Accordion Glossary

Accordion Glossary

There’s a lot going on in the ole’ squeezebox. This accordion glossary will help you navigate common accordion components and musical terms:

There's a Lot Going on Inside Tom's Monarch Grand-Prix Accordion

There’s a Lot Going on Inside Tom’s Monarch Grand-Prix Accordion


Well, I shouldn’t take for granted that everyone knows what an accordion is. There are various types of accordions out there, but in general an accordion is a musical instrument that uses bellows to force air over the reeds inside, producing the unique accordion sound.


Have you ever been to a working blacksmith? If so you probably saw a big wood and leather contraption that opens and closes to force air into the fire. Similar concept with an accordion. The folds allow the bellow chamber to open and draw in a huge amount of air, which is passed through reeds when a player presses the associated keys.


A glissando (sometimes called “gliss” for short) is a glide from a lower key to a higher key, or vice versa. You can even glissando from multiple keys or chords to others. It has an impressive cascading sound and can put some nice embellishment into whatever you’re playing, especially at the end of a song.

Glissandos are often improvised because they’re so easy to throw into whatever you’re playing, but like all things, they are best used in moderation. Glissandos become obnoxious if you use them too much.

To perform a glissando on the accordion, you basically ease the pressure off of your keyboard fingers a bit and quickly swipe through the keys between where you are and where you want to end up. Glissandos are easy to perform on an accordion, but it takes some practice if you’re trying to land on a specific note or chord.


The grille (or grill) is the front part of the accordion housing that curves from the inside of the keyboard around to the bellows. It is where the keyboard registers are located and is usually the most decorated part of the accordion. You’ll usually see the manufacturer name there as well.


Master is a register that basically makes your accordion sound “normal.” It returns you to pure accordion sound without any adjustments. Basically, it’s the default setting. It’s so important that many accordions also have a palm switch to quickly return to master without having to reach up toward the grille like the other registers.


A register is a switch that modifies the pitch of your accordion’s sound to give you even more versatility. There are usually at least a couple registers on most accordions and a dozen or more on fancier accordions. They can make your accordion approximate the deep sound of a bassoon, the cheery violin or even the high pitch of a piccolo. This is very helpful when you want to make the pitch of a song higher or lower (or just for certain parts). Registers are also sometimes found on the bass side, where they serve the same function.


The accordion is a big, heavy instrument! It has shoulder straps to help you control the instrument, and a left hand strap to help keep it in place as you pull and push on the bellows. These straps are even more important if you stand and move around while you play the accordion, which is much more impressive!