - and very definitely the wrong sort.

Re: Piano accordions - the curse of traditional music

if you were ever lucky enough to witness THE VATERSAY BOYS then i believe you might not be so anti PA.

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Piano accordions - the curse of traditional music

As a PA player i do take offence at such remarks… i have read all the replies some funny some not so funny…
I should actually say as a musician i am very disappointed in the comments from ron p who started this thread … I can name dozens of accordionists (PA) who after practicing 8 hours a day for years can knock out a tune or 2 ( me being one of them - having practiced till the wee small hours).
Try the Currie brothers, Gary Blair, Gregor Lowry, (Scottish players) Seamus O’ Sullivan , Gerry Conolin (2 of the best Irish box players I have ever heard) all piano box players and see if you think any of those players make your teeth go on edge. I have played on Stage with Gary and Seamus along with Willie McGuire ( great 3 row button player and really nice guy) and I can assure you it was a fantastic night and remembered by all who was there…. And yes, there was even a drummer ( Donnie McNeil founder of the Vatersey boys … great player and good friend) … this is not to mention the more well know players such as Phil Cunningham, Donald Shaw, and Classic players such as Dermit O,Brien, Paddy Neary , Ian Macphail and Shand .. the list is endless…
Yours is an ill informed judgment from someone, who can not appreciate sheer hard work and the excellence achieved by that hard work.
This is the same for the vilolin/fiddle, whistle, flute, pipes drums, guitar … in the hands of a beginner all instruments don’t sound very good until they put the practice and time in to improve.
I, like other true musicians appreciate all music forms and instruments when played in the hands of someone that knows what they are doing… i have heard traditional music from all over the world first hand from small villages in Georgia (old USSR) to buskers from the eastern block countries who are busking in the streets in Nurenburg and it never ceases to amaze me the standard and quality that can be achieved by all instruments through hard work and dedication , and yes even the Piano Accordion…. So please please please do not generalise , because you hear some beginners playing, and may i add - having fun ( surely that’s what its all about no matter what instrument) try and look at the glass half full and see the joy music can bring to individuals with the instrument of their choice…
Rant Over….

Best wishes

Frazer Mclellan

Re: Piano accordion players - may their understanding and appreciation grow

Not forgetting the cack players who think they can but do not play with respect for the music or the other musicians present, being too fond of using all reeds and hamming on with the bass and chords while playing in an impressively mechanical way, heavy on the legato, but then a 75 words a minute typist is also impresssive, but I wouldn’t want them in a session.

It is not the ‘beginner’ that is the problem, they are a spark seeking inspiration and direction. It is the too common know-it-all who crashes a good session and spoils the craic with their lack of consideration and inability to pull it back and ‘blend’ instead of dominate… There is a reason that the instrument has earned the tag the HGV (Heavy Goods Vehicle/Big Truck) or Mac Truck (a BIG Truck) of the music world… Anyone who has experienced the ‘sometimes’ rudeness of such vehicles on major roads has some idea of why the piano accordion has been so compared. There is also a reason why folks generalize this way, while realizing as I do that there are exceptions…

My wife and I appreciate a good piano accordion player, but I have to say they have proved to be in the minority, in our experience…

‘hamming on’ lost the ‘er’ ~ 😉 ~ ‘hammering on’

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ceolachan’s reply made me think that the problem with piano accordion is similar to that with the guitar and the piano: all three are capable of playing melody and accompaniment at the same time, and many players of these instruments have a hard time adjusting to a playing situation (session) where less is very definitely more. If you play PA, you are very welcome at our session, but you should be sensitive to other chordal and rhythmic accompaniment that may be present, and take turns or just play melody rather than contribute to deepening the swamp of overtones.

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I play piano accordion 26 key cause it’s portable and easy to use. I’m thinking of upgrading my box. Not sure what new box to get without being ripped off lol

Re: Piano accordions - the curse of traditional music

Just got a new weltmeister Rubin which I’m very pleased with. It has 30 keys and 60 basses so I can play in each key.

Re: Piano accordions - the curse of traditional music

Here are my thoughts. The piano accordion is one of the most versatile instruments. You can hear it in just about any type of music and when played well (listen to Phil Cunningham, Jimmy Keane or Karen Tweed) it’s beautiful. In the states many bands have incorporated the sound of the piano accordions into their music. Bruce Springsteen, Emmylou Haris, Bruce Hornsby, Counting Crows, Subdudes … etc all use the sound of a piano accordion not a button accordion. Why? It goes back to what I said in the beginning, it’s one of the most versatile instruments. It really is a portable piano.
The problem, and for some the benefit with the piano accordion is it’s not that hard to get a tune out of it. Again very similar to a piano. It’s easy to play badly but very very difficult to play well. As for playing Irish and Scottish music it takes years of dedication to approach the right sound. Believe me I’m on that journey right now and it’s not easy. in summary I like the piano accordion. In the right hands it’s a beautiful sound.