Folk & Acoustic Musical Instrument Specialists

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Melodeon Information and FAQs



DEFINITION


Button keyed diatonic Accordion, In England this term includes all button keyed diatonic accordions, in Ireland and Scotland it is more specific to the one row 10 keyed variety.

INTRODUCTION


The Melodeon is very easy to learn, and tends to suit people who play by ear, as it is difficult to read music on a push-pull instrument. The fingering is very similar to the harmonica and anglo concertina on the right hand - with a different note on the push & pull of the bellows. There are bass notes and chords on the left hand.

We would always recommend you to start on a two row, D/G for English, or B/C for Irish music.

SOME TYPES OF MELODEON


2-Row Chromatic Melodeons | 2-Row Diatonic Melodeons | 3-Row Melodeons | Bandoneon | Bayan | One Row Melodeons

2-Row Chromatic Melodeons

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Introduction: Two row chromatics have the rows tuned a semitone apart. The first key quoted is the lower. B/C is most common but we do sometimes have C/C# and C#/D. Chromatic tuning is normal in Ireland and popular as well in Scotland.

2-Row Diatonic Melodeons

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Introduction: Two row diatonics have rows tuned one fourth apart, D/G is most common in England, while C/F is preferred in Germany and G/C in France.

3-Row Melodeons

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Introduction: Three row melodeons expand the possibilities, we sell new ones in A/D/G. We sometimes have secondhand ones in B/C/C# as well.

Bandoneon

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Definition: square-built button accordion; used in Argentinian tango.

Bayan

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Definition: chromatic accordian of Russia and Belorussia, with button keyboard.

One Row Melodeons

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Introduction: One row melodeons are used for cajun music, played in the same style as a blues harmonica. They are also popular in the British Isles played straight along the row. The stops (2, 3 or 4 usually) each switch a set of reeds on or off. We've also got some massively popular toy melodeons for children.

CHOOSING

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Choosing your Melodeon

What tuning should I get?

Firstly you need to know what style of music you will mainly want to play, the most popular styles are given below, and each calls for a different tuning. Apart from the style you prefer, you should consider what key your friends use, so you can join in and learn from them, and the pitch of your voice. We would always recommend you to start on a two row.

  • D/G is suited to English folk Music.
  • B/C is the usual choice for Irish music (players use both rows in order to play mainly in D or G, but the instrument is almost chromatic). B/C and C/C# are also used in Scotland. C/C# is less popular now and C#/D also exists.
  • In France, and most parts of North and South America G/C is preferred
  • In Germany C/F is the standard and the Club Model is a popular variant with two and a half rows.

Whatever the key, all 2 row diatonics have the same fingering, and you donít need to re-learn anything to play on a melodeon in a different key.

D/G is the highest pitch of the diatonics, followed by C/F, A/D, and G/C, which is lowest.

How Many Rows?

The basic melodeon has one row of 10 treble keys, and 4 bass keys. This type provides a cheap (but limited) way to begin the melodeon. Some people find a one row in G useful, because it plays an octave below the G row of a D/G. An instrument in D is highest in pitch followed by C, A, and G, which is the lowest.

More useful is the two row, which is the most popular and useful option. The outer row is tuned either a 4th (diatonic system) or a semitone (chromatic system) below the inside row. A two row will usually have eight basses. Sometimes an extra half row is added on diatonics to give a wider range of notes.

A three row, gives a third available key in diatonics, or alternative fingerings in chromatics, but many players find three rows a bit bulky.

What does tremolo mean?

On a box which has more than one set of reeds it is possible to tune one reed slightly sharper than the other, so that a beat or tremolo effect occurs, this can give the sound an extra sharpness and clarity, as in the Hohner pokerwork.

The Paolo Soprani type instruments usually have the most tremolo, and the Castagnaris have either dry (almost no tremolo), or swing (about half as much tremolo as a Hohner) tunings. Musette tuning is popular in Scotland and France, but is going out of favour in Ireland. This means 3 sets of reeds, one tuned sharp, and one flat, a very wet sound.

Price and Quality Factors

The other important factors to consider are the sound you like, and you will just have to listen to find that out, the speed and accuracy of response (which is generally related to the price), and how comfortable it is to hold.

The price you should pay obviously depends on your budget, but we wouldn't recommend a beginner to buy the most expensive model, or an experienced player to choose one which will hold them back.

Further Info

Irish players call a two row melodeon a button accordeon, they reserve the word melodeon for the single row instrument which seems to be used in competitions rather than general playing. Don't confuse the description "Continental System button accordion" with a French or Italian style diatonic accordeon or melodeon - it is rather more a piano accordion with a button keyboard system replacing the piano keys.

Registers and voices

Melodeons usually have two reeds sounding each note. The two sets of reeds are its two voices, the Castagnari Lilly for example is a single voice instrument. Piano accordions may have more voices, 5 is not unusual. Keys used like organ stops switch these voices on and off - these are the registers or couplers.

TUNINGS AND FINGERING

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Melodeon Keyboard Diagrams
We have keyboard diagrams of some common types of melodeon here:
21 Key D/G with low notes
21 Key D/G with accidentals
23 Key D/G
26 Key D/G (21+5) coming one day!
27 Key D/G (23+4)
31 Key A/D/G
21 Key C/F
30 Key C/F Club
21 Key B/C
21 Key C#/D
23 Key B/C
27 Key B/C (23+4)

MUSICAL STYLES

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English & other Diatonic Styles

Most English dance bands, and Morris musicians use a 2 row with D/G tuning, which is ideal for those keys and the related minors, but not for any others. A three row A/D/G gives the key of A, together with more flexibility particularly in the bass.

Why are there high notes at the bottom of the keyboard?
These are diatonic instruments, in that they only play the basic scale without sharps and flats. Quite a few tunes call for extra notes not in the diatonic scale, so some instruments are provided with the most useful accidentals instead of the two lowest notes at the end of each row. Delicias and Hohners are tuned like this, Castagnaris are available with or without accidentals, and Paolo Sopranis come without. Serenellini & Saltarelle models with 23 treble keys have both low notes & accidentals.

The loss of the low notes can be a problem, and one solution is to position the accidental notes as an extra half row, as on the Castagnari Dony, and Serenellini Nimbus.


Cajun & Tex-Mex

Cajun musicians use an old style 10 key one row, with four sets of reeds, each set can be individually selected by the use of the stops and quite a variety of tone can be produced. The most popular tuning is C, but D is also common. Cajun music is played in a blues style, and transposes the music up one fifth, so to play in G you need a C box, and a D box will give A.

The other main use of diatonic tunings is in Tex-Mex, where G/C and G/C/F are preferred. Flaco Jimenez plays a Hohner Corona in G/C/F.


Irish & Chromatic Style

Irish and Scottish musicians usually prefer the Chromatic system. On these instruments the rows are tuned only a semitone apart, so that all the sharps and flats are available. The treble keyboard can play in any key, but you will be limited by what the bass can provide in the way of chords. 12 bass models give more scope, but many traditional players donít use the basses at all. Models with 23 treble notes give nearly a 3 octave range in this tuning.


The most popular tuning is B/C, and it is quite simple to play in D or G on this by playing across the rows. Using the same fingering you can get the keys of E and A out of a C#/D box, or just play it in D. C/C# is becoming less popular. A three row in B/C/C# gives you more options, and more bass notes. John Kirkpatrick uses a three row chromatic, and the B/C is standard in Irish ceilidh bands.