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I want to learn a new instrument and I feel like piano or accordion will really help me with my music theory. The thing is, all of the other instruments I play are "strumming" instruments like guitar and ukulele. Which one would probably be easier for me to learn? (Just for clarification, I'm talking about a piano accordion and I would be teaching myself the instrument.)

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    Regarding music theory, I could never see why keyboard instruments would be any more useful for this than guitars. Sure, you can perform more independent voices on organ than on string instruments, but that's not really necessary for theoretical understanding. IMO, theory benefits greatly from seeing the symmetries in harmonic relations, and the standard keyboard layout rather obscures this. – leftaroundabout Feb 24 '16 at 19:08
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It's generally considered that keyboard (piano) is the best instrument to use when trying to understand (unravel!) theory. If you mean a piano accordion, then the keyboard part is similar - except it's not as readily see-able as a piano. You've also other issues, like left hand is doing something entirely different, AND you have to keep the thing moving otherwise it goes rather quiet. If it's a button key accordion, it's even more remote. One big advantage is it isn't big, so can be played virtually anywhere. Not the same as a bulky piano.

If room (and THE room) are not issues, go for a piano. Also there are probably more pianos around for you to play once you are proficient. I see more pianos on my travels than accordions. Maybe because they're harder to pack away!

Going back to practice, an electronic piano can be played silently, not so sure with an accordion.

  • There are now also electronic accordions available (e.g. Roland V-Accordion). Not as cheap as electron pianos, though. – leftaroundabout Feb 24 '16 at 19:00
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I'd recommend chromatic button accordion since its keys are arranged according to chromatic pitch, like those of the guitar, making it better suitable for improvised playing. The keys of a piano (or piano accordion) instead mimic the note layout in scores: if you are going to do a lot of sightreading, that simplifies things. Button accordions (particularly for band use) are also smaller in size which makes them more feasible for playing while standing up.

However, those are players' considerations: as a music theory aid, the button accordion is a mixed blessing. When having one with white and black buttons, at least you can spot the staggering of semitones and see how this maps to scales when moving your hand across for transposition. It would probably not help more than keys however.

With regard to accordion vs piano: accordion makes it easy to do chord accompaniments since the "standard bass" offers one bass note or one chord per button. That's very convenient when playing solo; in band context however you are more likely to just use the right hand for playing and the left for bellows control since the rhythm section is usually left to other band members.

For music theory, this simple accompaniment (even though it's arranged in circles of fifths) is essentially useless. You'd need a free bass or converter in the left hand to have single notes there, and the single notes in the left hand are arranged in chromatic button accordion manner anyway. So there is little sense in going for the bulkier piano keyboard for the right hand when you are playing single notes in the left: you'll need to learn the system anyway.

Piano is a percussive instrument, accordion is continuous tone. Percussive instruments are easier to balance out with other instruments (particularly when accompaying singers) for a transparent mix since they have a poignant attack and decay.

Electronic accordions can also produce Midi. That's particularly useful for continuous-control instruments like wind instruments and bowed strings. However, if you are carrying a controller in accordion form, the audience expectations will be that you are producing an accordion sound.

There are also "accordion keyboards" which are flat, with either button or piano controls for the right hand. If you play those, audience expectations will be like with any keyboard instrument. You lose the bellows for control, however.

Accordions take more effort to lug around than guitars (even though they are nominally smaller) but less than pianos.

  • in deed, piano is easier to study chord arrangements and accordion are good to learn about intervals and solo playing – Julio Marins Feb 24 '16 at 1:49
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I play both piano and accordion and I would say piano, because:

  • There's a huge amount of piano learning material and sheet music for piano. Accordion has some learning material and music but it's not uncommon for there not to be an accordion arrangement of a song you want to play.
  • Far easier to find a piano teacher than an accordion teacher
  • Easier to see the piano keyboard. This is helpful while learning theory so that you can sit, look at the keyboard, and think about it.
  • Your piano skills will transfer well if you ever want to pick up accordion.
  • Left hand chords in the accordion obscure the actual notes of the chord. E.g. an E diminished chord is a single button and you don't have to know what notes are in it. On piano you have to know all the notes to hit an E dim. So piano is more instructive in that respect.
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You mentioned two goals in your question. You want to enhance your understanding of music theory but also wonder which of two instruments are easier to play.

I think the other answers have adequately addressed the differences between an accordion and a piano in terms of playability and how they relate to music theory. And you did not really ask about the versatility or sound or ways you might use an accordion or piano - but you can probably figure that out.

As someone who plays guitar as my primary instrument (as well as ukulele) but plays a tiny bit of piano and keyboard, I would like to address the primary differences between guitar and piano - both in terms of playing as well as grasping how theory relates to the instrument.

