If you want to become a button accordion player then you’re in the right place.

These handy tips will get you started on your musical journey and have you playing the ‘box’ before you know it.

An Introduction To Playing The Diatonic Button Accordion

The Irish accordion is a two row diatonic button accordion – not to be confused with a chromatic button accordion.

Although Irish button accordions are fully chromatic instruments, the term ‘chromatic button accordion’ usually refers to the classical button accordion, or those used for other genres of music such as jazz.

While Irish button accordions typically have 21 or 23 buttons or treble keys, with 8 bass notes, Chromatic accordions can have up six rows of treble keys, and 72 bass notes!

Step 1 – How to Hold The Accordion

Hold the accordion on your lap, supporting its weight by resting one side on top of your leg, above your knee. This leaves the other side free to move.

Place your right arm through the shoulder strap on the right side of the accordion, and place your left hand through the hand strap on the left hand side.

NB: Make sure to hold the accordion the right way up!

The bass buttons should be on the left, while the treble keys and fingerboard will be on the right. Your left thumb should be able to reach and press the air button.

Step 2 – Hand Position & Finger Placement

On a diatonic button accordion you use four fingers on each hand (including your pinky) to play the instrument.

Place your index finger on the third button on the inside row of the fingerboard. This is your starting position.

Remember, your right thumb should rest gently against the edge of the fingerboard.

Step 3 – Playing Your First Notes

Press down on the air button with your right thumb and draw or expand the bellows slightly.

Press down on the third button with your index finger, while pushing the bellows inward. Congratulations, you’ve just played your first note. This is a C!

Next, keeping your finger on the same button, pull the bellows in the opposite direction. This note is a D.

Alternate between the two notes to get a feel for the push/pull movement of the bellows.

McNeela Button Accordion

Is the Button Accordion Hard to Learn?

The button accordion is quite a simple instrument to learn. Like any musical instrument, it can take time and effort to master, but it’s relatively easy to get started.

Once you wrap your head, and your fingers around the rows of buttons, you’ll be playing tunes in no time at all!

While some musicians may have struggled with the weight of the accordion in the past, today beginner accordions are lightweight and compact, making them accessible for musicians of all ages.

What Type of Accordion is Easier to Play?

Many people ask which accordion is easier to play – the piano accordion or the button accordion?

In my humble opinion, the Irish button accordion is easier to play, for several reasons…

The piano accordion is a unisonoric instrument. That means each of the keys on the keyboard plays the same note whether pushing or pulling the bellows. As a result, your fingers have to travel further, across more buttons, to play a melody or scale.

As the name implies however, the keyboard on a piano accordion matches that found on a piano. As a result, experienced piano players may find it easier to play this style of accordion.

Button accordions are bisonoric instruments meaning they play a different note depending on whether you push or pull the bellows. So each button or key can sound two different pitches.

This layout allows for rapid movement as it reduces hand movement and finger travel. It lends itself well to traditional Irish folk music in particular.

Piano accordions are also much larger in size than button accordions, making them heavier and therefore more difficult to hold and play.

For this reason beginner players usually prefer to start out on a button accordion. Many also prefer the iconic sound of the Irish button accordion.

Click here to hear the difference between the piano accordion and button accordion.

What Next?

Using a fingering chart for guidance, you can now begin to explore all the notes on the accordion.

After that, to make sure you learn good playing technique right from the start, you should try to find an accordion teacher or online lessons for some expert guidance.

Then it’s time to practise, practise, practise while listening to as much music as possible. Get to know the music of the great Irish button accordion players and follow in their footsteps.

To learn more about the diatonic button accordion check out McNeela’s Accordion Blog


Browse the McNeela Button Accordion Store

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  1. Have been hoping for this, I’ve been learning songs by ear, and would like some more help, still trying to incorporate the base, and have 0%understanding of how to use the “B”row, so all my songs are in “C”

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