The Diatonic Accordion
An instrument that can whisper and roar
Peter Pot and Philip Baumgarten
The diatonic accordion
This instrument is mainly 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 is easy to play simple chords on it, one finger is enough for that if you play in the key in which it is tuned. This makes it relatively easy to play simple songs on this instrument, but complicated to play difficult harmonies.
Diatonic vs chromatic accordion
It differs from the chromatic accordion. It is 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 this instrument also differs from that of the accordion; it is warmer and brighter.
The instrument was created in the middle of nineteenth century and by the end of that century it looked a lot like it does today, though it had only one row of buttons. In the beginning of the twentieth century more and more of these instruments had two rows of buttons. By 1930 some of them had five rows of buttons. At first the instruments were cheap and not of great quality, but this changed. In the picture, Peter Pot plays a beautiful instrument by Castagnari, an Italian luthier of beautiful diatonic button accordions.
It was always used for weddings and parties, but is was also the instrument for the poor and not taken very seriously by the cultural elite. There still are some prejudices against it, 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 study very seriously on the instrument. The way many modern musicians play on the instrument, it is high time they get credit for their beautiful work.
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.
Nowadays players often develop their own style on this instrument, 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.
Peter Peije (1879-1942) was a famous master of the instrument from Drachten in the Netherlands. Peter Pot is a distant nephew of 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 below).
Click or tap on an image for full view and smooth scrawling in the weekly renewed Accordion Gallery.