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What Is an Accordion Bellows?

An accordion bellows is the heart of the instrument, a flexible, pleated chamber drawing air in and out, fueling the reeds to create rich, melodious sounds. This dynamic component allows for the expressive control that gives the accordion its unique voice. Curious about how this intricate system shapes music? Dive deeper to uncover the symphony within the folds.
Lee Johnson
Lee Johnson

Accordion bellows are the concertinaed section in the center of an accordion. The bellows are expanded and contracted to pass air through various metal reeds inside the instrument that are responsible for the generation of noise. An accordion will not make any sound unless the bellows are contracted or expanded. The main concern of the bellows for an accordionist is the effect they will have on the tone produced by the instrument.

A Chinese instrument, the cheng, was the first recorded instrument to use vibrating reeds as a means of making sound, but the accordion known today originated from Germany. There are two different types of accordion, the diatonic accordion and the piano accordion. The piano accordion is generally the most familiar type, and it features a piano keyboard on one side and several small bass buttons on the other. The diatonic accordion can only produce notes in a set number of keys, and has circular melody buttons in rows of ten and very few bass buttons. A diatonic accordion produces a different note depending on which way the bellows are pulled, and a piano accordion does not.

The bellows of an accordion expand and contract to pass air through metal reeds to produce sound.
The bellows of an accordion expand and contract to pass air through metal reeds to produce sound.

Regardless of the type of accordion, the bellows are always required to produce sound. Accordion bellows are found between the bass buttons and the melody buttons of the accordion. Accordions often have special “air” buttons, which allow air to be passed through the bellows without a note being produced on the instrument. Some pieces of music for the accordion have specific notation regarding whether the bellows are to be expanded or contracted during a certain measure. The two main aims for controlling the accordion bellows are stability and tone.

Most accordion players will sit the melody side of the accordion on the knee below their stronger hand. The accordion bellows are usually operated by the weaker hand, with the melody section and that half of the instrument remaining stationary on the player’s knee. This helps to enable stability of the instrument, which in turn allows more control over the specific tone produced and more dexterity of the fingers.

Supporting the bellows is only important because the accordion bellows have a big impact on the sound produced by the instrument. Pushing or pulling the bellows hard will produce a louder, harsher tone than doing so softly. Experienced players develop a sense of how to work the bellows depending on the intended mood of the piece of music. The direction the bellows are being moved in changes every bar, every two bars or every four bars.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the function of the accordion bellows?

The accordion bellows are the flexible, foldable part of the instrument that expands and contracts to pump air across the reeds. This action produces sound by creating air pressure differences, which cause the reeds to vibrate when the respective keys or buttons are pressed. The bellows are essential for sound production and allow the player to control the volume and expression of the music.

How are accordion bellows made?

Accordion bellows are typically constructed from layers of cardboard with a fabric lining for durability and leather or metal corners for reinforcement. The folds, known as pleats, allow for flexibility and are often handcrafted to ensure tight seals and efficient air control. High-quality bellows may also include decorative papers or other materials to add aesthetic appeal to the instrument.

Can accordion bellows be repaired if they are damaged?

Yes, accordion bellows can be repaired, although the complexity of the repair depends on the extent of the damage. Small leaks or tears can often be patched, while more significant issues may require partial or complete replacement of the bellows. Professional accordion repairers can assess the damage and perform the necessary repairs to restore the instrument's functionality.

What is the lifespan of accordion bellows?

The lifespan of accordion bellows varies depending on the quality of materials used, the frequency of use, and how well the instrument is maintained. With proper care, bellows can last for several decades. Regular maintenance, such as keeping the bellows clean and storing the accordion in a stable environment, can significantly extend their lifespan.

How does a player control the sound with the accordion bellows?

An accordion player controls the sound by varying the pressure and speed at which the bellows are opened and closed. Subtle changes in bellows movement can produce different dynamics and articulations, such as crescendos, decrescendos, and accents. Mastery of bellows control is crucial for expressive playing and is a skill developed over time through practice and experience.

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    • The bellows of an accordion expand and contract to pass air through metal reeds to produce sound.
      By: Wizardgold
      The bellows of an accordion expand and contract to pass air through metal reeds to produce sound.