A piano style keyboard presents a much more intuitive laterally arranged layout of notes than a guitar. With piano, when you play an ascending note scale, you know that the next note in the scale will be to the right, if playing a descending scale, the next note will be to the left. With guitar, the notes go back and forth - unless you play the entire scale on one string. It's not common to play scales on one guitar string because it would require large shifts in position. Fret spacing on guitar is much larger than key spacing on piano.

With piano, any given pitch the instrument is capable of playing, is represented by only ONE key on the instrument. With guitar, there are several different ways to play a given pitch on different strings and frets. Picking out a melody by ear is far more intuitive on piano because you know which direction to move and about how far, depending if your next note is higher or lower.

As far as seeing applications of various aspects of music theory on the instrument itself - piano keyboard provides a much more logical and identifiable picture. It's easier to see intervals such as a third or a fifth. On piano, you basically have to deal with only 12 chromatic keys which simply repeat in different places on the keyboard. When you learn a 7 note diatonic scale on piano, you can immediately see the sharps/flats because they are the black keys. Each seven note scale simply repeats multiple times in different octaves on different sections of the keyboards - but the keys are basically the same. You just imagine that there are a set of 7 keys out of 12 you are going to use - and shift position to play in a different octave.

So for the reasons stated above, I do believe that learning a keyboard instrument such as key based accordion or piano, would help with understanding music theory by allowing you to see the application of the theory in a more logical visual context than on guitar or ukulele.

But as far as being easy to convert to piano from guitar? - In my opinion, there is not much that translates from guitar to piano, other than what theory you have already learned. The muscle memory equation does not translate at all. There are no chord shapes that are played on guitar that remotely resemble any chord shapes on keyboard. Your brain must train your fingers to form entirely different shapes altogether. There is no similarity to learning to combine a specific strumming pattern with your strumming hand while simultaneously fingering chords with your fretting hand with piano. On piano, either hand may be used to establish the rhythm (or both at the same time). There is not a strumming hand and fretting hand. So you learn a different type of coordination between your left and right hand for piano - than you do for guitar.

That does not mean you can't learn piano as easily as anyone else. And any music theory that managed to sink in from guitar, will help with understanding music theory (such as chord progressions) on piano. But you may need to know that if you want to become a true pianist - playing both left hand and right hand parts of music written for piano, it might take a larger investment of time than what you have invested in learning guitar.

What I mean is, piano music can be more complex than guitar music. Because with ten fingers and a foot, there can be so much more going on with the piano. If you are playing classical guitar and fingerpicking with your picking hand and playing both bass lines and melody lines on the right hand, then you are playing arrangements that are similar to those commonly played on piano. But of course the finger movements are completely different.

I play rhythm guitar in a band to accompany my singing. I have another guitar player taking care of the lead guitar part and a bass player playing the bass. If I played piano, I might be expected to play all three parts on piano. Perhaps my left hand would be playing some base notes and some chords while my right hand played the melody and some counterpoint or harmonized with the melody note. And I might play a solo instrumental with right hand while maintaining a bass/chord harmony with the left hand.

So what I am saying is, that I did not have to get to be an expert on guitar to play on stage and get paid to do it - because a guitarist (other than solo classical or flamenco) is not always required to play anything much more complex than a chord progression with a few fills thrown in. But a pianist is expected to play multiple parts of a song while maintaining the basic rhythm.

My mother was an accomplished pianist and taught piano. I always admired what she could do. I found it much easier to become satisfactorily proficient on guitar than to learn to actually play the piano like a real pianist. My daughter took piano lessons for 3 years. I can play better than she does and I never took a lesson. I have friends who took lessons faithfully for 12 years or more on piano and I would not consider them anything more than an advanced beginner to intermediate pianist.

With either guitar or piano, there is always room to grow and to improve. But each requires a commitment and large investment of time. I tried piano before learning guitar. I still try to learn piano, but for me personally, it would take too much time away from my goal of getting better on guitar - to get even to an intermediate level of proficiency on piano.

You may have the time and desire to become an expert pianist while maintaining or perhaps even continuing to improve your guitar skills. But - you can learn some basic piano/keyboard skills that will allow you to connect the dots easier on many aspects of music theory - without spending all your free time trying to learn piano - if your goal is not to become a concert pianist or get paid to play piano (where expectations would be higher).

If you simply want to learn enough keyboard to be able to play for your own enjoyment and be able to see how certain aspects of theory relate to a keyboard, then read this on Music Stack Exchange Learn Piano if you don't have enough extra time

Also Alternate Learning Methods for Piano may be helpful as well.

Finally - this answer to a closed question may still show up in this link Learning Piano and Guitar in parallel It details some ideas about how to learn both guitar and piano at the same time.

