Accordion vs. Concertina

What's the Difference?

The accordion and concertina are both musical instruments that belong to the free-reed family. However, they differ in terms of their design and sound. The accordion is larger and has a rectangular shape, with a piano-like keyboard on one side and a series of buttons on the other. It produces a rich and full-bodied sound, thanks to its multiple reed banks and larger size. On the other hand, the concertina is smaller and has a hexagonal or octagonal shape, with buttons on both sides. It has a more delicate and melodic sound, as it typically has fewer reed banks. While both instruments are played by expanding and compressing the bellows, the accordion is often associated with folk, jazz, and classical music, while the concertina is commonly used in traditional and folk music.


Photo by Simone Impei on Unsplash
Instrument TypeFree-reed aerophoneFree-reed aerophone
ShapeRectangular or trapezoidalRectangular or trapezoidal
Number of BellowsOne or moreOne or more
Playing StyleBoth handsBoth hands
Keyboard LayoutUnisonoric or bisonoricUnisonoric or bisonoric
ReedsMultiple setsMultiple sets
SoundRich and fullRich and full
UsageFolk, jazz, classical, etc.Folk, jazz, classical, etc.
Photo by Documerica on Unsplash

Further Detail


The accordion and concertina are both popular musical instruments that belong to the free-reed family. While they share similarities in terms of their sound production and portability, there are distinct differences between the two. In this article, we will explore the attributes of the accordion and concertina, highlighting their unique features, playing techniques, musical genres, and historical significance.

Physical Attributes

One of the primary differences between the accordion and concertina lies in their physical attributes. Accordions are typically larger and heavier instruments, consisting of a rectangular body with a piano-like keyboard on one side and a series of buttons or piano keys on the other. They often have a bellows that allows the player to control the airflow. On the other hand, concertinas are generally smaller and more compact, featuring hexagonal or octagonal-shaped bodies with buttons on both sides. They have a concertina-like bellows that expands and contracts as the player presses the buttons.

Accordions usually have a wider range of notes, with multiple octaves available on the keyboard side and a bass section on the button side. In contrast, concertinas typically have a more limited range, often spanning two or three octaves. However, concertinas can produce a more expressive sound due to their unique reed design and smaller size.

Playing Techniques

When it comes to playing techniques, both the accordion and concertina offer a wide range of possibilities. Accordion players can use the keyboard to play melodies, chords, and harmonies, while the buttons on the other side allow for bass accompaniment and chordal playing. The bellows of the accordion can be manipulated to create dynamic variations and expressive effects.

Concertina players, on the other hand, rely solely on the buttons to produce melodies, harmonies, and chords. Due to the smaller size of the concertina, players often use a different fingering technique known as "anglo" or "English" system, where each button produces a different note depending on whether the bellows are being pushed or pulled. This system allows for quick and intricate melodic ornamentation, making the concertina well-suited for traditional folk music.

Musical Genres

Both the accordion and concertina have found their place in various musical genres around the world. Accordions are commonly associated with genres such as polka, tango, zydeco, and traditional folk music. They have a versatile sound that can be adapted to different styles, making them a popular choice in many cultural traditions.

Concertinas, on the other hand, are often associated with traditional Irish, English, and maritime folk music. Their distinct sound and melodic capabilities make them particularly well-suited for playing lively jigs, reels, and sea shanties. Concertinas are also used in classical music, especially in chamber music settings, where their unique timbre adds a touch of elegance and charm.

Historical Significance

The accordion and concertina have rich histories that have shaped their development and popularity over the years. The accordion, invented in the early 19th century, gained significant popularity in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, particularly in Europe and the Americas. It became an integral part of many cultural traditions and was widely used in popular music genres.

The concertina, on the other hand, has a longer history, dating back to the early 19th century. It was initially developed in England and gained popularity in the maritime regions of Europe. Concertinas were commonly played by sailors and were often used to accompany sea shanties. Over time, different variations of the concertina, such as the anglo and English concertinas, emerged, each with its own unique playing style and musical repertoire.


In conclusion, while the accordion and concertina share similarities as free-reed instruments, they have distinct attributes that set them apart. The accordion's larger size, wider range, and versatile playing techniques make it suitable for a variety of musical genres, including polka, tango, and folk music. On the other hand, the concertina's smaller size, limited range, and unique playing techniques make it well-suited for traditional folk music, particularly in Irish, English, and maritime traditions. Both instruments have made significant contributions to the musical world and continue to captivate audiences with their distinct sounds and expressive capabilities.

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