Because there are many types of accordions that use different tuning systems as well as varied key and button layouts, choosing the right beginner's accordion can be challenging. Things to consider include the types of music that the student wants to play, his or her past music experience, and the musical contexts in which the accordion will be played. Size and weight should also be considered, especially where children and small adults are concerned. Accordion teachers and online forums for accordion enthusiasts can be good sources for finding the best beginner's accordion for your situation.
Accordions generally fall into one of two basic configurations: unisonic or bisonic. A unisonic accordion produces the same tones regardless of the direction in which the bellows move, while bisonic accordions produce two different tones, depending on the direction of the bellows movement. A further basic distinction is whether the accordion is tuned diatonically or chromatically. Generally, a chromatic accordion is considered a more versatile instrument since it can produce all of the sharp and flat notes within its range. Chromatic accordions are considered somewhat more difficult to master, while diatonic instruments lend themselves to melodically simple folk music.
Among diatonic accordions, you'll find many many different configurations that can be roughly categorized by the number of button rows and the tuning relationships between the rows. Italian diatonics, a popular beginner's accordion choice, have two full button rows that are tuned a fourth apart. They usually have a third partial row composed of several sharps and flats that integrate well with the accordion's diatonic scales. There are also three-, four-, and five-row diatonic accordions that employ a variety of tuning systems.
Chromatic accordions have anywhere from 20 to dozens of treble buttons and 12 to 160 bass buttons. A beginner's accordion with fewer buttons, though less musically versatile, may be a better choice, since most pupils are able to play simple tunes more quickly, keeping them motivated. The two most common key and button layouts are referred to as the B and C systems. Many advanced players choose the B system for performance of difficult classical and tango repertoires. The C system is considered an easier configuration for playing simpler melodies with bass accompaniment, and thus can be a better choice for a beginner's accordion.
Piano accordions that employ the Stradella bass system have a uniform bass button layout. Since the accordionist can play various models and makes of piano accordions without having to learn new fingering techniques, they have become very popular among both advanced and beginning accordionists. As with chromatic accordions, the number of bass buttons and treble keys vary considerably. An accordion teacher can help to pinpoint which model would be best based on the student's prior music knowledge and musical preferences.