  • The comparison was piano v. accordion rather than piano v. guitar, although you make some valid points. – Tim Feb 23 '16 at 8:25
  • @Tim - You are correct - but since he framed the question around guitar (.... "easier for me as a guitarist?) and which would be the easier to transition to from guitar - I chose to address the transition from guitar to keys. There is an implied assumption that 1) keys would help with music theory - I addressed that in my answer. Also, I think many folk believe that it is easier to learn keys, if you already play guitar. So since the question revolved around going from guitar to keys, I chose to address that as well. – Rockin Cowboy Feb 23 '16 at 15:43
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I like your questions and very good answers. I can play a bit of piano accordion. I have a few pic's with a 48 bass. 96 bass is quite large and makes your shoulders tired. My answer is, surely you can play a tune on organ or piano keys. Borrow a instrument somewhere and just try it. Sitting with it is not a good idea as it may damage the "book", or airbag on the bottom. Standing at first like a Giraffe long neck looking at the keys. In the center of the bass knobs, C is "hollow" to feel it, with G and F below and above it. Play your first song in C,F and G. Playing a song in G, D and C is below and above the G. You can follow a little pattern similar to Guitar chords. In fact playing a guitar strumming just chords on a sing along around a camp fire is great with a piano accordion as well! Just play base knobs with chords on the keys, add a few guitars to it, and I promise a splendid sing along around a camp fire!

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Not being a musician but trying to play for years on the accordion. Here's my two cents worth having played a guitar in my teen years (strumming chords was much easier than plucking the correct string all the time). With a regular piano or piano accordion, you will need to make what seems like huge stretches at times of your hand. Ex. play a G7 and start on F and end on D. It would be impossible (?) to start on a B, bypass the F and try to reach the next F up the keyboard. On the guitar as on the chromatic accordion, there are a number of ways to do what would be impossible on a piano keyboard (at least without using two hands). You are also used to following a number of chord patterns up and down the guitar keyboard. On the piano keyboard, there will be four different fingerings for the more common major chord patterns: CEG/DF#A/BbDF/BD#F#. Now add three times four for the different inversions. On a chromatic keyboard, you can stick with one finger pattern and just move your whole hand up, down, sideways, etc. Of course, you can also add more inversions, but the pattern movements stay the same adding only three as opposed to 12 different patterns. Want to do a diminished chord (more fingered chord patterns on a piano). Go for minors and 7ths. Then maybe augmented… It becomes astronomical! Highly simplified with a chromatic keyboard! Wished I had started off with one instead of wasting time on a piano keyboard accordion. Then again as I said, I'm not a musician. You'll also find the chromatic to be faster without huge finger stretches, unless you want to play a note 2, 3 or, maybe, 4 octaves higher or lower than the root chord (impossible on a piano accordion keyboard). I believe since you are used to the chromatic nature (ok, some will argue about my use of the word chromatic, be kind), I believe you will learn faster with more accuracy and still learn music theory with a chromatic keyboard. I would not go with anything less than 5 rows of buttons on the right hand. I have a Balkan or Yugoslavian model with 6 rows of buttons on the right hand. Russians love the B system, whereas most (?) in the US go for the C system (find out from and accordion retailer if interested). The patterns are just flipped, but the B is more common for technical work whereas the C is more common for melodic music (ok, let me have it from you B system players). And, you can forget for learning purposes the left hand. There are a number of YouTube accordionists who do not even play the left keyboard. Course, it adds an element that is really filling in a song. And, there are reedless and totally electronic chromatic accordions (Roland, Musictech, Crucianelli, etc., etc.). And if you go with reeds, most 5 row chromatics have anywhere from 5 – 15 shifts which throw into play anywhere from 3 – 5 treble reed blocks on the right hand. Most will have 5 reed blocks on the left hand. You can sound very close to wind instruments like clarinets, oboes, etc. or the beautiful, full sound of a continental French musette accordion, where three clarinet reeds play at the same time, each slightly detuned from the other. Or, throw all of how many you have in at the same time. The left hand offers combinations too, but usually not detuned. Most accordions are tuned A440 or slightly above. Oh, Crucianelli used to and may still make an electronic chromatic keyboard laid flat like a piano, but with the superior layout of a chromatic keyboard. Good luck. I love the accordion!!! Neil.

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In my twenties,I played a guitar, three chord trick style and accompanied myself singing, but found finger picking to be very difficult. I have no notation skills whatever and play entirely by ear. I picked up an eight base piano accordion and very quickly began vamping three chord trick. Everyone is different, but I would try Accordion. The very best instrument to get is a Hohner 48 base student. This size is easy on the back and shoulders, whereas some of the big 120's are like iron lungs! The Accordion is gaining in popularity and players like Richard Galiano are bringing to life such gems as the remarkable Tango music of Astor Piazzola. Galiano plays a Victoria "Quint Converter" button accordion. The beauty of all squeeze box reed instruments is there portability. If you are used to ensemble work, you can join other players in modern Jazz or Folk.

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