Accordion Music

Joseph Soukup
Joseph Soukup

Contributed by Hermann Urkauf
MUS 334 Professor Sturman
October 1, 2003

The accordion is a free reed instrument. Its reeds are classified into treble and bass reeds. They are made to vibrate by air coming from a bellows that is operated by hand. Many different types of accordion exist all over the world. The most common types of accordion can be grouped into diatonic, chromatic and piano accordions. Because of their light weight diatonic accordions are easily carried. Simpler in their construction, they are also cheaper to produce than chromatic and piano accordions. This makes them the most widely used type worldwide. With chromatic, as opposed to diatonic accordions, the same tone can be produced by pushing in and pulling out the bellows. The piano accordion has a piano keyboard in addition to buttons to produce different tones. The range of pitches produced by an accordion can span up to 11 octaves. Accordions have up to six rows of buttons.

Nobody can be said to have 'invented' the accordion, as it consists of a series of innovations introduced by many different instrument builders. However, the first patent for an accordion was granted to Zyrill Demian 1829 in Vienna, Austria, who combined most of the essential accordion features in one instrument. In 1830 Demian's accordion was copied in Paris. In 1903 Mathias Hohner started the industrial production in Germany. By 1906 he was producing over 100.000 accordions a year. The first use of an accordion in the United States is documented in Louisiana in 1871.
Apart from being used in many immigrant folk music traditions, such as German, French, Austrian, Italian, Yugoslavian and Russian, just to name a few, the accordion has found a home in American folk music mainly in three areas: in the Northern States, in Louisiana and, in the Southwest and West, especially in Texas, Arizona and California. In the Northern States it enjoys a prominent role in polka bands. In the South it had a major impact on Cajun and Creole music; Cajun musicians first used a one-row, then a two-row, diatonic accordion. In the Southwest, the accordion was introduced by Texas-Mexicans, who imported it from Mexico, where German immigrants to Northern Mexico had brought the instrument from their homeland. Today it is extensively used both north and south of the American-Mexican border. In Arizona, the two-row diatonic accordion was largely replaced by a three-row instrument in the 1950's.

Conjunto, sometimes also called norteño or tejano music is a style of dance music coming out of the Tex-Mex working class that extensively uses the accordion. Conjunto originated at the ranches of South Texas and Northern Mexico during the nineteenth-century. It draws on many different musical forms, mainly waltzes and polkas, but also two steps, mazurkas, schottisches, boleros, danzones, huapangos, rancheras, cumbias and corridos. R. Rodriguez made the first known accordion conjunto recording in 1930, Narcisco Martinez was perhaps the most famous conjunto accordion player. In Tucson conjunto can be heard on radio stations 91.2 FM, and on 1030, 1450 and 1600 AM.

In Southern Arizona the Tohono O'Odham Indian nation has a tradition of over 150 years of playing dance music using Western instruments and musical styles. This music is called waila, from the Spanish baile. The bands perform polkas, waltzes, as well as most of the other conjunto musical forms mentioned above and prominently feature an accordion player. Sometimes waila is called 'chicken scratch' music, reportedly because its dance movements appear to imitate a chicken scratching the ground. No matter what the label, the accordion plays an important role in O'Odham social dance music.


Borderlands, from Conjunto to Chicken Scratch. Washington, D.C.: Smithonian/Folkways Recordings, p. 1993.
The Garland Encyclopedia of World Music, Vol. 3. New York: Garland Pub, 1998 - 2000.

"Edward Pecjak"
Contributed by Lauren Hole
Music 334 Professor Sturman
October 14, 2002

Edward Pecjak grew up fifty miles east of Cleveland, Ohio, and began playing the accordion when he was eighteen years old. He is now seventy-six years old, living in Tucson and occasionally plays publicly. The type of music Ed plays most often is Slovenian polka and waltzes from Austria. He had a band in Ohio, but since his move, Ed has found that there are relatively few people who play the accordion in Tucson. Presently he prefers playing in some of Tucson's parks for about an hour and "won't take money for good times." When playing, Ed dresses up in European attire, wearing the traditional vest and hat of his Slovenian ancestors. He truly enjoys playing this instrument and would like to see the tradition continue for many generations.

Ed was inspired to learn the accordion by hearing Frankie Yankovic, "America's Polka King" and Grammy award winner. They became friends and continued to spend time together until Yankovic's death in 1998. These days Ed is selective about when and where he plays, but there was a time in his life when he was not. In the late 1940s, Ed played the accordion for $12 a night, but he determined that this was not enough money to support his family. He almost quit playing all together to drive a commercial truck in order to better support his family. Fortunately he did not and we can still enjoy his great talent. Ed says that he will participate in the Slavic Day on October 26th where he will play a one-hour set.
**This information came from an interview with Edward Pecjak.

Accordion Styles Workshop, October 13, 1984 TMY-1984/R11

Participants: Ynez Flores, Al Saunders, Edward Pecjak


Mi Destino performed by Ynez Flores, in Spanish in Texas-style
Los Coyotos introduced and performed by Al Saunders
[untitled]introduced and performed by Ed Pecjak
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