Recent Exhibits: Free Reed Instruments

Thursday, June 20, 2013

This past year, we had two small exhibits of musical instruments from DUMIC's collection. One featured free reed aerophones, an accordion and concertina, and the other, our Tabla. If you did not get the opportunity to see them while they were on display, you can visit them below. Enjoy!

The accordion is a hand-held, free reed instrument. Free reeds feature a pliant metal tongue fastened at one end to a fixed plate. Free reeds have existed since prehistoric times in Asian instruments such as the Japanese shō.

Accordions create tone when air moves through the folded paper bellows, internal reed-plates, reed block, and reeds. Like a piano, notes are played using a keyboard, seen here on the right side of the instrument.

Accordions became popular during the mid-19th century. Early versions were small and simple, but they soon grew in popularity, size, and complexity. By the beginning of the 20th century, they were associated with dance and music halls, cafes, and folk music. Later in the 20th century, accordions fell out of favor, although interest was renewed during the 1990s.

Accordions are often featured in Polka, Zydeco, Cajun, and Tex-Mex music.

Like the accordion, the concertina is a hand-held, free reed instrument. There are three main types: the English or “Wheatstone,” the Anglo, and the Duet.



The Wheatstone concertina was created by Sir Charles Wheatstone (1802-1875) in the 1820s and became widely used in the 1830s in recital halls and middle and upper class parlors. With the help of a growing repertoire and virtuosi like Giulio Regondi, the concertina became a highly respected instrument by the middle of the century. However, the concertina’s status quickly faded with the introduction of mass-produced instruments at the end of the century.

The Anglo and Duet concertinas are similar to the Wheatstone, but were played by folk and street musicians, the Salvation Army, and in British music halls. Later, American polka bands, Argentinean tango orchestras, and South African popular musicians used them.

The Wheatstone and Duet concertinas produce a single note for each key that is pressed, no matter in which direction the bellows are going. Conversely, the Anglo concertina sounds a different pitch for every key press depending on whether the bellows are moving in or out.

After falling out of popularity in the late 19th and early 20th century, concertinas regained popularity in the 1960s and 1970s with the folk music revival.