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What is a Concertina?

A concertina is a free-reed musical instrument, similar to an accordion, with a rich history rooted in maritime and folk traditions. Its compact, hexagonal shape houses bellows and buttons, producing melodious tones when played. Whether you're a music enthusiast or curious about cultural instruments, the concertina's charm is undeniable. How might its unique sound enhance your musical repertoire? Explore with us.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

A concertina is a type of free-reed musical instrument which resembles an accordion, with two panels connected by a set of bellows. Concertinas are often hexagonal in design, and they tend to be smaller than their accordion cousins. There are a number of different concertina styles and types on the market, and these instruments can be heard in a variety of settings. They often accompany folk music and casual music gatherings.

Like other free-reed instruments, a concertina produces sound by forcing air past a vibrating reed. The tone can be changed with the use of buttons, which can produce individual notes or be played together to create a chord. Air is forced through the concertina by manipulating the bellows. A well known member of the free-reed family is the harmonica, in which users blow air past the reed to create a desired sound.

Sir Charles Wheatstone is usually credited with inventing the concertina.
Sir Charles Wheatstone is usually credited with inventing the concertina.

The credit for the invention of the concertina usually goes to Sir Charles Wheatstone, who developed an early version in England in 1829, although versions also popped up in Germany shortly afterwards. It is unclear if the Germans invented the instrument independently, or if they picked up the British version and adapted it. The name of the instrument is a compound of “concert” and the Italian diminutive suffix “-ina.”

A dizzying array of variations on the concertina can be found. Some produce sound as the bellows are being compressed only, while others can make sounds in both directions. It is also possible to find variations which play different notes on the press and draw of the bellows. Most have buttons arranged in a chromatic scale, meaning that they progress by even semitones, while others are diatonic, mixing full tone intervals and some half tone intervals. The shape of a concertina can also vary; many German versions, for example, are square or rectangular rather than hexagonal.

Some stores which stock musical instruments carry concertinas, and they can usually be ordered by special request for customers who want them. Concertina lessons can sometimes be hard to obtain, depending on where in the world one is, although if a player is familiar with other free-reed instruments, it is possible to pick up the skills needed for the concertina by experimenting with the instrument. Recordings of concertina music are also available, for people who want to appreciate the sound of skilled performances or music from different regions of the world.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a concertina and how does it differ from an accordion?

A concertina is a free-reed musical instrument, similar to an accordion, but differs in several ways. It is smaller, hexagonal in shape, and has buttons on both ends that are pushed and pulled to produce sound. Unlike the accordion, which has a keyboard for the right hand, the concertina's buttons are identical on both sides and are played with both hands. The concertina also typically has a more limited range of notes and is known for its distinctive, bellows-driven sound.

What types of music are commonly played on the concertina?

The concertina is versatile and used in various music genres, including folk, classical, and sea shanties. In folk music, particularly Irish, English, and South African music, the concertina is a staple instrument. It's also found in tango music and occasionally in rock or pop as a unique sound addition. The instrument's portability and expressive capabilities make it a favorite among street performers and traditional musicians alike.

How many different types of concertinas are there?

There are three main types of concertinas: the English, Anglo, and Duet concertinas. The English concertina is known for its uniform button arrangement, where each button produces the same note whether the bellows are pushed or pulled. The Anglo concertina, often used in Irish music, is diatonic and plays different notes on the push and pull. The Duet concertina, less common, allows for more complex arrangements with independent melody and accompaniment.

What is the typical price range for a concertina?

The price of a concertina can vary widely based on factors such as type, quality, and age. Beginner models may start around $100 to $500, while mid-range instruments can cost between $500 and $2,000. Professional concertinas, especially vintage or custom-made ones, can exceed $2,000 and reach up to $10,000 or more. It's important to consider the instrument's playability, sound quality, and construction when evaluating its price.

How do I maintain and care for my concertina?

Maintaining a concertina involves regular care to ensure its longevity and sound quality. Keep it in a dry environment and avoid extreme temperatures to prevent damage to the reeds and bellows. After playing, allow the concertina to air out before storing it in its case to prevent moisture buildup. Periodically check for any leaks or damage and consult a professional for tuning or repairs. Handling the instrument gently and keeping it clean will also help preserve its condition.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a MusicalExpert researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Learn more...
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a MusicalExpert researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Learn more...

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    • Sir Charles Wheatstone is usually credited with inventing the concertina.
      Sir Charles Wheatstone is usually credited with inventing the concertina.