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Astor Piazzolla was a famous bandoneon player. In his one cd, he says that people ask him why he plays the accordion and then he says he does not he plays the bandoneon.

So what exactly is the difference between the two, are they related at all?

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Both are hand bellows operated free-reed instruments.

Accordion is typically unisonoric (same note on push and draw) and the left hand usually has a system of bass and chord buttons with unspecific octave relation. Bisonoric accordions exist as well, from one-row instruments like Cajun accordions to larger instruments like the Steirische Harmonica.

The bandonion started life as sort of a "poor man's accordion" and had its roots in the Chemnitzer Concertina, like the bandonion a bisonoric instrument with a square bellows cross section and a layout focusing on accompanying bass notes in the left hand and a melody-suited layout on the right hand.

The original instruments had a limited number of buttons focused around the melody/accompaniment idea and also had rather little redundancy, requiring frequent direction changes of the bellows.

Over the time the instrument gained more and more buttons in rather chaotic manner in order to facilitate better melodic play and chromatic play and became larger and bulkier. Consequently, fast direction changes became more awkward particularly for single notes, so missing notes on draw and push were added as well.

The result is an instrument that can be played chromatically on either push or draw and (with some overlapping range) in the left and the right hand, but left and right and push and draw are utterly different, like 4 different typewriter layouts.

This "missing tone correction" was done differently on the "Deutsches Einheitsbandonion" with 144 buttons and the "Rheinische Lage" Bandonion with 142 (I think). The latter was and still is immensely popular as an instrument for Tango Argentino and art forms of it. Many traditional tango players are rarely seen playing this instrument on the push, ever (instead you play one phrase on the draw with the laaarge bellows across your legs, then push the large "air button" and "breathe out" in preparation for the next phrase). The outdying species of German "bandonion orchestras" will be seen strictly alternating the bellows as the instrument was originally designed.

The German "Vogtland" region, a home originally of string instrument builders and manufacturers who have moved from Bohemia to Saxonia, was both home of the oldest harmonica and accordion productions as well as most of the renowned bandonion production: in Carlsfeld the famous "Alfred Arnold" bandonions still hotly sought after for Tango were built.

Traditional block reed plates for bandonions tended to be made from zinc rather than aluminum and had rectangular reeds rather than trapezoidal ones. Some modern instruments try to achieve their sound in a similar manner, some others use different parts.

  • 2
    This is fascinating stuff. – Neil Meyer Apr 5 '17 at 12:37
  • 2
    This is a great answer; could you edit to provide references to source docs? – Carl Witthoft Apr 5 '17 at 12:39
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    Hey good answer! Welcome to Music.SE! – Todd Wilcox Apr 5 '17 at 12:51

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