Comparing aspects of accordions and melodeons

Given the name of the blog, it seems appropriate that an early article should look at how I, as a player of both accordion and melodeon, feel about them as related but quite different instruments. I have done this through the followings lists of “likes and limits”. I end the article by providing a number of twin recordings showing where they can both do the same job well.

What I like about the piano accordion:

  • All the treble notes for everything, and you can play in any key you wish
  • All twelve bass notes enabling any bass runs
  • Wide range of bass/chord combinations
  • Less bellows effort than melodeon’s push/pull on fast tunes
  • Large enough body to give some resonance to the sound (I find larger melodeons hard work to play)
  • I can read music straight on to the piano keyboard (but not the melodeon, for which I have to get the tune in my head first)

More challenging aspects of piano accordion:

  • You have to work harder to get near to the sort of liveliness, bounce and expression that comes much more naturally on a melodeon
  • My accuracy on accordion is sometimes less than I would wish, and I tend to play looking at the keyboard (which I would prefer not to do, if only for appearances sake); I do not have this problem on melodeon.

What I like about the melodeon:

  • The intrinsic liveliness, bounce and expression that comes naturally with the bellows push/pull
  • I love being able to play it totally intuitively
  • It is relatively easy to do chording and multi-noting on the treble as the notes are mostly in harmony on both the push and the pull
  • The limitations of the melodeon design can lead you to musically interesting effects (eg different combinations of bass notes and chords)
  • It is smaller and lighter to cart around than an accordion

Limitations of the melodeon (for me):

  • The smaller melodeons give the greatest playability, but their body size do not give the richest sound
  • The smaller melodeons do not always have all the notes and accidentals one would wish
  • Getting a melodeon big enough to give the richest sound starts to impact on the playability, and can require quite a bit of strength to maintain the pushing and pulling that gives the bounce
  • You can only play in a limited number of keys on any one melodeon
  • I can play much more complicated tunes on accordion than on melodeon. I can also play tunes faster on accordion, and can play slow tunes more expressively

I find some tunes go better on accordion (eg Scottish reels) and some better on melodeon (eg polkas and hornpipes). But there is also a sizeable middle ground where they can both do a good job. To illustrate this I have compiled the following twin recordings.

(A) (M) Portobello + Linhope Lope

(A) (M) Hunt the Squirrel + Fiery Clockface

(A) (M) ‘Irish Reels’

(A) (M) Family’s Pride + Badunga

(A) (M) The Sands of Kersal (a slow air)

(A) (M) 2 SKINT Scottisches by Stony Steiner