The accordion is a reed instrument, but unlike most reed instruments, it's played by pushing and pulling instead of blowing. The force of air through the instrument vibrates a reed and makes sound. Some think that a primitive accordion-like instrument was played in ancient Egypt.
The first modern accordion was invented by Cyrillus Damian in Vienna, circa 1829. It was a simple button accordion that had only 7 notes of a major scale, so it played in only one key, like a harmonica. These are still played today, especially in Cajun music where the accordion contributes greatly to the genre's signature sound.
The popular "piano accordion" was developed in the late 1800s. It consists of a bellows, a piano keyboard on the right and a series of buttons on the left, which are used to play bass notes and chords.
The Vaudeville performer Count Guido Deiro is credited with making the first piano accordion recordings in 1908, being the first to play an accordion on a radio broadcast in 1921 and the first to play the accordion in a sound motion picture in 1928.
So why have we never hear the name "Count Guido Deiro"? Well, can you name any modern accordionists? I didn't think so. The truth is the accordion doesn't get the respect it deserves.
The instrument adds a wonderful undercurrent of sound if used correctly, especially when paired with acoustic instruments. Popular music is rife with fantastic songs that feature the accordion and I'm not talking about Weird Al Yankovic.
Such great bands as The Who, The Rolling Stones, Counting Crows, Nirvana, Bob Dylan, R.E.M. and The Talking Heads have used the accordion to great effect.
You owe it to yourself to develop an appreciation of this under-the-radar Rock & Roll instrument. Or at the very least, be able to pick it out of a mix.
The following playlist includes some of the greatest uses of the accordion in popular music.
The Accordion Playlist
17. Bugs - Pearl Jam