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Early bandonion, ca. 1905.
Alfred Arnold bandonion, ca. 1949.

The bandoneón is a type of concertina particularly popular in Argentinamarker and Uruguaymarker. It plays an essential role in the orquesta tipica, the tango orchestra. The bandoneón, called bandonion by its Germanmarker inventor, Heinrich Band (1821–1860), was originally intended as an instrument for religious music and the popular music of the day, in contrast to its predecessor, the German concertina (or Konzertina), considered to be a folk instrument by some modern authors. German sailors and emigrants to Argentina brought the instrument with them in the late nineteenth century, where it was incorporated into the local music.

How the instrument is played

Like concertinas, the bandoneón is played by holding the instrument between both hands and either pushing in or pulling out the instrument while simultaneously pressing one or more buttons with the fingers. It is considered part of the concertina family of instruments rather than the accordion family, although both are free reed instruments. In the concertina family the direction of button movement is parallel with the direction of bellows movement, whereas in the accordion family the direction of button or key movement is perpendicular to the bellows movement.

Unlike the piano accordion, the bandoneón does not have keys as per a piano, but has buttons on both sides. Additionally the notes produced on push and pull are different (bisonoric). This means that each keyboard has actually two layouts: one for the opening notes, and one for the closing notes. Since the right and left hand layouts are also different, this adds up to four different keyboard layouts that must be learned in order to play the instrument. However, there is the advantage that the notes tend to progress from the bass clef on the left hand to above the treble clef on the right. To make matters even more confusing, there are bandoneóns that are monosonoric (same note on push and pull). These variants are more compatible with a chromatic tuning structure.

None of these keyboard layouts is structured to facilitate playing scale passages of notes. Instead the structure is designed to aid the playing of chords, which makes sense when one considers the origin of the instrument and its intended purpose. For a beginning player, certain runs and musical forms can be difficult, but to an experienced player they come quite naturally.

With its arrival in Argentina around 1870, the bandoneón was adopted by those wishing to incorporate it into the Milonga music of that time (which requires a very fast player indeed). What sprang from that is Tango.

Famous musicians

The late Argentinian composer and tango genius Ástor Piazzolla was a leading exponent of the bandoneón. His "Fugata" from 1969 showcases the instrument which plays the initial fugue subject on the 1st statement, then moves on to the outright tango played after the introduction.

List of some bandoneónists:


A look into the inside of a modern bandoneón:


External links

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