One important thing to consider when buying an accordion is whether to buy a piano accordion or a chromatic button accordion. For existing accordionists this is usually simply a case of replacing their current type of accordion like for like. If you have never bought an accordion before or you are looking to change the type of accordion you play, here is a brief overview of things you may wish to consider and how they differ (or not) between the two types to help make choosing your accordion easier.
How your accordion looks is usually an important consideration, piano and chromatic button accordions look very different. The piano accordion has a piano style keyboard controlling the notes on the right hand side of the instrument whereas the chromatic button accordion usually has three rows of round keys or buttons, often supplemented by up to two extra rows of buttons (very occasionally 3) which duplicate certain notes. Be sure you are happy with how the accordion looks before you buy it.
Although they look very different, they all sound pretty much the same. Although there are subtle differences in timbre, most people would find it difficult to tell whether an accordion had a button or piano keyboard only by listening to them. You may find a piano accordion that sounds very different to another button accordion but you are also as likely to find two piano accordions or two button accordions that sound equally different to each other. If the sound of the accordion is important to you then it would be a good idea to ask someone to play it for you or simply try the accordion yourself. If you are unable to view the accordion before you buy it, listen to a recording or a youtube video to help you decide.
Piano accordions and chromatic button accordions are available in a range of different sizes, making it possible to buy accordions of either type that have the same number of notes. The number of notes available on a full size accordion however is significantly different for piano accordions and chromatic button accordions. A full size piano accordion usually has 41 right hand notes (45 notes is also common for free bass instruments). By contrast, a full size chromatic button accordion usually has 64 right hand notes. I still remember the disappointment after buying my first button key accordion to find that even with all those new notes that I didn’t have on my piano accordion, I still didn’t have enough to play the first classical piece that I wanted to learn. Bear in mind that you can usually play “piano accordion music” on a chromatic button accordion but it doesn’t necessarily work the other way round.
Because the right hand keyboard on a chromatic button accordion has its notes arranged over three rows rather than the “1 and a half” rows of the piano accordion, the distance between two notes an octave apart is approximately twice as much on a piano accordion as it is on a chromatic button accordion. If you have small hands this might be a consideration with the piano accordion usually requiring your hand to span larger distances.
Different styles of music are often associated with a particular style of accordion. For example, we usually picture chromatic button accordionists playing French musette and, with Jimmy Shand as an exception, most accordionists in Scottish dance bands play piano accordion. Although this is the case, each style can usually be played equally well on either type of accordion.
The piano key accordion can make progress in the initial stages of learning quicker for those who are already familiar with the piano keyboard layout but after this the familiarity with either system makes learning either accordion just as easy. Having said that, if you intend to learn on your own and you think you might need a tutor book, see if you can get hold of a suitable book in your language before making a purchase. Similarly, if you think you will need the help of a teacher, try to find one in your area and see that they are happy and able to teach the instrument of your choice. As a teacher myself, I see many people who have had their accordions in the attic for years because they couldn’t find a suitable book or teacher.