How to play a chromatic accordion

Written by tom streissguth
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The chromatic accordion is a newer version of the classic accordion. Also known as the bayan, the chromatic instrument was invented in the nineteenth century and has since then gained widespread popularity in Europe. The piano accordion is still the leader in North America. The chromatic accordion is better adapted to music of Eastern Europe, where chromatic (half-tone) and minor scales prevail. The chromatic accordion is set up so that a single fingering pattern will work for any key.

Skill level:

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Things you need

  • Chromatic accordion
  • Beginner's accordion book

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  1. 1

    Position the chromatic accordion comfortably in front of you, with your hands free. Look at the buttons on the right side of the instrument. There are normally five rows of buttons on the chromatic accordion. On the five-row instrument, there are in fact only three unique rows of notes. The two top rows duplicate the set up of the bottom two rows. This makes it easier to play scales and melodies with different hand positions, and at various positions on the instrument. It also makes it easier to play large chords.

  2. 2

    Play a simple scale, moving up in the correct intervals. Look at the buttons, and note that some are white and some are black. Moving from one white button to the next as your hand moves along the keyboard produces a simple scale.

  3. 3

    Play a rising set of chords. These are done by holding down two neighbouring buttons, as you move up the accordion scale.

  4. 4

    Experiment with fingering by practicing scales up and down the accordion keyboard. In both C- and B-system chromatic accordions, the rows begin with three notes at chromatic intervals and buttons in a single row moving up a minor third (or three half-steps). In the C-system accordion, moving up to the next row and button moves you up a half-step; moving down to the next row and button movies you up a full step. In the B-system, moving up to the next row and button moves you a full step up; moving down to the next row and button moves you a half-step up. The B-system button keyboard is basically a mirror image of the C-system.

  5. 5

    Study the layouts and fingerings for both C- and B-systems. These are available at many Internet sites, including, and in books available at any good music store.

  6. 6

    Find a beginner's book that shows standard written notation as well as keyboard layouts showing exactly which buttons are used to produce the notes. Practice these continually until you get comfortable with moving up and down the scales. Commit a piece to memory before moving on to the next one.

Tips and warnings

  • In a C system chromatic accordion, the main rows begin with three notes at chromatic intervals. For example, the rows may begin with C, C-sharp, and D. The buttons move up in minor thirds; thus C is followed by the button to the right at E-flat (or D-sharp), followed by G-flat (or F-sharp), A, and C. The next row begins at C-sharp, and continues with E, G, B-flat (or A-sharp), and C-sharp. The third row begins with D, and continues with F, A-flat (or G-sharp), B, and D. The top two rows begin again with C and C-sharp, following the patterns at the bottom two rows.
  • Choose a single system, C or B, for the type of music you play. The C-system accordion is handier for folk melodies, while the B-system is favoured for more technical music and classical accordion pieces.

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