The Diatonic Accordion

An instrument that can whisper and roar

The diatonoc accordion

The diatonic accordion

The diatonic accordion is known for it’s contribution to traditional folk music. It is a little box with a few buttons. It is a diatonic instrument, which means it is relatively easy to play (only) a few keys on this instrument. One button produces two notes, one when the bellows are pushed and another when they are drawn.

It differs from the accordion, a chromatic instrument. This makes it easier to play complicated chords and melodies on the accordion than on the diatonic accordion, which is probably the reason why the accordion has been used in classical music and jazz and the diatonic accordion was seldom used that way. Peter Pot found out that it is possible to play beautiful harmonies on the diatonic accordion anyway, but he is not making life easy for himself that way. The sound of the diatonic accordion also differs from that of the accordion, it is warmer and brighter.

The diatonic accordion was created in the middle of nineteenth century and by the end of that century it looked a lot like the instrument does today, though it had only one row of buttons. In the beginning of the twentieth century more and more diatonic accordions had two rows of buttons. By 1930 there were diatonic accordions with five rows of buttons. At first the diatonic accordions were cheap and not of great quality, but this changed in that period. In the picture, Peter Pot plays on an instrument by Castagnari, an Italian luther of beautiful diatonic accordions.

The diatonic accordion has always been the instrument for weddings and parties, but is was also the instrument for the poor and it was not taken very seriously. There still are some prejudices against that instrument, although this is changing slowly. It is relatively easy to play a simple melody on it and for a simple chord you only have to press one button. Of course, to be able to play like Peter Pot and other virtuoso diatonic accordion players, it is vital to take studying on the instrument very seriously.

 See Wikipedia on the diatonic accordion.


Nowadays players often develop their own style on the diatonic accordion, sometimes with sidesteps to pop and jazz. Peter Pot is one of them. He is inspired by Italian, French and Basque folk, but his background as a rock drummer and his love for modern jazz have influenced his compositions just as much.

The bandoneon

Another instrument of the same family is the bandoneon. The playing system of the bandoneon differs a lot from that of the diatonic accordion. The bandoneon is a German instrument that was designed to be used in the absence of a church organ. Now it is mainly used as a tango instrument. Astor Piazzola is a very well known bandoneon player as wel as a prolific composer.

See Wikipedia on the bandoneon.

Peter Peije?

Peter Peije (1879-1942) was a famous diatonic accordion player from Drachten in the Netherlands. Peter Pot is a distant nephew from Peije. Peije was born in Ureterp as Freek de Jong and was a street musician. He was very popular and played a lot at weddings and parties. A statue of him was erected in Drachten (see the image).

trekzak mopje
Peije Rasp
De trekzak: een mopje

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