The accordion originated in Italy in the early 19th century and became popular all over Europe. It quickly found its place in Scottish music, its greater power lending itself to playing alongside the fiddle in dance bands, and its complexity allowing it to play a wide variety of tunes and styles.
There are basically two types of accordion: the piano accordion, which has a piano keyboard on one side of the bellows to play the melody and a series of pistons or buttons on the other to play the bass lines and chords; and the button accordion which uses a series of buttons on the right-hand side instead of the piano keyboard.
Like the fiddle, it is very popular in dance music and the two instruments are often paired off - there are many accordion and fiddle clubs in existence throughout Scotland.
The accordion was introduced from mainland Europe where the instrument also has a large and varied classical repertoire. As a result, many dance band and Scottish piano accordion players also play ‘continental’ style repertoire, which is usually designed to highlight their facility and technique. Some solo players and members of contemporary bands also play dance-based music and slow airs and melodies that are rooted in Scottish traditional music but push the boundaries of style and technique.
The dance band is where the accordion reigns - and there are basically two broad ranges of musical styles. On the East coast and in the North East, a neat, disciplined style of music known as 'strict tempo' is popular, while on the West coast, a freer, swingier dance style can be heard, led by the accordion. The best-known player of ‘strict-tempo’ music was Jimmy Shand, while the most famous West coast-style player is Fergie MacDonald. Both are 'button-box' players, but both types of accordion - piano and button - can be found in each of these styles of music.
There are also smaller relatives of the accordion such as the melodeon, which is particularly popular in the Western Isles. Another close relative is the concertina, which is much associated with dance types such as the hornpipe. Concertina players such as Simon Thoumire have however shown that the instrument is capable of playing very sophisticated and complicated music. To hear some solo accordion playing, listen to 'Merrily Danced the Quaker's Wife'.