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A concertina is a free-reed musical instrument, like the various accordions and the harmonica. It has a bellows and buttons typically on both ends of it. When pressed, the buttons travel in the same direction as the bellows, unlike accordion buttons which travel perpendicularly to it. Also, each button produces one note, while accordions typically can produce chords with a single button.

The concertina was developed in England and Germany, most likely independently. The English version was invented in 1829 by Sir Charles Wheatstone and a patent for an improved version was filed by him in 1844. The German version was announced in 1834 by Carl Friedrich Uhlig.


Types (Systems)

The word concertina refers to a family of hand-held bellows-driven free reed instruments constructed according to various systems. The systems differ in:

  • the notes and ranges available;
  • the positioning of the keys (buttons);
  • the sonoricity of the notes provided by the keys:
    • the keys of the bisonoric instruments produce differing notes on the push and on the draw;
    • the keys of the unisonoric instruments produce the same note on the push and on the draw;
  • the ability to produce sound in both bellows directions:
    • single action, producing sound only in one bellows direction (usually found only on bass instruments);
    • double action, producing sound in both bellows directions;
  • size and shape of the instrument and the technique required to hold the instrument;
  • the types of reeds that are used;
  • the mechanical action that is used to open and close the valves to the reed chambers.

Because the concertina was developed nearly contemporaneously in England and Germany, systems can be broadly divided into English, German, and Anglo-German types. To a player proficient in one of these systems, a concertina constructed according to a different system may be quite unfamiliar.

The most common concertina systems are listed below. The list is not exhaustive, as the concertina is not only a venerable and widespread instrument, but also an evolving instrument: modern experiments in concertina construction include chromatic scales offering more than 12 steps per octave, and instruments which allow the pitch of the notes to be sharped or flatted by the performer.

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